The buzz of conversation which followed the talk by Judy Dunford was a good indicator of the interest which her presentation aroused. Entitled “The Heritage of the Hills” it took members of the Appleby-in-Westmorland Society back to life for hill farmers in the Howgills in the late 1930s and mid 1940s. The slides she showed were reproductions of photographs taken by Jim Cookson, a Kendal man, a talented artist who, in 1897, was awarded the National Medal for Success in Art. As well as watercolour paintings of the Kendal area and Lake District he used his time serving on the North West Frontier in the first World War to produce many paintings and drawings recording what he had seen. Not content with being artist and photographer his day job was as a cabinet maker and wood carver – you can see some ornate carving done by him at Blackwell House in Bowness.
The fact that these photographs survived is a mixture of good luck and a great deal of hard work. They were stored in a photo album which somehow found its way into the hands of a small child armed with a pen. It took Judy Dunford two years of painstaking work to undo the damage – it’s a tribute to her skill that you would never guess what had happened.
The slides we saw covered all aspects of farming life from haymaking to tending sheep, cattle and horses, from hedge laying to harvesting potatoes. Every activity was labour intensive – one slide showed six people wielding huge rakes, working their way across a field which looked dauntingly full of cut grass. It wasn’t just the men who worked outdoors in all weathers – the women were there too, neatly attired in dresses, their heads covered with scarves or turbans (nearly every man wore a flat cap). Horses were much in evidence – pulling the plough, dragging laden carts and sledges, waiting patiently to be shod; tractors were not much in evidence.
During the war, strenuous efforts were made to improve food production. Someone in Whitehall thought it would be a good idea for upland farmers to grow potatoes but this meant that good pasture was lost while local conditions were not always suitable. It was also backbreaking work; while the stitch plough would create ridges, the potatoes had to be planted by hand and lifted by hand, collected in baskets, then stored in a clamp until they were needed. Another endless, wearying task was collecting stones and putting them into sacks which the workers dragged behind them.
Judy Dunford has produced a splendid book, including many photographs with an informative commentary. It is a bargain at £12.50 which includes postage and packing and can be obtained from Judy at Berwyn House, Orton, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 3RQ.