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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 December, 2004, 18:01 GMT
Bronte's 'secret staircase found'
BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke
Jane Eyre was turned into a BBC drama starring Timothy Dalton
A secret staircase has been found in a house thought to have inspired classic novel Jane Eyre - just as author Charlotte Bronte described it.

In Jane Eyre, the hero Mr Rochester keeps his mad first wife in a hidden attic up a secret stairway.

The owners of Norton Conyers in North Yorkshire always believed their house near Ripon may have inspired the writer.

But the staircase had been hidden since the 1880s and its current residents only found it after clearing the attic.

Sir James and Lady Graham, whose family have lived in Norton Conyers since 1624, say the book's Thornfield Hall was based on their house.

We think it matches very closely - Jane describes it at one point as very narrow
Sir James Graham
Bronte's heroine is described hearing a "demoniac laugh" outside her bedroom before Mr Rochester goes up the staircase.

Bronte wrote: "I watched the light withdraw. He passed up the gallery very softly, unclosed the staircase door with as little noise as possible, shut it after him, and the last ray vanished. I was left in total darkness."

The author is thought to have been inspired by a visit to the house in 1839.

But the staircase door was concealed when panelling was installed in the 1880s, Sir James and Lady Graham said.

They only found the stairway after taking up floorboards in the attic after clearing it for the visit of a TV crew.

Lady Graham said: "We've located where Mr Rochester's bedroom is. It's called the Peacock Room, and from the Peacock Room, to go up to the attic as in Jane Eyre, the shortest way is just to go via this staircase, just as it's described there."

Her husband added: "We think it matches very closely. Jane describes it at one point as very narrow."

In the book, Jane Eyre is engaged to Mr Rochester, but discovers he is still married and his first wife went mad and was imprisoned in the attic.

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