The Old Bell Chapel, Thornton


Before the Bronte family moved to Haworth parsonage at they occupied a terraced house in Thornton village for about five years. The famous novelists Charlotte, Anne and Emily were born there and their dad Reverend Patrick preached about a ten minute walk away at Saint James's Church. Nowadays only paltry ruins remain but if you're nosey and have a Bronte checklist to tick off you have to have a look. One Sunday afternoon I had a stroll around.


All the children except Maria were baptized here. In recent times Saint James's church has become The Bell Chapel. Leaving the road and walking down by the graves you can just about see where the perimeter of the building. It's obvious where the bell once hung; you don't really need the information board to tell you.


Apart from a rabbit I seemed to have the place to myself. There's a new Saint James's church directly across the road which was built in 1870. The moment it started being used the Bell Chapel before me started to decay. There's very little to see but I like ruins. The original church was built between 1587 to 1612 - blimey William Shakespeare was still alive then. Nowadays the cupola and one full wall are the only things intact. The original font now sits in the church across the road (the door was locked.)


The 44-year-old Patrick Bronte was appointed parson here in March 1815. I walked up and down the middle of the ruin where the knave was and I must have trod where Patrick trod - and his children as they were devotees. How could he foreseen that his wife and all their six children would die before him - mainly from tuberculosis. In birth order their ages of death were 11, 10, 39, 31 and 29. Initially he probably considered himself to be lucky as in the 1800's one in every three children did not pass their fifth birthday. Following Charlotte's death he lived on alone for another six years.


As I tramped around and looked back at Thornton village I wondered if the family would have lived out long lives had they remained here. When they moved Haworth they didn't know the water supply was contaminated by the cadavers in the cemetery rotting and seeping into the river. I did a salute and left.