On 14th May 2004, my friend Elle Vaessen and I set out on a journey to Brussels. Without anyone knowing, this would become a memorable day, for we had a secret mission to accomplish.
No doubt many members will know that Brussels hardly has any remains of Brontë related places: the important Pensionnat Heger has vanished for good and the area around the school no longer exists. Perhaps the most important survival of the old Isabelle quarter which comes closest to the Rue d’Isabelle is now the Rue Terarcken. Still remaining on the original level (the present day street plan is ± 8-10 meters higher than in 1842), hardly anyone notices this backwater these days, but Emily & Charlotte once walked through this street when going to the Pensionnat.
Even though the Pensionnat is commemorated by a plaque on one side of the Palais des Beaux Arts, now completely covering the site of the school, I have always felt it was rather an inconspicuous one: placed too high up and quite dark. If you don’t know where to look, you’d pass it without even noticing it.
The surrounding modern-day situation there also makes it difficult to get an idea of the old quarter. I have always felt that the more intimate but small street of the Rue Terarcken gives a better feel of the old area. For years now I dreamed of putting up a plaque there, and pay a personal homage to the place. That day in May made this dream a reality. In our own adventurous and unforgettable way Elle and I managed to fix this plaque to the far-end wall of the street. Some burning incense and a few lucky prayers and best wishes completed the inauguration ceremony. It was a very special moment. This mission was a risky undertaking, but knowing it was for the good Brontë cause, we defied all with spirited hearts and minds and just went ahead with our plan. And it succeeded.
I hope our prayers have helped and the plaque is still there. In case you’re curious and if you are passing the old Ravenstein house when next in Brussels, take the steps which go down to the Rue Terarcken and walk up to the dead-end of the street. If it’s still there, you will be able to see the plaque.
Please note that the “secret mission” described here was a private one carried out by two individuals. It was not an initiative of the Brussels Brontë Group, which did not yet exist at the time.