Did you know
Henry Woodiss?


The Victorian novelist, Charlotte Bronte, invented the name Briarmains for a house which features in her novel SHIRLEY (1849). The house is recognizably The Red House in the village of Gomersal, in West Yorkshire. It is now a museum, part of the Bronte industry. Nearly all the action in SHIRLEY takes place in what Charlotte Bronte called Briarfield. She based Briarfield on the small town of Birstall, plus part of the adjoining village of Gomersal.

Birstall marketplace, as it was when Woodiss first went to live there.

Woodiss’s Briarmains, portrayed in AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT is Birstall, and anyone familiar with the district will recognize many of the locations he refers to, though he took massive liberties with the topography, and, like Charlotte Bronte before him, rearranged it to suit his purpose.

Low Lane – called Lowgate in AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT.
The street leads from the marketplace towards Woodiss’s home at ‘The Hollows’.

From Charlotte Bronte, Woodiss borrowed other of her invented place-names, especially Whinbury, identified as Dewsbury, where much of the action in AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT takes place. Woodiss invented names for other towns in the district, though the action in his book takes place almost entirely in Briarmains and Whinbury.

Dewsbury Infirmary
Ansell, the amorous headmaster, and Woodiss' rival,
was admitted to the infirmary after falling off his bike
in front of a recklessly driven horse and cart.

The marketplace in Sadley, where Jo waited for Woodiss on the day she told him they’d have to get married.

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The Bronte and other connections.

A visitor to present-day Birstall would soon get wind of the town’s link to Charlotte Bronte, for much is made of the fact that her 1849 novel, Shirley, is set in this corner of Yorkshire. This was not the case in Woodiss’s day: anybody in Birstall who knew of the connection kept quiet about it.

It’s clear from AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT that Woodiss was aware of the connection and that he’d read the book. Unlike the gunners in Rudyard Kipling’s story, who were devoted Janeites but didn’t know the titles of Austen’s works, Woodiss was familiar with the entire Bronte oeuvre. He was able to state with confidence: “There’s not a single reference to tomatoes in all Miss Bronte’s works, nor her sisters’ …”

He seems to have been taken with Wuthering Heights, and included fragments of Emily Bronte’s dialogue in AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT. Some of the characters from her novel strayed into his book. One of them seems to have mistaken Woodss for Lockwood, the narrator of Wuthering Heights. Woodiss saw the book not as a sentimental love-story, but as a tale of revenge. As a thoroughgoing Yorkshireman, he held a firm belief in the value of revenge. He cherished several life-long hatreds, thirsting for vengeance on his in-laws, and in particular, his wife’s father.

Another enthusiasm was the work of R.S. Surtees, and sharp-eyed readers will note that descendants of some Surtees’ characters have found their way into AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT.

Woodiss’s book is littered with references to other works: novels, poetry and drama, and quotations from songs of all sorts. The editor has identified a hundred or so of these. He would be delighted to hear from anyone who has done a full inventory of Woodiss’s quotations.

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Did you know HENRY WOODISS?

He died more than forty years ago, but many people remember him. If you do, George Dalrymple, editor of AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT, would like to hear from you. Email: