We are just putting the finishing touches to the research behind our latest Dairy Days walk which starts in Carperby. One of the characters we wanted to feature was a Mrs Willis of Carperby who carried off most of the cheesemaking prizes at the Yorkshire Agricultural Show held in Beverley in 1894. The vicar of Askrigg refers to her in the September edition of his parish magazine that year:
“At the recent Show of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, held at Beverley, Mrs Willis, of Carperby, suceeded in carrying off four out of five prizes offered for Wensleydale Cheeses, her exhibits being placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th; while Mrs Brown, of Marske, occupied the 4th place. I cannot help thinking it is a pity that our local cheese-makers do not more frequently compete at the Yorkshire and other good shows, as to do so is one of the best possible means of calling public attention to what is undoubtedly one of the most important industries of the district.” ‘Dawn of Day’ Askrigg Parish Magazine September 1894.
We’ve been trying to track this Mrs Willis down and had found a couple of likely candidates in the 1891 census for Carperby but got no further. Willis seems to have been quite a common family name in the village in the nineteenth century. We were therefore delighted to receive an email this morning from Charles Rowntree a descendant of the family who founded the dairy in Coverham which we have already mentioned in our blog Coverham Dairy and the Walls family
It turns out that Alfred Rowntree who started Coverham Dairy, did so with the help of his wife, a Margeurite Ethel Willis of Manor House Farm, Carperby, who he married in 1899.
Margeurite was a prize-winning cheesemaker in her own right and taught young Alfred how to make cheese, as one member of the Rowntree family recalled:
Margeurite’s mother was Maria Willis, nee Barker, daughter of a Westmorland farmer. She was the second wife of Thomas Willis Jnr whose father had taken on the tenancy of Manor House Farm in 1830 and had established a pedigree shorthorn herd there. Maria used surplus milk from the herd to produce Wensleydale cheese and according to an uncredited article supplied by Charles Rowntree she “…achieved considerable success at the leading shows, particularly the Royal and Dairy Shows” ‘A Look into the Past: Four generations of the Willis family of Manor House Carperby’ unknown publication and author
It is this Mrs Willis that we believe is being referred to in the parish magazine article we quoted above. She clearly taught her daughter Margeurite well as it seems she was an important partner in the development of Coverham Dairy with her husband Alfred.