If you’ve ever read Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre (or seen the film) you’ll know about Mrs Rochester who was the mad woman in the attic. In the book she was the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester. She was moved to Thornfield Hall and was locked in a room on the third floor.
Here I am at Norton Conyers House which Charlotte visited in 1839 (at the time she was governess for another family.) She probably got the idea for Mrs Rochester having heard about the mad woman confined in the large attic in the previous century. The mad woman became Mrs Rochester and Norton Conyers House became 'Thornfield Hall'. Wood panelling on the first floor conceals a hidden door which leads up to the attic space above. In 2004 a blocked staircase connecting the first floor to the attics was found and this is probably what Charlotte saw on her visit.
On the way home from Scarborough I ensured I took the scenic (and much longer) route through Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. I drove into the walled grounds, parked up and, having not eaten for hours, fried myself a veggie burger (with a fried egg on top of it) before doing anything. A few other cars started turning up and a beige-coloured beige-wearing couple said there was a guided tour starting in ten minutes. I didn’t join them but took a stroll around the gardens.
The house is a grade II listed medieval manor boasting an impressive frontage and a bloody past. It belonged to Richard Norton who was executed with his sons for rebellion in 1569. Since 1624 and the Graham family have owned it. Charles 1st stayed in 1633 and James II and his wife stayed in 1679 - you can see the bed where they snogged (and probably logged.)
I had a stroll round the walled garden and got a few odd looks from the coffin-dodgers as I waited for the camera timer. Had Charlotte’s visit in 1839 soaked into her imagination and manifested itself within a few years? Jane Eyre was published eight years after her visit here so it’s pretty likely.
Had Charlotte walkered through this door?
The stairs and attic room where the woman was thought to be confined…
Strolling around the walled garden…