A series of campaigns that will tell the stories of North Yorkshire’s people and places.

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Edition 1 - Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters

Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters is the first edition of Made in North Yorkshire. It will bring to life the resources held at the County Record Office, to capture the lives of important, but widely unknown people from across our county.

April 2020 - Dr William Pickles

Our Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter nominee for April is Dr William Pickles, an epidemiologist who spent over fifty years of his life as the local GP in Aysgarth, Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales. He dedicated his life to investigating disease and epidemics, studying the science behind incubation periods of infectious diseases. His work as an epidemiologist is highly relevant to the Covid-19 outbreak we are currently facing across the world.  

Early life

Born in Leeds on 6 March 1885, William Pickles attended Leeds Grammar School and subsequently studied medicine at Leeds Medical School. Once qualified in 1910, Dr Pickles worked at several GP surgeries across the North Riding, including Bedale. In 1913, Dr Pickles, with his partner GP, Dr Dean Dunbar, bought the Aysgarth practice where he looked after around 3,000 people in the village and surrounding area.

Role in the great war

Dr Pickles served in the First World War, joining the Royal Navy as a surgeon in April 1914. He also helped to set up a local VAD scheme in Aysgarth, recruiting twenty VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurses to help support the war effort at home. VAD nurses were voluntary nurses, with no previous nursing experience, who helped to care for injured soldiers in military hospitals across the UK and Europe during the First World War. Amongst the recruited VAD nurses was Gertrude Adelaide Tunstill, whom Dr Pickles would later marry at St. Andrew’s church in Aysgarth on 5th May 1917. More information relating to Dr Pickles’ role in World War One can be found in the biographies section of the Thoralby Through Time website, written by local historian Penny Ellis. Penny Ellis was kind enough to send us a copy of the below photograph from the Thoralby Through Time website, showing Dr Pickles with the Aysgarth VAD nurses in around 1915. The nurses highlighted with a red number are yet to be identified.  If you may know more about these women, please get in touch with Penny at penny@bpellis.idps.co.uk or via the Thoralby Through Time website.

The nurses highlighted with a black number have been identified as follows: No. 2: Miss Elizabeth Ewbank, No. 4: Miss Barbara Alice Bell - later Mrs. Peacock, No. 6: Miss May/Mary Heseltine - later Mrs. Shepherd (USA), No. 7: Miss Ethel Johnson - later Mrs. Scott, No. 11: Mrs. Margaret Ann Dinsdale, No.13: Mrs. Annie Graham, No. 14: Mrs. Constance Emma Archer, No. 15: Miss Lily Wray, No.16: Miss Alice Scott - later  Mrs. Mason,  No. 17: Miss Gertrude Adelaide Tunstill - later Mrs. Pickles, No.18: Miss Kathleen North - later Mrs. Sayer No. 19: Miss Alice Ecroyd Tunstill and No. 20: Miss Madge Blades

The man who enhanced medicine

Alongside his duty as the local GP, Dr Pickles spent much of his time researching the incubation period of epidemics and the spread of disease. He recorded and analysed data for every epidemic that occurred in Aysgarth for over 20 years, including measles, influenza and jaundice outbreaks. In 1939, Dr Pickles published Epidemiology in Country Practice, a book of his medical observations which focused on a particularly severe outbreak of catarrhal jaundice in the dales in 1928-1929. Dr Pickles and his wife, Gerty, recorded data of the outbreak for over two years, and eventually concluded that the incubation period for the disease ranged from 26 to 35 days. Epidemiology in Country Practice has been recognised as an essential source in the study of epidemiology, and promoted the idea of practical, real life research as a way of achieving medical breakthrough. Whilst some medical advice has changed and advanced since Dr Pickles’ research, his advice for preventing the spread of the common cold was ‘to keep away from other folk’, advice which is all too familiar today.

As a result of his studies, Dr Pickles became one of the leading epidemiologists of his time, travelling around the world with his wife and lecturing on his findings at medical institutes and universities across the globe. Not only did Dr Pickles travel across the world, but doctors also travelled far and wide to visit the tiny North Yorkshire village of Aysgarth to learn more about infectious diseases from Dr Pickles himself. 1950s Aysgarth became known as a ‘medical Mecca’, as medics wanted to learn from the expert himself, and the village that inspired his discoveries.

In 1950, William Pickles received an honorary doctorate of science from the University of Leeds.  The photograph below shows Dr Pickles in his gown at the ceremony. In 1953, Dr Pickles also became the first president of the Royal College of General Practitioners.


Despite his fame, Dr Pickles remained a country doctor and was once described as Britain’s friendliest GP. For locals in Wensleydale, Dr Pickles was their family doctor for generations, a dependable and familiar face for over fifty years. Dr Pickles was the doctor for local resident, Penny Ellis’ family, her grandparents, father and uncle were all patients of his. She remembers Dr Pickles being spoken of very fondly, and believes the following comment made by Dr Pickles, and now quoted in John Pemberton’s biography of Dr Will Pickles, best describes his legacy: “And as I watched the evening train creeping up the valley with its pauses at our three stations, a quaint thought came into my head and it was that there was hardly a man, woman or child in all those villages of whom I did not know their Christian name and with whom I was not on terms of intimate friendship. My wife and I say we know most of the dogs and, indeed some of the cats.” 


The photograph below taken in September 1962, shows the Pickles family celebrating Dr Pickles’ 50th year in practice in Aysgarth. Dr Pickles went above and beyond the expected role of a GP, from setting up a local VAD scheme, to studying every local pandemic for over twenty years; his commitment and passion for helping others through medical care and medical advancement is undeniable. Dr Pickles was cherished locally, by the patients he cared for and by the wider medical community. This is made evident by the poem below, ‘This was his path’, written by poet and author Joan Pomfret in 1951.

Further information

If you would to find out more about Dr William Pickles, the North Yorkshire County Record Office holds a collection relating to Dr Pickles and his work (Ref ZP). This includes family scrap books, Dr Pickles’ medical recordings, photographs and publications.

Local historian, Penny Ellis’ website, ‘Thoralby Through Time’ website has more information about Dr Pickles and the Wensleydale villages he cared for.

John Pemberton has also published a biography of Dr Pickles life, published in 1970 and entitled: ‘Will Pickles of Wensleydale the Life of a Country Doctor’. A copy of which is held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office as part of collection ZP.

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Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters is the first edition of Made in North Yorkshire, and will be launching at the end of this month. It will bring to life the resources held at the County Record Office, to capture the lives of important, but widely unknown people from across our county.

It will focus on ten people from our history who have shown the resilience, strength, honesty, innovation and creativity that made North Yorkshire the special place it is today.

Each month will feature one great North Yorkshire son or daughter, who were either born in the county or who moved here during their lifetime and made a positive change.

The records held at the County Record Office date back to the 12th century, and include a variety of photographs, maps, documents and letters which will be used to unlock the hidden narratives of our Great North Yorkshire sons and daughters.


A Great North Yorkshire Daughter 

Our first Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter is VAD nurse Ursula Lascelles, who travelled from the rural North Yorkshire village of Slingsby, to the battlefields of France to support the war effort during World War One. Ursula Lascelles was born in Sheriff Hutton in July 1890, and died in 1992, aged 102.

She was the daughter of the local vicar of Sheriff Hutton, and was educated at the girls’ grammar school in York. At the outbreak of World War One, Ursula (aged 24 years old), and her mother, Elizabeth Lascelles, began volunteering as VAD nurses.



Supporting the war effort

The VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, was a role created by the Red Cross during the first World War, due to a shortage of professionally trained nurses. VAD nurses were voluntary nurses who helped care for injured soldiers in military hospitals across the UK and Europe. Their duties included dressing patients wounds, (which could be more than twice a day), giving patients medicine and bed baths, as well as lesser medical tasks including making beds and tidying the wards. Ursula began volunteering at the British Red Cross Hospital in Swinton Grange, near Malton.

Whilst volunteering in North Yorkshire, Ursula put herself forward to nurse on the frontline in France. Ursula spent months pleading with the head of the Joint Women’s VAD department, (Dame Katharine Furse) to be relocated to France, where she felt she could make a real difference. In 1917 Ursula was accepted to work at the No.6 General Hospital in Rouen, France, where she worked as a VAD nurse until 1919.

After the First World War, and throughout her life, Ursula continued to fundraise for the British Red Cross.



Why Ursula was a Great North Yorkshire Daughter

The influence Ursula Lascelles had upon the patients she treated is evident in the records held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. The Lascelles family collection (Ref: ZGC) includes hundreds of letters from soldiers she had looked after thanking Ursula for her care. Ursula kept in contact with many soldiers for several decades after the First World War, showing how thankful the soldiers were to have had Ursula by their side in their time of need.

The County Record Office also holds Ursula’s nursing autograph books, which includes messages of thanks from the patients she had looked after whilst they were at the hospital, some extracts from these can be seen above. The records show the social change Ursula brought to the county, and to soldiers from across the world. She cared for them in not just a nursing capacity; but she extended this care by remaining in contact with patients for many years after the First World War. Through nursing in France, and by writing to soldiers overseas, Ursula exported the values and culture of North Yorkshire through her strength and resilience.

Volunteering pioneer

Although Ursula came from a privileged background, she dedicated her life to supporting those in need and less fortunate than herself through supporting and volunteering for the Red Cross. North Yorkshire is still dependent on volunteers to bridge the gap between demand and the money we have to spend as a council.

The county’s ability to support each other, and come together when needed is part of what makes North Yorkshire a great place to live. The work Ursula carried out shows that she was a pioneer for early voluntary work within the county, something which we still rely upon on and cherish today.


A Great North Yorkshire Son

Our second Great North Yorkshire Son or Daughter, is Sir George Cayley, known as the ‘Father of Flight’. George Cayley was born in 1773 in the Paradise area of Scarborough (probably at Paradise House, where there is now a blue plaque commemorating his birth). He died in Brompton-by-Sawdon in 1857, aged 83 years old.

His childhood was spent in the village of Brompton-by-Sawdon, where his family had held the baronetcy title since 1661. He was educated by tutors, and his mother, Isabella, ensured his education focused on mathematics and physics. Surrounded by North Yorkshire’s nature and wildlife, George Cayley was an inquisitive child, who took inspiration for his inventions from the rural landscape and birds surrounding him.

Discovery and Innovation

By the time George was 19 (1793) both his father and grandfather had died, at which point George became the 6th Baronet, and moved into the main property of the estate at Brompton Hall (now a school for boys with special educational needs). Not long after George moved into Brompton Hall, he constructed a workshop within the grounds where he could experiment and create many of his inventions. The workshop still exists today, and George’s initials and notes can be seen carved into the doorframe dated from 1820.

Father of Flight

Out of all of his creations, Sir George Cayley is perhaps best known for his revolutionary theories surrounding aviation. In 1853 he made history when he flew the world’s first human carrying glider across Brompton dale. At almost 80 years old, Sir George Cayley considered himself too old to fly the glider himself. Instead he ordered his coachman to fly the glider, who upon a bumpy landing said: “Please, Sir George, I wish to give notice, I was hired to drive and not to fly!”.

Nonetheless, Sir George Cayley had achieved something world-changing. Only fifty years after his breakthrough, in 1903, the Wright brothers flew the first powered flight in America. The Wright brothers credited Cayley’s discovery, as Cayley himself was already aware of the need for an engine to sustain flight (as shown in the image of his experimental air engine below). 

Philanthropist and Political Thinker

Sir George Cayley’s inventions were often inspired by his tendency to look out for those less privileged than himself, which is a key attribute that makes him a Great North Yorkshire Son. Ian Richardson, Head of Memorial and Heritage at the Yorkshire Air Museum stated: ‘He was continuously concerned with railway safety, inventing the first ‘seat belt’ for restraining rail passengers in the event of a collision. Cayley was appalled by the fact that second and third class passengers in their carriages were the ‘buffer’ for first class travellers’.

He has been described as a philanthropist, and someone who cared about those who had suffered. In 1837 he created the first ever artificial hand for the son of one of his tenants, George Douseland, who tragically lost his hand in an accident at Brompton mill. Ian Richardson continues: ‘The mechanical hand was an incredible deviation from his path, but so typical of Cayley to respond to someone in need’.  

Cayley extended this care to the political sphere, when he was elected as the Whig MP for Scarborough between 1832 and 1834. 

Our third Great North Yorkshire nominee come in a pair, and are brothers Richard and Cherry Kearton. The brothers were born in the tiny Swaledale village of Thwaite and went on to become global pioneers of early wildlife photography. 

Background information

Richard Kearton was the elder brother, born on 2nd January 1862, and Cherry was born on 8th July 1871, they had another brother, Foster (Jack) and two sisters, Jane and Margaret. The images below show the baptism registers for Richard and Cherry, which are held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office.

Richard Kearton’s baptism entry held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. It shows that Richard was baptised in Muker on 28th January 1862, and his parents are listed as John and Mary Kearton, John’s occupation is noted as a lead miner.

Cherry Kearton’s baptism entry held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office. It shows that Cherry was baptised in Muker on 28th September 1871, and his parents are listed as John and Mary Kearton, John’s occupation is noted as gamekeeper.

An inspiring landscape

The brothers came from humble roots; they were brought up in relative poverty, at a time when the Swaledale lead mines were in decline. Day to day life, as well as the surrounding landscape could be harsh, but also offered great opportunity for inspiration and adventure.

The brothers’ father, John (known as Jack) Kearton taught the brothers where to find birds’ nests, and how to identify different bird songs. Their grandfather, Cherry, was a keen fisherman, and would take both boys out to teach them how to fish. The brothers spent their childhood surrounded by people with a shared passion for the natural world.

The brothers always pushed themselves and the limits of the photographic technology available at the time. To achieve many of the wildlife photographs that they captured, they created natural hides where they could sit and wait for birds and other animals to return to their habitats whilst in disguise. Their hides included an artificial ox, which they constructed with the help of a taxidermist and covered in ox skin. The brothers would crouch inside the ox, and position the camera on top of a wooden frame inside and wait patiently for the right shot.

As a result of their innovative techniques, in 1892, the brothers became the first to take a photograph of a birds’ nest with eggs inside. The brothers had to overcome many physical obstacles to capture the shots they did. This included climbing sheer cliffs and waiting patiently for hours inside often claustrophobic conditions, without moving for hours. They were utterly committed to getting the perfect shot, no matter the risk.