LAST week, we featured a fabulous picture of a wonderful old lady, who may have been the Swaledale correspondent of the Echo's sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times.

She’s sitting at the wheel of an amazing early car. You can see every fold of her skirt, shawl and bonnet, every bone in her spindly fingers, and every wrinkle on her weathered face which looks pretty perplexed by the crazy angle of her vehicle.


The picture is one of 50 or so enlarged postcard images of Swaledale which have just gone on display at the Garden Rooms at Tennants of Leyburn.

The Northern Echo: The unknown D&S Times Feetham correspondent from Swaledale, who features in the exhibition at Tennants. Picture courtesy of Clive TorrensLast week's image of the elderly lady at the wheel of BB 58 in Low Row, Swaledale

Such a brilliant image, taken by Leyburn photographer JB Smithson, has attracted lots of people’s attention over the years, and both the Swaledale Museum in Richmond and Beamish museum have copies of it.

So where was it taken? Lots of people used the window on the right, with the dale rising steeply to the left, to locate it on the B6270 at Low Row looking east with the track heading up to Peat Gate Head and Langthwaite on the left.

The Northern Echo: Low Row, from Google StreetViewLow Row, Swaledale, as seen on Google StreetView, with the lane to Langthwaite on the left: this is the scene of last week's photo

“The track leads to the watersplash made famous in the original All Creatures Great and Small,” says Tim Sinclair, in Ovington. “Opposite the track was the house of that a candle-maker that is just visible in the picture. It has since been demolished and in the middle of the last century, a ‘modern’ house was built there, called Candle House.

“Out of view behind the elderly lady is the Punch Bowl Inn.”

Alan Thorogood, of Low Row, has kindly shared the research he has done into the picture. In the Swaledale Museum, it is captioned: “Peggy Spensley, the oldest inhabitant of the Dale (103) with the first car to arrive in the Dale, a 1903 Sunbeam.”

“This has long been the subject of a lot of debate,” says Alan. “The 1901 census has a widow and farmer, Margaret Spensley, aged 76, who is living in the cottage now known as Rose Bank which is just across the road from the Punch Bowl, so it is exactly the right location for the photograph.

“Margaret Spensley died in Reeth in 1910 aged 85, but it has not been confirmed that she was the oldest inhabitant of the Dale.”

In Beamish museum, the same picture is captioned: “An elderly lady in a motor car at Low Row. Car originally registered in Newcastle upon Tyne, January 1904. The car is a Little Star 7hp reg BB 58. The car in 1904 belonged to Mr Alfred John Nathan Smithson of Stockton, who by 1965 had owned 100 motor vehicles. His first car was a six horse power De Dion Bouton which he bought in 1903. He mentioned that the main trouble with early cars was that you got a lot of punctures, so he carried a carpet with him and rolled it out in front of the car if he came to any rough spots in the road. He claims he was the first motorised salesman in Stockton.”

It is a good job Mr Smithson does not drive on the roads today because they are so littered with potholes that he’d be forever stopping and unrolling his carpet.

Mr Smithson must be related to the photographer John Brown Smithson, who from 1870 had his main photographic studio in Leyburn and also had several smaller ones.

Alan’s research shows Beamish has several other postcards by JB Smithson – who produced more than 50,000 postcards during his lifetime – which also feature old ladies and old cars.

The Northern Echo: Alfred Smithson's uncle in BB 58, perhaps outside the family photographic shop in Stockton

One (above) features the same car and is captioned: “A Little Star motor car 7hp (Reg BB 58) outside Smithson's photographers shop, possibly in the Stockton area. The gentleman driving the car is Mr Alfred Smithson's uncle.”

The Northern Echo: Mrs Kearton, 101, of Newbiggin, in BB 58

Another (above) postcard has a picture of BB 58 with “Mrs Kearton, Newbiggin aged 101” at the wheel, and a third (below) has BB 58 with an aged lady who is named as “Jane Pedley” sitting at the controls.

The Northern Echo: Jane Pedley in BB 58

“If you get a magnifying glass out, you can see that Jane Pedley and Mrs Kearton are the same person, in the same clothes, and the car is parked in front of the same cottage window!” says Alan.

In fact, the lady named Jane Pedley looks thoroughly disenchanted by the whole carry-on, but she is a different lady to Peggy/Margaret Spensley who appears on our original postcard.

As Alan says, JB Smithson must have been touring the dale looking for photogenic old ladies to sit in the car for a humorous pose. This must be why our spindly fingered lady looks so perplexed – she has no idea had to drive the Little Star letalone get it out of its crazy angle wedged up against the side of the dale.