Patrick Bronte

Patrick Bronte came to the Parish of Dewsbury as a Curate in December 1809, on the strength of the Evangelical Revival going on in this part of West Yorkshire – spearheaded by the then Vicar, John Buckworth.

The Reverend Patrick Bronte had a checkered ministry, which took him to various parishes before his appointment to the living at Haworth in 1820. He was to serve Haworth for 41 years.

Dewsbury Parish Church was one stepping stone en route to that Yorkshire village, which was to become world famous through the literary works of his three daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.

Patrick Bronte was born at Emdale in County Down, Northern Ireland. His surname was Brunty, a variation of O’Prunty. He changed it to Bronte when Lord Nelson, for whom he had great respect, was made the Duke of Bronte in 1799. His religious background was in Methodism, though he himself was staunchly Church of England and a forceful Evangelist.

In the rather desolate moorland environment of Haworth, Patrick Bronte’s wife died in 1821, just one year into his ministry there. Elizabeth Branwell, his sister-in-law, moved from the South of England to live with them and help raise his young family, bringing with her the traditions and trappings of her own brand of Methodism. The household was notable for its austerity. Financial considerations did not permit luxuries and Patrick Bronte, in teaching his children, tried to inculcate a disregard for those things of like which would have been extravagant.

The Bronte children had little company but their own. Their Aunt was a somewhat remote figure and since their father did not care to socialise, they had little opportunity to mix with others. So, they found their own amusements and diversions, especially in reading. As Charlotte Bronte observed, “We were totally dependant on ourselves and each other, on books and study, for the enjoyment and occupations of life”.

However, though Patrick Bronte’s severe and reserved disposition did not allow him to interact easily with his children, he did help widen their horizons by telling them stories of his growing up in Ireland and of the renowned preacher Wesley; his reputedly fierce manner doubtlessly adding to the effect.

All these aspects of family life must have played a part in developing the religious convictions and stimulating the imaginations of his children. Even a gift of wooden soldiers that he bought from Leeds for his son, Branwell, served to fuel their creativity in writing. They turned the toys into characters on the page and wove stories around them.

It is with some pride that Dewsbury Minster was once, albeit for a short time, the spiritual home to a man who directly and indirectly so influenced his daughters. He was one factor in inspiring their literary works . . . works that touch the lives of so many.

Although John Buckworth was in good health, his ministry was very strong, forceful and demanding. He expected a similar commitment from his Curate and, it appears, he received it. Patrick Bronte readily took on additional responsibilities in the Church, the Sunday School and the Parish.

He took a leading role in the Sunday School where he taught reading and writing in the new building, which had been opened in 1810. As a staunch supporter of the C.M.S., the Vicar would enrol Bronte to attend meetings on his behalf on two evenings a week.

He was not afraid of confrontation and his forthright manner and evangelical zeal enabled him to stand up for the things he believed in, whatever the circumstances.

Relaxation was spent walking along the banks of the River Calder. On one such occasion he met a group of young boys. When one fell into the swollen river, he jumped in and rescued him from being swept away by the fast flowing current. On the 1810 Whit Walk, Patrick led the procession. A drunk, who would not let the procession pass, confronted him. Bronte took hold of the drunk by the collar and threw him into the ditch, much to the amusement of all the children on the Walk.

His stay in Dewsbury ended in 1811, when the Vicar, John Buckworth, asked Patrick to take up the appointment as the Incumbent of Hartshead with Clifton, a daughter Church still at that time within the Parish of Dewsbury.

A memorial plaque in Patrick Bronte’s memory can be found on the wall of the South Aisle of the Minster. It reads:

In Memory
of the
Reverend Patrick Bronte, B.A.
S. John’s College,

Born at Emdale, County Down
S. Patrick’s Day 1777
Died at Haworth Parsonage 1861

Curate at Weatherfield, Essex
Incumbent of Hartshead
Thornton near Bradford

Erected by admirers of him and his talented daughters,
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte

By Richard Middleton, October 2006.