Tag Archives: Yorkshire Dales

83. By Gum! Life were Sparse: Bill Mitchell’s Yorkshire Dales Scrapbooks

This week, we’re back in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, looking at the scrapbooks created by local author Dr W.R. (Bill) Mitchell.   Bill has put these volumes together over many years, using his own photographs plus ephemera and letters, to create unique and very personal records of Dales lives and landscapes.  Here we see a page featuring a campaign to protect a Dales feature very important to Bill: the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

Settle-Carlisle Railway ephemera in Bill Mitchell scrapbook

William Reginald Mitchell was born in 1928 in Skipton, “gateway to the Dales”, to a family who worked in the textile industries and were strongly influenced by Methodism.   He began his writing career as a “cub reporter” on the Craven Herald in 1943.  After service in the Fleet Air Arm, he returned to the Herald in 1948; he was then asked by Harry J. Scott, editor of The Dalesman, to join the magazine’s staff.  Bill later became its editor.  He also edited a sister magazine, Cumbria, after The Dalesman took it on in 1951.  Bill retired from The Dalesman in 1988.

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

Alongside writing for and editing the two regional magazines, Bill has written over 200 books and numerous articles, not to mention giving thousands of talks to local groups, radio and television.  He often refers to the advice given him by Harry Scott when he first joined The Dalesman: “We are more interested in people than things”.  Bill took this advice to heart: his works are full of the stories and voices of Dalesfolk, their tough working lives and their distinctive humour.

The titles of Bill’s books range from ABC of Lakeland to You’re Only Old Once!  Not to mention Summat and Nowt, and By Gum!  Life were Sparse!  They include folk tales, popular histories and biographies of famous people and local characters: J.B. Priestley, Alfred Wainwright, the Keartons, the Brontës,  Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, Dales farmer Hannah Hauxwell, cheesemaker Kit Calvert, TV vet James Herriot, naturalist Reginald Farrer and many more.

Cover of Men of the Settle-Carlisle, by WR Mitchell

Bill has written thirty books about the Settle-Carlisle Railway, exploring the legendary Ribblehead Viaduct, the building of the Railway, the lives of its workers and their families, and the stories of individual stations: Dent, Hellifield and Garsdale.

Cover of Birds of the Yorkshire Dales, by WR Mitchell

  Bill Mitchell is also a naturalist, hence many works about flora and fauna, especially bird-watching and the Sika deer of Bowland.  Alongside the stories of Yorkshire and the Lakes, there are also glimpses of the natural history of Scotland.

Cover of Mr Elgar and Dr Buck, by WR MitchellMusic is also important to Bill: his research into the friendship of Elgar with Dr Buck of Settle led to the discovery of correspondence and new manuscript music written by the composer.

W.R. 'Bill' MitchellThese wide interests are reflected in Bill’s scrapbooks and in his Archive at the University of Bradford. Our Bill Mitchell Archive came to the University of Bradford after Dr Mitchell was awarded an honorary degree in 1996.  The Archive includes the scrapbooks, letters relating to Bill’s work at The Dalesman, ephemera relating to the Keartons, and audiocassettes of interviews with Dalespeople.

These interviews on these audiocassettes are at the heart of an exciting project led by Settle Stories.  The project aims to make the interviews much more widely accessible, offering new knowledge about Dales lives and work and opportunities for learning and enjoyment for local people.  Find out more about Bill Mitchell and the project here.


29. Wild Nature’s Ways: the Kearton Brothers and the Stuffed Ox

Shouldering the Imitation OxOur next object illustrates the story of two brothers from Yorkshire who found new ways to photograph the natural world.  These photos show an ox-hide, which was placed over a wooden frame to hide the photographer and enable him to capture better images of wild birds and their nests.  The “Stuffed Ox” was one of many methods that Richard and Cherry Kearton developed in their pioneering photographic careers.

The stuffed ox in operation

The brothers were from Swaledale: born in Thwaite, educated in Muker.  Richard published his first book, Birds’ Nests, Eggs and Egg Collecting, in 1890.  After Cherry took the first ever photograph of a bird’s nest with eggs, in 1892, the two worked together on British Birds’ Nests (1895), the first such book fully illustrated with photos.

Richard published many more books, including his autobiography, A Naturalists’ Pilgrimage.  He became a sought-after public speaker, illustrating his nature talks with lantern slides.

Flyer for new nature book by Richard Kearton

Cherry became a wildlife photographer and film-maker, travelling the world to photograph in remote locations.  He also published extensively, with particular intereste in Africa, penguins, and the adventures of his menagerie of animals.

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Cherry Kearton and penguin

Find out more about the Keartons’ lives and works via Watch the Birdie!, by Dr W.R. Mitchell and Direct from Nature, by John Bevis.  Dr Mitchell gathered many of the brothers’ published books and some papers (correspondence and publicity) in researching his book: these are now in Special Collections.

Mounted on the imitation ox

26. Around Yorkshire by Bicycle: Fred Robinson Butterfield’s Photograph Album

The Dales in Winter: Kex Gill Pass, Blubberhouses

That looks chilly! The Dales in Winter: Kex Gill Pass, Blubberhouses

This week’s Object takes us back to the Yorkshire Dales again, this time by bicycle.  As we already saw, Special Collections is rich in archives and rare books about this beautiful part of Britain: the Dales begin close to Bradford and became a place for recreation and escape for the workers of the West Riding away from the crowded and dirty towns.   J.B. Priestley often wrote of the joy he and his friends experienced in the Dales.

Market Place, Settle

Market Place, Settle

Our Object  is the Fred Robinson Butterfield Collection, photographs taken by Mr Butterfield of the Keighley Road Club, who toured the Dales and other Yorkshire beauty spots during the 1920s and 1930s.  He was first Secretary of the Club and later became an honorary member.  The negatives and prints in the Collection show us the wonderful scenery, quiet roads and varying weather of the Dales long ago.

Sheep in the road "Near Newby Head"

Sheep in the road “Near Newby Head”

We recently listed the places covered by the photographs.  This list, and the images themselves, will soon be freely available online for Dales lovers everywhere to share and enjoy.

How the photos look in the album: top of Skipton Castle page

How the photos look in the album: top of Skipton Castle page

14. The Call of the Heather: Windyridge by W. Riley

In 1912, a novel set in the Yorkshire Dales became an instant best-seller.  Described by reviewers as pure, wholesome, refreshing, and sweet,
Windyridge told the charming story of Grace Holden, an artist who takes refuge from London life by renting a cottage in a Yorkshire village: Windyridge, based on Hawksworth, near Guiseley.

Grace makes the choice to stay in Windyridge because she is so moved by the sight of the heather-covered moors, which remind her of her father’s homesickness for his own part of the country.   The heroine encounters interesting local characters, finds friends, and after many difficulties, love and happiness.  The book was written from her point of view so effectively that readers and reviewers, and indeed at first the publisher, believed this new author, W. Riley, to be female.  But in fact W. Riley was Willie Riley, a 46-year-old Bradford man, who had previously managed his family’s pioneering optical lantern business and was an active Methodist lay preacher.

Willie Riley

Willie Riley

Riley wrote the book to entertain some friends who were having a difficult time after a bereavement.  They were delighted with the book and, along with his wife Clara, urged him to send it to a publisher.  Riley did so, though not taking the idea seriously.  However, new firm Herbert Jenkins recognised the qualities of the book: Windyridge was their first publication.  Riley was to publish over 30 novels with them until his death in 1961.

Like Windyridge, Riley’s other writings are full of his love for Yorkshire; the stories are set in real places under disguised names.   His work also shows the Methodist faith that was so important to him (and I think his success with Windyridge owes much to the communication skills he built up in his activities as a lay preacher).

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited (1928)

Special Collections has copies of all these books, and we are receiving his Archive which documents how he organised his writing career.

Riley was almost forgotten for many years, Windyridge surviving only in the names of houses around the world.  Now there is a revival of interest: Windyridge itself is now in print again, from Jeremy Mills Publishing.  Find out more about Riley and Windyridge on this website, created by Riley enthusiast and Bradford graduate David Copeland.