front of Thornton Parsonage

Images Of Thornton’s Past

Last week I was excited to bring you the great news about the Brontë birthplace, and I’m just as excited now as it’s only one day until its public open day! With that in mind in today’s post I’m going to bring you pictures of Thornton from the archives.

Thornton of course is where the story began for Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë – although elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth were born during Patrick Brontë’s earlier incumbency at Hartshead. Thornton still retains its small village charm, although it has changed much of course in the 200 years or so since the Brontë family called it home. This postcard of ‘Brontëland’ shows some of the buildings that would have been there at the time of the Brontës.

Photography as we know it today was invented in 1822, the year after the Brontës left Thornton for Haworth so there are no images of Thornton from the time they lived there – although debate still rages about whether images of the Brontë sisters as young women exist. We do, however, have these images of 72 Market Street, Thornton from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. By that time the building had ceased to be a Church of England parsonage and had instead become a shop.

The Brontës are surely Bradford’s most famous daughters, which is why it’s so fitting that the Brontë birthplace will fully open to the public next year when Bradford is the UK’s official City of Culture. A newspaper article about ‘Bygone Bradford’ brought us this image of the Brontë Bell Chapel in Thornton. Now a beautifully maintained ruin across the road from the present church, this was the church as it was when Patrick Brontë ministered there – in fact it was Patrick who had the grand bell tower installed which has given the chapel its name ever since.

The Bell Chapel, Thornton

Now we fast forward to 2016, as Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary celebrations gripped literature lovers, Thornton Parsonage was now trading as Emily’s, a delicatessen and cafe which still gave a loving nod to the Brontës – and even had my own biography of Anne Brontë in place above the fireplace by which she had been born.

Thornton parsonage fireplace

When the De Luca family who owned Emily’s put the building up for sale a year later its future became uncertain, as it had been on many occasions over the last century and more. Nevertheless, Mark De Luca did kindly allow me to look around the parsonage as it was then which resulted in  these images:

Thornton Parsonage fireplace


Patrick Bronte's writing desk
This desk may have been used by Patrick Bronte, although another of his desks is in St. James’ church, Thornton

Fast forward to today and at last we can say that the Brontë birthplace in Thornton has been saved for the nation, and there are some very exciting plans due to come to fruition. You can find out more by visiting the open day next Sunday, 21st April, between 11am and 4pm. I will be there at some point, but you can also join me here next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.


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