David and West Yorkshire

‘Oh, dear papa, how quiet and plain all the girls at Lowood look! with their hair combed behind their ears, and their long pinafores, and those little holland pockets outside their frocks, they are almost like poor people’s children!’
– Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Monica writes of her quest for her three times great-uncle David Jenkins:

When I was made to read Jane Eyre at school, I had no idea that a relative of mine was at school with the Brontë sisters. I discovered that in 1824 little Harriet, aged only ten – the same age as Jane Eyre – went to the Clergy Daughters’ School which Charlotte depicted as Lowood, perhaps the most famous school in English literature. She was David’s eldest daughter, and the reason for his sending her there is as poignant as Patrick Brontë’s.

People have been confused about the professional relationship between Patrick Brontë and David Jenkins at Dewsbury and Hartshead in 1810–12 – before Patrick moved to Thornton and then Haworth, and his younger colleague David established himself at Pudsey. For the first time I explain their relationship in my book, though there still remain mysteries. To understand clergymen at this period, it is vital to study the church registers and ordination documents and also to read Frances Knight on the nineteenth-century church: Nineteenth century church and english society | Church history | Cambridge University Press.

David arrived in West Yorkshire after his ordination as deacon in July 1810, just seven months after Patrick’s arrival. David officiated mainly at Hartshead at first, but they worked together. I was thus disconcerted when I arrived at Dewsbury Minster to find booklets claiming that Patrick had performed 420 baptisms and sometimes forty burials a month on his own, totally ignoring David: their duties were shared.

But my day ended wonderfully, as the then vicar at Hartshead, Rev. Richard Burge, whisked me to his church and showed me the church register, which he had borrowed from the archives. Opening it, I saw immediately David’s signature after performing his first marriage at Hartshead on 9 August 1810. In fact he performed two marriages on that day at St Peter’s. Seeing the actual record is so different from looking at a scan, and especially seeing the register in the building where he had signed it and performed the marriages. Rev. Richard’s kind deed had brought David into the present: the 23-year-old Welshman at the start of his career in the church over two hundred years ago was almost palpable. He had been forgotten or ignored, but he was remembered that day in 2018.

The photos show the only known portrait of David Jenkins, the gorgeously decorated pub at Dewsbury station, Monica inside David’s enormous church in Pudsey, and Rev. Richard outside Hartshead church.

Monica Kendall