Heathcliff and the ghosts of slavery

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A new film version of Wuthering Heights featuring a black Heathcliff is based, in part, on a little-known legend from a remote part of Yorkshire. Roger Ratcliffe tells the story that is thought to have inspired the greatest romance in English literature

Until the M6 was built to within half an hour’s drive of Dentdale in the early 1970s it was one of the most isolated and least visited parts of northern England. Even today the dale is still largely ignored in comparison to other beautiful areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and because all roads into it from the outside world are steep and tortuous, Dentdale almost has the feel of being a lost world.

It is easy to understand, then, how the bringing of enslaved Africans to Dentdale in the second half of the 18th century and early years of the 19th century took decades to reach the outside world. Less easy to comprehend is that to this day local people are still reluctant to talk about it....

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