As a new exhibition opens into the life of Charlotte Brontë, reporter Mel Fairhurst looks back at the author's connections with the Craven area.

AN imposing three-storey house in Lothersdale inspired Charlotte Brontë when she wrote her most famous novel, Jane Eyre.

It is believed the writer, arguably Britain's most famous female author, drew on her own experiences working as a governess at Stonegappe to create Gateshead Hall in the novel.

Unfortunately, Charlotte's time at the Lothersdale house between May and July 1839 was not happy, and this is reflected in the novel when Jane is forced to live with her aunt's family at Gateshead after being orphaned.

Stonegappe was the summer home of John Benson Sidgwick, principal partner at High Mills, Skipton, and his wife Sarah.

Charlotte worked for the couple as a temporary governess for two of their children - Mathilda and John.

The couple also had three older children and Mrs Sidgwick was pregnant with a fifth child while Charlotte was employed there.

According to "The Oxford Companion to the Brontës", the author liked Mr Sidgwick, whom she thought "kinder, less condescending, with less profession than his wife and not so excessively indulgent to his children".

He seemed to her an ideal Conservative gentleman as "he strolled through his fields with his magnificent Newfoundland dog".

However, Charlotte found Mrs Sidgwick to be unjust and unsympathetic, resentful of complaints about her children and tyrannical in her demands for "oceans of needlework".

In a letter to her sister, Emily, on June 8 1839, she wrote: "The country, the house and the grounds, as I have said, divine. The children are constantly with me and more riotous, perverse, unmanageable cubs never grew.

"As for correcting them, I soon quickly found that was entirely out of the question: they are to do as they like."

She added that Emily should not show the letter to anyone except their brother, Branwell.

And she added: "I complain to you because it is a relief and really I have had some unexpected mortifications to put up with.

"However, things may mend, but Mrs Sidgwick expects me to do things that I cannot do - to love her children and be entirely devoted to them."

Librarian for The Brontë Society, Ann Dinsdale, said: "There is so much of Charlotte's own life in her books which still makes her fascinating to people today.

"Stonegappe is believed to be the model for Gateshead Hall and like Jane Eyre, Charlotte herself was unhappy there."

Stonegappe is now owned by the McAlpine family.

The 150th anniversary of Charlotte's death was marked in Haworth in 2005.

She died aged just 38 on March 31 1855 of a wasting disease. She was pregnant at the time of her death, having married Arthur Bell Nicholls, the curate of the parish church in Haworth.

A new exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of Elizabeth Gaskell's "Life of Charlotte Brontë" was due to open at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth yesterday (Thursday). For further information about the society, call 01535 640195 or log on to