THIS YEAR marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of a renowned feminist, businesswoman and friend to Charlotte Brontë.

Highly intelligent and ambitious, Mary Taylor is defined as a woman who broke new ground at a time when a woman’s place was deemed to be very much in the home.

She yearned to travel – and did – as part of her educational journey and sharing her experiences with one of her dearest friends, Haworth author Charlotte Brontë.

The pair would often meet at Mary’s home – Red House – a red-brick building in Oxford Road, Gomersal, which was a museum until December when it closed to the public due to budget cuts.

Born on February 26, 1817, Mary was one of six siblings. She was the fourth child and eldest daughter of Anne and Joshua, a cloth merchant and banker.

Mary’s early education began at Roe Head School in Birstall, where she would meet fellow scholars, Charlotte Brontë and Ellen Nussey. The teenagers would become part of Mary’s close circle of friends.

In comparison to Ellen, we learn Mary was politically liberal and outspoken in her views, while Ellen was said to have been socially and politically conservative, appearing feminine and ladylike.

The women stayed in touch through correspondence but there is suggestion of a rift between Mary and Ellen following Charlotte’s death caused by Mary being reluctant to talk about Charlotte and Ellen being happy to share her memories.

All appear to be strong-minded women. Charlotte certainly had a determined will, a quality she appears to have shared with her friend Mary, whom she is said to have described as having “more energy and power in her nature than any ten men you can pick out”.

Mary certainly appears to have rebelled against the expected bounds of Victorian femininity, having no desire to keep house for one of her brothers, marry for money or become a governess.

It was Mary’s encouragement that led Charlotte to travel to Brussels to improve her French, and after spending time at a finishing school there, she travelled to Germany to teach English.

In September 1844, Mary made the decision to emigrate to New Zealand, where she hoped to find an outlet for her energies that Victorian England couldn’t provide.

Described as ‘uniquely independent’ of her era, Mary was highly intelligent, well educated and ambitious. She continued to correspond with Charlotte throughout this time, and was one of the few people Charlotte confided her authorship of Jane Eyre to.

Charlotte also appears to have drawn inspiration from her friend in her writing. The character of Rose Yorke in Charlotte’s novel, Shirley, is widely believed to be based partially on Mary.

Indeed, Red House was said to have inspired ‘Briarmains,’ the house in Shirley. Charlotte would often spend time there visiting her friend.

During their correspondence, Mary and Charlotte are said to have engaged in ‘vociferous political debate.’

Before Red House Museum closed to the public, Kirklees Museums and Galleries created a permanent digital record of the museum showing the interior as it would have looked when Mary lived there with her family.

Visit for a virtual-reality visit.