A fam­ily home with a flavour of his­tory

Lau­ren David­son vis­its a cof­fee shop near Brad­ford that was the birth­place of the Brontë sis­ters

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Heritage -

Jane Eyre found the small mug of cof­fee she drank “with rel­ish” at her daily 5pm meal “re­vived vi­tal­ity”, while “a basin of cof­fee” failed to pull Heath­cliff out of his crazed rest­less­ness. Yet both Char­lotte and Emily Brontë might be sur­prised to find their child­hood home has been turned into a bustling com­mu­nity café.

The cir­cum­stances be­hind the cof­fee shop – now called Emily’s – have the mak­ings of a 19th-cen­tury novel. “We bought it as a re­pos­ses­sion three years ago,” says Mark De Luca, a for­mer build­ing sur­veyor who had left his job due to ill­ness. “The house had been used as a buy-to-let, split up into bed­sits. It was owned by a London prop­erty de­vel­oper who had fallen into dif­fi­cult times.”

Mark, 33, and his wife Michelle, 32, had been look­ing for a place to open a cof­fee shop. When they dis­cov­ered this ter­raced brick cot­tage in the heart of Thorn­ton, a vil­lage four miles west of Brad­ford, “the Brontë el­e­ment was an added bonus,” says Mark. They bought the house for £120,000 and spent £70,000 fix­ing it. “We stripped the prop­erty back to a shell and re­did it: new floor­ing, damp works, roof re­pairs, new heat­ing through­out, ex­ten­sive re­pairs to the tim­ber sash win­dows, new bath­room suite and a full in­ter­nal dec­o­ra­tion,” he says. “We cre­ated it from noth­ing, re­ally.”

The De Lu­cas also had to ap­ply for plan­ning per­mis­sion, in­clud­ing con­sent for change of use to part res­i­den­tial and part com­mer­cial, be­cause of the build­ing’s pro­tected sta­tus. The Grade II* listed build­ing was built in 1802 and was home to the Brontë fam­ily be­tween 1815 and 1820. What now serves as one of the main parts of the café, with seat­ing for 16 on a va­ri­ety of vin­tage school chairs and ta­bles next to an orig­i­nal fire­place, is the for­mer din­ing room where Char­lotte, Bran­well, Emily and Anne were born. A cor­ri­dor with an orig­i­nal tim­ber stair­case and stone slab floor­ing leads to the draw­ing room, which seats a fur­ther 16 and has been dec­o­rated in keep­ing with the theme. One wall has been pa­pered with pages from Wuther­ing Heights, lit with ex­posed fil­a­ment light bulbs, and a pe­riod side­board has been filled with Brontë books and other Bri­tish clas­sics of the era.

“We’ve brought the house back to life. It had fallen by the way­side and now it’s got its own heart­beat,” says Mark. “Thorn­ton used to be pushed aside as Ha­worth’s poorer rel­a­tive but now it holds as much im­por­tance to the Brontë fam­ily.”

He was “no Brontë afi­cionado” be­fore buy­ing the prop­erty, and has learnt about the his­tory of the fam­ily and their house through a for­mer owner who ran it as a mu­seum from 1997 to 2006, the Brontë mu­seum in Ha­worth and the bus­loads of fans who visit the cof­fee shop each year. But the project has taken on a par­tic­u­larly per­sonal el­e­ment for Mark, who sees some­thing of the lit­er­ary fam­ily in his own up­bring­ing. “The Brontë fam­ily started to break down when they moved to Ha­worth,” he says: the mother, Maria, died a year af­ter they left Thorn­ton, fol­lowed by the death of two sis­ters, Maria and El­iz­a­beth, in 1825, leav­ing the re­main­ing four chil­dren to the care of their ec­cen­tric fa­ther Pa­trick, an Ir­ish priest who would out­live all his chil­dren. “Pa­trick said that his hap­pi­est days were spent at Thorn­ton and in Ha­worth he was a stranger in a strange land,” says Mark. “I lost my mother at a young age and my fa­ther at a rel­a­tively young age. Be­ing from a bro­ken fam­ily, I can re­late to that.”

It is partly this back­ground that prompted Mark to start a “sus­pended cof­fee” pro­gramme at Emily’s, whereby cus­tomers can cover the cost of an ex­tra cof­fee so peo­ple who might not be able to af­ford one can come in for a hot drink. “You never know what’s go­ing on in peo­ple’s per­sonal lives,” says Mark. “We’re a so­cial com­mu­nity where peo­ple come in for a shoul­der to cry on or a laugh to be had.”

Now that Mark and Michelle have two chil­dren – Mariella, three, and Theodora, one – they are look­ing to sell the cof­fee shop. “We’ve got another busi­ness in the vil­lage, a hair sa­lon that Michelle runs. It’s come to the point where one has to go, and un­for­tu­nately you can’t get rid of kids that eas­ily,” he quips.

He is look­ing for of­fers in the re­gion of £250,000 for Emily’s, which brings in £49,000 per year from be­ing open four days a week. In­cluded in the lot is the De Luca fam­ily home, a two-bed­room res­i­dence at­tached to the cof­fee shop with a pri­vate en­trance, full of orig­i­nal Brontë-era fea­tures (07966 662832, delu­cabou­tique.co.uk).

Mark and Michelle are cur­rently look­ing for a new home in the Thorn­ton area, so they’ll be near enough to keep an eye on the café. “I in­tend to ex­pe­ri­ence Emily’s from a cus­tomer per­spec­tive now,” says Mark. “I’m ex­cited for the prop­erty’s fu­ture, but there’s an el­e­ment of me that’s sad to see it go. I’ve grown very at­tached to it. I’ll never own a prop­erty like that again.”

‘We’ve brought the house back to life, it’s got its own heart­beat’

Re­newal: The De Luca fam­ily, be­low, bought the 19th-cen­tury house, above, three years ago

Pop­u­lar: bus­loads of fans visit Emily’s, which is dec­o­rated with Brontë relics

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