The Brontës
"For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways"

The Brontës of Haworth

We don't know if any of the Brontës met Anne or Ann, but there are connections, both definite and speculative.

Rev Sutcliffe Sowden, son of Anne's tenant Sam Sowden, officiated at the wedding of Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls in 1854.[1] Rev Sowden may well have been one of the "abundant shower of curates" of Shirley.

At least three of the novels have - or may have - Anne or Ann connections:

Wuthering Heights

In 1837 Emily moved to Law Hill School at Law Hill House, Southowram, where she stayed for about six months. Law Hill House was built in 1778 by Jack Sharp, who's story, legend has it, was the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. The Jack Sharp legend is summarised here:, but in a nutshell Heathcliff was Jack Sharp and the Earnshaws were the Walkers of Walterclough Hall - Jack Sharp's mother was (another) Ann Walker.

And, yes, the Wuthering Heights Walkers were related to Ann: Jack Sharp was Ann's second cousin, twice removed (Ann's great-great-great-grandfather was Jack Sharp's great-grandfather).

The Walkers still lived at Walterclough Hall in Anne's time: there are many references to "the Misses Walker of Walterclough" in the diaries.

There has also been much speculation as to the houses that might have inspired Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. While Top Withens - a derelict farmhouse on the moors near Haworth - is considered by many to be the location of Wuthering Heights, the house itself may may be modelled on High Sunderland Hall,[2] which was about three miles from Law Hill House. Shibden Hall itself is thought by many to be the house that inspired Thrushcross Grange, the home of the Lintons. In The Birth of Wuthering Heights: Emily Brontë at Work (by E. Chitham) the author has made an almost forensic comparison of landmarks around Shibden and clues in the novel and firmly places Shibden Hall as Thrushcross Grange.


It would be wonderful if Shirley Keeldar was based on Anne. (It would also be wonderful if Shirley and Caroline had got together, but hey-ho, it was 1849.) Elizabeth Gaskell - who, after all, knew Charlotte - writes: "(Charlotte)...tried to depict her character in Shirley Keeldar, as what Emily Brontë might have been, had she been placed in health and prosperity". During her time at Law Hill School, just a mile from Shibden, Emily must have come across or at least heard of Anne, so it's very probable that Charlotte would have also known of her.[3] Of course we'll never know, but I lean towards Emily, rather than Anne.

Shirley Keeldar's home, Fieldhead, is most probably based on Oakwell Hall in Birstall.[4]

Jane Eyre

The speculation that the character of Mrs Rochester was based on Eliza Raine, Anne Lister's first lover, is, I think, a little tenuous. I don't think that Eliza was as mad as the first Mrs Rochester, and the only other similarity is that they were both mixed-race. However, as Charlotte herself says " little actual experience I have had of life, how few persons I have known..."[5] Eliza might be the model. Her close friend Ellen Nussey's brother George and Eliza Raine were both patients of Dr Belcombe at Clifton House - so it's possible that Charlotte had heard the Eliza Raine story... who knows?

[1] Thanks to the Calderdale Companion for this.
[2] High Sunderland Hall was demolished in 1951. High Sunderland Lane is about a mile north of Halifax.
[3] Roe Head School, where Charlotte was both pupil and teacher, is only seven miles from Shibden.
[4] Charlotte's friend Ellen Nussey lived in Birstall.
[5] The Life of Charlotte Brontë, by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Page updated 4-May-2020
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