The Church Of St. James'
The present church is built on land donated by John Foster of Queensbury (owner of Black Dyke Mills) and was consecrated on 21 August 1872. It is described by historian W Cudworth as ‘a chaste building of substantial structure in the early English style’. At this time only the base of the tower was built, the rest being added at a later date when funds became available. The church was built to the designs of T H Healy of Bradford – the same firm that rebuilt Haworth church in 1879.
The church consists of a five bay clerestorised nave, with a lean to on the south aisle only, a cross gabled porch in the west bay, and a two bay chancel linked by a cross –gabled organ chamber to the slightly detached tower and spire.
The nave and chancel are under one continuous roof with eaves and gutters to the north and south east faces but dripping eaves over the aisle roof. The lean to aisle roof and the porches have eaves gutters.
The church is constructed in of sandstone ‘bricks’ with gritstone dressings. The roofs are covered with grey Burlington slates, diminishing from very large slates at the eaves. The ridges are of stone carved with a roll top.
The church contains a number of artefacts from the Bell Chapel; these include the bell, the font (or stoup) of 1679 in which the Bronte children would have been baptised. A dove that sat above the pulpit and a number of memorial tablets.
The most notable feature is the east window made to a William Morris design which was added in 1876, and given by Mr and Mrs John Foster, Jnr at a cost of £600. The windows in the south aisle depict various saints and are memorials to local people.
The church also houses the Bronte Memorial organ, built in 1897 and is regarded as a fine valuable instrument.
The Bell Chapel
Across the road from St James Church is the remains of Thornton Old Chapel (or Bell Chapel, as it is known) this was originally built in 1612, dedicated to St. James and was one of three chapels belonging to Bradford Parish Church. In 1756 it was almost completely rebuilt and in 1793 an organ gallery was added. In 1818 the chapel was re-pointed and the cupola, which still remains, was erected. In 1855 Thornton became a parish in its own right.
Between 1815 - 1820 the Rev. Patrick Bronte was the incumbent at the Bell Chapel and it is here where Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne were baptised and it is very likely that the font that is still used occasionally at St James is the same one that the Bronte family used.
The old churchyard is still used today with annual outdoor events, such as Summer Praise, Easter Sunrise Service and Carols by Candlelight. All contribute to the respective seasons and are well supported by the local community.
The churchyard of the Bell Chapel is far more extensive and set immediately across the road from the church is well populated with established trees such as mature Sycamore, Silver Birch, Beech and Holly. A number of woodland birds will occupy this habitat throughout the year as well as grey squirrels. In addition there is evidence of bats in this area but no breeding roost has ever been identified.
The Parks Dept of Bradford City Council maintains the graveyard, whilst a group from the church and the local community maintain the graves, headstones and monuments. A number of garden seats are provided to allow the visitor to take in the view across the valley and be absorbed in to the ambience of this very quiet place.