Jane Eyre Revealed Part 2

Book Characters – Their Origins and Inspirations

This is the second in a series of four blogs where I will reveal the fruits of more than one year’s research into Charlotte Bronte’s most famous work – Jane Eyre. Although originally published in three volumes I have identified four key sections in this book. The second section moves the story to a new locality and a new building as Jane Eyre takes a another journey, this time to her first school called Lowood. This blog covers events in Chapters 5-10 inclusive.

Illustration:  Cowan Bridge School for poor Clergymen’s daughters as it was in 1824 when Charlotte and her sisters were pupils. Note the small gardens and verandah, both described in  Jane Eyre. Also note the two bay windows as you will see these again in photographs taken in March 2017.

Cowan Bridge School

Chapter 5 opens with Jane Eyre leaving Gateshead Hall just before six in the morning of 19th January  ( we are not told the year) wearing her pelisse and bonnet and with a shawl wrapped around her  She climbs on board a stage coach. It was a fifty mile journey with a stop made in a large town to change the horses and allow the passengers time to eat. The town is identified as L- ( Leeds?)  As  the journey nears its end the scenery changes..

“ I began to feel that we were getting very far indeed from Gateshead: we ceased to pass through towns; the country changed; great grey hills heaved up round the horizon: as twilight deepened, we descended a valley, dark with wood”

Jane finally arrives at her destination where she is met by a woman of around twenty nine years. She asks Jane a few questions and then places her in the care of Miss Miller an under teacher.  She takes through the building until they teach a large room where she first comes across her fellow pupils..

“Seen by the dim light of the dips, their number to me appeared countless, though not in reality exceeding eighty; they were uniformly dressed in brown stuff frocks of quaint fashion, and long holland pinafores.”

Charloote at school

 She spends her first night in an upstairs dormitory sleeping in the same bed as Mrs Miller. The following morning they are marched downstairs two by two into the schoolroom where the girls are formed into four classes according to age. Miss Miller teaches the youngest children including Jane Eyre. The other three classes are taken by the Upper Teachers. The day begins with an hour of bible and scripture readings. When a bell rings it is time to go into the refectory .a long room with a low ceiling and two long tables.  Jane’s first meal a school is not to her liking – burnt porridge but she takes time to observe the teachers

 “Silence!” ejaculated a voice; not that of Miss Miller, but one of the upper teachers, a little and dark personage, smartly dressed, but of somewhat morose aspect, who installed herself at the top of one table, while a more buxom lady presided at the other.  I looked in vain for her I had first seen the night before; she was not visible: Miss Miller occupied the foot of the table where I sat, and a strange, foreign-looking, elderly lady, the French teacher, as I afterwards found, took the corresponding seat at the other board.”

Back in the school room Jane takes time to look around at the other girls and the teachers..

I was still looking at them, and also at intervals examining the teachers–none of whom precisely pleased me; for the stout one was a little coarse, the dark one not a little fierce, the foreigner harsh and grotesque, and Miss Miller, poor thing! looked purple, weather-beaten, and over-worked”

 The school has 80 pupils on roll ranging from very young girls to young women. All are wearing the same clothes..

Ranged on benches down the sides of the room, the eighty girls sat motionless and erect; a quaint assemblage they appeared, all with plain locks combed from their faces, not a curl visible; in brown dresses, made high and surrounded by a narrow tucker about the throat, with little pockets of holland (shaped something like a Highlander’s purse) tied in front of their frocks, and destined to serve the purpose of a work-bag: all, too, wearing woollen stockings and country-made shoes, fastened with brass buckles.  Above twenty of those clad in this costume were full-grown girls, or rather young women; it suited them ill, and gave an air of oddity even to the prettiest.”

 The young woman Jane had met on the first evening finally appears..

Seen now, in broad daylight, she looked tall, fair, and shapely; brown eyes with a benignant light in their irids, and a fine pencilling of long lashes round, relieved the whiteness of her large front; on each of her temples her hair, of a very dark brown, was clustered in round curls, according to the fashion of those times, when neither smooth bands nor long ringlets were in vogue; her dress, also in the mode of the day, was of purple cloth, relieved by a sort of Spanish trimming of black velvet; gold watch (watches were not so common then as now) shone at her girdle.  Let the reader add, to complete the picture, refined features; a complexion, if pale, clear; and a stately air and carriage, and he will have, at least, as clearly as words can give it, a correct idea of the exterior of Miss Temple–Maria Temple, as I afterwards saw the name written in a prayer-book intrusted to me to carry to church.”.

There are four teachers at Lowood School when Jane first arrives, a fifth one we meet in Chapter 10

  1. Miss Temple, the  Superintendent and senior teacher and the lady who meets her arrival
  2. Miss Scratcherd. She is described as small with black hair, smartly dressed but with a morose aspect.
  3. Miss Smith. Described and being buxom with red cheeks
  4. Madame Pierrot – a strange looking elderly lady who teaches French
  5. Miss Gryshe – she was a heavy Welshwoman who snored a lot

Miss Temple

Jane takes a liking to the senior teacher and notes her acts of kindness.  Miss Temple takes Jane and Helen Burns into her private room and feeds them some of her own cake when the housekeeper Mrs Harden refuses to send more bread.  In Chapter 10 we find she leaves the school to be married.

“Miss Temple, through all changes, had thus far continued superintendent of the seminary: to her instruction I owed the best part of my acquirements; her friendship and society had been my continual solace; she had stood me in the stead of mother, governess, and, latterly, companion.  At this period she married, removed with her husband (a clergyman, an excellent man, almost worthy of such a wife) to a distant county, and consequently was lost to me” …..“But destiny, in the shape of the Rev. Mr. Nasmyth, came between me and Miss Temple:”

There can be no doubt that Miss Temple is clearly based on a real teacher at Charlotte Bronte’s first school. Her identity was hinted at but not revealed in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Biography of CB. She was certainly identified by an impeccable source : A B Nicholls became involved in an angry letter exchange where he was defending the honour of his wife who was of course CB .This took place in the columns of the Halifax Guardian in  1857.  Maria Temple was clearly based on the very real Miss Ann Evans. In real life Miss Evans does leave the school to marry a clergyman and travel to a distant County. Not only that but Miss Evans married her suitor The Rev J Connor in Tunstall Church on 6 July 1826 and then left for a new life in Melton Mowbray ( please see next section for more information about Tunstall church and the part it played in Jane Eyre.) CB portrayed Miss Temple as the good and kind teacher at Lowood School and evidently  thought highly of her.

Miss Scratcherd

Miss Scratcherd is also based on a very real teacher at Charlotte Bronte’s first school. She too was identified by A B Nicholls.  Her real name was Miss Andrews. She was believed to be one of the letter writers supporting Carus Wilson in 1857 trying to discredit the way Charlotte Bronte has portrayed her old school. She wrote under the initials A.H. CB portrayed Miss Scratcherd as a cruel bully who picked on particular pupils and dished out unfair treatment. Through the Helen Burns character she revealed the way her older sister Maria was humiliated and badly treated by a teacher she clearly thought little of.

Other school staff

  1. Mr Brocklehurst the Founder, Principal and Treasurer of Lowood School
  2. Mrs Harden the Housekeeper

I commented upon the original or inspiration of the Mr Brocklehurst character in my first blog. He was clearly based on the Rev Carus Wilson who founded a real school for poor clergymen’s daughters at Cowan Bridge. He appears briefly in this second section but interestingly his attention and anger is drawn to two small girls, Jane Eyre and Julia Severn.. More of these two soon. The housekeeper is named as Mrs Harden. It seems she was hard by name and hard by nature. Certainly Jane Eyre has a very low opinion of her,

Mrs. Harden, be it observed, was the housekeeper: a woman after Mr.Brocklehurst’s own heart, made up of equal parts of whalebone and iron”

 After extensive research I believe I may have found the original or inspiration for this character. When Miss Ann Evans left the school her position of Superintendent was taken by a Miss or Mrs Susan Harben, a close friend of Carus Wilson.  She remained at the school until 1843. Was Mrs Harden the very real Mrs Harben?


Only a few of the many pupils are mentioned by name

  1. Helen Burns – an older girl from Northumberland who is Jane’s first and best She is constantly bullied by Miss Scratcherd and sadly becomes ill and dies. Like Jane she likes to read books
  2. Julia Severn – she attracts the attention and wrath of Mr Brocklehurst for the crime  of having curly hair
  3. Mary Ann Wilson – another friend and another older girl

Helen Burns

Jane’s friend Helen Burns warns her that Miss Scratchered can be hasty. She quickly leans to be wary of this teacher..

 I saw the girl with whom I had conversed in the verandah dismissed in disgrace by Miss Scratcherd from a history class, and sent to stand in the middle of the large schoolroom.”

Of the eighty pupils recorded as on  the school roll only three are actually named in the story. The one main pupil character other than Jane Eyre is Helen Burns, an older girl of thirteen years who is constantly in trouble with Miss Scratcherd. She explains where she comes from,

Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that the noises I hear round me are the bubbling of a little brook which runs through Deepden, near our house”

In the real world Charlotte Bronte was at school with a girl from Northumberland named Mary Thompson and it is possible she was one of the inspirations for this character. That said the main inspiration or original for Helen Burns is said to be to none other than Maria Bronte, Charlotte’s eldest sister and a precocious child. Maria like Helen Burns was subject to unfair treatment by one particular member of staff at her school. It seems certain that the Helen Burns character is a composite of  Maria Bronte plus another older girl, one who befriended Charlotte Bronte at her real school so that could be Mary Thompson. In the first Biography of Charlotte Bronte an older girl by the name of Mellany Hane is mentioned as a friend by Elizabeth Gaskell and another possible inspiration for this character.  In a research visit to Tunstall Church in March 2017 I discovered a list of girls attending school with the Bronte sisters. Sadly Mellany Hane did not feature in the list. In Jane Eyre Helen Burns contracts an  illness and  sadly dies. In  the real world her elder sister Maria contracted tuberculosis and also dies when she is taken home from the school by her father. A final thought on the real identity of Helen Burns. CB was clearly fascinated by words and by initials in names.  Was she at school with a real girl with the initials HB? The amazing answer is YES! There was a girl from Suffolk named Hannah Bicker and she had a younger sister too so was likely to be older that CB who was one of the youngest anyway.

Julia Severn

Julia Severn is the only other named girl at this school to be chastised and humiliated apart from Jane Eyre and Helen Burns. Like Jane she is picked on by Mr Brocklehurst. Her crime? Having curly hair – which Mr Brocklehurst demands must be cut off. My research has turned up a theory that Julia Severn is based on none other than  Elizabeth Bronte, Charlotte’s second oldest sister. The link is made because of the surname – a river name, and the theory goes that those with river or water related surnames are all people in CB’s own family. This would fit with Helen  Burns too – a burn is a Scottish term for a small river. It is interesting to note that the only three named girls who are humiliated and punished are also the girls with “River” names. And before you ask who is the third? Jane Eyre sounds phonetically like Jane Aire… and the River Aire runs through Keighley a small town often visited by CB and close to Haworth.

Another friend in the book is Mary Ann Wilson, another girl some years older. Here we see the use of the name Mary.  CB had two best friends in real life and one was called Mary Taylor. Another pupil at school with CB may have been the inspiration for an  unnamed character, a monitor so one of the older ones..

“…..presently came up,exclaiming in a strong Cumberland accent–Helen Burns, if you don’t go and put your drawer in order, and fold up your work this minute, I’ll tell Miss Scatcherd to come and look at it!”

 Mary and Margaret Watson were the only real pupils listed at Tunstall Church  as coming from Cumberland so its just possible one of these girls was the inspiration for the unnamed Cumberland girl..

 Locality and Buildings

Lowood School

Photograph 1: This building is now known as “Bronte Cottages”.  It was originally Cowan Bridge School for Poor Clergymen’s daughters from 1824-1833. Note the bay window visible and there is another to the left and compare with the illustration above. This was the scene in March 2017. Today the old school is being used for holiday lets. Yes you can stay in Charlotte Bronte’s old school!


Cowan Bridge School 2

There can be no doubt that Lowood school is based on the school at Cowan Bridge established by Rev Carus Wilson for poor clergymen’s daughters. The original house was constructed as a dwelling in 1770 for a gentleman named Christopher Picard.  But in 1824 it was purchased and extended by a wealthy evangelical clergyman and landowner named William Carus Wilson. In the old image adjoining this text its possible to see the original row of cottages that stand to this day. To the left is a small bobbin mill which was adapted and used as part of the school but is now gone  The small garden plots mentioned in Jane Eyre are visible as is the verandah where children would seek shelter on inclement days. At the back of this view is an extension parallel with the road on two floors. Upstairs was a dormitory for all the girls plus a bed chamber for one teacher. Downstairs was the single classroom. The row of cottages and the extension for schoolroom and dormitory exist to this day.

Photograph  2: This view shows the extension specially built to create a school at this site. Upstairs was the dormitory where Charlotte Bronte slept two to a tiny wooden  bed. Downstairs was used as a classroom.

Cowan Bridge School 1

Here are some quotations from  the book.

“The new part, containing the schoolroom and dormitory, was lit by mullioned and latticed windows,which gave it a church-like aspect;” ( see modern image above- the newer extension is to the right. Also note the two bays have mullioned windows!)

“I went to my window, opened it, and looked out.  There were the two wings of the building; there was the garden; there were the skirts of Lowood” ( both wings visible above)

“The garden was a wide inclosure, surrounded with walls so high as to exclude every glimpse of prospect; a covered verandah ran down one side and broad walks bordered a middle space divided into scores of little beds: these beds were assigned as gardens for pupils to cultivate, and each bed had an owner.”


Photograph 3: A plaque on  the wall of the north extension records the Bronte connection  with this school. It is NOT strictly accurate. Little Emily barely 5 years old actually went to a smaller school, possibly a nursery in a nearby village. Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte however were once pupils in the schoolroom behind this wall.

Cowan Bridge School plaque

Brocklehurst Hall

This is the home of the wealthy Mr Brocklehurst his wife and children, Theodore, Broughton and Naomi. In reality Mr  Brocklehurst aka Rev Carus Wilson actually lived at the nearby Casterton Hall which is on the outskirts of Kirkby Lonsdale and is about two miles distant. Here are some more quotes from the book….

“Mr. Brocklehurst buys all our food and all our clothes.”

“Does he live here?”

“No–two miles off, at a large hall “

Photograph 4. Casterton Hall in March 2017, once owned by  Carus Wilson

Casterton Hall

Casterton Hall also stands to this day. Cowan Bridge School closed down in the 1830s and the school moved to Casterton Hall. It is most clearly the original for Brocklehurst Hall and is indeed about two miles away from Lowood School aka Cowan Bridge

BrockleBridge Church

Every Sunday come rain or shine all the girls at Lowood School were marched off to attend two services at Brocklebridge Church.  There was not time to return for lunch and come back so they had to wait for hours in a building with no heating and consume a cold lunch made of the week’s leftovers.

Sundays were dreary days in that wintry season.  We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated.  We set out cold,we arrived at church colder: during the morning service we became almost paralysed.  It was too far to return to dinner, and an allowance of cold meat and bread, in the same penurious proportion observed in our ordinary meals, was served round between the services.At the close of the afternoon service we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north, almost flayed the skin from our faces.

Photograph 5: This is Tunstall Church where the young Charlotte Bronte visited every Sunday during her stay at Cowan Bridge. It is also the church where Miss Ann Evans aka Miss Maria Temple was married. Carus Wilson was also Vicar here for many years. There is an excellent Bronte display in this church which provides many facts and figures about Cowan Bridge school, including pupil names and details of the girl’s uniform.

Tunstall Church

In reality the children were walked to nearby Tunstall Church which also still remains and is well worth visiting.  I arrived on a cold but bright day in late March 2017. I can confirm it is still a cold building! This location is also where one of the real teachers from Cowan Bridge was married.


The nearest town is referred to as Lowton, in reality this is Kirkby Londsdale  which like the fictional Lowton is two miles from Cowan  Bridge

Chapter 10  and the second section closes with JE deciding to seek new challenges and a new position.She resolves to put an advert in the Yorkshire Herald..

A young lady accustomed to tuition” (had I not been a teacher twoyears?) “is desirous of meeting with a situation in a private family where the children are under fourteen” (I thought that as I was barely eighteen, it would not do to undertake the guidance of pupils nearer my own age).  “She is qualified to teach the usual branches of a good English education, together with French, Drawing, and Music” (in those days, reader, this now narrow catalogue of accomplishments, would have been held tolerably comprehensive).  “Address, J.E., Post-office, Lowton, — shire.”

She receives just one reply from a Miss Fairfax but arranges to go to work for her and plans to leave Lowood . Just before her departure she has a visitor. It is Bessie from Gateshead Hall who brings her all the news of the Reed Family. Bessie and Jane leave  Lowood together and make their way to Lowton where Jane is catching a coach  to take her to her new job. Jane is about to set out on yet another journey to a new location with new characters and buildings to explore……and  I will soon bring more Jane Eyre revelations in my next blog in this series….

Copyright@Mike Sheridan 2017 – All Text and all images

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Jane Eyre Revealed Part 1.


Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is rightly seen as a classic of English Literature and its popularity never diminishes. The book is still in print and film and TV versions of the story continue to be made. It was originally printed and published in three volumes, a popular format in the mid nineteenth century. It is a thematic novel combining many elements. Essentially it is a story about one girl’s journey through life, overcoming many difficulties while maintaining her honesty and integrity and never sacrificing her beliefs and values. It is a story about a number of journeys. There are four key sections in the book and I intend to examine each in turn and seek to find the inspiration for the characters, the buildings and the landscapes.

Book Characters, their origins or inspiration. Chapters 1-4

The novel begins within Gateshead Hall, a substantial house owned by the Reed family. Jane Eyre is ten years old and an orphan and in the care of the Reeds who are her relatives. She is not made to feel at home by Mrs Reed who objects to her behaviour and manners. Jane feels excluded from the family. In the opening four chapters she is clearly angry and rebellious and is quickly in trouble when she stands up for herself and her beliefs.

Jane Eyre


 The central  character is most clearly based on CB herself, indeed the early editions of Jane Eyre identify the story as a Biography.  Like CB, Jane has no mother. She is an unhappy little girl who feels isolated and unwanted and finds comfort in reading books –and what strange books this ten year old girl was already reading. Jane Eyre feels like an outsider in the company of others. Jane is also the daughter of a poor clergyman just like CB.

On that same occasion I learned, for the first time, from Miss Abbot’s

communications to Bessie, that my father had been a poor clergyman; that

my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who

considered the match beneath her.”

This sounds very much like CB’s real life parents. Maria Branwell was the daughter of a wealthy Cornish merchant from Penzance. Patrick Bronte was indeed a poor clergymen unlikely to rise above his curacy in Yorkshire. He would not have been seen as a good match.The depth of Jane’s unhappiness is revealed in a paragraph in Chapter two.

I was a discord in Gateshead Hall: I was like nobody there; I had nothing in harmony with Mrs. Reed or her children, or her chosen vassalage.  If they did not love me, in fact, as little did I love them.  They were not bound to regard with affection a thing that could not sympathise with one amongst them; a heterogeneous thing, opposed to them in temperament, in capacity, in propensities; a useless thing, incapable of serving their interest, or adding to their pleasure; a noxious thing, cherishing the germs of indignation at their treatment, of contempt of their judgment.”

 This paragraph could have been inspired by CB’s very real experience of working for the Sidgwick family at Stone Gappe in North Yorkshire for a few months in 1839

Jane Eyre also seems to be afflicted with an identical malady to CB.

“My habitual mood of humiliation, self-doubt, forlorn depression, fell damp on the embers of my decaying ire.”

 Elizabeth Gaskell wrote the first biography of Charlotte Bronte and hinted she did indeed suffer from a malady we call depression today. This seems to have become worse when she left the security of the Haworth Parsonage.

Finally Jane is short in stature just like CB, who was the smallest child in her own  family

“……and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to

Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.”

John Reed

The boy sounds very much like one of Charlotte Bronte’s first charges, Master John Benson Sigdwick.  From May to July 1839 CB was employed by the Sidgwick family at their summer residence, Stone Gappe, in Lothersdale,  She was employed to be governess to the two younger children Matilda and  John.  The family had three older children and Mrs Sarah Sidgwick was pregnant with another child.  John was apparently an unruly child who on one occasion threw a bible at CB. That would seem a likely inspiration for the book throwing incident.in the first chapter of Jane Eyre though it was “Bewicks History of Birds” and not the bible. Charlotte Bronte did not find her new job as a governess to her liking. She wrote a letter to her sister, Emily, on June 8 1839

The country, the house and the grounds, as I have said, divine. The children are constantly with me and more riotous, perverse, unmanageable cubs never grew.

“As for correcting them, I soon quickly found that was entirely out of the question: they are to do as they like.”

She asked that Emily should not show the letter to anyone except, Branwell their brother.She also added: “I complain to you because it is a relief and really I have had some unexpected mortifications to put up with.”

However, things may mend, but Mrs Sidgwick expects me to do things that I cannot do – to love her children and be entirely devoted to them.

It seem likely that the John Reed character is also at least partly based on her own brother Patrick Branwell Bronte. Brothers and sisters do occasionally fight and there is some evidence to show that Aunt Branwell favoured Branwell over the girls. Branwell like John was the only brother in a family of sisters. Like John he was also spoiled and indulged and always forgiven no matter what his sins. Later in the book we learn the fate of John Reed,

But Reed left children?–you must have cousins?  Sir George Lynn was talking of a Reed of Gateshead yesterday, who, he said, was one of the veriest rascals on town;…………John Reed is dead, too, sir: he ruined himself and half-ruined his family, and is supposed to have committed suicide.”

 This cannot be based on young master Sidgwick who would still be a young man when CB wrote Jane Eyre. It does however seem to be a perfect match to Branwell Bronte. He was sacked from his post as a tutor to the Robinson family of Thorp Green after conducting an affair with Mrs Lydia Robinson in July 1845. He returned to Haworth and sank into self-pity, seeking comfort in drink and opium. He had failed in work. Even before Thorp Green, he had failed as a portrait painter, been sacked from a job as tutor with a family in Westmoreland, and then dismissed as clerk-in-charge at Luddenden on the Leeds-Manchester railway. He had also failed in love. He died of tuberculosis in September 24th 1848.

Mrs Reed

CB had an unhappy relationship with Mrs Sidgwick and she seems a very good fit for the Mrs Reed character. Mrs Sidgwick would hear no complaints about her own children. CB considered her to be unjust and very demanding. In particular Mrs Sidgwick expected CB to produce “oceans of needlework”, probably not a job that she expected to be doing as a governess.

CB thought better of Mr Sidgwick “kinder, less condescending, with less profession than his wife and not so excessively indulgent to his children” Indeed she seems  to have considered Mr Sidgwick to be a proper English gentleman. “he strolled through his fields with his magnificent Newfoundland dog”. No character resembling the very real Mr Sidgwick appears in the first part of the book….but he certainly sounds like a very important character we meet later in the story.

Bessie Lee

The nurse at Gatehead Hall sounds very much like the young Tabitha Ackroyd, servant at the Haworth Parsonage. Jane Eyre is locked in the mysterious red room as a punishment for upsetting the family and as she crosses the room she catches her reflection in a large looking glass,

I thought it like one of the tiny phantoms, half fairy, half imp, Bessie’s evening stories represented as coming out of lone, ferny dells in moors, and appearing before the eyes of belated travellers.”

Prior to being locked up Jane was sitting by herself and engrossed in “Bewicks History of Birds” She is fascinated by the illustrations in some of the vignettes..

“Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings……. fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.

In real life it was the young Tabitha Ackroyd, household servant who told the young Bronte children fairy tales by the fireside back at the Haworth Parsonage.

Jane suffers a fit and faints when locked in  the red room and Mr Lloyd the apothecary is called.He is portayed as a sympathetic and kind character and someone who Jane trusts.

“……he departed; to my grief: I felt so sheltered and befriended while he sat in the chair near my pillow; and as he closed the door after him, all the room darkened and my heart again sank: inexpressible sadness weighed it down.”

Mr Lloyd asks Jane if she would like to go to school. This starts her thinking..

Again I reflected: I scarcely knew what school was: Bessie sometimes spoke of it as a place where young ladies sat in the stocks, wore backboards, and were expected to be exceedingly genteel and precise: John Reed hated his school, and abused his master; but John Reed’s tastes were no rule for mine, and if Bessie’s accounts of school-discipline (gathered from the young ladies of a family where she had lived before coming to Gateshead) were somewhat appalling, her details of certain accomplishments attained by these same young ladies were, I thought,equally attractive.  She boasted of beautiful paintings of landscapes and flowers by them executed; of songs they could sing and pieces they could play, of purses they could net, of French books they could translate.

You can almost imagine the three sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne talking with Tabitha Ackroyd back at the Haworth Parsonage about their various experiences of school.

Bessie Lee and Mr Lloyd are the only adults in Chapters 1-4 who show Jane any kindness. I have yet to find the original or inspiration for Mr Lloyd the apothecary but have no doubt he was based on someone CB  knew well, possibly a doctor who visited the Parsonage.


Mr Brocklehurst

In Chapter 4 Mr Brocklehurst arrives at Gateshead Hall, apparently summoned by Mrs Reed and Jane is taken to meet him as Mr Lloyd has suggested Jane be sent off to school..

“He_, for it was a man, turned his head slowly towards where I stood, and having examined me with the two inquisitive-looking grey eyes which twinkled under a pair of bushy brows, said solemnly, and in a bass voice,”Her size is small: what is her age?”

 Mr Brocklehurst begins asking Jane some questions,

 “No sight so sad as that of a naughty child,” he began, “especially a

naughty little girl.  Do you know where the wicked go after death?”

          “They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.

 “And what is hell?  Can you tell me that?”

               “A pit full of fire.”

 “And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for


 More questions follow,

 “Do you say your prayers night and morning?” continued my interrogator.

           “Yes, sir.”

 “Do you read your Bible?”


 “With pleasure?  Are you fond of it?”

              “I like Revelations, and the book of Daniel, and Genesis and Samuel, and

a little bit of Exodus, and some parts of Kings and Chronicles, and Job

and Jonah.”


“And the Psalms?  I hope you like them?”

Mr Brocklehurst is actually the proprietor of Lowood school and it is arranged that Jane will be sent there to study. Before he leaves for his home Brocklehurst Hall. The gentleman hands Jane a curious pamphlet,

 “Little girl, here is a book entitled the ‘Child’ Guide,’ read it with prayer, especially that part containing ‘An account of the awfully sudden death of Martha G—, a naughty child addicted to falsehood and deceit. With these words Mr. Brocklehurst put into my hand a thin pamphlet sewn in a cover, and having rung for his carriage, he departed.

 There can be absolutely no doubt as to the identity or original of Mr Brocklehurst as it was explained in Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of CB. The character is most clearly based on the real life Rev Carus Wilson of Casterton Hall. He established a small school for the daughters of poor clergymen  at Cowan Bridge just south of Kirby Lonsdale.He was noted for his fire and brimstone sermons and his strict attitude and beliefs concerning children as well as his autocratic running of his very real school.

CB herself confirms the identity in a letter written to her publisher W S Williams. She describes overhearing a clergyman talking about having  read  Jane Eyre and relates the conversation,

Why, they have got Cowan Bridge School, and Mr. Wilson here, I declare! and Miss Evans.” She says, “He had known them all. I wondered whether he would recognise the portraits, and was gratified to find that he did, and that, moreover, he pronounced them faithful and just.

 Carus Wilson apparently took legal advice about defamation but did not bring proceedings against CB. This might have been due to the fact that CB published Jane Eyre under the alias of Currer Bell. She also wrote a letter of apology to Carus Wilson

Locality and Buildings


The opening four chapters are all set in a fine house named as Gateshead Hall. There seems little doubt that we are in the County of Yorkshire and it was here that CB took up her first post of governess at Stone Gappe at Lothersdale. This impressive building still stands today and has a central canted bay. Interestingly the room occupying the central canted bay is still identified as a drawing room on modern plans.  If you recall the book mentions a drawing room……

The said Eliza, John, and Georgiana were now clustered round their mama

in the drawing-room: she lay reclined on a sofa by the fireside, and with

her darlings about her….”

After being scolded by Mrs Reed Jane retreats to an adjoining room…

“A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there.  It

contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care

that it should be one stored with pictures.”

Back in the real world there are two rooms that adjoin the drawing room  at Stone  Gappe House,  sitting room and a dining room. Both have windows allowing views down over the estate.. CB would have had access to most of Stone Gappe house and would have known it well. I don’t think there could be a better fit for Gateshead Hall. I think we can totally rule out Upperwood House at Rawdon where CB took her final post as governess in 1841 for  the White family. Writing to her great friend Ellen Nussey she described it thus..

“the house is small but exceedingly comfortable and well regulated”.

Upperwood House was demolished in 1878.  The only other possible contender for Gateshead Hall is Roehead where she was a pupil and then later a governess . It fails to match the description. In short then I think  there can be little doubt that Gateshead Hall and events described therein was inspired by CB’s stay at Stone Gappe for  a few very unhappy months in 1839………

Copyright@ Mike Sheridan 2016

Bronte fans my be interested in  one of my earlier blogs where I have identified the original for Thornfield Hall later in the book……


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Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre and the true inspiration for Thornfield Hall


Today Thursday April 21st 2016 is a very special day. It is the bicentenary of the birth of a truly great writer. She wrote four books but is most famous for her second which is of course Jane Eyre. A chance comment I heard about a Jane Eyre connection with Castleton in Derbyshire set me off on a hunt for information which turned into a quest. Over Christmas 2015 I read Jane Eyre for the first time. I was also researching the novel, noting down all the character’s names and relationships. I also noted down place names, buildings even the flora and fauna. I became absolutely convinced that Charlotte Bronte’s three week stay in Derbyshire in 1845 was the inspiration for significant parts of Jane Eyre. I was also convinced that CB had used real names from Derbyshire folk in her work and also incorporated sights sounds and stories she encountered during her stay. In particular I was sure that Hathersage, its families, its church, its industrial entrepreneurs and some of its finer houses appear in the story but with different names. I have been researching now for nearly four months and I have visited Hathersage three times, walking the paths CB would have taken. I have learnt so much but this blog will seek to answer just one simple question? Where was Thornfield Hall and what is it’s true identity?

The shortlist for the possible original of Thornfield Hall is very short: only Norton Conyers in North Yorkshire and North Lees Hall near Hathersage in Derbyshire have ever been considered and CB is known to have visited both. Norton Conyers is a manor house situated in an isolated location north of Ripon. In the summer of 1839 CB took up her first position as a governess with the Sidgwick family at their summer residence at Stonegappe. It was a brief stay barely three months during June to July. Norton Conyers was the seat of Mr Greenwood the father of Mrs Sidgwick. CB visited the house when staying with her pupils at Swarcliffe, Mr Greenwood’s summer residence. The house has distinctive Dutch style gables and is built in two storeys and has distinctive double chimneys at the front. Its main claim to be the original Thornfield lies in the fact that it does have a secret, a staircase hidden behind panelling on the first floor that leads to a series of rooms with low ceilings in the attic. Some claim this was the inspiration for Jane Eyre’s mad woman in the attic storyline. To the very best of my knowledge this is also the ONLY claim that may link this house and Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte. It certainly does not match the description of Thornfield in Jane Eyre, indeed it comes nowhere near. Now let us examine the evidence that North Lees Hall is actually the original of Thornfield Hall. To accomplish this I will use the exact words written by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre.

We come across the first mention of Thornfield Hall in Chapter 10 in  Jane Eyre when Mrs Fairfax sends Jane Eyre a letter, including details of the position of governess and her address

Mrs. Fairfax, Thornfield, near Millcote, —shire.”

This then clearly establishes the link between a place called Millcote and Thornfield and it is a shire county (well that rules out Cumberland and Westmorland at least!)

CB then gives us further information about Millcote

“Millcote, —shire; I brushed up my recollections of the map of England, yes, I saw it; both the shire and the town.  —shire was seventy miles nearer London than the remote county where I now resided: that was a recommendation to me.  I longed to go where there was life and movement:

Millcote was a large manufacturing town on the banks of the A-; a busy place enough, doubtless: so much the better; it would be a complete change at least.  Not that my fancy was much captivated by the idea of long chimneys and clouds of smoke–“but,” I argued, “Thornfield will,probably, be a good way from the town.”

 This information notifies us that Millcote is on the banks of a river beginning with A, it is a large manufacturing town and has long chimneys with clouds of smoke. Importantly it is stated to be seventy miles nearer to London ( ie to the south) than the remote county in which she was residing. I have checked for rivers beginning with A in northern England and can find only the River Aire which flows through both Keighley and Leeds, places Charlotte visited. They would both have lots of long chimneys too. The fly in the ointment here is that neither would be 70 miles south of the county where Jane Eyre was residing. That was of course Lancashire. It has been established beyond any doubt that the Lowood school in Jane Eyre was based on a very real school for clergymen’s daughters at Cowan Bridge which CB attended. This location was just within Lancashire, the nearest town was Kirby Lonsdale to the north in Westmorland.

Today the distance between nearby Kirby Londsdale to Leeds would be 58 miles by modern road, Kirby Londsdale to Ripon be 61 miles by modern roads and to Hathersage would be 106 miles by using the M6. In the 1840s the old coach routes would have been used which ranged over fells and moors so the actual distances would be shorter. Norton Conyers is not 70 miles nearer London BUT Hathersage and North Lees Hall is the most southerly and therefore nearer London. Interestingly the distance between Haworth and Hathersage today by modern roads is 65 miles. In the summer of 1845 CB made a journey to Hathersage in three legs with first a carriage to Leeds then a coach to Sheffield and then to Hathersage.

The choice of the name of the town Millcote is interesting. CB was well versed in French and would have understood the French word for Cote which can mean “coast”. If we put the two elements together we get Mill- Coast. Today Hathersage is a pretty and sleepy old Derbyshire village. It is hard to picture how so much different it was when CB visited in 1845. It was a hive of industry with no less than 6 different mills and a button factory. The mills were originally water powered by two local streams but in the early 1840s all converted to steam power. During her stay in the village she would have seen the various chimneys belching smoke and some of the chimneys remain to this day. Alternatively Millcote could be Sheffield, the nearest manufacturing town to Hathersage and North Lees Hall – just ten miles distant.  Let us now examine more evidence that links Millcote and Hathersage together.

In Chapter 11 Jane Eyre sets off for Thornfield by coach and  after a very long journey arrives at an inn,

“A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe.”

 Jane waits impatiently at the George Inn for a carriage to take her to Thornfield Hall. Eventually it arrives and she rushes out of the Inn,

“I jumped up, took my muff and umbrella, and hastened into the inn-passage: a man was standing by the open door, and in the lamp-lit street I dimly saw a one-horse conveyance.”

 There is a George Inn in Hathersage today though it is no longer a coaching Inn and has become a Hotel. Interestingly the George Hotel still has an “inn-passage” into which the coaches would drive and deposit their passengers at the rear of the premises in former days. It is clearly visible in the photograph below,

George Hotel Hathersage

The George Hotel 500 years old and once a coaching Inn called the George Inn.

From the George Inn Jane Eyre is taken to nearby Thornfield Hall..

“I got in; before he shut me up, I asked him how far it was to Thornfield. “A matter of six miles.” “How long shall we be before we get there?” “Happen an hour and a half.”

 In reality the distance between The George Inn and North Lees Hall is just over one mile. Sheffield is 10 miles away. It would take around one and half hours to travel by coach from Sheffield to Hathersage/ North Lees Hall.  During the journey Jane Eyre observes the scenery,

“Again I looked out: we were passing a church; I saw its low broad tower against the sky, and its bell was tolling a quarter; I saw a narrow galaxy of lights too, on a hillside, marking a village or hamlet.  About  ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates: we passed through, and they clashed to behind us.  We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house.

This description seems to match Hathersage almost exactly. The principal church stands on the highest hill in the village and has both a tower and a steeple though clearly the steeple was added at a later date. It does have a church clock which chimes the hours and quarters, something that the church at Haworth did not possess. It would be simply impossible to ascend the drive up to North Lees Hall at anything other than a slow place as it is exceedingly steep. After being taken inside Thornfield and meeting Mrs Fairfax Jane spends her first night in Thornfield. In the morning she steps outside to view the hall,

“…advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion.  It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look.  Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation.  Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote.  A little hamlet, whose roofs were blent with trees, straggled up the side of one of these hills; the church of the district stood nearer Thornfield: its old tower-top looked over a knoll between the house and gates.”

This is a near perfect description of the view of North Lees Hall which can still be seen from the lawn today as Jane Eyre saw it. It does have battlements around the top. Importantly and unlike Norton Conyers it does have  three storeys when viewed from  the lawn. It also is secluded in a very high location just below Stanage Edge.

North Lees Hall 3 storeysNorth  Lees Hall viewed from the lawn – 3 storeys, battlements and all clearly visible.

In Chapter 11 Jane observes Mrs Fairfax carrying out some domestic duties..

“….Mrs. Fairfax was dusting some vases of fine purple spar, which stood on a sideboard.”

This would seem to be a reference to the local spar we now know as Blue John which comes in a variety of colours including purple. It is mined in only one locality – at Castleton in Derbyshire just five and a half miles away from North Lees Hall.

Thornfield Hall also possesses something called “Leads”….

On to the leads; will you come and see the view from thence?”  I followed still, up a very narrow staircase to the attics, and thence by a ladder and through a trap-door to the roof of the hall.  I was now on a level with the crow colony, and could see into their nests.”

This is Mrs Fairfax talking first with Jane finishing off with a description of getting first into the attics and then onto the roof. “Leads” may have been a lead roof, often used in the local district as a roofing material for important buildings like Halls and churches as it was mined nearby.  Importantly Thornfield had a means of getting onto the roof. This therefore could hardly be a pitched roof like Norton Conyers.  More likely it was a flat roof which is exactly what North Lees Hall has and had when visited by CB. Indeed it seems a certainty that CB was taken up onto the roof at North Lees Hall as Jane Eyre describes the scene below in great detail…

“Leaning over the battlements and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds laid out like a map: the bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the grey base of the mansion; the field, wide as a park, dotted with its ancient timber; the wood, dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown, greener with moss than the trees were with foliage; the church at the gates, the road, the tranquil hills, all reposing in the autumn day’s sun; the horizon bounded by a propitious sky, azure, marbled with pearly white.  No feature in the scene was extraordinary, but all was pleasing.  When I turned from it and repassed the trap-door, I could scarcely see my way down the ladder; the attic seemed black as a vault compared with that arch of blue air to which I had been looking up, and to that sunlit scene of grove, pasture, and green hill, of which the hall was the centre, and over which I had been gazing with delight.”

 In Chapter 12 Jane leaves the Hall to take a walk to the hamlet of Hay to post a letter for Mrs Fairfax. The route is uphill so she stops for a rest on a large stone and surveys the scene below her..

“From my seat I could look down on Thornfield: the grey and battlemented hall was the principal object in the vale below me; its woods and dark rookery rose against the west.”

 Today it is possible to take a walk above North Lees Hall and you will find an old pack horse road. There are a number of very large boulders which make excellent seats. You can indeed sit on one of these and look down on the vale below. This is what you can see…It is an almost perfect match to the description by Charlotte Bronte.

Looking Down on  North Lees Hall

It is on the road to Hay where Jane first meets Rochester and she helps him up when his horse slips on an icy path. Rochester wishes to know where Jane lives?

“You live just below–do you mean at that house with the battlements?” pointing to Thornfield Hall, on which the moon cast a hoary gleam,bringing it out distinct and pale from the woods that, by contrast with the western sky, now seemed one mass of shadow.”

 This is yet another match to the view looking down onto North Lees Hall

 In Chapters 17 and 18 Jane  Eyre describes in great detail features of the various rooms at Thornfield Hall and mentions an  arch separating two important ground floor rooms. In Chapter 18 a small yet important detail emerges..

The drawing-room, as I have before observed, was raised two steps above the dining-room…”

This matches almost perfectly with the ground floor layout of North Lees Hall. It was composed of two main wings which were built at different times. The hall is built on a slope so it was not possible to create a level floor to match up both wings. This small yet important detail was clearly seen by Charlotte Bronte and made its way into Jane Eyre providing another positive link between the real hall and the version in the book. In the accompanying photograph both wings are visible and the one at the rear is slightly higher than that at the front.

two wings of North Lees Hall

To complete the review of evidence I will provide another quote from the book about a very unusual piece of furniture at Thornfield Hall in Chapter 20,

“….the shadows darken on the wrought, antique tapestry round me, and grow black under the hangings of the vast old bed, and quiver strangely over the doors of a great cabinet opposite–whose front, divided into twelve panels, bore, in grim design, the heads of the twelve apostles, each enclosed in its separate panel as in a frame;”

Apostles Chest once in North Lees Hall

This is better known as an “Apostles Chest”. In the Bronte Museum at Haworth is just such a piece of furniture. It was purchased in the 1920s from a member of the Eyre family and removed from…… North Lees Hall. Why would the Bronte Society take the trouble of buying and removing this item from North Lees Hall unless it had a connection with Charlotte Bronte?


Thornfield Hall is most clearly described as being close to a manufacturing district with tall chimneys. It is also close to the George Inn which is a coaching Inn with an Inn Passage. It also near a small hamlet with a church clock that chimes the quarters. The building itself is described as having battlements and has three storeys when viewed from the lawn. It also has attics and a ladder up onto the “leads” or roof. There is a step up between the principal ground floor rooms, the drawing room and the dining room. It had a very unusual piece of furniture known as an apostle’s chest.  I began this blog asking a simple question – Where was Thornfield Hall and what is its true indentity?  I think the answer should be clear now – North Lees Hall situated just over a mile above the village of Hathersage must be the original of Thornfield Hall. It has a much greater and a better claim than  Norton Conyers and the evidenc comes from the pen of Charlotte Bronte herself . For the sceptics who are still not convinced I leave you with a final thought.  Thorn is anagram of North and Lee or Lees is an old name for field / fields. THORN FIELD…. NORTH LEES

This blog is brought to you by researcher and writer Mike Sheridan who is currently working on his fourth book about Charlotte Bronte and her writing. I hope you have enjoyed the fruits of my research and let us not forget who made all of this possible – a remarkable little lady born exactly 200 years ago today. Still we read her works and still they continue to amuse and amaze us!

Copyright@ Mike Sheridan 2016 – ALL text and images except quotations from Jane Eyre.  Feel free to share but please DON’T copy!









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Looking Through Charlotte Bronte’s Eyes Part 4

Jane Eyre book cover colour

My continuing quest to learn more about Charlotte Bronte and her famous work Jane Eyre…  and what links  this book with a three week stay in Hathersage, Derbyshire in  June and July 1845..

In my previous blogs I recorded my notes and observations about early parts of the first biography ever written on Chatlotte Bronte, by her friend and author Elizabeth  Gaskell. This blog will continue the journey through that book.

1840 saw Charlotte living at home at Haworth for the full year. Writing to her good friend Ellen Nussey she makes clear how happy she is on home territory..

Verily it is a delightful thing to live here at home, at full liberty to do just as one pleases.”

In 1841 she took up her second position as governess to another Yorkshire family. Gaskell does not reveal the name but my research has already discovered they were called White. The family lived quite close to Ellen Nussey, possibly in Birstall. She had two pupils, a girl of 8 and a boy of 6. This engagement lasted longer than her first position but by July Charlotte is back at Haworth once more. Gaskell mentions one of Charlottes habits and calls it making out……

“This habit of ‘making out’ interests for themselves that most children get who have none in actual life, was very strong in her.  The whole family used to ‘make out’ histories, and invent characters and events.

 We might call this day-dreaming but it was evidently something much stronger – day-dreaming with a purpose. She would look at a painting or picture intently seeking out every small detail. She did not join in with games at school and preferred to stand under a tree by herself and observe the sky. Her brother and sisters shared this making-out habit, even staring into an empty room and imagining what might be there.

On a visit home Charlotte discovers Anne is sick and there is talk about the three sisters opening their own school, even talk about setting one up at Burlington ( Bridlington)

Papa and aunt talk, by fits and starts, of our–id est, Emily, Anne, and myself–commencing a school!  I have often, you know, said how much I wished such a thing; but I never could conceive where the capital was to come from for making such a speculation.  I was  well aware, indeed, that aunt had money, but I always considered that she was the last person who would offer a loan for the purpose in question.  A loan, however, she _has_ offered, or rather intimates that she perhaps _will_ offer in case pupils can be secured, an eligible situation obtained..”

 By early August she was back working for the White family.  The plans for the school continued and Charlotte heard that Miss Wooler was thinking of giving up her school on Dewsbury Moor. The plans continue but Charlotte realised her “attainments” may not yet be good enough to open her own school and there is some discussion about her going to the continent to improve her French and German,

I so longed to increase my attainments–to become something better than I am….  I longed to go to Brussels; but how could I get there?  I wished for one, at least, of my sisters to share the advantage with me.  I fixed on Emily….”

 Charlotte left her employers just before Christmas and her second spell as a governess was over. At Christmas all the Bronte’s were back together at Haworth.  Plans were made and a few weeks into 1842 Charlotte and Emily Bronte set off for London with their father. They stayed overnight then took the Ostend Packet from London Bridge and made their way to the Pensionnnat of Madame Heger, situated on the Rue D’Isaabelle in Brussels.  Patrick Bronte spent one night there then immediately returned to Yorkshire. Charlotte was to improve her French along with Emily under the guidance of Monsieur Heger. Charlotte also took lessons in German.  There were between 80 and 100 pupils when Charlotte and Emily arrived in February 1842. They did not make any new friends and had a lot to learn…

“M. Heger’s account is that they knew nothing of French.  I suspect they knew as much (or as little), for all conversational purposes, as any English girls do, who have never been abroad, and have only learnt the idioms and pronunciation from an Englishwoman.  The two sisters clung together, and kept apart from the herd of happy, boisterous, well-befriended Belgian girls, who, in their turn, thought the new English pupils wild and scared-looking, with strange, odd, insular ideasabout dress.”

The original plan was to stay in Brussels just six months but that was changed,

When the Brontes first went to Brussels, it was with the intention ofremaining there for six months, or until the _grandes vacances_ began in September.  The duties of the school were then suspended for six weeks or two months, and it seemed a desirable period for their return”

Madame Heger had made on offer for Charlotte and Emily to stay on for another six months, she would dismiss her English master and Charlotte would take his place and Emily would teach music. There would be no charge for board and they could continue their language studies for no charge but they would not receive a salary. These plans were accepted and Charlotte and Emily spent the summer in Belgium and did not return to Haworth.

In late October 1842 they received a letter informing that Aunt Branwell was seriously ill. They raced back to Haworth but it was too late. She had died and the burial had already taken place. Aunt Branwell left the three sisters an inheritance and now they had the money they would need to start a new school. A decision was taken to set up in Haworth. These plans were talked over and Charlotte decided she needed to return to Brussels to continue improving her French.

In January 1843 she returned but Emily stayed at Haworth. This time she travelled alone to Brussels and did not find it a pleasant experience. She returned to teaching English and also gave English lessons to Mr Heger and his brother. She was however very lonely. In her first year she had the company of her sister Emily. She could also visit her old school friend Margaret Taylor and sister Mary who were living with the family nearby. She also became friend with Margaret’s cousins. By 1843 Martha was dead and Margaret and all her family had moved away. She did not mix with any of the other teachers and often went on solitary walks. In May 1843 she wrote to Ellen Nussey..

“I get on here from day to day in a Robinson-Crusoe-like sort of way, very lonely, but that does not signify. “

Writing to Ellen again in August her despair is clearly obvious as she yearns to return home,

 “Brussels, August 1st, 1843.

 If I complain in this letter, have mercy and don’t blame me, for, I forewarn you, I am in low spirits, and that earth and heaven are dreary and empty to me at this moment.  In a few days our vacation will begin; everybody is joyous and animated at the prospect, because everybody is to go home.  I know that I am to stay here during the five weeks that the holidays last, and that I shall be much alone during that time, and consequently get downcast, and find both days and nights of a weary length.  It is the first time in my life that I have really dreaded the vacation.  Alas!  I can hardly write, I have such a dreary weight at my heart; and I do so wish to go home.  Is not this childish?  Pardon me, for I cannot help it.  However, though I am not strong enough to bear up cheerfully, I can still bear up; and I will continue to stay (D. V.) some months longer, till I have acquired German; and then I hope to see all your faces again. “

 One of the reasons for Charlotte’s unhappiness was an estrangement between herself and Madame Heger.  Gaskell explains this away as some religious difference and intolerance between a Catholic and a Protestant.  This is another example of Gaskell’s censor at work. Another and more likely reason was that Charlotte had grown close to Mr Heger, much close than Madame Heger was prepared to tolerate indeed some people believe she had fallen in love with him. A hopeless romantic notion that had no possible future. Heger was a married man and a catholic.

At the end of 1843 Charlotte resigned her position giving the reason that she was concerned for her father’s health and in particular his growing blindness. On January 3rd 1844 Charlotte arrived back at Haworth. Mr Heger had kindly given her a diploma so now she could prove her attainments in French to any prospective patron of her new school.

Writing to a friend in January 1844 she betrays her feelings for Mr. Heger,

“I suffered much before I left Brussels.  I think, however long I live, I shall not forget what the parting with M. Heger cost me.  It grieved me so much to grieve him who has been so true, kind, and disinterested a friend.  At parting he gave me a kind of diploma certifying my abilities as a teacher, sealed with the seal of the Athenee Royal, of which he is professor.”

In the same letter she explains the plans for a new school are put on hold. She makes clear that the reason is her father’s failing eyesight and she does not wish to leave him with both Anne and Branwell away. This shows she was at this time thinking of starting a school somewhere away from Haworth. During the summer months the position changed and a decision to open a school at Haworth was taken. Costs were worked out at £35 per annum, circulars were created and printed and Charlotte busily sent these out to her few contacts. One of these was Mrs White for who she formerly worked as a governess. Charlotte was disappointed to find that she was too late, her daughter had been promised to another school. As summer 1844 turned to autumn and then winter, there were still no takers and Charlotte began to realise this plan was not going to work,

We have made no alterations yet in our house.  It would be folly to do so, while there is so little likelihood of our ever getting pupils. I fear you are giving yourself too much trouble on our account.  Depend upon it, if you were to persuade a mamma to bring her child to Haworth, the aspect of the place would frighten her, and she would probably take the dear girl back with her, instanter.  We are glad that we have made the attempt, and we will not be cast down because it has not succeeded.”

 The new Year of 1845 found Charlotte still at home at Haworth and looking after her father who was almost blind. Both Branwell and Anne were away working for the same employer. Writing in March to Ellen  Nussey she explains her daily routine..

March 24th, 1845.

I can hardly tell you how time gets on at Haworth.  There is no event whatever to mark its progress.  One day resembles another; and all have heavy, lifeless physiognomies.  Sunday, baking-day, and Saturday, are the only ones that have any distinctive mark.  Meantime, life wears away.  I shall soon be thirty; and I have done nothing yet.  Sometimes I get melancholy at the prospect before and behind me.  Yet it is wrong and foolish to repine.  Undoubtedly, my duty directs me to stay at home for the present.  There was a time when Haworth was a very pleasant place to me; it is not so now.  I feel as if we were all buried here.  I long to travel; to work; to live a life of action.  Excuse me, dear, for troubling you with my fruitless wishes.”

 In Mid June 1845  Charlotte received two offers to stay with her friend Ellen Nussey. The first was to stay at the family house in Yorkshire. This was turned down as Charlotte did not wish to leave her “papa” on his own due his growing blindness. The second invitation was to join Ellen at a Vicarage in  Hathersage Derbyshire. Ellen’s brother had recently secured the position of vicar at the parish Church of St Michaels and All Angels and Ellen requested Charlotte help her prepare the vicarage for his return from a honeymoon. Charlotte accepted this invitation,

“You thought I refused you coldly, did you?  It was a queer sort of coldness, when I would have given my ears to say Yes, and was obliged to say No.  Matters, however, are now a little changed.  Anne is come home, and her presence certainly makes me feel more at liberty.  Then, if all be well, I will come and see you.  Tell me only when I must come.  Mention the week and the day.  Have the kindness also to answer the following queries, if you can.  How far is it from Leeds to Sheffield?  Can you give me a notion of the cost?  Of course, when I come, you will let me enjoy your own company in peace, and not drag me out a visiting.”

This is all that Gaskell has to say about the three week stay in Hathersage in June and July 1845. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. There were no clues in her biography, not even the slightest hint about what if anything happened at Hathersage in those three weeks that helped to shape her book Jane Eyre. There was however an interesting letter about her return journey where she came across a Frenchman in her train carriage,

“On her return from this short visit to her friend, she travelled with a gentleman in the railway carriage, whose features and bearing betrayed him, in a moment, to be a Frenchman.  She ventured to ask him if such was not the case; and, on his admitting it, she further inquired if he had not passed a considerable time in Germany, and was answered that he had; her quick ear detected something of the thick guttural pronunciation, which, Frenchmen say, they are able to discover even in the grandchildren of their countrymen who have lived any time beyond the Rhine….. And so her journey back to Haworth, after the rare pleasure of this visit to her friend, was pleasantly beguiled by conversation with the French gentleman; and she arrived at home refreshed and happy”

 At the end of Chapter 14 of the Biography there was still no clue or hint of what inspired Charlotte to write Jane Eyre. Yes I had become aware that she was certainly using real people and places in her book, albeit it with changed names. It was easy enough to work out the inspiration and reason for the first part of the novel where Jane Eyre was a child….. but the Hathersage link was still missing and I had to find it….










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Looking Through Charlotte Brontes Eyes Part 3


My continuing quest to learn more about Charlotte Bronte and her famous work Jane Eyre…  and what links  this book with a three week stay in Hathersage, Derbyshire in July 1845..

In my previous blog I recorded my notes and observations about the early part of the first biography ever written on Chatlotte Bronte, by her friend and author Elizabeth  Gaskell. This blog will continue the journey through that book.

Gaskells biography begins to show the writing process used by Charlotte Bronte and started providing some of the clues I was seeking. She was most evidently writing from experience and about real people. In her book Jane Eyre she has changed some names but it is possible to identify some of the people who she was basing her characters on. The same is true of places.


In Chapter V Charlotte and Emily are taken out of Cowan Bridge by their father after the sad early death of their two elder sisters. Charlotte is little more than  nine years old and  does not attend school again  for a number of years. At this point in time Tabitha Ackroyrd, an old woman in the village of Haworth arrives to work and live in the house as a servant.

“She may have told children tales of bygone days, former inhabitants and decayed gentry, family tragedies and superstitious dooms and fairies.”

What Gaskell fails to mention is that Tabitha or Tabby was to feature as the original for not one but two characters in Jane Eyre. We do learn that the Bronte family are staunchly Tory as well being strictly Anglican and  the take two Leeeds newspapers -The Leeds Mercury (Whig) and the  Leeds Intelligencer (Tory).Another paper, a high tory newspaper called John Bull is read in  the house so is presumably borrowed. We learn that Charlotte’s hero is the Duke of Wellington.

By 1829 Charlotte was already writing stories in little books in tiny handwriting including “The Search After  Happiness -a Tale” This was “published” by Charlotte on August 17th 1829 and was complete with a cover in her own handwriting.

The story is set in Glass Town, an imaginary African kingdom which is revealed in a series of related stories and poems written chiefly by Charlotte and her brother Branwell. It tells the story of a man named Henry O’Donell who leaves his city to seek happiness and contentment. On his journey he meets a man on a similar quest and they travel to a distant land where they live for many peaceful years. After his companion mysteriously disappears, O’Donell grows increasingly lonely and depressed until one day a Genii appears and grants his wish to return to his long missed home. He is welcomed warmly by the chief of the city and his two sons (characters based on The Duke of Wellington and his sons) and resides there happily ever after.

This book was written when Charlotte was just 13 years old. She had also written many papers and stories. The quality and quantity of the writing is astonishing, especially for a small child. It also shows that Charlotte had literary ambitions at a very early age and was already writing for an audience .What was the stimulus for this writing venture? It may have been a Christmas present to Branwell which consisted of a box of toy soldiers. Each of the children seized a soldier ad immediately named them. Not surprisingly Charlotte named hers “the Duke of Wellington”. Branwell settled on “Buonoparte.” It has been suggested that the stories written in tiny books were produced for the soldiers hence their small size. It could also have been about conservation of expensive paper and also making it difficult for adults to read them. The children often worked together in pairs. Charlotte working with Branwell and Emily working with Anne. They wrote stories about characters living in their imaginary kingdoms. These were called Angria for Charlotte and Branwell and Gondaland  for Emily and Anne

In Chapter VI  Charlotte is returned to school in January 1831 by her father and starts at Roe Head school,  set in a roomy country house on the Leeds to Huddersfield Road. Here I began to be aware that Gaskell was deliberately concealing identities as she identifies Charlotte’s new  teacher only as Miss W—.  I was disappointed by this as I wanted to find real names. The school was only 20 miles from Haworth and nearby was Oakwell Hall, once owned by Fairfax Fearnley but Gaskell fails to make the connection with one of the characters featured in Jane Eyre – Mrs Fairfax. According to Gaskell an incident or occasion arose whilst Charlotte was at Roe Head that could have been the beginning of the idea for Jane Eyre. Was this a walk over the hills with Miss W— to see Cartwrights Mill or Factory at Liversedge?  Mr Cartwright was a notable local businessman and his employment of new machinery in  1812 resulted in an  attack by a Luddite mob. Gaskell writes “Mr Cartwright had some foreign blood in him, the traces of which were very apparent in his tall figure, dark eyes and complexion. He had been much  abroad and spoke French well.” This does sound remarkably like Mr Rochester does it not? In this chapter Gaskell explains that Charlotte made  two life-long friends at Roehead and was much happier in a small school where pupil numbers were between just 7 and 10. The names are given as just Mary —- and E, again the censor seems to be at work

Chapter VII of the biography draws a lot of detail from the numerous letters written by Charlotte to friend E and here we discover why some details are being hidden.  Gaskell explains how she used the content of the letters and under whose direction….

..”she throughout most carefully and completely effaced the names of persons and places which occurred in them and also that such information as I have obtained from her bears reference solely to Miss Bronte and her sisters ad not to any other individuals whom I may find it necessary to allude to in connection with  them.”

She or “E” was Ellen Nussey, not a difficult identity to guess but sadly some of the details of names and places I was seeking were clearly going to be heavily censored. After one and half years Charlotte returned to Haworth and employed herself initially by teaching her sisters. The three girls used to walk out on the moors together but rarely into Haworth itself. They all preferred the solitude and freedom of the moors. The children all had access to Mr Bronte’s library and here could be found a range of different authors and different types of reading matter; Walter Scott’s writings. Wordsworths and Southeys poems. Also some ladies magazines. Aunt Branwell had her own source of income and took two magazines including Frazers Edinburgh magazine. There were also some mad Methodist magazines and the letters of Mrs Elizabeth Rowe from the dead to the living. The children were also allowed to get books from the circulation library at Keighley. One library book read by Charlotte was “Kenilworth” by Sir Walter Scott.

Chapter VIII deals with another change in Charlotte’s life. On 29th July 1835 Charlotte returned to Roe Head school, taking Emily with her. Charlotte was to become a teacher. Emily lasted barely three months before returning to Haworth, missing the parsonage and her beloved moors. She was happy in her job at first and able to visit her old friends Mary and Ellen at weekends as they lived near to Roe Head School. Anne came become a pupil at the school replacing Emily. Gradually though the state of Charlotte’s health declines and Gaskell hints the condition is what we now call depression though she insists it was a physical not a mental condition. Midsummer holidays in 1836 were taken back at Haworth.  Christmas 1836 saw all the family back together at Haworth. There were talks of employment and remuneration as they felt a need to relieve their father of the burden of supporting all of them. None felt this more than Charlotte. She was teaching at Roe Head School, now removed to a new location on  Dewsbury Moor. Emily was teaching at a school in Halifax. Charlotte’s salary was too small to allow her to save any money from it. It was the household custom for the girls to sew til nine o’clock  at night. At this point Aunt Branwell and Mr Bronte went off to bed. The girls put away their sewing and along with Branwell then began  to pace up and down the room, often with candles extingushed. They talked over past cares and planned for the future, and consulted each other about their plans. They talked over their own writings in what they called their magazines ( little books). They had all been  recently writing poetry and were aware they needed a second opinion about the quality of their writing. So Charlotte as the eldest resolved to write to Cuthbert Southey, then poet laureate, asking his opinion or her poems. Branwell tried a similar venture by sending some of his poetry to Wordsworth seeking  his opinion. Finally a long reply was received from Southey which though not unpleasant must have been a disappointment. In particular Southey did not think that writing was woman’s work,

“Literature cAnneot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the  less leisure she will have for it.”

Charlotte Bronte’s exact reaction to this reply is recorded in Gaskells Biography.

Mr Southey’s letter was kind and admirable; a little stringent but it did me good.”

Southey’s letter did make Charlotte put aside her writing ambitions for a time and she returned to her teaching in Dewsbury in 1837. Christmas 1837 was spent back at the parsonage with her family. Charlotte was not in the best of health but Anne was worse with a slight cough and a pain in her side. Emily had given up her situation at a school in Halifax on account of her health. Charlotte returned to teaching but by June 1838 she was back at Haworth.. In March 1839 Charlotte received a written offer of marriage, which she rejected. This was from a man in holy orders and may have been the inspiration for the St John Rivers character in Jane Eyre. At this point in her life Charlotte was considering her future. She had been discouraged from literature and teaching seemed the only option but there was a problem. Neither her nor her sisters were naturally fond of children so teaching them was not a delightful task. The education they had all received did not qualify them to take charge of advanced pupils. They knew little of French or music.  One daughter was required to stay at home leaving two to find work. Emily was chosen to remain in Haworth.  Anne was the first to find a position as a governess and  a few weeks later so did Charlotte.  The employer’s names and locations were not given. It did not prove to be a happy experience. Charlotte found the job time consuming and exhausting and the children sometimes difficult. She lasted only a few months and was soon back at Haworth. In September 1839 she took her first holiday with Ellen Nussey to a spot just outside Bridlington which was much enjoyed. As the new year of 1840 opened all of the Brontes were at home except Anne who still away working as a governess. Charlotte had tried a new occupation and found it not to her liking….

By the end of Chapter VIII I was getting a better understanding of the influences upon Charlotte Bronte the person who was driven by duty and dedication to her father and sisters. I was beginning to see why she had a need to write and a hope to be published….


Posted in Charlotte Bronte, Derbyshire, Haworth, Historical crime, Ideas for writer, Inspiration for writers, Jane Eyre, publishing, Romantic Fiction, The Brontes, The Brontes of Haworth, Writer, Writing, writing ideas, writing process | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Through Charlotte Bronte’s Eyes Part 2

Life of Charlotte Bronte fromt cover

In my first blog I explained my interest in Charlotte Bronte and her most famous work “Jane Eyre”. I was convinced there was a connection between Hathersage in Derbyshire and some key events, places and characters in the novel. Having read the full book and made copious notes I had more questions than answers. The next step in my quest was to download and read a comprehensive biography of Charlotte Bronte published by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1857. I thought this would be in the public domain but not quite. I managed to find a free download of the second volume to my Kindle app but had to pay 99p for the first volume. No matter I was researching again and making notes as I went along. I was sure that at least some of my questions would be answered…..

The biography really gets going in Chapter 3 when Charlotte’s family are introduced. Her mother was Maria Branwell, daughter of a merchant in Penzance. She met her husband to be, Patrick Bronte when visiting relatives including the Reverend John Fennel of the Church of England in Leeds in the summer of 1812. In a letter dated 26th August 1812 she writes to Patrick and mentions a picnic to Kirkstall Abbey with “Uncle Aunt and Jane”. Maria was married from her uncles house in Leeds on 29th December 1812. The very same day her sister Charlotte Branwell was married in Penzance. The Brontes remained at Hartshead for five years and this is where both Maria and Elizabeth were born. Afterwards they all moved to Thornton in Bradford Parish and here Charlotte was born on  21st April 1816, followed by Patrick Branwell, Emily Jane and Anne. The Brontes moved to the Parsonage at Haworth on February 25th 1820. Maria Branwell was described as “extremely small in person, not pretty but very elegant, always dressed with a quiet simplicity of taste”. In time one of her daughters would fit this description exactly.

Soon after arrival at Haworth the mother was struck down with a serious illness and confined to bed. The children would all walk out together on  the nearby moors,  the elder ones taking care of the youngest. They took their meals without their parents. Their mother was fed in bed and their father always ate alone. Mrs Bronte died in September 1821. Charlotte was just over five years old at the time. The girls quickly passed from childhood into girlhood.. “bereft of all such society that would have been natural to their age.” The eldest child Maria would read the magazines and newspapers (Leeds Mercury, Leeds Intelligencer) that came into the Parsonage and would then relay the news, foreign and domestic and political back to her younger sisters and brother.  The Bronte children had no contact with other children at this time. In 1822 the elder sister of Maria Bronte senior , a maiden aunt, arrived from Penzance, ostensibly to look after the children. She was well past forty years of age and had no experience of children. She passed nearly all of her time and took most of her meals in her room. The children were left to their own devices, to play on the moors and read any books they could find in the house. There were no children’s books, only books for adults.

Chapter 4 in the Biography details Charlotte’s early schooldays. Patrick Bronte was an intelligent man and had attended university in Ireland. He was aware that his daughters needed to have an education to make them economically independent. He took his two eldest Maria and Elizabeth to a school for clergymen’s daughters at Cowan Bridge in July 1824. This lay on the road between Leeds and Kendal in an isolated location. Mr Bronte returned in September 1824 with Charlotte and Emily. Charlotte was eight and a half years of age when her schooling was begun. Cowan Bridge was not a happy school and all of the Bronte girls suffered, none more than the eldest Maria who was always in trouble with a particular teacher. The food was not to their liking as the “cook was careless, dirty and wasteful.” The girls often went without food and this did not help the eldest daughters who were already weak having recently recovered from a bout of measles and whooping cough. A fever broke out at the school in the early 1825 and 40 girls were taken ill. None died at Cowan Bridge but one expired after being taken home. None of the Brontes suffered with the fever. Charlotte made a friend in Mellany Hane, an older girl.. “ready to protect her from  any tyranny or encroachment on the part of the girls.”

In the winter of 1824- 1825 Maria was taken ill and her father was summoned. She was withdrawn from school on 14th February and  taken home via a coach to Leeds. She died a few months later of consumption on May 6 1825. She was just over eleven years of age. Elizabeth also became sick in the early summer and on 31st May was taken back to Haworth in the care of a confidential servant. She also died of consumption six weeks after Maria on June 15th. She was only ten years of age. Charlotte and Emily were taken home from Cowan Bridge and never returned there. With her elder sisters gone, Charlotte was now the eldest child at little more than nine years old.

Chapters 3 and 4 of the biography most definitely began to answer some of my questions. Elizabeth Gaskell makes clear that Cowan Bridge School is the “original” of Lowood school in Jane Eyre. The Reverend William Carus Wilson who founded Cowan Bridge is the “original” of Mr Brocklehurst. According to Elizabeth Gaskell Charlotte’s oldest sister Maria is the “original” for the Mary Burns character. Here I must confess I disagree. I would say that Mary Burns is a composite of Maria Bronte and Mellany Hane, both real pupils at Cowan Bridge,  both suffering badly in school and  both dying well before their time. Gaskell also hints at the identities of two real teachers at school. In the novel these are Miss Temple,  the kind and caring superintendent who looks after Jane  and Miss Scratcherd who torments Mary Burns. The real names of these two teachers is not revealed in the biography. This only made me more determined to seek them out. Chapter 4 also mentions a real incident involving “Miss Temple” and Elizabeth Bronte. Her husband communicated a memory she had of this particular Bronte girl. She had found Elizabeth with a severe cut on her head and then kept her in her own room looking after her for some days and nights. In the novel it is Jane Eyre who is taken into “Miss Temple’s” room.

Charlotte Bronte had this to say about her first school…..”Suffering her whole life long both in heart and body from the consequences of what happened there.”

Elizabeth Gaskell noted the following about her experience at Cowan Bridge..

“The pictures, ideas and conceptions of character received into the mind of a child eight years old were destined to be reproduced in fiery words a quarter of a century afterwards.”

As a writer myself I am interested in the writing process, where the ideas come from and why and how did famous writers create their works. I perceive something clearly about Jane Eyre now; this story is personal. For Jane Eyre read Charlotte Bronte. She is writing from her own experiences and from the heart. Some of her major characters were real and some seem to be composites ie more than one character. My quest has found some answers but I have more questions. I have yet to find any links with Derbyshire.

Next time I will reveal some more revelations from the Biography of Charlotte Bronte……….


Posted in Charlotte Bronte, Hathersage, Haworth, Historical crime, Ideas for writer, Inspiration for writers, Jane Eyre, The Brontes, Writer, Writing, Writing formula | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Through Charlotte Bronte’s Eyes Part 1

Charlotte BronteWhat inspired Charlotte Bronte to write Jane Eyre? Who did she base her characters on? Was she writing about her own life experiences? What locations and local stories fired her imagination ? What links her famous novel  to a visit to Derbyshire in 1845? These and other questions kept running  through my mind when I recently discovered she visited Hathersage in Derbyshire  just before writing Jane Eyre. I myself now live in the High Peak and only about 20 minutes drive from Hathersage.

As both a researcher and writer I was sure there was another story here. A quick search on google provided some clues….yet I needed more information. I decided to search for more and soon that search became a quest. I reasoned the first thing I had to do was read  the book so I quickly downloaded it to my Kindle App from Amazon. I was not just going to read  the story… I was going to research it too. So I made copious notes on relevant chapters. I made a note of each and every character as they were introduced and also their family relationships. I noted every place name  and location and details of all  buildings and homes and estates she wrote about.  I made notes whenever the landscape and weather were described, even noting the flora and  fauna. I was absolutely convinced that she was describing places in and around Hathersage and possibly Haworth too. I also analysed and recorded  the plot and compared it to the very real life of Charlotte Bronte. The similarities were quite striking. I will now record the plot as I saw it…

Jane Eyre is an  orphan who is sent to live with her Aunt Sarah Reed at Gateshead Hall. She is a relative not of Mrs Reed but Mr Reed her uncle who has been dead some nine years. Mrs Reed does not like Jane, nor do her children Eliza, Georgina and John. She learns both of her parents died of typhus and her father had been a poor clergyman. A visiting apothecary suggests Jane be sent off to school. In  Chapter 4 Mr Brocklehurst arrives.He runs  Lowood school at Brocklehust Hall where he is the treasurer and manager. In Chapter 5 Jane leaves by coach for the 50 mile journey to her new school. here she meets her teachers,four females and her favourite is Miss Temple. The next few chapters describe the harsh conditions at the school which is run on strict lines with a lot of hard work but little enough food. She makes a good friend in Helen Burns. In  Chapter 9 a typhus outbreak hits the school and number of girls succumb to the diseease. This included Helen Burns who was buried in  the Churchyard at Brocklebridge. In Chapter 10   the story changes and it is clearly explained that the previous chapters had charted the first 10 years of her life. The story now jumps eight years forward and  we find Jane as a young woman of 18 years and now she is working as a teacher herself at Lowood and has done so for the last two years .Jane’s favourite teacher Miss Temple marries the Rev Mr Nasmyth and leaves Lowood. a village called Lowton is mentioned just a 2 mile walk from Lowood School. She decides it is time to leave and advertises her services as a governness. She soon finds new  employment.

The next stage in the story begins at Chapter 11 with Jane arriving at Milcote from whence she is conveyed to her new employer at Thornfield Hall. She meets Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper and soon afterwards her new emplooyer Mr Rochester who has a young ward called Miss Adele Verans. Thornfield Hall and its surroundings are well described. The house is large and  has attics and is a two mile walk away from the hamlet of Hay. Chapters 11 to 25 describe the goings on and local characters at Thornfield Hall. These include a very odd woman  living in the attic.  Jane  slowly falls in  love with Mr Rochester despite him being almost twice as old as her.In Chapter 20 a Mr Mason,  a friend of Mr Rochester arrives and  then leaves in  mysterious circumstances. Eventually Mr Rochester proposes marriage to Jane and she accepts. In Chapter 26 the wedding takes place… and is then stopped when evidence is provided that Mr Rochester is already married … to the mad woman in the attic. He tries to persuade Jane to still travel to Europe with him but she knows she cannot.

Chapter 27 stars with the next part of the story and she leaves Thornfield Hall and Mr  Rochester very early in the morning, leaving behind most of her possessions and  money. She travels with a coachman to a North Midlands shire and is set down at a place called Whitcross where four roads meet. She has no money having used all she had to pay the coachman. She walks into a hamlet with a church with a spire. She enters the only shop asking for work but there is none. She spends the night sleeping on  the surrounding moors. She finds a place called Moor House which is near the hamlet of Morton. She is then taken in by Mr St John  Rivers who is a clergyman and his two sisters Diana and Mary who live at Moor House. Mr Rivers helps to set up Jane to be a teacher at the village school whose patron is Mr and Miss Oliver. The former is the owner of a needle factory. In Chapter 31 Jane moves into a small cottage in the village of Morton. In Chapter 33 Jane discovers her uncle Mr Eyre of Madeira is dead and  she inherits a fortune. She discovers that St John, Diana and Mary Rivers are actually her cousins and she decides to share her fortune with all of them. In Chapter 34 Mary and Diana return to Moor House,  new home to Jane to spend Christmas with her and Mr Rivers. St John Rivers proposes marriage to Jane and asks her to travel with him as he is about to leave the country to work as a missionary.  Jane refuses him as he does not love her. She loves only one man and determines to seek him  out.

In Chapter 36 she leaves Morton to travel to Thornfield Hall. She is shocked to find it burned to the ground and learns Mr Rochester now lives 30 miles away at a manor house called Ferndean. He is now blind and a cripple having tried to save  his wife when she set  fire to Thornfield Hall. Chapters 37 ad 38 conclude the story. Mr Rochester is now free to marry Jane and they all live happily ever after……..

The story reveals a lot of detail of places and place names – Milcote,  Morton, Whitcross, Thornfield Hall, Moor House,  Ferndean .Were these real or imagined? Were they in the West Riding of Yorkshire or Derbyshire?  Could I find any or all of them? A lot of names were used, were these real names from real families?  I realised more research was needed so the next step in my quest was to consult biographies and actual letters written by Charlotte Bronte……… and what I found there will be revealed in my next blog…….




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Farewell Starman


I was just 19 when I first became aware of David Bowie’s music in the  summer of ’72. His hit record “Starman” was being played constantly on the radio. Then I heard “Life on Mars” and I was hooked. I avidly bought up all of his existing  LPs and then every new one during the 1970s. He was not always the popular artist he will be remembered as. In  the early 1970’s he was dismissed by some as yet another glam rock artist. The musical press did not originally like him  either, with cynicism about his “final” performance as Ziggy Stardust. Many people just did not get him at first. Then again he was doing something no artist had done before. He tore up the rule book and did whatever he liked. He explored new musical genres and invented new persona’s. He succeeded brilliantly with every thing  he tried. He invented countless new riffs and melodies.  He could play a host of musical instruments.

Not content with singing he also successfully explored mime, film and theatre. David Bowie was incredibly talented but never stood still,  he was always changing, embracing new ideas. Now, already a legend, he has boldly gone where no-one has gone before. He has stage-managed his own death which happened just two days after his 69th birthday and two days after the release of his final album Blackstar. He appears to have written, sung  and performed his own epitaph and of course only one person was required for this, his last video. This haunting work is going to be talked about forever. He clearly knew he was going and left behind one amazing final performance for his fans. How lucky we were to have  witnessed so many great performances and so much great music. Thanks for the music David and thanks for the memories. I will leave you with the first line of one of his last songs and which he performs in a video..


“Look up here, I’m in  heaven”

What an incredible life and what an incredible way to end it. RIP Starman



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Murder Mystery and Mayhem on the Railways – 1 day to go!

1 day to launch blog image

Hello Readers. Here is my final blog concerning my third and newest true crime book which should go live on  Amazon on  Christmas Day ( and if not then on Boxing Day!) It is a very different kind of book to  my first two. It does not concentrate on one single story as they do.  It is actually a casebook of railway crime, calamities and mysteries from 1830-1899 and contains 12 chapters.  The final chapter is devoted to railway mysteries and there were many of those. One of the greatest mysteries was the frequent discovery of bodies on the railway lines throughout the country. In such circumstances the law dictated that a county or town  coroner should convene an inquest. The most important task was to identify the individual and  determine the cause of death. Take this actual example which is mystery number 2 out of 32 in my final chapter, produced verbatim here…

“A coroner’s inquest was held August 13th 1867 in the Canterbury Arms in Brixton. It was tasked with discovering the cause of death of railway guard Louis Williams Masson, aged 24 years. His body was found in a very odd place, on top of the 11.45 pm train from Victoria to Ludgate Hill. He was found flat on his back with his feet towards the engine. His wounds were severe. He had a fractured skull and cuts about the head and face. It was believed he had been killed by walking or crawling about on the roof of the train and had been struck by a bridge. The court considered two theories to explain how he died. The coroner pointed out that on some lines society had been outraged by guards watching a man and a woman when they got into a compartment believing they were going to do wrong. Only the previous week a guard had been killed whilst standing on the running board, watching a lady and gentleman. They were shocked at seeing him killed with his face pressed close to the glass. The other theory concerned a 10 shillings reward offered by the railway company for apprehension of felons who had been cutting carriage linings. They climbed onto the roof, cut the roof material, removed the horsehair then put their hands into the compartments to steal curtains and brasses. The court considered the possibility the guard was on the roof trying to catch the felons. Inspector Harris pointed out it was a breach of duty for the guard to leave his brake for any purpose. The jury could not decide which was the correct theory but reasoned this was an accident and recorded such as their final verdict. The mystery of what the guard was really doing on the roof was never solved.”

Here there were two possibilities that might explain how the guard died. Was the  guard a peeping Tom spying on  the couple in  the compartment? Or was he doing his duty trying to catch felons damaging the train? The jury certainly could not decide. When  passengers jumped or were thrown out of a train they usually died quickly of terrible injuries. If the fall did not kill them they could be knocked unconscious and then be  run over by a train. Both men and women often seemed  to be falling out of trains. Inquests considered many possible reasons including some odd ones like sleepwalking. Drink or should I  say too much drink seemed to be involved on some occasions. Men would get into arguments or fights or lose their inhibitions about their behaviour with a lady in the carriage. Physical assaults would drive some  men  out onto the running boards and sexual advances would do the same to most ladies. In  short the mystery of why a body came to be lying dead upon the rails often remained a mystery – despite a coroner’s inquest. My final chapter is full of these odd mysteries and I invite my readers to read and  solve them……if you can!

Well my book is complete and should be available very soon. For those who have been  following and reading my blogs or who may be interested in my work I now have a very special offer. For  a very short time on Christmas and  possibly Boxing Day 2015 YOU can  help yourself to  a free download. Just click on  the hyperlink below and if my book is showing a zero price it will be free to download. DONT MISS it, I have no plans to offer it free again in  the near future.

This is researcher and writer Mike Sheridan signing off for Christmas 2015 .BEST WISHES and a MERRY CHRISTMAS to YOU ALL!!




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Murder Mystery and Mayhem on the Railways 2 Days to GO!


2 days to launch.....

Hello again Readers, almost time for my new book, just a few more days. Herewith some information and this time it gets serious. In the last blog I detailed how robbers took to the rails and how some went armed. It would only be a matter of time before a robbery went wrong and this happened in 1864 with the murder of Mr Briggs,  the first ever railway murder. Sadly he was not the last and in almost all cases the assailant had entered a carriage intent on robbery, not planning just to kill someone. By 1881 it was common knowledge that those travelling in a first class carriage were the  most like to be  carrying large sums of money. This attracted robbers to stations to seek out a likely victim, then slip into their compartment just before the train departed. They would then threaten violence, rob their victim and often then thrown them out to their death on the tracks. Occasionally things did not always go to plan. Here is an excerpt from chapter 7 of my new book,

“On Monday June 27th 1881, Richard Gibson, a ticket collector was on duty at Preston Park Station near Brighton. The 2.00pm down train from London Bridge had just arrived and he saw a man leave a first class carriage covered in blood and walking unsteadily. The man had no collar and tie or hat and was very distressed. Ticket collector Stark was nearest to the man and approached him. He noticed a piece of watch chain was hanging from his boot. The man claimed he had put it there for safety.  Watson the guard was standing by the man and pulled the chain from his shoe. There was a watch attached to the chain. The guard gave the watch and chain back to the man. The man spoke, “I am faint and I want some water.” The station master arrived and ordered Gibson to get into the carriage and go on to Brighton with the man. Gibson found a high silk hat in the carriage and passed it to the man who put it on. He asked for his ticket which he produced, a first class single ticket from London Bridge to Brighton. He then asked for his name and address which he gave as “Mr Arthur Lefroy, 4 Cath Cart Road, Wallington.” The man took off his hat to show a wound on his head. “I have been fired at three times and struck on the head with a pistol”. The ticket collector asked by who. “By a countryman” he replied. He explained the man had got out on the road. There was also an old gentleman in the carriage and he too got out on the road. This puzzled the ticket collector as he knew this train was an express.  The man kept asking for a doctor. On arrival at Brighton he took the man to the Superintendent’s office. A clerk summoned police constable Martin and he took them both to the Town Hall. Here the ticket collector provided a statement for the police, taken down by Mr Thompson. The man called Lefroy also gave a statement explaining his business in Brighton, claiming he had an appointment to see the proprietor of a Brighton theatre. He kept complaining about needing to see a doctor.”

There was a really serious problem with this account.  It was a tissue of lies. The man pretending to be the victim of the robbery proved to be the robber and even worse….. a murderer! Almost every word he uttered was a lie. Despite some serious misgivings the Brighton Police let this man go not once but twice. Eventually there was a nation-wide hunt for the murderer of the old man mentioned in the account above. It is an amazing true crime story and you can read the full details in my new book. No-one has every previously printed the full details of “The Brighton Railway Murderer” before but it will soon be available to read in  my upcoming book.


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