Oral History Recording: Edith Pratt

Our volunteer Stuart Barron visited Alan and Edith Pratt last year to record their memories.  Alan Pratt’s stories of dairying can be found here  Oral History Recording: Alan Pratt.

Edith was keen to talk about her grandfather Christopher along with other members of her family involved in dairying in the past.

“I want t’talk about m’grandfather who I didn’t know, granddad Christopher Heseltine was born in 1882 at Swinacote [Farm], Thoralby. When he got married he moved to Hestholme Farm, West Burton. 1920s, he moved to Heaning Farm at Thoralby. ”
Edith Pratt, nee Heseltine (65), formerly of Studdah Farm, Bellerby

Local historian Penny Ellis has reproduced maps of farms in the Thoralby area including Swinacote  and Heaning on her fascinating Thoralby Through Time website.

In the following audio clip she describes finding her grandfather’s milk records from the 1930s which showed that he was supplying milk wholesale to United Dairies of Bayswater, London. The company was a great rival of Express Dairies apparently:

Christopher’s milk went to London via Aysgarth Station, one of several stations on the Wensleydale line which transported milk up until 1932 when milk lorries took over (see The Wensleydale Railway by Christine Hallas (2004 4th ed) Great Northern Books Ltd for further details).

Churns being loaded onto a train at Redmire Station c1920s. Courtesy of Christine Hallas

Christopher died in 1946 and Edith’s father took over dairying at Heaning until 1964 when he managed to buy his own farmland at Aysgarth and build a bungalow for the family to move into. Edith remembers being made to walk all the way from Thoralby to her new home in Aysgarth aged three!

“So he sort of built it up from there. He used t’milk down at the barn. He wouldn’t milk more than a dozen t’fifteen cows and then m’sister and I used t’take it in turns t’bring the milk in the churns from the barn t’the fridge house t’be cooled, with an in-churn cooler…that would be when it [the milk] go t’the Express Dairy at Leyburn…and the man that came t’pick it up was called Pills [?] at Askrigg, but he liked you to have it out on time sort of thing [laughing]…with a wagon…yes, he had a lorry by then.”

Eventually his son, Edith’s brother John, took over and he went on dairying until Foot & Mouth took him out in 2001 after which he packed it in. In the meantime Edith had married and moved to Studdah Farm with her husband Alan who also milked.

Dairying has definitely been in Edith’s family for generations:

“M’mother’s parents, they were also, they were married at Askrigg Church in 1922, and they moved to Liverpool to be cowkeepers…m’mother met m’father when she came back to Thoralby on holiday. [What’s a cowkeeper?] Well, they keep cows in a street, at end of a street, in a barn, never let them out, ‘cos there’s streets, they had t’, the wagons would come in with the hay, hay for them and take the manure away…you haven’t heard of a cowkeeper? Oh quite a few from this area went to Liverpool to be cowkeepers. A lot of them came back as well, t’the Dales eventually.”

Read more about cowkeepers  in our blog post Wensleydale cowkeepers in Liverpool. 

“It’s always been dairy for me, yes. M’father was dairy and m’grandparents were as well [laughs]”

We’ve done some research into the Liverpool branch of Edith’s family. Her mother’s parents were called Matthew & Rose Webster. We found them on Dave Joy’s Cowkeepers of Liverpool website, descendants of the Thwaites, part of a large cowkeeping dynasty originating in Garsdale. Matthew Heseltine Webster’s parents Hannah Thwaite and Robert Webster were married in Aysgarth in 1855 and Matthew was born in 1891.

The 1891 census for West Burton shows Hannah & Robert Webster living at Cross Farm in Walden. She was born in Garsdale. The 1901 census has their son Matthew Webster aged nine living with them along with five brothers & sisters. By the 1911 census the Websters have left Walden.  Robert has died and his widow Hannah Webster is now living over the hill in Newbiggin, Bishopdale working as a ‘monthly nurse’ and living with four of her children. Nearby there is a Matthew Webster Heseltine and a Michael Webster Heseltine living as sons in the household of a John & Dorothy Heseltine, it seems that Dorothy may have been part of the wider Webster family but we can’t quite disentangle the relationship. It looks as if the two boys have been adopted by the Heseltines although this Matthew is recorded as being twelve years old which doesn’t quite match.

Kelly’s 1938 Directory of Liverpool shows one Matthew Heseltine Webster  in the Edge Hill/Wavertree area of Liverpool as a dairyman and we assume they are one and the same in spite of the reversing of the surnames. We also assume that this is Edith’s ancestor. His premises were at 75/77 Wrayburn Street. The street was apparently demolished in the 1970s as part of slum clearances, but old maps of the area show it as one of several terraced streets running north to south between Spekeland Road and  Earle Street. Just to the north was the Spekeland Hills railway goods depot where amongst other things hay was brought in.

OS 25-inch map c1842. From National Library of Scotland website
OS 25-inch map c1842. From National Library of Scotland website

We found this 1970 photograph of the street showing a walled yard which may even have been the location of Matthew’s dairy.

Wrayburn Street in 1970 from https://www.liverpoolpicturebook.com
Wrayburn Street in 1970 from https://www.liverpoolpicturebook.com


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