Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society. The Early Days Back to the Main Historical Society page

Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society.
The Early Days

from Barwicker No. 75

Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society is twenty years old. At its first meeting on 11 September 1984, a handful of people attended in the dining room of one of the original members. They could not at the time realise what they had started and what the Society would become. Now the membership is in excess of 60 and at some of our meetings John Rylie House feels quite crowded. We meet twice a month in the autumn and winter when we alternate speakers' meetings with lively discussions. In the summer we have visits to places of historical interest, usually local but some farther afield.

This is the 75th, edition of our quarterly journal 'The Barwicker', for which approaching 70 people from near and far have contributed articles about the history of the parish and surrounding parts. It also gives us the opportunity of recording our activities. We have published five books and a historic street map of the village, which was distributed to all households.

Our web site, with information about the Society's activities, has been visited by hundreds of people from all over the world. Many have contacted us with information or requests. Our resource centre set up two years ago with a heritage lottery grant houses documents, illustrations, books, maps and tapes, and is being increasingly used by members and the general public.

We must be grateful to those pioneers whose efforts have born such fruits. Jane Deacon, one of the founder members recalls those times.

"The four original members of the Historical Society were Hugh Hawkins, Bart Hammond, Sadie Healey and myself.

Hugh had come to live in the village to look after his elderly mother and became interested in the history of the village. This prompted him to put up a notice in the post office asking if anyone else could help him in his research.

As a proud possessor of an original, if tatty copy of Edmund Bogg's book, 'The Old Kingdom of Elmet', which includes a somewhat whimsical and colourful account of Barwick, I considered myself well qualified to volunteer! I soon discovered that my qualifications and credentials were very limited by comparison with Hugh's other two recruits, Bart Hammond and Sadie Healey.

Bart had lived in the village for many years, making beautiful pen and ink drawings of all the main views and buildings, too many of which are now gone. But from his youth he had visited Barwick, making sketches and spending time in the company of some of the famous characters from the Attic Abode. These were a group of friends, all with artistic connections who rented the thatched cottage on Main Street, and occasionally scandalised the more conservative residents of the village with their Bohemian ways and pursuits. This must have been quite a heady experience for a young man of artistic temperament and it obviously made a great impression on him.

Sadie was equally expert in the historical field. Apart from having lived in the village for many years, she actually had the prestige of living on an archaeological site! As her address on Potterton Lane suggested, evacuations at her farm had unearthed considerable amounts of ancient pottery and other important finds.

I felt hardly able to compete in such illustrious company but we arranged to meet at my house to share what information, knowledge and resources we had. Such were the humble beginnings of the now thriving Historical Society; four of us sitting round a dining room table, discussing our ideas and plans.

Historical societies were just becoming fashionable at the time and Aberford had already produced a very interesting book of photos which had caused quite a stir. Hugh was convinced that we could do the same. Bart had maps and newspaper cuttings featuring old photographs, but the original photos we had were my limited collection from my great grandfather; one of the old mill without its sails and some tiny ones of the maypole raising at the turn of the century. Not an auspicious start!

However, between our first and second meeting I went on a tour round the village, knocking on the doors of unsuspecting Barwick residents who I thought might have photos or information. My first call proved more productive than I could ever have hoped. Carrie Prince not only welcomed my enquiries, but also produced a collection of about forty photos of old views of the village, maypole scenes, school photos and village characters. She also proved to be a mine of information and anecdotes. This began a period of collecting and copying photos and researching their age and who was in them.

Recent developments in computer wizardry have made copying and printing photos quick and easy, but then it involved Heath Robinson-like arrangements. A tripod had to be set upon a table in a south-facing window to make the most of natural lighting. The camera had to be fixed to the tripod at just the right angle and the original photo clamped in a special frame. The photo was then snapped with great care and precision. The laundry room was requisitioned for developing and printing and this involved scenes reminiscent of the sorcerer's apprentice. The window was completely blacked out and all sorts of alchemical processes were undertaken, resulting eventually in enough photos to arrange into the publication of 'Bygone Barwick'.

Meanwhile the group of four had quite quickly grown week by week, until we had run out of seating in our dining room. These were happy and productive times with everyone eager to see the latest photos collected and share information and research, despite the sardine-like conditions.

It eventually became clear that the capacity of our dining room had been exceeded and we were fortunately able to transfer to the John Rylie Centre. Our numbers continued to expand and a proper committee was formed. Knowledgeable members gave talks each month and Arthur, Hugh, Bart and Harold pioneered the publication of 'The Barwicker' with heroic typing from Hugh. This was before word processors or computers and Hugh managed on an old mechanical typewriter!

Since then the Society has gone from strength to strength with regular publications, a programme of fascinating talks, projects and visits each year and its own web site. It shows no sign of diminishing in popularity.

The establishment of the extension to John Rylie House for the Society's archives is a great tribute to the dedication of those who secured the funding and arranged and catalogued all the material. I little thought such grand things would come of those early cosy meetings round my dining table!"

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