Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Yorkshire Dales: vintage guidebooks, spectacular vistas, and treasures of stained glass

The series Downton Abbey is set in a fictional country estate in Yorkshire, in a triangulated area between the actual towns of Easingwold, Ripon, and Thirsk (above). It is a region rich in both natural and man-made wonders, and both aspects are explored in The Yorkshire Dales, one of Ward Lock & Co’s celebrated (and now vintage) "Illustrated Guides." These nifty little tomes come with a fold-out map, illustrations, period advertisements, and characterful descriptions and pointers.
Bolton Abbey, in the Yorkshire Dales, is a landscape immortalized on canvas by JMW Turner and in verse by William Wordsworth.
In an article on the reprint series, The Telegraph's Nigel Farndale says they were "the best-selling guide books of their day":
You can see why experimenting with half-a-dozen or so Ward Lock & Co’s Illustrated Guide Books on your shelves might lead to an obsessive and possibly unhealthy need to collect the entire set. They are so dinky, so handsomely uniform, so very, very red…. Ward and Lock were Ebenezer Ward and George Lock, the publishers of Mrs Beeton’s cookery books. They first began producing the 'Red Guides’ in 1880, only they weren’t red then, they were green. Twelve years later, they changed the colour to red and the things started flying off the shelves. Each volume contained a map, and later ones included black-and-white photographs….
Once the guides started selling in their hundreds of thousands, the challenge for the publishers became how to keep them up to date. The writers toured the land, compiling and revising material on matters of interest to the holidaymaker. But if the guide had a date on its cover and had been sitting in the bookshop for a few years unsold, it might put potential readers off buying it. The solution? Don’t date them. This is why, though they continued to be published until the mid-1970s, it is notoriously difficult to work out the publication date of any given book. To the conscientious collector, of course, this just makes them more appealing. More of a challenge. They look for clues. Some of the earlier guides, for example, have the date secreted on an early page of the advertisements at the rear of the book, after the index. Prices given in the advertisements also give a clue to confirm the period, if not the exact year. Such has been the recent demand among collectors for Red Guides that they are now being republished exactly as they were in the early 1950s, with red cloth covers and the original adverts. [Note: ours has all that & is stated a "pre-1960" edition.]….They are pernickety and hilariously humourless in tone. Measurements are weirdly precise – 'follow this path for 42 yards until you come to a large rock’. Part of their charm is that they probably seemed quite dated even when they were first published; dated or timeless, whichever you prefer.
Bolton Abbey panorama
St Margaret of Antioch Church, Hawes, Wensleydale, by A. B. Higham of Wakefield, 1851.
One of the glories of Yorkshire is the ancient cathedral, York Minster. The book has loads of background on its lore and splendors, particularly the world-famous stained glass. A masterpiece by Coventry glazier John Thornton, its great East Window is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain and one of the most important in the world. Called the St William Window, it has 105 main panels and is ~ 72 by 14 feet. Below are some examples.
God in Majesty. Below, detail.
This is a detail from the Enthronement Feast of Archbishop William Fitzherbert (St William). The window was created long after his's death, which is why the figures wear 15th-century clothing.
Farndale subsequently "road tested" the guide, and wrote the following:
"The Red Guide to the Yorkshire Dales (the one published in the early 1950s) is more reserved, its language almost archaic: 'The water for Ripon spa is brought from the sulphur spring at Aldfield, four miles distant.’ It informs travellers that the town’s hornblower gives four blasts every night, one at each corner of the 300-year-old obelisk in the square, and that this practice was formalised in 1598… It also notes of the Dales generally that the air 'is pure, healthful and bracing, and the tempo of life moves not too swiftly’. And that: 'The traveller in search of the picturesque will find everything he desires in the way of mountain and valley, moorland and woodland, old-world villages and ruins of antiquity sequested in delightful surroundings.’ It adds that 'the student of dialect will not go unsatisfied’, and that is still true, too. The guide also features a black-and-white photograph of Aysgarth Falls, 'a series of picturesque cataracts’ which looks exactly the same today as it did then, with the same high volume of ruddy water brawling and tumbling over its rocks."
Does it all make you want to go there? It does me! For more books on Yorkshire and country life, click here. Plus you can take 10% off your purchase just by challenging yourself with this "British English" quiz.

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