Nestled among the gritstone hills of the Derbyshire Peak District, Hathersage is a bustling village and a popular tourist attraction. Its most famous son was Little John of Robin Hood fame, who is buried here in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church. The village also claims an important literary link. In 1845, Charlotte Brontë came here to visit her school friend ,Ellen Nussey, and although she only stayed for three weeks, the village became a major source of inspiration for her first novel, Jane Eyre. It's widely believed that she based Rochester's Thornfield on the nearby North Lees Hall, which was owned by the Eyres, a local noble family and presumably the source of her heroine's surname.
North Lees Hall
Charlotte Brontë visited this imposing tower house several times while staying in Hathersage and several clues indicate that it was her model for Thornfield. In Jane Eyre, she describes the mansion as “three stories high, of proportions not vast, … battlements round the top give it a picturesque look”. As with Norton Conyers (another contender for the original Thornfield) there’s a story of a mad woman attached to the house, which could have given Charlotte the idea for Rochester’s wife. And the Apostles cabinet, an unusual piece of furniture described in Jane Eyre, belonged to North Lees Hall when Charlotte visited.
Ellen Nussey's brother, Henry, was the vicar of Hathersage church and it's generally believed that Charlotte had Henry in mind when she wrote the character of St John in Jane Eyre. When Charlotte came to visit Ellen in 1845, she stayed with her at the Vicarage. In real life, Henry Nussey proposed to Charlotte, but she refused him. Today the church and the Old Vicarage remain as they were during Charlotte's visit.
This historic coaching in would have been very familiar to Charlotte Brontë. During Charlotte's visit the landlord was named Morton, a name Charlotte appropirated for her fictional version of Heathersage in Jane Eyre. Situated in the heart of picturesque Heathersage, today the inn is stylish hotel and restaurant.