Jessie Fearnley

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AN irrepressible character – forceful, single minded and idiosyncratic – Jessie Fearnley, who has died aged 99, made her mark as a successful farmer, having been a Yorkshire champion swimmer earlier in life.

She was the youngest daughter of Frank and Blanche Ford, and the last surviving of their five children.

Her father was the largest manufacturer of fish and chip ranges in the country, having started his business shortly after the end of the First World War. When Harry Ramsden’s opened at Guiseley, the kitchen was fitted with Ford ranges.

In one way or another, all the family were involved in the business, and so it was that Jessie was recruited to help count the payment for a fish and chip range installed north of Glasgow, a payment that consisted of a bag of gold sovereigns.

Counting those coins was an experience that left a large and lasting impression.

She was a robust and sporty child, and her competitiveness and ability to swim being encouraged her father, she became a Junior Yorkshire Champion.

Family holidays were taken on the East Coast, particularly Flamborough Head and Scarborough, and the children’s continuing enjoyment of them led to Mr Ford joining a partnership between the wars which bought the Esplanade Hotel.

Now was the heyday of Peasholm Pleasure Park as a centre for fetes, galas and displays, and to mark the completion of terraced seating to accommodate the crowds, there was a firework display, and Jessie was invited to swim the lake’s length to mark its re-opening.

When she was 14, before driving licences, she managed to write off an MG, driving it into a wall, but not one to be discourage, she was soon behind the wheel of another one. At 94, she was furious when her licence was not renewed.

She met Harold Fearnley in childhood, their families being connected through Boothtown Road Methodist in Halifax. They were married 1936 and she had three sons.

A farm on the Pennine side of Halifax, inherited from her mother-in-law when post-war rationing still bit deep, promoted an enduring interest in self-sufficiency. More acres were purchased and a herd of up to 200 head of beef cattle was the consequence.

The growth of the farms at Warley led to her becoming a noted character at Otley and other auction markets.

Never retiring entirely, by the late 1990s she indulged her fondness for travel, and with her friend Lady Margaret Armitage visited Canada, the US, Egypt, Turkey and the Greek islands. She also enjoyed an active social life.

As a person with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of numbers of local families, she was a source of entertainment to many.

A woman of strong and straightforward opinions, and with humour, drive and enthusiasm for life, she is survived by her sons Alan, Denis and Roger, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Her husband died in 1980.