Patrick Bronte

A Dewsbury Great.  

One of a select group of individuals born, bred or living in Dewsbury who have made their mark on their town and country. The Dewsbury Greats have featured in various exhibitions and publications since they were first researched and published in 1992.

Curate who wrote the first piece of Bronte literature in Dewsbury

painting of Patrick Bronte

Patrick Bronte - curate at Dewsbury Parish Church from December 1809 to March 1811

MANY famous people have connections with Dewsbury in some way or another. Some have lived here, others died here and some have just passed through.

But without doubt the most famous have been the Bronte family, who lived and worked here.

The Rev Patrick Bronte, father of the most gifted family in English literary' history, was curate at Dewsbury Parish Church, and two of his famous daughters also lived here.

Charlotte Bronte was a governess at Miss Margaret Wooler’s school for ladies in Healds House. Dewsbury Moor, and the youngest of the Bronte sisters. Anne, was a pupil there.


Inevitably. Dewsbury's connection with this famous family has made it an important stopping place on the route taken by Bronte fans from all over the world.  Although Dewsbury may only get scant mention in the travel brochures, we can take consolation from the littie-recognised fact that the very first piece of Bronte literature to be published was actually written here in Dewsbury.

It was a 265-line poem. Winter Evening Thoughts, penned by Patrick Bronte while he was curate at Dewsbury' Parish Church during 1810.


A Dewsbury man, Mr W W Yates, who worked on the Dewsbury Reporter, was instrumental in founding the Bronte Society, which has worldwide membership. Its first annual meeting was held in Dewsbury Town Hall in 1894.

Dewsbury Parish was Patrick's first church

IT was late on a cold winter's day In December 1809 when Patrick Bronte first arrived in Dewsbury and although his stay was to be a fairly brief one — little over a year — it was to be eventful.

The eldest of ten children of peasant stock, Patrick was bom in County Down. Ireland, on St Patrick s Day 1777.

What happened after his arrival in Dewsbury was painstakingly researched by Mr John Lock and Canon W T Dixon in their biography of Patrick. A Man Of Sorrows.

Dewsbury at the time of Patrick's arrival was a typical Yorkshire country town surrounded by rural beauty and rich with trees


There were a few scattered farmsteads, meadows and stone cottages, each having its own weaving shed down in the valley.

When Patrick arrived there were sullen undertones of discontent in the district because of talk of installing laboursaving machines in the mills.  But these feelings were to remain below the surface for a year or two before bursting forth Into the violence of the Luddite Riots.

Although things looked quiet enough Patrick was soon to find that Dewsbury was not a peaceful spot.

The common amusements of the working people were bull baiting, badger baiting. cocK-fighting and dog-fighting, many of which often ended in drunken brawls.

Patrick, who had struggled from illiteracy and poverty to gain a scholarship at Cambridge and a BA degree was coming to hi» very first church since his ordination.  

He knew he was coming to one of the oldest and most famous churches in Yorkshire and he would surely feel that here in Dewsbury he would be content

He signed the old register for the first time when he married two of his parishioners, John Senior and Ellen Popplewell.  One of the first things he was to buy in Dewsbury was a  shillelagh (a staff) which the tall, auburn haired Irishman carried everywhere he went. This earned him the nickname "Old Staff”.

He was recognised as a truly earnest clergyman who did much good work in the town. Once a month he taught the children in church and would walk miles and miles to visit people in their homes and conduct informal services in the homes of the poor.

He was quickly seen as a friend to the humbler folk, with whom his sympathies lay. but many of the wealthy people of the town tended to look down on the Irish curate with his meddlesome ways.

But here at Dewsbury he felt more settled than at any previous time in his life. It was here where his first poems were published — and he wrote them in simple words so that the simple could understand.

One of his favourite walks was by the side of the river which ran near the vicarage where he lived and one day an incident occurred on one of these walks which made him a hero among local people.

The nver was swollen after torrential rain and while Patrick was strolling along the bank, he noticed two boys teasing an older boy, who he could tell at one glance was a simpleton.

As he passed them, he heard a cry and a splash and saw the poor boy battling for his life In midstream.  Patrick plunged Into the Icy river without even removing his clothes and rescued the lad and took him home to his widowed mother who lived in Dawgreen

PATRICK had not been long In Dewsbury when the other side to his nature was revealed — his ferocious Irish temper!

One Sunday evening, while the church's vicar, the Rev John Buckworth, was away and Patrick was in charge, he had barely sat down in his study after evening service when, to his great astonishment, the church bells started ringing.

It seemed that while the vicar was away, the bell ringers had decided to have a practice ring in preparation for a local bellringing contest the following day.

Patrick, knowing nothing of this, seized his shillelagh, rushed to the church, bounded up the winding steps of the bell tower and burst in upon the startled bellringers.

Brandishing his shillelagh, he shouted at them to cease their noisy profanity and accused them of destroying the peace of the Sabbath evening.

He was so overcome with rage that he laid about them with his shillelagh and drove the terrified bellringers out of the belfry, down the steps and into the churchyard.

There is no record whether the bellringers won the contest next day, but the whole town soon knew about Patrick's outburst.

Although Patrick had a fiery temper, he was a courageous man and well loved by his people.

ONE incident occurred in Dewsbury which endeared Patrick to Dewsbury' people and won him a reputation for being fearless as well as fiery.

At Whitsuntide the scholars and the teachers of the various Sunday Schools In Dewsbury walked in procession through the principal streets of the town before marching to the village of Earlshceaton for the "sing".

But the march was interrupted at the top of Wakefield road by a well built man of about 40 who was obviously drunk.

Placing himself In front of the girls leading the march, he spread his arms out and. with an oath, told them to go back to Dewsbury because he had no intention of letting them go on.

Patrick seized the drunkard by the collar and with one heave flung him across the road where he fell in a heap among his companions.

This incident, coming so soon after the river rescue, won him the hearts of the people and he became something of a local hero. Years later he was to tell his daughters about the Sunday School incident.

BEFORE he left Dewsbury to move to nearby Hartshead. Patrick was to be involved in a fight with the law and the military to save a Dewsbury man he felt had been wrongly convicted of a crime.

William Nowell, a cloth weaver, of Dawgreen was committed to prison as a deserter from the army, even though he had never joined!

During September 1810, James Thackray of Gawthorpc. a soldier in the 30th Regiment, claimed that at Lee Fair — the great horse fair — William Nowell accepted from him the King's Shilling, and so joined the same regiment.

The military classed Nowell as a deserter for not reporting to duty.

He was charged at Wakefield and convicted. despite the fact that he had the names and addresses of seven Dewsbury men who would testify that he was in Dewsbury at the time.

The magistrate refused to send for the witnesses and Nowell was sent to prison.


The people of Dewsburv were outraged by this and the youth's father, with Patrick Bronte and three churchwardens, went to plead with the magistrate to re-hear the case. They were met with a blank refusal.

Patrick was determined to see justice done and wrote to the editor of the l.eeds Mercury and the War Office, demanding a retnal.

Eventually Patrick went to see the magistrate again, this time with other leading men from Dewsburv and 15 witnesses who would testify that Nowell was not at Lee Fair on the day in question.

After a confrontation with the magistrate, there was a retrial and Nowell was released after spending ten weeks in custody.

Thackray. the soldier who had lied on oath, was sentenced to seven years transportation for perjury.

Patrick’s popularity and fame became greater than ever in Dewsbury.

When he left a few months later to become incumbent at Hartshead Church four miles away, the people were extremely sad to see him go.

They would remember him for many years after as a very earnest man, brave, impetuous, daring, proud and generous but a little peculiar in his manner.

Dewsbury Parish Church - where Patrick Bronte was curate


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