An unlikely connection to Charlotte Bronte

  1. My connection with the Bronte family – circuitous perhaps –  but genuine!
Mulcture Hall

Rev Sutcliffe Sowden  was a friend of Arthur Bell Nichols who married Charlotte Bronte . He presided at their wedding  on 29th June 1854 and conducted Charlotte’s funeral less than a year later on  4th April 1855. His brother, Reverend George Sowden,   completed his time at Magdalen college Cambridge University as his brother Reverend Sutcliffe Sowden had done. Arthur Bell Nicholls was ordained at Ripon Cathedral at the same time as George Sowden before becoming one of Patrick Bronte’s curates at Haworth in 1845. Arthur got to know Sutcliffe through his brother. George was curate at Stainland, Yorks., 1845-53. As the parish marriage record shows . (Update, Jan 2024: George Sowden baptised my ancestor Eli Shaw at Stainland in 1850). She had already published her novels The Professor, Villette, Jane Eyre, and Shirley. Apparently not long after the marriage Rev. George Sowden stayed with the Arthur and Charlotte at Haworth Parsonage. Again Rev. Sutcliffe Sowden travelled to Haworth to take the funeral service for Charlotte Nicholls.

Rev Sutcliffe Sowden presided at my ancestor Hannah Gibson’s baptism in 1853 when she was 17 years old.

Hannah Gibson’s baptism performed by Sutcliffe Sowden

And then on  9th August 1861 in the Halifax Guardian  newspaper I found this:

 Clergyman Drowned At Hebden Bridge: Yesterday morning the whole of Hebden Bridge and its district was thrown into a state of great excitement and sorrow by the news spreading rapidly that their incumbent the Rev. S Sowden had met with his death by drowning. The sad news proved but to be true. The body was discovered by Superintendent Tucker, of the West Riding Police Force, in the canal just below the iron bridge, opposite Mr Whitley’s mill. We learn that early in the morning two young women were going in the direction of Todmorden along the canal side when they saw what they thought to be the body of a dog in the water and passed on. Not many yards further they found a book with a paper cover, and an umbrella laid beside it. They picked them up and proceeded to Todmorden. On reaching that town they found the Reverend gentleman’s name in the book and one of the girls returned with it. Meanwhile Mr Sowden was missed, and the search resulted as above. The body was in an upright position and bore about it no marks of violence. From enquiries we learn that on Thursday night Mr. Sowden had visited Mr.Edwin Binns, at Mulcture Hall, which is on the opposite hill to where his residence is, up Heptonstall Bank, the canal running in the valley that intervened. He left to go home about half past ten o’clock, and Mr Binns accompanied him part of the way as far as Sand bed. The night was a dark one, and the wind blew from the west in strong violent gusts. That the unfortunate clergyman intended to get home by a short cut is evident. By the bridge some alterations are going on, and a quantity of loose stone and rubble were left about. One inference is that in stepping among these he stumbled and fell into the water, and, by his struggles and the force of the wind, was carried down the water to the place where he was he found,a distance of thirty yards. Another is that he was seized with a fit of dizziness, to which he was known to be subject. This strengthened by the statement of the Rev T Sutcliffe, late incumbent of Heptonstall, at whose house Mr Sowden had been that day, and who noticed him being rather absent in his manner. However, be that as it may, the painful result was that in a sudden a sad manner the Rev gentleman met with his death. It was half past five o’clock in the morning when he was found. His watch had stopped at a quarter past eleven, thus showing as near as possible the hour when the sad event occurred. His remains were removed to the Neptune Inn, and afterwards to his home. It is not needful to launch into any eulogy of this worthy clergyman, whose untimely death has cast gloom over the whole district. Mr Sowden was about 48 years of age and was first incumbent of St James Church built in 1835. Of a quiet and somewhat retiring disposition, he won the esteem of all churchmen and dissenters alike. In him the Church has lost a diligent servant, and the poor a generous friend. Of a philosophical turn of mind, Mr Sowden was noted as a geologist and an ardent lover of nature. Excursionists into the deep and lovely valleys of this secluded district looked forward to his company with much anticipation and delight. The intelligence of his sad end will cause regret to many distant friends. The inquest was held on the body last night at the Neptune Inn.

Published 17th August 1861 Halifax Courier page 4. Hebden Bridge The Rev, George Sowden, MA, of Magdalene Collage, Cambridge, curate of Houghton-Le-Spring in the county of Durham, and formally curate of Stainland in this parish, has been appointed by the archdeacon Musgrave to the incumbency of Hebden Bridge Church, vacant by the death of his brother; the Rev Sutcliffe Sowden, MA , who was accidentally drowned on the 8th inst., to the great grief of his parishioners and friends.

I found a possible photo of the vicar, though he looks considerably older than 44 to me.

 For the Results of the Inquest Read on…………. THE LATE SUTCLIFFE SOWDEN, MA On Friday evening, at the Neptune Inn Hebble End an inquest was held before Mr J.R. Ingram, deputy coroner over the body of the late Rev gentleman. After a somewhat lengthy consultation, an open verdict, ” Found Drowned, but they believed accidentally,” was returned. The jury, through their foreman, expressed their admiration of the deceased’s character and activity in the performance of his clerical duties, and their deep regret at the sad occurrence . The funeral took place on Tuesday afternoon. Many of the principle shops were closed. The procession numbered upwards of 300 persons. First in order of the procession were the public officers, namely the police, the church wardens, and the postmen; next came the lighting and paving committee, of which deceased was a member; next came the committee of the mechanics Institute and gentry of the neighbourhood; following these the congregation of St James’s, and preceding the scholars, and next in succession to the congregation were the clergy, the scholars carried in their hands each a small bouquet, which they afterwards threw into the grave of their departed minister and friend; next came the hearse with three of the elder male scholars walking on each side as the bearers; following the hearse were the mourners existing of the deceased’s relatives and the family of Mr Thomas of Hangingroyd, the residence of the deceased. The funeral obsequies were performed by Mr Sowdens most intimate friend, the Rev. A. B. Nicholls of Haworth. Mr Sowden’s ministerial labours at Hebden Bridge have extended over a period of upwards of 19 years. He was a man beloved by all. The improvement of the people morally and socially was his perpetual aim; he was an indefatigable teacher and minister, and a consistent Christian; he was a companion and guide of youth, and the nurse and protector of age. He commenced on his education at Hipperholme; from there he removed to Oxford, where he graduated and received the title of Bachelor of Arts. His death is deeply lamented by all who knew him, and the scene of sorrow witnessed at St James’s on the day of his funeral, speaks to the fact of the deep hold he had taken in the affections of all.

So yesterday I set out to find Mulcture Hall. It’s situated above Jumble Hole Mill which I’ve visited a couple of times since the lockdown. The hall is built into the steep hillside and has its name clearly emblazoned on the gates. I though, hoped, that someone would come out of the building and so I could explain my presence but no-one appeared. To the rear of the building a couple of cottages, one obviously a converted barn, make up the entirety of this hamlet called Mulcture. From the Charlestown history society page I gleaned the following information: Mulcture Hall is a small hamlet on the North hillside above Jumble Hole Clough. The main house was built in about 1800 by the Stead family, owners of Jumble Hole Mill and Spa Mill. The house frontage is of a later date. The Stead family have occupied the house until the present day.

From the back

Behind the big house are two dwellings. One has been converted from the old coach house, the other was formally two back to back cottages knocked together. The Coach house was used by Naze Bottom band for practice! I wonder when. It’s a pretty steep climb up to this isolated dwelling. From Charlestown : We have very little information about the band and are not sure the date and location of the photograph.

Naze Bottom band

One Story recounts that they won a band competition and marched back to the chapel late at night playing and waking everyone up as they went. The conductor, Walter Mitchell,  was born in Tod 28th July 1874. He was the third generation of bandmasters, – his father of the Todmorden Old Band and his grandfather of the Lob mill Band. He joined the Todmorden Band at the age of 17 and in September of the same year became conductor of the Nazebottom Band.


  1. Geoffrey Taylor

    Loved your article above, particularly being a Bronte aficionado. I was today trying to locate Sutcliffe’s grave in the churchyard in H. Bridge parish church. Weather was not so good and I did not have much time but following more research I will return on a better day and be more informed. FYI I have just completed my 2nd edition of a ‘coffee table’ style book entitled Bronte Places & Poems – with references and photos about Rev Sowden, Cross Stone and John Fennell. If you know anybody who might be interested please pass on my email. It is also on sale at The Book Store in H. Bridge. For the book I tried to trace Rev. Fennell’s grave at Cross Stone but to no avail as it is a very overgrown cemetery and no locals including the Vicar seemed to know. Thank you once again for your excellent article, I loved reading it and all the wonderful research material you provided.

  2. Debs

    So interesting, thank you so much for posting. As a Brontë fan I knew Sowden Sutcliffe ‘s name and his unfortunate end but no more than that.

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