Betty Webster-Of Askrigg

Mrs Betty Webster

When Mr. Speight was at Aysgarth on the occasion of the feast held October 3rd, 1894, he called on that venerable and respected dame, Mrs. Betty Webster, who was becoming increasingly famous on account of her great age.

She was then in her 105th year. For several years past she had been living with her married daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Blades, the former then 85 and the latter 75 years of age. Mr. Blades died within a few months of my visit.

Mrs. Webster, or ” Old Betty,” as she was generally called, had been previous to her removal to Aysgarth, a pensioner in the almshouses near Askrigg for more than forty years.

There she remained till the age of 100, doing her own housework, cooking, and polishing her pans with all the vigour and sprightliness of a woman of less than half her years.

For more than 50 years she had been devoted to the weed (cigarette) and in the opinion of many, this ever-welcome solace added to her length of years.

She was, however, of a naturally vigorous and robust constitution, and at the age of 80 could work in the hayfield with quite surprising dexterity.

She came of a long-lived race ; her father, a mining agent, lived to the age of 100, and two of her aunts attained the ages respectively of 102 and 104 years. Her only brother also died at the age of 90.

She was born at Thwaite, in Swaledale, on February 25th, 1790, and in answer to my enquiry said she well remembered walking to Muker church at the age of three to be christened.

Her marriage, too, at Hardraw, eighty years ago was fresh within her recollection, and she could chat on events of the time of the Peninsular war, and of the rejoicings that followed the battle of Waterloo, with wonderful distinctness. ” I well remember,” she said, ” three o’ the men of oor district wha wer i’ t’ battle o’ Waterloo. There were Luke Tiplady o’ Bainbrig, and John Eden o’ Bainbrig, and Ralph Pratt o’ Bainbrig, but then they all gone noo.”

Seventy-five years ago she was left a widow with eight children, two of whom survive her. On the attainment of her 100th birthday, she received through Mr. Jas. C. Winn, the head of a family whose members have been most kind to her, the following greatly appreciated letter conveying the congratulations of Her Majesty the Queen

WINDSOR CASTLE, 23rd February, 1890.


I am commanded by the Queen to request that you will have the goodness to say to Mrs. Betty Webster, of Askrigg, from Her Majesty that she trusts that she may live to celebrate in health for some years to come the anniversary of the 25th inst., which marks her entry on her hundred and first year. I am, yours truly, J. C. COWELL.

James C. Winn, Esq.,
The Grange, Aysgarth.

From this time a more than ordinary interest centred round the old body, but during the summer season of the past two or three years, the daily visits of strangers were often very trying to her, yet so far as her strength permitted she gave a welcome to all comers, whilst intimate friends were allowed the privilege of a salute.

On each of her last six birthdays, Mr. J.B. Smithson, of Leyburn, made a special visit to Aysgarth for the purpose of taking her photograph. His last presentment was taken on April 7th, 1896, and is here reproduced.

The old dame, who was then in her 107th year, seemed in excellent health and spirits, and though very infirm was still able to converse freely. In appearance she was short, sturdy and erect, but her early widowhood and life spent in Bradford and Lancaster factories told sorely upon her, and in late years the wrinkles were deep on her brow.

Our photographer represents her with stick in hand resting composedly after life’s weary pilgrimage, happy and content with her lot.

This last portrait of her was graciously accepted from the photographer by the Queen as, so far as is known, the presentment of Her Majesty’s then oldest living subject. Quietly and painlessly, from pure decay of nature, the venerable woman passed away on June 14th, 1896, aged 106 years and 3 and a half months; the old churchyard of Askrigg receiving her mortal remains.

Though she was brought up a Primitive Methodist, and was a regular attender at chapel and class till the age of 100, yet during the last years of her life she usually went to Aysgarth church once every Sunday, when able to do so, and walking there and back.

  • This may not be correct, as in April, 1890, there was living at Limavady, the home of Thackeray’s famous ” Peg,” a Mrs Mc Laughlin, who was stated to be then in her 111th year. Dr. Trelawny Ross, vicar of Paignton, sent an account of the old lady to the Princess of Wales a short time ago, and Her Royal Highness very kindly gave him £3 to be spent as might be thought best for her benefit.

From Romantic Richmondshire By Harry Speight 1897

Betty’s grave stone in Askrigg Churchyard.
The inscription reads:
In Loving Memory of
Widow of George Webster,
Born February 25th 1790
Died June 14th 1896
She was for nearly forty years an Inmate
of the Almshouses in this Parish and
during her long Life of 106 years was
greatly respected by all who knew her.

“Search the Scriptures for in them
ye think ye have eternal life”.

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The Dales