World of James Herriot: The Yorkshire museum attracting international visitors thanks to success of Channel 5 series All Creatures Great and Small ahead of 25th anniversary

The popular attraction World of James Herriot based in Thirsk is attracting a surge of international visitors due to the success of Channel 5 series All Creatures Great and Small. Liana Jacob visited the museum to find out more.

The World of James Herriot is where it all began. Alf Wight moved to Thirsk in July 1940 where he started his first job as a vet at 23 Kirkgate, now converted into a museum, after studying veterinary medicine in Glasgow.

He worked alongside Donald Sinclair who was running the veterinary practice at the time and began writing his books in the 1960s, with the encouragement of his wife, Joan, while working full time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His books captured the hearts of many, from local residents who knew him personally to people from all over the world and 60 million copies were sold. Despite his fame and financial success, Alf stayed grounded, continuing to pursue his passion as a vet.

The red door at World of James Herriot MuseumThe red door at World of James Herriot Museum
The red door at World of James Herriot Museum

Marketing director of the museum, John Gallery, told The Yorkshire Post how Alf remained loyal to Yorkshire even when his books took off.

“Whilst he became the most famous vet in the world, it didn’t change his outlook on life and he refused to live somewhere else,” he said. “His son will tell you he wanted to be here in Yorkshire and enjoy what he was doing, giving a good service and that it was about the people as much as the pets. His earnings from the books and TV rights were massive; he was offered to go and live in Jersey or Guernsey to avoid tax, and he said no I want to live where I am, I’ll pay the tax.

“That attitude to life I think is a very good example for people, you can have a successful career and enjoy yourself and do it properly. That doesn’t come across in the series, but because we are so close to him we know these things.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Memorabilia room at World of James HerriotMemorabilia room at World of James Herriot
Memorabilia room at World of James Herriot

His books were first adapted into two films before the BBC turned them into a series in the 1970s that continued for 12 years. Alf sadly died in 1996 and a couple of years later the vets who were still working at 23 Kirkgate at the time including The Yorkshire Vet’s Peter Wright, set up a new practice in a new building on the outskirts of Thirsk.

The former practice was sold to the local council who converted it into the museum it is today and it was officially opened to the public in 1999. This year marks the attraction’s 25th anniversary.

“A lot of people, especially overseas visitors, get the feeling this is the England that they recognise,” Mr Gallery said. “Lots of people want to come and see it and his books created a major input of tourism and benefit to Thirsk and the greater North Yorkshire area.

“Since 2022 we’ve seen a most significant rise [in international visitors], it started rising that year and that was the first year [All Creatures Great and Small] was shown in America. [In 2023] we had a bigger rise and this year we’re expecting an even bigger [increase] because we’ve got the highest number of advanced pre-booked groups from overseas this year than we’ve ever had.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Alf Wight statue at World of James HerriotAlf Wight statue at World of James Herriot
Alf Wight statue at World of James Herriot

The museum was on the verge of closing due to its sharp decline in visitors coming through the door, but Alf’s children Jim Wight and Rosie Page along with the team at Herriot Tourism Group took it off the council’s hands.

With a great push for awareness and hosting a variety of events, the museum saw a resurgence.

“We’ve kept doing new things every year to keep it fresh, giving it a new feel,” Mr Gallery said. “Then along came Daisybeck Productions in Leeds who wanted to make a reality show about vets. He had gone to see Peter [Wright] and the other vets and [asked them], they weren’t so sure.

“[The MD at the time] went to see them to persuade them to do it and they never looked back. The producer was absolutely delighted, I think they’re on their 16th series now. That’s been a real success for them but it’s actually given us a major boost.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Jim and Rosie, who have the rights to the name, at the same time were discussing a remake of All Creatures Great and Small and since Channel 5 saw the success of The Yorkshire Vet they picked up the opportunity to take that on.”

They have since seen a new generation of visitors showing interest in the attraction.

“We’ve got this huge phenomenon now which I call the ‘Gramping market’,” Mr Gallery said. “Grandfather, parents and grandkids, all three generations of the family coming to see it. That mix of demographics is quite an interesting change. Before the new series came out and before The Yorkshire Vet we were definitely attracting the older demographic; those people who had seen it on the BBC in the 1980s.

“Now we’ve got that mix now which is great because it gives us that younger audience who hopefully in another 20 years time they might be bringing their kids.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Like with many other occupations, at the time Alf was working as a vet, women weren’t encouraged to become vets, Mr Gallery said.

“His daughter, for example, wanted to be a vet but she ended up being a doctor because she was discouraged from being a vet. But now you find more women vets if anything. I think that’s where Alf’s influence still prevails. It comes from the fact that he was doing what he was doing for all the right reasons.”

Mr Gallery shared his thoughts on the casting of the Channel 5 adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small.

“I think the Channel 5 series has been [executed] really well,” he said. “The fact that Nicholas, who plays James Herriot in the series, has a Scottish accent gives it even more authenticity, I think that has added value. I think Samuel West, who played Siegfried, has given his own interpretation of Siegfried. People who knew Donald Sinclair have said he was mild compared to what he was really like.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I think Robert Hardy who played Siegfried in the BBC series was very good and he was a hard act to follow in some ways, but I think they’ve done it well.”

Mr Gallery said he hopes that they will continue for another three seasons.

“It’s likely they are going to do season five this spring,” he said. “They usually film in the spring to early summer, post production in the summer and they broadcast in the autumn. In January they broadcast across all 50 states in America. We’re hoping that the series will continue.

“We think there will be another two, so that will take us into 2026, hopefully they might do a further one. The BBC did it for 12 years because all of the stories are there.”

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.