Much neglected and often ignored, Thornton is the place the tourists miss!
William the Conqueror did not overlook Thornton. It appears in his Doomsday survey as Torenton, relating to the abundance of gorse, hawthorn and similar vegetation, which grew hereabouts. The village can proudly boast of being the birth place of most of the Bronte children, which sometimes brings tourists on a fleeting visit as they make their pilgrimage to nearby Haworth. We will deal firstly with the Bronte era in Thornton Village, which seems to only warrant just a few lines in most of the publications concerning the earlier years of the Bronte family.
The Bronte’s arrived in Thornton in 1815. Patrick Bronte was to take up his duties as incumbent with his young wife Maria. They moved into No 74 Market Street, the local vicarage, with their two babies, Maria and Elizabeth. In this house were born the following members of the Bronte family, Charlotte 1816, Patrick Branwell 1817, Emily Jane 1818 and Anne 1820. Patrick preached at the ancient St. James or Bell Chapel. The building in those days would have appeared a forbidding place, in present days it’s original form is difficult to imagine. The ruins can be found across the Main Road from the new Church. All that can be seen is the east window and the top of the bell tower standing in the graveyard. It is hard to believe that all the children except Maria were baptised in the font of this chapel.
Their reign in Thornton lasted five years, in this period of time the Rev. Bronte had the whole south-facing side rebuilt, a new roof and an octagonal belfry built. The mallet used to tap the stone into place in the new
building of St. James, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1870, was the original one used on the foundation stone of St. Paul’s Cathedral London.
Today when visiting the church there can be seen the original font and other relics, including the 17th century bell and a prayer book thought to have been used by Patrick Bronte along with the baptismal records of the children. The vicarage when the family moved became, with the addition of a shop front, a butchers shop. As the cars and coaches carrying visitors and tourists trundle blissfully by along Thornton Road, unaware of the village’s Bronte heritage, Thornton still has more secrets to unfold.
In times gone by transport to the village was by a milk cart from Bradford, hired at 4d a journey, which left the old pack horse yard in the city centre some three to four times a week. In this small world of tiny ginnels and narrow lanes more fact and fiction can be uncovered.
By Michael McDermott
[ Part two – to follow ]