The Honresfield Library took shape not far from the parsonage at the edge of the West Yorkshire moors, where Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother, Branwell (born between 1816 and 1820), grew up creating elaborate shared imaginary worlds. It was assembled starting in the 1890s by Alfred and William Law, two self-made mill owners who had grown up less than 20 miles from the Brontë home in Haworth (which is now the Brontë Parsonage Museum).
The Laws’ collection, held in the library at their home, Honresfield House, included what Heaton called “grand country-house books” like a Shakespeare First Folio (long since sold off). But the brothers, less typically, were also keen collectors of manuscripts, acquiring the Brontë cache from a dealer who had bought them directly from Charlotte’s widower. William, the more serious collector, also paid frequent visits to Haworth to buy family relics that had been saved by neighbors and relatives.
After the deaths of the brothers (who never married), the collection passed to a nephew, who granted access to select scholars, and had facsimiles made of some items. But after his death in 1939, the originals fell out of public view.
By the 1940s, the collection had become “well-nigh untraceable,” as one scholar put it at the time. In recent decades, some artifacts from the collection, like Charlotte’s writing desk (now at the Brontë Parsonage Museum), have come up for auction. But the whereabouts of the rest remained unclear.
“When I was first approached about this material, I thought, ‘Hang on — maybe it’s that collection?” Heaton recalled. “To then go actually see it was quite a thrill.” (The sellers, who wish to remain anonymous, are family descendants of the Laws, he said.)