Correspondents in the letters of Branwell Brontë: Leyland

Letters 1-21: Joseph Bentley Leyland (1811–1851)


A sculptor from Halifax and an aspiring poet, Leyland was a good friend of Branwell Brontë. His brother was the Halifax antiquarian and publisher Francis A Leyland, who designed the seal for Halifax Corporation and the Coat of Arms of Halifax. He was also an early biographer of the Brontë family.

Leyland and Branwell were part of a group of young Yorkshire artists and writers who met at the George Hotel in Bradford and other local drinking-places to discuss and critique each other's work. The group included John Wilson Anderson the landscape painter, Skerrit the actor, and John Nicholson the Airedale poet. Leyland's medallion portrait of Branwell (1846, plaster) hangs at the parsonage at Haworth.

Leyland's life followed a similar path of destruction to that of Branwell and he died only three years after his friend. Constantly in debt, given to heavy drinking and subject to ill health, he had difficulties in completing commissions. Mary Leyland described him as 'self-opinionated, sarcastic, and unreliable, scornful of religion and of anyone who disagreed with him, only working when the spirit moved him.'

Leyland's works include:
• An effigy of Stephen Beckwith in York Minster.
• African Blood-Hounds: a painting of a large group of the titular dogs which Edwin Landseer described as 'the noblest modern work of its kind,' which was presented to Salford Museum after the sculptor's death and subsequently destroyed.

Portrait of Joseph Bentley Leyland

Copyright The National Portrait Gallery, London