In recent days I have written about a village with a movie connection and two villages visited by vampires. This next one has an association with members of perhaps England’s most famous literary family ‘ the Brontes’ .
I have passed through Cowan Bridge numerous times as it sits on the busy A65 in between Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale, our usual route up to the Lake District. In days gone by it would have been much quieter, the continuous traffic noise definitely distances the imagination away from the 1820s , when siblings Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily attended The Clergy Daughter’s School in the village.
We had decided to stop off for lunch on the way home from Cumbria on a busy bank holiday Monday. I must admit I suggested Cowan Bridge because I thought it may be easier to get lunch there than its more touristy neighbors. I have also always been curious about where on earth the Bronte school is……
It turned out the Tea Room was busy inside, but there was space outside next to the noisy road with the traffic whooshing by. 😅 We just decided on coffee and prepackaged sandwiches and ate them in the pretty seating area.
Afterwards we pottered about the village in totally the wrong direction. Eventually a kind local pointed us toward the original bridge that Cowan Bridge takes its name from. After crossing it we came to a row of old stone cottages. These are what remain of The Clergy Daughter’s School.
An inscription on the end cottage wall reads :
Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte & Emily Bronte
Lived here as pupils of the Clergy Daughter’s School 18-24 – 25.
The school was moved to Casterton 1833.
Patrick Bronte was a clergyman living in Haworth with six young children. His wife Maria had sadly died a couple of years earlier. Sending four of their offspring to a respected boarding school for clergy children would no doubt have seemed the right thing for this busy man of the cloth to do.
Unfortunately the harsh environment at the school would contribute to the untimely deaths of the two eldest girls. Poor quality food, cold damp conditions and cruel unjust punishments were the norm. Maria, then Elizabeth were sent home suffering from consumption , both would die within weeks of one another. Patrick sent for Charlotte and Emily and they never returned to Cowan Bridge.
For Charlotte , her experiences at the Clergy Daughter’s School were to be drawn upon for her novel Jane Eyre. In the book young Jane is sent to Lowood School where she makes a new friend, Helen Burns. Helens and Jane’s life there mirrors that of her and her sisters harrowing time at Cowan Bridge.
Today one of the remaining cottages is available as an attractive Holiday Let , so fans of the Brontes’ can experience a little part of Bronte history. A short walk and you are away from the road noise and out into beautiful rolling countryside.
I am glad the buildings stand as a reminder of how harsh life could be back then, and also as a celebration of what the Bronte family would eventually achieve.
Have you visited any places where the Brontes’ lived, worked or played? 📖