Tiresome Girls

Land Girls as they should look and as they actually looked. ‘Land Girl’ magazine, courtesy Yorkshire Museum of Farming.

We’ll be talking about some of the hidden gems to be found in the Women’s and Army archive at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, tomorrow.  We start at 2PM, Upper Dales Family History Group, Harmby Village Hall, nr Leyburn.

Whilst working on the talk, we found in the archive, two rather interesting letters.  One, apparently mundane post-War letter, written 14th February, 1949, by a former Land Girl, addressed to one of the North Riding organisers of the Women’s Land Army:

Dear Mrs D____,


I hope you are keeping well.

I have been in Sheffield for two weeks, now and I am to be married on Saturday Feb 26th.

I often think about you and the lovely times we all had with the W.L.A…  I was pleased to see you again, when we met in town, nefore Xmas.

I sometimes see Barbara, and Marjorie, but I haven’t seen Dorothy since she was married.

We certainly had some happy times together… I ave lots of things to do before Feb 26th, and I am feeling very happy about everything. We have found very nice accomodation.

Stephanie is staying with mother for a week or two, and she is quite happy. She has grown a lovely girl, and we shall all be happy together.

… We have lots of lovely memories of our life in the W.L.A and I like to keep in touch with you… I hope to see you again soon.

Sincerely yours,

K_____  R______

Land Girl’s billet, Yorkshire Museum of Farming, CREDIT: Daniel Kirk

That hope to see eachother again may not have been entirely mutual.  From elsewhere in the archive, a confidential letter written in pencil, presumably in haste, by the addressee of the above to another WLA official, dated a few years earlier, 6th July, 1945 (full names redacted):


Dear Miss________,

… I met Mollie T.  just before I went away last week with the new vermin girl, C.P. I stopped and asked if she was training here and where was K______.  Upon which she said:  ‘Oh, K_____’s left!’ When I asked why… Mollie said ‘Oh I don’t know, she just said one morning “I’m off”!’  I asked if she’d got a house, and Mollie said not…  I got the impression Mollie  was a bit bothered by K____’s behaviour…

How tiresome girls are. K____ R____ gave me and Mrs Jackson quite a lot of trouble getting her that job, and she also told me she would be glad of a little financial help if it was there for the asking!!!


Vita Sackville-West wrote in  her book, ‘The Women’s Land Army’, in 1944:


I think the credit which some of these girls deserve can scarcely be exaggerated. I really do. Heaven knows that I have sometimes wished I might never see a Land-Girl again, as any W.L.A official would say if she were honest enough. But how easily one’s exasperation melts away!

… I remember one particular morning when the siren woke me; I looked at my watch, six o’clock; it was January, pitch-dark still, I lay listening to the planes overhead, then to the distant guns; then to a peculiar sound which, alf asleep, I didn’t at first recognise… then identified it as the familiar whine  of the cooling-machine up at the cowshed… and I realised then that five girls (two of whom I knew to be frightened of raids) had already been in the sheds for an hour… getting the warm sweet milk, and I really don’t know whether I felt more ashamed of myself for being still in my comfortable bed, or for having ever been guilty of irascibility against these plucky and sturdy little toilers…

Images courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.


More Respectable Than Formerly

Pattern inside, Davenport, 1805.

Monday 16th May, 1836

A large assortment of Pots at the Market today… but all was pretty quiet, there is no such uproar as there used to be with the Blackguards who attended. I think the Potters are rather more respectable than formerly…


[The Diary of Robert Sharp of South Cave, Life in a Yorkshire Village, 1812 – 1837, Ed. Janice E & Peter A. Crabtree, OUP, 1997].

Robert Sharp was a school-master and mordant observer of village life in late Georgian rural Yorkshire. His diaries are a fascinating glimpse into the everyday lives of rural people. I  read this and wondered why potters in particular, were seen as naturally disreputable?

Just a few miles down the road from Mr. Sharp, in the market-town of Selby, one of my great x 4 grandfathers, William Simpson, was a potter and earthenware dealer. His shop was on Gowthorpe – then as now, Selby’s main drag. He is listed as an earthenware dealer in Pigot’s Directory, 1829 and “China Dealer” on the 1841 Census.

When his children were born, his occupation was listed in the Selby parish records as “Potter”, which is how I know he made pots as well as sold them.   He probably made earthenware to sell to local farmers, and then dealt bought-in stock of  fancier china from Staffordshire and elsewhere.

His wife, Sarah Cay, came from a family who seem to have been both farmers and haulers on the river – rivers and canals were ideal for transporting pottery long distances. William and Sarah married in Hull, down the river, even though they both lived in Selby. William is only on one census – 1841 – where for birthplace we have the intriguing information “N” (“No”) for ‘Born in this county”.  As he was born around 1800, we have no birth certificate and no way of knowing which of the hundreds of William Simpsons born in England, he might have been.  But certainly by the 1820s, his father was trading as an earthenware dealer in Selby even if he was born out of the county.  On the 1851 census, widowed Sarah, still on Gowthorpe, rather grandly described herself as “Gentlewoman living on her own property”.  No mention of her selling china.

Willow pattern transferware would have been fairly cheap and cheerful. Yorkshire farmers have always kept and loved blue and white china, and in particular willow pattern. My mother used to tell me the story of willow pattern and as I have been foraging along the river for willow to weave, quite a bit recently, thoughts turned back to my mother’s love of willows and willow pattern (she had no idea she had an ancestor who made and sold pottery). When fieldwalking, one of the most common things you find round here are fragments of blue and white – more often than not, you’ll recognise an element of willow pattern. I’ve bought it for years, picked up shards of it from the fields, and generally loved it.

Last year, at a car boot sale in York, I paid just a pound or two for this lidless willow pattern soup tureen, which was in a pile of odds and ends laid out on the grass.  It makes a great wool holder. Turns out it was older than I thought and  firmly dateable – to 1805, when William Simpson Sr was making earthenware and selling china, also on Gowthorpe in Selby. And the sellers told me it came from the estate sale of a former Selby antiques dealer.

I wonder if it ever sat in the Simpsons’ shop?


Willow pattern, Davenport, 1805