North Lees Hall (Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre)


Here I am at an Elizabethan manor house just outside Hathersage village in Derbyshire. In 1845 Charlotte Bronte visited the hall several times while staying with her friend Ellen Nussey at the nearby vicarage. It obviously marked her memory as it became Thornfield Hall in her novel Jane Eyre, home of Mr Rochester where he and Jane fell in love.


Her description “three storeys high; a gentleman’s manor house; battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look” is accurate and those battlements give it a picturesque look.  As I walked up the steep drive to it I could imagine two horses would be needed to big a heavy carriage up to the house. The hall seemed to be empty and it looked slightly unkempt outside – an overgrown path, tables and chairs in uncut grass, blown down umbrellas. I’d read that it’s currently owned by the Peak District National Park Authority and is used as self-catering accommodation. I stood on a wall and peered in a beautifully kept room, some kind of lounge that make me thing this hall must be on a burglar’s “To Do” list.


I was there alone excepting starling and finches until a trail of walkers descended at hill at the rear. When Charlotte visited here the Eyre family were living at North Lees. They lived here from 1750 until 1882, as well as occupying the hall for two generations during the 15th Century. Charlotte must have enjoyed looking out from the battlements at the top and wrote, "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 green and glorious outlook hasn’t changed much.


In the novel Charlotte describes the apostle’s cabinet which was a piece of furniture that belonged to the Eyre family. She later bought the cabinet and moved it to her family home in Haworth, Yorkshire (where it can still be seen.) Though Charlotte’s novels are normally set in Yorkshire Jane Eyre is probably set in Hathersage, When she came to visit her friend in 1845 she arrived by stagecoach which stopped at the George Inn. I went to have a look at it though it’s now called The George Hotel.

Two years after Charlotte’s stayed in Hathersage she used this pub in her novel. In chapter eleven Jane Eyre has just arrived and is waiting nervously in the George Inn to meet her new employer, “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. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet; my muff and umbrella lie on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours exposure to the rawness of an October day…"




Charlotte arrived at Hathersage by horse and carriage…