Life As It Was – In The Yorkshire Dales

This was originally left as a comments to an earlier post by Angie. Since there is so much here I thought I’d publish as a post in its own right.

People now love to visit Swaledale as one of the most magnificent Yorkshire dales for scenery. My dad always said it was very bleak when he lived there, especially in the long winters. There was a lot of depression & suicides were not uncommon. My auntie thought that was partly because of the brooding hills which seemed to overwhelm some people, & possibly also because of the effect of lead leeching through water pipes into humans.

My dad & his four siblings grew up in the 1920s & 30s, my granddad scraping for work despite his status as a stone mason, the family next door staying indoors on Sundays because they didn’t have any Sunday clothes to wear. People who didn’t have sixpence for the doctor just doing without. My auntie had a story about a man who broke his back at the quarry being brought home screaming on the back of a trailer & put to bed to die without any medication. My granny was very anti drink & ‘signed the pledge’ because families suffered great hardship if the head of the household spent essential money on alcohol.

Electricity made the Dales more acceptable. I still remember in the 1950s taking a candle to go across the yard to the flush (luxury) toilet – fun as a kid but not permanently as an adult. There was in time electric light in the living room but not upstairs so oil lamps & candles were used until the 1960s.

Transport was difficult – I know it seemed to take a long time for us to make the trip from Preston & later Keighley. Now it can be done in 2-3 hours. Then cars broke down & the moors seemed incredibly steep & empty, although as a child I enjoyed the fun of leaping out to open & close all the gates which were later replaced by cattle grids. Buses were on market day or for school in Richmond.

It was a hard life with work a central feature. The family kept some chickens to supplement their income & my granny ran Grinton post office which then included walking all around the dale to outlying farms to deliver letters & parcels, even on Christmas day. Church was a central focus – my auntie played the organ from the age of 14, her mother cleaned the building, her dad dug graves & was a church warden & her four brothers sang in the choir.

Two of my dad’s uncles came back from the first world war very troubled mentally. Their marriages broke up & one was seen around Reeth muttering to himself & writing words in chalk on the pavements. What a shock it must have been to come from a remote village to the battlefields of Europe & back again.

My dad was a conscientious objector in the 1930s when he first went to Oxford University, but changed his mind about pacifism when Hitler overran Czechoslovakia – as did many others. He heard great debates at the Oxford Union with all the famous politicians attending, including Winston Churchill & Vera Brittain. Two of his brothers remained C.O.s through the war which was difficult for his father living in a small community where it was still seen as cowardly not to fight.

Thanks Angie.

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