Women devote 75 years to preserving county’s rural traditions

A trio of women whose actions, passion and amazing talent led to the preservation of the rich heritage of the Yorkshire Dales are being celebrated in the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.

Joan and Marie

The campaign is a North Yorkshire County Council project to highlight and celebrate figures from the past who were immensely influential within the county. It draws on County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups.

Marie Hartley, Ella Pontefract and, later, Joan Ingilby worked together for more than 75 years and were experts on the social history of the Dales. The women travelled across the county collecting stories, written material and artefacts, all of which they brought back to the cottage they shared at Askrigg in Wensleydale.

Marie Hartley MBE, was born 29 September 1905 and was the author and co-author of 40 books documenting the social history of the Dales. She was born into a thriving family of wool merchants at Morley.

During the 1930s and 1940s she set up in partnership with a local writer, Ella Pontefract, illustrating books on the Dales and Yorkshire. Ella was born in 1896 in the textile valleys of Yorkshire into prosperous families of Huddersfield and Penistone district.

Together they developed a rigorous transcription method for recording Yorkshire dialect, and vocabulary, including the subtle distinctions between adjacent valleys. They showed great enthusiasm and interest in the skills, crafts and ways the Dales made its living.

The two women published six books on Yorkshire life and customs before Pontefract died in 1945. Afterwards, Marie Hartley was joined by Joan Ingilby.

Marie and Joan recognised the need for continuity and, ultimately, the need to protect the heritage of the area from being dispersed beyond the Yorkshire Dales. Two museums offered to house the collection, but their offers were politely declined because Marie and Joan were adamant that the objects would stay in the Dales.

The women travelled across the county collecting stories, written material and artefacts, all of which they brought back to the 17th-century cottage they shared at Askrigg in Wensleydale. 

Hartley, Pontefract and Ingilby left legacies in the form of their many written works capturing the essence of rural life in Yorkshire. Without the archive they have left to academic institutions, the collection they curated and the Dales Countryside Museum, which they founded, so much of what we know about the history of the communities would have been lost forever

The trio focused on the aspects of Dales heritage that had been less well documented or that were never documented at all. Lots of traditions would generally be passed down orally from generation to generation but never noted. For example: changes to farming, machinery and the stories of knitting across the Dales, which is now completely lost, opposed to lead mining in the Dales which is more well known.

A quote from their book The Yorkshire Dales (Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1968) reads: “Any recording now of the old life as it slips away, is only just in the nick of time”. They knew there was a sense of urgency in documenting fading traditions, even iconic things such as the old dry stone walls, which weren’t always kept up as farming changed and there was less reliance on traditional methods

Their collection of cultural heritage artefacts now housed at the Dales Countryside Museum is of local and regional significance and contributes to the national picture of rural life in England through the centuries.

Fiona Rosher, Museum Manager, said: “Marie Hartley, Ella Pontefract and Joan Ingilby were pioneers in the recording of the people, places and cultural heritage of Yorkshire and the Dales in particular.

“Their combined skills of photographer, writer and artist created a unique impression of personal, domestic and working life in the Dales.

“The action they took to prevent objects leaving the region showed great foresight and they are an inspiration to all who work to preserve and interpret the cultural heritage of the Yorkshire Dales and beyond,”

In the early 1970s they donated their collection to the former North Riding of Yorkshire County Council. In 1979, this gift formed the basis of the collection now housed in the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes.

The Leader of North Yorkshire County Council, Councillor Carl Les, said: “These three women were pioneers in the preservation of rural life in Yorkshire, and in particular the Dales. The cultural heritage of North Yorkshire, its traditions, dialect, and general way of life is a huge part of what makes the county’s places and people what they are today.

“Without the work of Hartley, Pontefract and Ingilby documenting what it means to be from North Yorkshire across generations, it is very possible much of the social history of the Dales could have been lost and forgotten.

“This is why we seek to find such influential figures across the county. We must showcase their hard work and determination and bring to light the difference they have made in North Yorkshire.”

Nominations for the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters can be sent to MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk

Ten life stories will be featured in the series, after which the public will be invited to vote to find the greatest son or daughter.

Read more about Marie Hartley, Ella Pontefract and Joan Ingilby and Made in North Yorkshire.

This story was published 3 August 2020