July 12, 2000
W R Mitchell
Thirty-two members began a jaunt in the Lune Valley by visiting two churches, one ancient, one modern. At Leek, Dr Florence Wellburn traced the history of four churches on the site, the present one dating from 1915, replacing one that, two years earlier, had been gutted by a fire. This began when a lamp was inadvertently left burning after organ practice. We saw a fine Harrison & Harrison organ and the 'blower house' near the 'kissing gate' in the graveyard, air being pumped underground between the graves to the organ.
There was a link between modern Leek church and ancient Tunstall when Dr Wellburn guided us to see the inscribed headstones of the graves of three young girls from the Clergy Daughters' School established at Cowan Bridge in 1824. They had been victims of low fever (typhus) which decimated the school periodically as well as claiming many lives in the district.
The founder of the Clergy Daughters' School was the Rev William Carus Wilson. This was the school attended by the Bronte girls from Haworth. Because the Leek Church of the early 1820s was too small to take both parishioners and schoolgirls, the latter had to walk the two miles to Tunstall Church, where they attended Mattins, had packed meals in a room over the porch, stayed for Evensong and then walked back to school.
At Tunstall, our guide was the vicar, the Rev Frank Parr, who explained that in Bronte time the loft was entered via a balcony. Now the more athletic of us clambered up a ladder fixed to the wall to enter a small room where daylight entered by a small window. The Bronte girls did not attend the Cowan Bridge school for long but Charlotte's vivid impressions were conveyed in her novel Jane Eyre, in which Cowan Bridge became Lowood, the founder of the school was the tyrannical Mr Brocklehurst and Tunstall church was named Brocklebridge.
I mentioned that an ancestor of mine, Dr William Cartman, a former curate at Bingley and headmaster of Ermysted's at Skipton, had been a close friend of Patrick Bronte and his daughter Charlotte. He gave an oration at Charlotte's memorial service and, with the Vicar of Bradford, officiated at the funeral of Patrick.
In marked contrast to haunts known to the Brontes was our visit to Claughton Manor brickwork, established in 1898, which now operates with ultramodern plant, using shale quarried locally and transported to the works by an update of the aerial ropeway that was installed in the 1920s. We were introduced to the project by the Works Manager, Frank Rycroft, who then led us between 'cliffs' containing millions of bricks awaiting despatch to enter a building covering about 6,500 square metres where comparatively few men with the aid of computers control the brick-making. The most memorable aspect was to lift flaps and peer through tubes into the glowing heart of the brick-making kiln.
Our midday break was at Hornby, where some had a packed lunch sitting by the river where water creamed over a weir and there was a backdrop of Hornby Castle in its well-wooded setting. Thence to Gressingham, first to enter the church, where some of the decorative features were fleece embroidery made by Elizabeth Cottam of Far Barn and then to visit Elizabeth at her studio and, in the garden, cheered by the bright light and heat of what suddenly developed into a perfect summer afternoon, we had a demonstration of her craft. Elizabeth, who has been making fleece embroideries for over twenty years, uses wool dyed with natural dyes, such as those derived from the bark of apple or ash trees.
Finally, we motored up Lunesdale, with a striking view of Ingleborough, and then strode through the grounds of Casterton School, founded by the aforementioned William Carus Wilson. We visited Holy Trinity Church, which Carus Wilson built in 1833 and which from the beginning has been shared by the school and the community. Large paintings by reputable artists had been fixed to the walls. The windows of the chancel, installed in the 1890s, were the work of Henry Holiday of Hampstead, a stained-glass artist of considerable repute.
At the back of the church, we saw the tombstone of Carus Wilson where, once a year, on Founder's Day, wreaths are laid on behalf of the school. Though rather dour in manner, Carus Wilson truly cared for others and ill deserved the grim reputation he acquired through the fictional writings of Charlotte Bronte, who was for a time one of the 'clergy daughters' at school in Cowan Bridge.
Plaque at Cowan Bridge Photo: Maureen Ellis