IT'S the people that make the Dales, characters that writer-photographer D Mark Thompson captured on a 1970s and 80s odyssey

The Northern Echo:

Ted Banks - day one of a three-day session

INSPIRED by Ronald Blythe’s classic Akenfield, which allowed the people of his Suffolk village to tell their stories, D Mark Thompson decided to do the same for the Yorkshire Dales. But Thompson wanted to combine imagery with the words of his farmers, blacksmiths, publicans, shopkeepers and other sundry characters, so he decided to take up photography.

For ten years, until the mid 1980s, he roamed the Dales with his Pentax K1000 and a hand-held cassette recorder, talking to the folk who wrestled a living from the land. Decades on, his treasure trove of poignant pictures and memories has been brought together in Heart of the Dales.

As walker and comedian Mike Harding, a Lancastrian who fell in love with the Dales and came to live here, says in his foreword “The photographs themselves would be enough to tell you, had you half an eye to see, the stories written on the faces of the Dalesmen and women; but equally the notes and jotting, the life stories of the Dalesfolk themselves act as an underlying narrative. We know, firstly because we see, and we see more clearly because we hear the voices of the men and women who live in the black and white world beyond the lens.”

Bill Chapman’s ‘birthday’ 1981, Beezley Farm, Ingleton

I never did find out if it was his 80th birthday. Discretion being the better part of valour and a sixth sense of preservation willed me to believe it to be so. Nobody messed with Bill Chapman.

It was said every freezer above Ingleton was stocked to the very brim with Bill’s salmon, which was either dynamited or limed out of nearby waters.

Fred Longthorn

Fred Longthorn lived alone, the last of his family, and the last ‘up on t’ hill’ who worked the lead mines. Greenhow, Yorkshire’s highest village at 1,300ft, is set amongst vast moorland that forms part of the Mountgarret estate. This land, the farmsteads and cottages that survive, were part of a large, busy community towards the end of the 19th century, lead mining the basic industry, the panorama one of cottages and spoil tips.

“There used to be 20 lights out there and now there are none,” he gesticulates towards the emptiness. “Two or three houses down beck bottom, they were thatched. There were nine occupied wi’ that that’s just gone. My forelders lived over there. I helped to lead the stone away to help make a road for the shooters. I remember Mount Pleasant, Far Side, Low Side, High Far Side, and Low Far Side, all either gone or now they are falling in.”

Ted Banks

As Edwin Banks’s father William and his wife walked contemplatively away from their Coverdale farmstead carrying what meagre possessions they owned, the future looked bleak. Unable to make a decent living from their aptly named Sod Hall smallholding, the family tramped upwards out of the dale and into neighbouring Colsterdale to take up a lease on the Swinton estate.

One of five children, Ted farmed at Sowden Beck above Wilton Fell and found solace two miles away in the valley below at the Coverbridge Inn, run by Jim and June Carter. In the early days, he would arrive by pony, which he’ll left loosely tied beside the large Yorkshire sash window to enable the animal to indicate when it required a further bottle of ale with an upturned lip or a wander into the bar. On one occasion two prospective residents returned from viewing the accommodation to find the animal standing on their suitcase.

Ted’s escapes were legendary. Found frozen into a hedge back after yet another few hard days drinking, and oblivious to the approaching snowstorm, his life was saved when his Wellington boots were spotted sticking out of the snow by a local water board official. Having laid there for a day and a half. Ted firmly believed it was the half bottle of brandy he had on his person that saved his life.

He lived out retirement in a small, black, smoke-filled and battered caravan, listening to The Archers or news items on Radio Four, his sheepdog Mirk by his side. The obituary of this colourful hell-raiser made two-thirds of a page in the Daily Telegraph.

George Dawes

I never reached the upper echelons of the dale without meeting George Dawes. Indeed, so often would he silently arrive on the scene, usually with cocked shotgun in hand, that I became convinced he had been cloned and that there were more of him in every field, all with buck teeth and squirrel-like appearance, wearing flat caps, dark waistcoats, jacket and spats.

Bessie and George Fletcher, The Blue Lion, East Witton

Bessie was the third generation of her family to run the Blue Lion Inn, which has little changed since the day it was built in 1817. Her grandfather William Metcalf was very much a gentleman innkeeper, a keen breeder of racehorses, which were housed around a large cobbled yard to the rear.

George Fletcher worked on the river bank and never took an active role at the Blue Lion. He was born in 1898 and survived the Great War. “He allus said he was like Jesus Christ, buried for three days and rose again!,” said Tom Shields, his brother-in-law. The cart and horses George was driving were hit by a shell and overturned, burying all. Three days later, passing soldiers saw a hoof of one of the horses, dug deeper and discovered George’s hand.

Bessie ran the inn single-handedly, continuing to take in guests she liked until her death in 1989, aged 90. “I have a look at the car and usually say ‘sorry, no vacancies’. In days gone by, it was mainly the gentry who stayed here – poor gentry then – we could always tell them, on their way down, you know.”

  • Extract from Heart of the Dales by D Mark Thomson (Hardraw Force Publishing, £24.99)