As artist, historian and collector, she recorded the lost life of the Dales
By Martin Wainwright Wednesday May 17, 2006
- The Guardian
Marie Hartley, who has died aged 100, made sure that the Yorkshire Dales, on which she was a matchless authority, would be long remembered through 33 books, thousands of paintings and photographs and an extraordinary collection of everything from oatcake pans to knitting sticks. She chronicled the area for 75 years with her friends Joan Ingilby and Ella Pontefract, creating a huge but lively record of the way things were between the mid-19th century and modern times.
Driven by pride in their county and love of its landscape, the three women were also unsentimental and accurate, demolishing many romantic myths about life in the pretty-looking villages. But they shared – and explained – the fundamental content of Dalesfolk, as expressed by one farmer they interviewed in the 1930s at the head of Swaledale: “If there’s another Noah’s flood, there won’t be manny other folk left alive i’ England when t’watter comes blashin’ down oor chimney pots.”
Hartley’s curiosity also took her and her collaborators on several tours of the rest of Yorkshire, where they got on just as well with steelworkers, deep-sea fishermen and textile weavers. No one could resist their enthusiasm and interest in skill, crafts and the many ways the county made its living. It was also flattering to be the subject of a woodcut or watercolour by Hartley, who trained in the great era of Henry Moore and his generation at Leeds College of Art.
She came from a family of wool merchants, wealthy through their own efforts, and was born in Morley, an independent-minded town on the edge of Leeds. After the college of art, she won a place at the Slade in London, became an accomplished wood engraver and returned to settle in the west Yorkshire market town of Wetherby.
In the early 1930s she teamed up with Ella Pontefract, a friend with similar writing and artistic talent, to visit the Dales. They returned not only with full notebooks but a car-boot laden with cooking and agricultural implements. This was the beginning of a salvage operation which eventually became the Dales Countryside museum in Hawes, a hoard of costume, implements and furniture which tells the story of local life.
The key moment came in 1941 when a magnificent jumble of material known as Horne’s Private Museum went to auction in Leyburn, the little capital of lower Wensleydale. Hartley and Pontefract bought 13 lots, including a unique packhorse collar with seven bells and a jug which had been used at Dales wedding love-feasts for 200 years.
The two women published six books on Yorkshire life and customs before Pontefract died in 1945. Hartley was saved from drifting by a new and even more productive partnership with Joan Ingilby, who came from a different but equally wealthy background, the rural gentry of Nidderdale. A cousin of the baronets of Ripley castle, Ingilby re-energised the task of recording the past, and the cottage which the two women shared at Askrigg in Wensleydale was soon overflowing with salvaged items, pictures and manuscripts. As their books followed one after another, they made space by donating the nucleus of the future countryside museum to the then North Riding county council.
By the 1960s, their operations had become scientific and comprehensive in the manner of their great predecessor Arthur Raistrick, who recorded the geology and lost industries of the Dales and Pennines with similar scrupulous accuracy. Their masterpiece was Life and Traditions in the Yorkshire Dales (1968), although many rank The Old Hand Knitters of the Dales (1951) alongside it as a local history classic. Nothing was missed, including the custom on their doorstep in Askrigg that a man wanting a fight would turn over the metal bull-baiting ring by the market cross. If another man felt the same he would turn it back and the pair would set to.
The two women were familiar faces throughout the Dales and busy members of the community in Wensleydale, where they ran the Askrigg Arts Club. They lectured at local schools and enjoyed the continuous reprinting of their books, as well as producing new ones. Hartley’s last publication was a series of seven short monographs on how to make a cartwheel, boots, cheese, butter and oatcakes.
Ingilby died in 2000 aged 89, three years after both women had been awarded MBEs and months after they had received honorary degrees from the Open University and gold medals from the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Hartley died at her cottage in Askrigg soon after approving the proofs of a short biography, The Harvest of a Quiet Eye, based on an exhibition at Hawes last year in honour of her centenary.
- Marie Hartley writer, artist and historian, born September 29 1905; died May 10 2006
- Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007