AN ART collector is exploring previously-unknown links between the Bronte family and the illustrious sixth Duke of Devonshire.

James Gorin von Grozny believes the Duke struck up a friendship with the Rev Patrick Brontë after admiring his daughter Charlotte’s painting of Bolton Abbey.

The Duke, William Cavendish Spencer, is renowned for his friendships with famous figures of the day such as Charles Dickens.

He and Patrick were both social campaigners: Patrick on the health of his parishioners, and the “Bachelor Duke” on slavery and factory working hours.

According to Mr Grozny, it is possible the Duke commissioned the first public toilet in England, at the top of Butt Lane in Haworth.

Von Grozny began researching links between the Brontës and the Duke as a spin-off of his efforts to authenticate a painting he believes shows Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte.

Mr Grozny believes his picture was painted in 1838 by famous Victorian artist Sir Edward Landseer, a friend of the Duke.

Mr Grozny this week said he was piecing together evidence pointing to relationships between Patrick, the sixth Duke and Landseer.

He said the links originated at the Royal Northern Exhibition in Leeds in 1834, where Charlotte displayed a picture she had created the previous summer while visiting the duke’s estate at Bolton Abbey.

Mr Grozny said Charlotte wrote in 1856 of her father’s meeting and exchange of gifts with the Duke, probably at the exhibition’s private viewing.

Mr Grozny said: “A proud and protective parson will have been alongside his daughter on this day. Having trusted and accepted the Duke’s hospitality the previous summer, no doubt Patrick would have been keen to meet the Duke.”

Mr Grozny said a newly-published letter from the Duke confirms Landseer was staying at the Bolton Abbey estate during the same summer the Brontës visited.

He believes a mysterious host only referred to as ‘E’ in accounts of the visit, who gave the teenage Bronte siblings a guided tour, was in reality Edwin Landseer.

Mr Grozny added: “It not known if the parson and Duke had correspondence or met again between 1834 and 1856. The duke’s pilgrimage to the parsonage in 1856 was extraordinary.

“It is not known what the parson gave the old Duke, or what they talked about, but it is likely they discussed the children’s visit to the Abbey in 1833, and the fantastic consequences.”

As further evidence, Mr Grozny said there was “comfortably conclusive” proof that a drawing, currently at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, was a portrait of the young Duke by Landseer.