Ravenstonedale Parish History Group

Last Season’s Programme


Last season’s evening talks began on September 20th 2017.

Our final talk of that season was Les Neal’s presentation on 21st March 2018 on the changes in Ravenstonedale Town up to the early 1900’s, featuring stories of landowners, tenants and the farms and cottages. We learnt about the families who became part of the village’s history –  some of the surnames have now disappeared from the village because the family had no male heirs, such as the Bovells. Les also showed how the houses and cottages had changed over time – Andy Lowe also focussed on this during his walk with us round Ravenstonedale village on the evening of 27th June.

On 21st February 2018 Jackie Wedd spoke about the life and work of Edward Jeffrey, a versatile and talented artist who lived in Ravenstonedale from the late 1940’s until just before his death in 1978.  About twenty original watercolours by Edward Jeffrey were on show, kindly lent to the History Group for the evening – along with many well-loved copies of the Toby Twirl books, many of which show local Ravenstonedale references in his artwork. Other books with his illustrations were also on show. A summary of Jackie’s talk appears here, along with brief notes about previous talks last season:Professional illustrator, calligrapher and watercolour artist Edward Jeffrey lived in Ravenstonedale for the last thirty years of his life, and despite a busy art career also found time to take an active part in village life, serving as churchwarden, a member of the Bowls Club committee and auditor for the Tennis Club accounts. But how did this versatile artist become so successful in his chosen career? About forty people attended the illustrated talk and discovered how his art school training in Newcastle coupled with over twenty years’ experience in leading graphic design studios gave him the necessary skills not only to produce fine artwork, but also crucially to understand how it would be reproduced in printed form using the technology of the time – NB no computers! Asked to illustrate a series of children’s books in the late 1940’s, Edward Jeffrey based the leading character, Toby Twirl, on a soft toy made by his wife Bertha. His numerous illustrations often featured local buildings and scenes – meticulously drawn first in pencil, then Indian Ink, and then coloured. Meanwhile he continued sketching and painting watercolours, particularly landscapes and bird studies, and was elected to the Lake Artists Society in 1950, exhibiting regularly with them over more than twenty years – and he also exhibited nationally. He provided the cover illustration for Dalesman’s monthly Cumbria magazine for almost twenty years, and illustrated many of their books. He used his exquisite calligraphy to produce the illuminated Roll of Honour for the Parish and the lists of the High Chapel ministers and the Church vicars, as well as the Roll of Past Masters for Uter Pendragon Masonic Lodge in Kirkby Stephen. However he was such a modest man that many of the audience who knew him personally were unaware of all the sides to his talent. Jackie acknowledged the help given by members of his family and his friends during her research, and concluded by thanking everyone who had lent original paintings and well-loved Toby Twirl books for display during the evening.

On Wednesday 17th January 2018 Val Fermer gave an entertaining and informative talk on the history of the various licenced premises in the Parish. Despite the snowy weather, over 20 members and friends came to Newbiggin Public Hall to hear about the former establishments in Newbiggin, which over the years changed their names several times – being known variously as The Oddfellows, The Horseshoes, The Pig and Whistle and The Commercial Inn. Some of the current and former public houses in Ravenstonedale village and nearby had been temperance houses and coffee houses at various times in their past, and we were also treated to stories about the families of the numerous innkeepers and their customers, which included a dramatic elopement to Gretna Green, duly celebrated by the happy couple in one of the pubs on their return to the village!

For our first evening talk of the 2017-2018 programme on 20th September 2017 we were very pleased to welcome back Ian Carradice, who gave us glimpses of life in Ravenstonedale – and the wider world – from about 1905 to 1920, seen through the picture postcard album of his grandmother, Lizzie Fothergill, who lived at Wray Green, Fell End. Sometimes the interest in such albums comes from what is written on the postcards, not just the scenes depicted on the front, although some postcards were made from family portraits and photographs, which is fascinating from the point of view of family history research. Lizzie’s family were keen correspondents – as Ian pointed out, a postcard then was perhaps the equivalent of a text message sent now – but of course it’s available to future generations to study and learn about the day-to-day life of their ancestors…obsessions with health and haymaking were evident among the Fothergills which no doubt reflected common topics of conversation and concern (as in Ravenstonedale nowadays too!). It was a super talk – even though Ian pointed out it is a “work in progress” as he follows up all the leads – and we wonder how many of the audience went home and searched out their own family postcard albums to take out the cards and discover the messages hidden inside…

The evening talk on Wednesday 18th October in Newbiggin Village Hall at 7.30pm by John Dunning told the story of Westmorland Motorway Services which he and his family started when some of their farmland was compulsorily purchased to build the M6 motorway through the Lune Gorge. None of the usual motorway services providers were interested in building a service station between Lancaster and Carlisle (“not enough people would use it”), so the Dunnings decided they would start their own. Now as well as the two at Tebay, they own and run Rheged and the two Gloucester services on the M5 and have expanded into the Borders as well. All in all, a fascinating talk.

On 15th November Andy Lowe returned to give us another of his popular talks – this time entitled “Inside a Lakeland Farmhouse”. He showed us how much can be learned from clues inside these houses to do with methods of construction, those who lived there and their daily life, superstition, and social change. For instance, it was interesting to discover that the saying “a square peg in a round hole” was originally a good thing, not a misfit, as a square wooden peg in a round hole to fix two pieces of wood together would grip better than a round peg in a round hole. Of course there are examples of these 17th and 18th century houses and barns around our Parish too, and we hope to fix up an evening walk around some of them with Andy next summer. Keep an eye on the website for details.

Our annual Ravenstonedale Parish History Group newsletter was published in early September and emailed to all members. Members who do not have access to email receive a copy in the post. Please note that the venue for Les Neal’s talk on 21st March 2018 will now be in High Chapel. This is a change from the venue shown in the newsletter.

Over summer 2017 we organised several events. 

On Friday 1st September eleven members of the History Group visited the Swaledale Museum in Reeth, where the Curator Helen Bainbridge gave us insights as to how we could best reorganise our ever-growing archive to make it more easily accessible to members and researchers, particularly those interested in their ancestral ties to the Parish.  We are also discovering families who migrated in the past between Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and the Eden Valley (nowadays linked by the spectacular route from Kirkby Stephen through Nateby).  We can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Museum – probably more than one as there is so much to take in! Their website is at http://www.swaledalemuseum.org/index.html

The History Group AGM was held on Wednesday 17th May 2017 at 7.30pm. Our thanks to all the members who attended. Our Treasurer and Membership Secretary who has filled these roles since the Group began is now standing down. We are very pleased that we have had a volunteer (yes really!) to join the committee and details of the new committee and their responsibilities are in the Newsletter, which has been emailed or sent to all members.

On Thursday 22nd June, some members of Hesket Local History Group visited Ravenstonedale for a walk around the village, similar to the walk we organised for Shap Local History Society last year. We visited the Church and the Coldbeck area before returning along High Dykes to Townend, and then walked up the hill past Low Chapel to High Chapel. Three members of our committee kindly shared their local knowledge about the buildings and the history of this part of the village and it was much appreciated by the visitors, and also by some local people who joined the walk.

Four Ravenstonedale village gardens, the allotments and the Kilnmire traditional haymeadows (as pictured in High Chapel) were open for the National Garden Scheme over the weekend of 1st and 2nd July. The History Group put on an exhibition of photographs of Parish Gardens Past and Present in High Chapel, where the refreshments were on sale between 11am and 5pm each day.  The exhibition showed photos and plans of former Victorian Parish gardens, as well as photos taken during Parish “garden trails” in the early 2000’s which raised funds for St Oswald’s Church. There was also a display about the history of Tarn Gill Bridge (aka Chantry Bridge) and the History Group’s contribution to the Friends’ ongoing efforts to save the bridge from demolition. Some folders featuring previous Local History exhibitions were also on display.

The NGS opening raised over £2500 for the various nursing, medical and carers’ charities which are supported, and this includes over £700 takings from the excellent teas, coffees and cakes served in High Chapel co-ordinated by the High Chapel Community and Heritage Centre Committee. 50% of the refreshments takings goes to High Chapel and 50% to the NGS for their charities.

On Wednesday 19th July, eight History Group members enjoyed a guided walk around Shap by kind invitation of Shap Local History Society. Arriving in a torrential downpour, we sought refuge in the Heritage Centre where we were given an introductory talk by Jean Scott-Smith. When the rain stopped, we visited the church and walked around the village, noting the different styles of architecture and hearing about aspects of life in Shap from pre-history onwards…ending up back at the Heritage Centre for delicious homemade scones and cake!  Our thanks to Jean and to Liz for their hospitality.


The 2016 exhibition entitled The Three Parish Schools – or is it Four? on 8th and 9th October 2016 was a great success – over 100 people attended over the two days and we were very pleased to welcome former pupils from Ravenstonedale, Newbiggin-on-Lune and Fell End Schools who were able to help us identify many of the pupils in the school photographs we have been given. Our thanks to everyone who lent or donated items for the exhibition – we are particularly pleased to have been able to show the cast-iron fireguard which stood round the stove in Fell End Schoolroom to one of the former pupils who used to stand next to it to keep warm during the 1940’s when she attended the school from the age of 5.



The first evening meeting of  the 2016-2017 season was on Wednesday 21st September 2016and was a talk by our Chairman, Val Fermer, entitled A Ravenstonedale Entrepreneur, with Connections to Carts, Canals and Cotton. Val gave an account of the Carver family and in particular John, who came to own many properties in the village. The family was connected to Ravenstonedale through marriage (William Carver, John’s father, married Elizabeth Airey).

Although he never actually lived in Ravenstonedale, John Carver’s property portfolio at his death in 1911 included The Black Swan, The Chantry, The Bield (then known as Mrs Haygarth’s House) and many other dwellings, mostly in the main street. Val’s talk included references to John’s twin brother Thomas – the two were as different as chalk and cheese – and their sister Mary Isabella, who lived in The Chantry for a time, as well as showing how the family’s wealth was derived first from transporting goods by road and canal and then from cotton.

Trevor Avery’s talk on 19th October 2016 about the  Ambleside Child Survivors of the Holocaust explained why and how children liberated from the death camps came to live in the Lake District immediately after the war. He included sound recordings of some of his interviews with survivors in later life, which were both moving and thought-provoking.

The well-attended talk on 16th November 2016 by Dave Williams from Upper Eden History Society entitled Westmorland Maps was an informative look at the history of maps of the former county from 1350 onwards (excluding the Ordnance Survey). Dave brought some maps from his own collection to show how the information became more accurate as the science of mapping developed, although there were still anomalies such as incorrect depictions of the ward boundaries and hills. It was obvious too, how mapmakers through the centuries varied the county’s shape – and the habit of showing railway lines which were planned for the future, but were then built following a different route, must have been confusing for users…in one case, both routes were shown on a later map! Eventually however, science and art combined to make beautiful, accurate, illustrated maps of the county – the last, and arguably the best, being Wainwright’s map which was commissioned to show the county in 1974 before it vanished due to the boundary changes.

Our annual Christmas get-together of members and friends took place on 7th December 2016 in the High Chapel Community and Heritage Centre. We enjoyed mulled wine, nibbles and mince pies – with soft drinks on offer for those who unfortunately had to drive – and we were treated to another of Les Neal’s entertaining quizzes. He did promise it would be easier than last year’s on the Norse-derived place names in the Parish – hmmm! If you are a devotee of BBC2’s Only Connect you will understand it when I say that the “Christmas Connecting Wall” – including anagrams as well –  seemed very difficult to me, although the “missing consonants” section (rather than the Only Connect missing vowels) was slightly easier. The winning team managed to remember all Santa’s reindeer names (including Rudolf of course), not to mention all the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas in the correct order, and were presented with their prize of a bottle of wine made from grapes grown in the village. Congratulations to them and our thanks to Les and to our members who helped with decorating the hall – and the washing-up afterwards!For those still intrigued by the Norse names from last year’s quiz, they include  “by the brown hill” – Brownber, “by the sandy ford” – Sandwath, “on the gorse hill” – Brackenbar, “near the small ravine with the alder trees” – Ellergill, and “on the long sloping hill used for summer pasture” – Lytheside.

Val’s second talk of the season was on Wednesday 19th January 2017 when she told us about members of eleven families from the Parish who, for various reasons during the nineteenth century, left to seek their fortunes in Manchester, and in some cases then emigrated further afield. Most were successful – but one man in particular came to an unfortunate end. Some of the families involved were Airey, Blackett, Buck and Udall. As usual, a copy of the text of Val’s talk will be available in due course in the History Room upstairs at High Chapel.

On Wednesday 15th February 2017 at 7.30pm Jean Scott-Smith gave a talk entitled Over Shap by Track, Road and Rail. Some of us heard Jean give part of this fascinating talk, dealing with the impact of the building of the railway over Shap, at the CLHF Annual Convention last November. We were pleased that she agreed to come at short notice to give us a more complete history of transport over the challenging terrain of Shap, as our speaker originally booked for this date was unable to come. Starting with evidence of a track over the Shap Fell in Neolithic times, we learnt of the route followed by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 (the “old road”), which was realigned when the Heron Syke Trust turnpike was built, and which eventually became the modern A6. Parts of the old route can still be traced between Kendal and Shap village. We are looking forward to our visit to Shap on 19th July, when we will have a guided walk through the village hosted by Shap Local History Society. Further details will appear on our website in due course.

On Wednesday 5th April 2017 at 7.30pm Janet Niepokojczycka gave a talk entitled Packhorse Days and Packhorse Ways. Janet shared some of her own experiences travelling with packhorses up and down the country, as well as sharing facts about the use of packhorses and the items they carried more than 300 years ago (including smuggled goods), when roads were either poor or non-existent. She was interested to see the display about Tarn Gill Bridge at the south end of the village and the efforts by Friends of Tarn Gill Bridge to preserve this eighteenth century bridge, which was under threat of demolition by Cumbria County Council.





  1. I would like to hear rom Jackie Wedd about the talk on 20th May 2016 on Edward Jeffrey, the artist famous for his illustrations of “Toby Twirl”, written by Sheila Hodgetts.
    I am currently researching material on Hodgetts and Jeffrey.
    I am a retired university lecturer in Australia, hoping to find help for my work via the internet and e-mail.
    John Gough

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