The Vicar of Aycliffe and the Brontes

copyright Bob Gamble

Reverend John Davie Eade

Reverend John Davie Eade


The Vicar of Aycliffe and the Brontës         

(Bob Gamble, April 2013)

From 1835 to 1880, the Reverend John Davie Eade M.A. gave 45 years service as the Vicar of St Andrew's in Aycliffe. He is discussed on the 'School Scandal' page of the Aycliffe Village Local History Society site - in 1854, John Eade successfully applied to the Dean and Chapter of Durham for the Vicar and Churchwardens of Aycliffe to take over as trustees of the Aycliffe Parochial Church of England School. John Eade's son, the Reverend Charles John Aylmer Eade, stepped up from Curate to succeed his father as Vicar of St Andrew's in 1880 and it was he (with his irascible wife, Constance née Wilson) who made life such a misery for Aycliffe schoolmaster Henry Thompson. However, the earlier life of John Eade reveals his connections with the most senior clerical figures in Durham and thereby his fascinating links to the Brontë family of Haworth.

John Davie Eade was born on January 16th, 1805, in Dennington, Suffolk (north of Ipswich), the second of seven children born to the Reverend Charles Eade (Perpetual Curate of Metfield) and his wife Elizabeth née French. He attended school in Ipswich under William Hepworth, who had some success in getting boys into Caius College, Cambridge. There John Eade achieved his B.A. in 1827 and M.A. in 1830.  He was ordained Deacon in 1828 and then Priest in 1829, by Archbishop Vernon-Harcourt at York.  

John Eade first obtained a curacy at Moor Monkton, west of York, where he remained from 1829 to 1834. The Rector at Moor Monkton was the Reverend Dr William French (Master of Jesus College, Cambridge - a fine academic and 'Second Wrangler' in 1812), who John Eade had known both at Caius and at home in Suffolk. It was at Moor Monkton that John Eade began to court Jane Robinson, whose widowed mother, Elizabeth, and spinster aunt, also Jane, had taken a lease in 1828 on Hammerton Hall (Green Hammerton and Kirk Hammerton lie close by Moor Monkton). Jane, born in 1797, was some eight years older than John Eade, and it was through this relationship that his career began to take off.

Jane Robinson came from an extremely well connected family. Her younger brother, and the head of this branch of the Robinsons, was the Reverend Edmund Robinson M.A. (b.1800), squire at Thorp Green Hall, Little Ouseburn, a short distance to the north of the Hammertons and Moor Monkton. Edmund Robinson attended Balliol College, Oxford, achieving B.A. in 1820 and M.A. in 1823, whereupon he was appointed Curate at Ryton and Wynlaton, west of Newcastle. In 1824 he was ordained priest by Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham (Visitor of Balliol), at Sedgefield near Aycliffe. At the end of the same year Edmund Robinson married Lydia Gisborne at Lichfield in Staffordshire, and sister Jane accompanied them on their honeymoon tour of Italy. Never known to have taken an overactive part in exercising his clerical duties, Edmund Robinson thereafter retired to a comfortable country life at Thorp Green. It is highly likely, though as yet unproven, that the Thorp Green Robinsons were related to the very grand Robinsons of Newby Hall (west of Boroughbridge) - the family of the Earl of Ripon, who at different times occupied several of the highest governmental positions in the land (e.g. Frederick John Robinson of Newby Hall, Lord Goderich, was First Lord (Prime Minister) for a brief while in 1827). The Newby Robinsons were related to the Slingsbys of Scriven Park, Knaresborough, who were Lords of the Manor at Moor Monkton.

Edmund Robinson's appointment at Ryton was no accident - the Thorp Green Robinsons were closely intermarried with the Thorp family, who had been Rectors at Ryton since 1795. Archdeacon Robert Thorp (Archdeacon of Northumberland), who died in 1812, was Edmund Robinson's great-uncle. He was succeeded at Ryton by his son, Archdeacon Charles Thorp, who in 1817 had married (as his second wife) Mary Robinson (b.1798), sister to Edmund and Jane. Archdeacon Charles Thorp (b.1783) was a towering figure in Durham life - he became Canon at the Cathedral in 1829 and Archdeacon of Durham in 1831. Thorp's career began at University College, Oxford, where he was elected Fellow - the college had very strong links with Durham which survive to this day. Thorp was the driving force behind the founding of the University of Durham in 1832 and would bring his knowledge of Oxford's collegiate structure to help the new University develop along similar lines. The first college at Durham was also named University College, which from 1837 has occupied Durham Castle.  Thorp became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1839 and acted as Warden of Durham University and Master of University College, Durham, until his death in 1862.   

Moreover, Edmund Robinson's wife, Lydia Gisborne, was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Gisborne of Yoxall Lodge in Staffordshire, a renowned writer on theological matters and a leading member of the evangelicalist Clapham Sect. Thomas Gisborne, a close friend of William Wilberforce and his circle, also had ties to Durham - a friend of Bishop Shute Barrington, he was First Prebendary at the Cathedral from 1826, carrying on a Gisborne family tradition of service there. Thomas Gisborne was also widely involved at the new University of Durham and gave his collection to help set up its Natural History Museum in 1835. Gisborne and Thorp Scholarships are still awarded at Durham University.

Through Jane Robinson, John Eade was therefore surrounded by some of the most high ranking figures in the Durham Church (see also chart). These stellar Durham connections began to pay dividends for John Eade. By 1834 he had been appointed Perpetual Curate at Witton-le-Wear (near Durham and Aycliffe) where Sir William Chaytor, 1st Bt, of Witton Hall was patron - Sir William was Whig MP for Sunderland from 1832-1835, and High Sherriff of Durham in 1839. On 31st March 1835 John Eade married Jane Robinson in Whixley Parish (which contained the Hammertons) and very soon thereafter he was appointed by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral to his living at Aycliffe. The Dean at the time was John Banks Jenkinson, cousin of Lord Liverpool (the former Prime Minister and governmental colleague of Frederick John Robinson of Newby, Lord Goderich).

The advancements kept coming. In 1840 John Eade was appointed as the Bishop of Durham's Official for the Archdeaconry of Durham, which had become vacant by resignation (Edward Maltby was Bishop). John Eade would later also become Canon of Durham Cathedral from 1847 to 1869, and Rural Dean of Darlington and Proctor for the Chapter of Durham from 1874 to 1880. Obtaining dispensation for the Aycliffe School to transfer from the Dean and Chapter of Durham to the Vicar and Churchwardens of Aycliffe would have been easy in 1854 - John Eade would have known all the buttons to press.

While his career flourished, 1840 would sadly also bring personal tragedy for John Eade - Jane Eade/Robinson died at the age of 43 in Archdeacon Charles Thorp's rooms at 'The College', Durham ('The College' is in effect the Cathedral Close, south of the Cathedral, where the Dean and Prebends have accomodation). Nevertheless, John Eade remained in contact with his Robinson relatives and would occasionally accompany them on their annual holidays to Scarborough. The Scarborough Herald of 1844 reported that John Eade and his brother, the Reverend William Eade (who was Curate with him at St. Andrew's, Aycliffe, and later Rector of Wolviston), were staying at No. 3, Wood's Lodgings, St Nicholas Cliff in Scarborough, with his deceased wife's mother, Elizabeth Robinson. Mr William Wood's genteel rooms at St Nicholas Cliff were regularly frequented by all the Thorp Green Robinsons and their coterie of servants and assistants, and it is here that John Eade may have first become acquainted with Anne Brontë and her brother, Branwell.

The Reverend Patrick Brontë of Haworth had attended the same Cambridge college (St John's) as the Reverend Thomas Gisborne, and over time had maintained the contact. Patrick Brontë sourced at least one of his Curates (the Reverend William Weightman) from the newly founded University College, Durham, and through these common Durham connections the Robinsons had taken on first Anne (in 1840) and later Branwell (in 1843) as tutors to their children at Thorp Green Hall. While Anne and Branwell were at Thorp Green, Edmund and Lydia Robinson invited Patrick Brontë to visit, an indication of the good relations which existed between the two families (the father of a governess would surely not otherwise have been asked to stay). Anne's charges were the Robinsons' three teenage daughters (Lydia, Bessy and Mary) while Branwell's later arrival saw him take over responsibility for tutoring the Robinsons' only son, Edmund, known as Ned (b.1832). All went very well for a while - Ned was not a taxing student and the unreliable Branwell began to enjoy himself at Thorp Green. In January 1844 Charlotte Brontë reported that Anne and Branwell were both 'wondrously valued in their situations.'

Meanwhile, John Eade, at the age of 40, had found a new partner and was in the process of remarrying. His new wife was Augusta Anne Aylmer of Walworth Castle (near Aycliffe) - they married at Heighington on March 7th 1845. Augusta was 29 years old, and with her John Eade would go on to have six children, including the aforementioned Charles John Aylmer Eade. Their descendants, Neville and Charles Eade, bought Walworth Castle in 1931. The family may be seen at the Aycliffe Vicarage in the 1851 Census, where by great coincidence they had a 16 year old housemaid called Jane Robinson (a living daily reminder to John Eade of his first wife).

Shortly after the Eades' marriage in March, the Thorp Green Robinsons were faced with a calamity. The July 1845 crisis at Thorp Green Hall was a watershed in the life of the Brontë family, the starting gun for a series of tumultuous events which are now part of literary history. Edmund Robinson, by then already seriously ill, discovered that Branwell Brontë had been utilising his spare time to conduct an affair with his wife, Lydia. He 'sternly dismissed' Branwell, banning him from Thorp Green and instructing him never to contact any of the Robinsons again. Anne Brontë had read the tealeaves and had wisely resigned her position with the Robinsons a short while before Lydia and Branwell were exposed. Branwell was prostrate, confessing all to his family, and turned to drink and laudanum to dull the agony of losing Lydia. For her part, the capricious Lydia distanced herself from her lover and wheedled her way back into her sick husband's affections, knowing that there was no future with the penniless Branwell. Over the next two and a half years, Branwell soured the atmosphere in the Parsonage at Haworth, while his three sisters were in the process of writing and publishing  Jane Eyre (Charlotte), WutheringHeights (Emily), and Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne). In September 1848, Branwell succumbed to tuberculosis, and by May of the following year both Emily and Anne had also been lost (Anne died in her beloved Scarborough, in the same St Nicholas Cliff rooms which she had visited while on holidays with the Robinsons).

We do not know whether John Eade was party to the full saga or not - the Robinsons and Brontës both had good reasons for covering up the Thorp Green story, which  was only exposed to a wider audience much later by Elizabeth Gaskell in her famous 1857 Life of Charlotte Brontë. The Robinson children, of course, had witnessed proceedings. Others of Lydia's direct family were involved in the aftermath to the affair - her brother-in-law William Evans M.P. (who was married to Lydia's sister, Mary) took steps to warn off Branwell and Archdeacon Thorp even threatened to shoot him (or so Branwell claimed). We do know however that, after Branwell's departure, John Eade was asked by the Robinsons to step in and take over arrangements for the tutoring of his nephew, young Ned Robinson. In 1845, Ned would have been thirteen years old, and for a short time it seems that John Eade and his brother William taught Ned themselves, possibly at Aycliffe.

In May 1846, Edmund Robinson died at Thorp Green, and by November of that year Lydia and the girls had quit Thorp Green Hall - they then spent time at Allestree Hall in Derby (with William and Mary Evans) and at Great Barr (the home of Lydia's ailing cousin, Lady Scott). Ned was packed off to a tutor in Charlton Mackrell in faraway Somerset, the Reverend Theophilus Williams. Nevertheless, he remained something of a liability - a letter sent by Lydia to her lawyer at the end of 1847 reveals that Ned had at one point been less than discreet.....

....I hope Dr T may be less unguarded in questioning Edmund than he used to be ... for I am well aware of things he has said to me concerning Thorp Green and all which had better not have been said. And I am very glad you talked to my son upon it by naming 'him' in Dr Thorp's presence.......

By 1850, Theophilus Williams had moved to be Vicar at Burnham on Sea, and Ned was sent to yet another tutor, the Reverend Charles Stocker at Draycott-le-Moors in Staffordshire (closer to his mother Lydia, who was by then remarried to her deceased cousin's husband, Sir Edward Dolman-Scott of Great Barr). Charles Stocker managed to get Ned into St Mary Hall, Oxford, but he left without taking a degree. Ned Robinson's education had followed a prescribed path - the 'Sons of Clapham' were not sent to public school 'on account of that abatement of confidence and intimacy to which it almost necessarily lends,' as reported Henry Thornton, the Clapham Sect's chief financier. Rather, they were  privately educated by evangelical clergymen and thence sent on to universities at colleges with strong evangelical presence.

The Reverend John Davie Eade lived to the ripe age of 76 and died in 'The College', Durham, in 1881, where his first wife Jane had died in 1840. Meanwhile all the Thorp Green protagonists had passed away, one by one. The Reverend Patrick Brontë of Haworth died in 1861, outliving all six of his brilliant children. Lydia Robinson (the new Lady Scott) died in 1859 and her son Ned followed in 1869 - young Ned Robinson's death seemed to draw a line under the whole affair. A keen fox hunter, Ned took rooms each year in York to be with the York and Ainsty Hunt, which held meetings in the surrounding area, including regular hunts at the Slingsbys' Red House, Moor Monkton. Ned lost his life, aged 37, with five others in the Newby Ferry Disaster of 1869, when a small boat carrying a number of horses and huntsmen capsized while crossing the swollen River Ure at Newby Park. Ned Robinson is remembered, along with his kinsman Sir Charles Slingsby, on a monument in the Newby Park grounds.

In the first carriage of mourners, as Ned's funeral cortège passed from York to Little Ouseburn, was his uncle and sometime tutor, the Reverend John Davie Eade, the Vicar of Aycliffe.


Eade family tree


Bob Gamble's  three complementary articles , collected as Robinson Reflections, are appearing  in  Brontë Studies, the official research journal of The Brontë Society (Maney Publishing, Leeds) and the only journal solely dedicated to research on the Brontë family (published continuously since 1895).
Robinson Reflections,  Part 1: The Robinsons (of Newby Hall?) - Bronte Studies, 37:2 (April 2012), 145-58
Robinson Reflections,  Part 2: Abolition and Evangelicalism - Bronte Studies , 38:1 (January 2013), 66-78
Robinson Reflections,  Part 3: Paper Chase - The Story of Mary Robinson's Arranged Marriage - Bronte Studies, 38:3, (to be published in September 2013)

If anyone has any further information on the Reverend John Davie Eade and his family he would be very interested - please contact