‘The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners’ dwellings, two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve houses in a block. This double row of dwellings sat at the foot of the rather sharp slope from Bestwood, and looked out, from the attic windows at least, on the slow climb of the valley towards Selby.’
This is how DH Lawrence describes The Breach in Eastwood at the beginning of Sons and Lovers and to this day very little has changed; the houses still stand and the view from the attic window is as lovely as ever.
The Breach House was DH Lawrence’s childhood home. It is a typical miner’s cottage of the late 1800s built by the local colliery company Barber, Walker and co. When the Lawrence family moved to the Breach from Victoria Street, the houses were surrounded by fields but there were ten working pits within walking distance. Arthur Lawrence was a ‘butty’ down the mine which meant he could afford the extra sixpence a week rent for an end terrace with more light, a side garden and a porch. As Lawrence later recalled, ‘It was a little less common to live in the Breach.’
The Breach House is where many key moments in Lawrence’s writing had their beginnings but the most famous are in his semi-autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers, published in 1913. It tells the story of Paul Morel and begins as his newly married parents move to The Breach. Gertrude believes she has married beneath herself by marrying a miner and shifts all of her love and affection onto her two sons, William and Paul. The kitchen is where Walter Morel enjoys his breakfast before anyone else is up, ‘He toasted his bacon on a fork and caught the drops of fat on his bread; then he put the rasher on his thick slice of bread, and cut off chunks with a clasp-knife, poured his tea into his saucer, and was happy.’ The garden is where Gertrude Morel wanders at night smelling the flowers when she is locked out after a row. When she is about to give birth, she calls her neighbour by banging the back of the fireplace with the poker; Mrs Kirk climbs over the wall onto the copper to help her.
One of Lawrence’s most famous poems The Piano recalls being a young boy sitting under his mother’s feet while she plays in the parlour:
‘Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.’
The Lawrence family left The Breach in 1891, moving first to Walker Street and then to Lynncroft. Lawrence left Eastwood at 21 for a teaching post in London, he then travelled all over the world with his German wife, Frieda. He rarely came back but it is a testament to Eastwood’s influence on him that he kept returning to it in his writing. The Lost Girl, celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year, tells the story of draper’s daughter Alvina Houghton who falls in love and abandons Eastwood for Italy, and Wragby Hall in the notorious Lady Chatterley’s Lover is an amalgamation of Eastwood and Renishaw Hall.
After the Lawrence family left, The Breach House was lived in by mining families until it was sold by the coal board to the council in the 1940s. By 1969, it was standing empty and fire-damaged, the long garden a wilderness. It was bought by a private owner with the aim to set up a meeting centre for the arts. With the help of local people and several grants, the house was restored, the downstairs into a museum and the upstairs as living accommodation, students, writers and actors from all over the world have visited, stayed and studied at The Breach House.
The Breach House 2020
This year The Breach House has two new features. Lawrence was a prolific writer, perhaps most famous for his novels but many find his short stories, poetry, travel writing, essays and letters just as compelling. Upstairs, visitors will now find a browsing library of over 200 books by and about the author. The hope is that visitors will spend time enjoying the books at their leisure. Outside the garden has been redesigned with a garden trail inspired by the flowers and plants which are so symbolic in Sons and Lovers.
The Breach House is open on the first Saturday of the month from April to October and is free to visit, with refreshments available. The browsing library opens on April 4th and the Breach in Bloom garden trail on June 6th. Other summer activities include a pop-up valuation day with Hansons auctioneers and a garden party in honour of Lydia Lawrence’s birthday.
If you are interested in Lawrence’s life and writing or the social history of Eastwood, please come and visit, we are a ten-minute walk from The DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum. The house is run entirely by volunteers and receives no outside funding. If you would like to get involved or would like further information please visit our website www.thebreachhouse.co.uk