“A Gentleman’s Manor House” – Why Haddon Makes The Perfect Thornfield Hall

“It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable:  a gentleman's manor-house” Turbulent romance, mystery and moral growth are what await Jane Eyre at Thornfield Hall, the fictitious home of Mr Rochester and infamous setting of Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale.

It is well-known that the Haddon Estate has starred as Thornfield in multiple adaptations of the novel, with numerous appearances in film, television and theatrical productions. The most recent of these appearances was earlier this year, when audience members were invited to step inside the world of Jane Eyre in our very own promenade performances, commissioned by Lord and Lady Manners and written by local storyteller, Gillian Shimwell.

Thornfield Hall plays host to much of the action in the novel, from unexplained attacks to harrowing secrets, forbidden love to unexpected reunions. Brontë describes the Hall in-depth through the voice of Jane and, by doing so, brings Thornfield to life as more than the setting of the novel.

But what is it about the Haddon Estate that has so strongly attracted those developing Jane Eyre for stage and screen? We explored Jane’s depictions of Thornfield to find similarities in Haddon Hall and determine how exactly it captures its essence so authentically.

"Is there a place in this neighbourhood called Thornfield?" I asked of the waiter who answered the summons.
"Thornfield?  I don't know, ma'am; I'll inquire at the bar."  

How Haddon Hall relates to this early mention of Thornfield may not be immediately obvious, but here’s what we noticed when we read between the lines. Just as the waiter is unaware of Thornfield Hall’s existence in the novel, the following quotes from recent visitors to Haddon Hall demonstrate a similar lack of knowledge about a treasure so close to home:

“One of the hidden jewels of the Peak District in my opinion.”

“Lived in North Derbyshire for 29 years and yesterday was the first time visiting Haddon Hall.  It is truly beautiful.”

“You know the saying about never seeing things that are on your doorstep? Well, I first lived in the area in the 1980’s and never went to Haddon Hall… Wow, it was really fascinating… Why did I not go before?”

Our interpretation is that, through their respective acknowledgements above, Haddon and Thornfield are both depicted as “hidden gems”, well-kept secrets of the countryside that are shrouded from immediate view and cloaked in mystery for those who have not visited.

“To be sure it is pleasant at any time; for Thornfield is a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps, but still it is a respectable place”

This account of Thornfield from Mrs Fairfax is one of the first the reader receives in the novel, and can be applied to Haddon Hall in multiple ways.

Firstly, with springtime splendour in the gardens, autumnal atmosphere and winter wonderlands, we believe that Haddon truly is “pleasant at any time”, even if we are slightly biased….

Furthermore, although the Hall is far from “neglected” now, it did lay dormant for over two hundred years between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, before being restored in the 1920s. It is partly for this reason that Haddon remains largely as it was in the 16th century – “a fine old hall” and “respectable place” for everyone to experience and enjoy.

“Farther off were hills:  not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected”

If you have ever visited Haddon Hall and looked out at the view from our terraced gardens, you should be able to draw your own comparisons from this quote. You will have seen the rolling Peak District hills which encompass the Haddon Estate and, without separating it from the outside world, mirror the seclusion and embrace of nature which Jane describes at Thornfield Hall.

“I went apart into the orchard.  No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers:  a very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn.”

While Haddon Hall does have its own private orchard, it was actually our Elizabethan terraced gardens which this passage brought to mind. Revitalised over recent years by renowned garden designer Arne Maynard, the Haddon gardens showcase topiary trees, medicinal plants and stunning floral arrangements. In fact, the Bowling Green terrace is characterised by popular plants from 400 years ago, such as Germander, Lavender and Rosemary, which carry the rich heritage of the Hall from the inside, out.

With high stone walls and a cushion of nature surrounding them, the gardens of Haddon Hall induce a feeling of sanctuary and solitude akin to that of the orchard in Jane Eyre.

“All these relics gave...Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine to memory.”

Although this impression appears relatively early on in the novel, we’ve saved it for last, as we believe that it encapsulates a quality which is central to Haddon Hall’s ambience, more so than any other passage we came across. To this day, Haddon Hall is largely unchanged and remains, on the most part, as it was hundreds of years ago, providing a unique view of early English life and history, so much so that simply walking into the lower courtyard can feel like taking a step back in time. We believe that it is this almost magical sense of time gone by which gives the manor house its distinctive character, and makes it a true place of historic importance and inspiration.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our “study” and would love to hear your own interpretations. We look forward to welcoming you in the future and will leave you with one final quote about Thornfield – one that we hope may replicate your own sentiments upon leaving the Haddon Estate…

“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield - I love it”

The Hall is not only a “home of the past”, but, thanks to incredible ongoing restoration work, a home of the present and future as well. If you’d like to find out more about the restoration and conservation of Haddon Hall, visit our website or email isabelle@haddonhall.co.uk to enquire about our specialised restoration tours.

View our full list of film and television credits here