Tunstall Church and Jane Eyre

Last weekend we decided to visit many of the churches in the local area of Lunesdale with literary and/or ancient artefacts. Once we started looking, we realised that there are many of them within 5 miles of Over Kellet.

We visited Gressingham, Hornby, Melling, Tunstall and Kirkby Lonsdale churches. They were all fascinating, especially the fragments of Anglo-Saxon stones and crosses we discovered, but I most enjoyed Tunstall Church, set amongst fields on the edge of the small village, and with its Brontë associations.

The Brontë Sisters attended a school for clergymen's daughters at Cowan Bridge in 1824-25. The school later moved to Casterton in 1833 and became Casterton School. In Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte, the village school was the setting for ‘Lowood' and Kirkby Lonsdale became ‘Lowton'. The schools main benefactor was the Reverend William Carus Wilson, the evangelical vicar of Tunstall Church.
St John the Baptist, Tunstall

Clearly the Brontë sisters were unhappy at Cowan Bridge. Maria Brontë died of consumption and her sisters left the school in 1825. However, the privations and life at Cowan Bridge clearly left their mark on Charlotte and she wrote about them in Jane Eyre including a description of the walk to church and the vicar.

"Sundays were dreary days in that wintry season. We had to walk two miles to Brocklebridge Church, where our patron officiated. We set out cold, we arrived at church colder. During the morning service we became almost paralysed. It was too far to return to dinner, and an allowance of cold meat and bread, in the same penurious proportion observed in our ordinary meals, was served round between services. At the close of the afternoon servuce we returned by an exposed and hilly road, where the bitter winter wind, blowing over a range of snowy summits to the north, almost flayed the skin from our face."
View across the fields from Tunstall church
The Reverend Carus Wilson, unlike Patrick Brontë, was a Calvinist Evangelist who believed in predestination, and consequently in the damnation of the majority of souls. His preachings and writings, in the form of small manuals for the use of the pupils, were full of rhetorical force and other effects designed to make an impression on their young readers' minds.

Our journey to Tunstall on a fairly sunny June morning was nothing like this. We walked gladly through the fields and enjoyed lunch at The Highwayman in Burow-with-Burrow afterwards, but walking round the church where little has changed since the Nineteenth Century, it was easy to imagine the dreary Sundays suffered by the pupils at Cowan Bridge School. I am not surprised that the short experience made its impression on Charlotte Brontë.