All the right notes at Gunnerside

Gunnerside is one of many beautiful Swaledale villages and once visited always to return. That's been the case for trailer maker and choir man Graham Edwards since first making his way to the dale at ten days old. He's farmed, sold trailers, sung there and his father was a Methodist minister at the chapel.

Graham Edwards at Gunnerside  Methodist Chapel. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.
Graham Edwards at Gunnerside Methodist Chapel. Pictures by Gary Longbottom.

Graham has gone from being a farm worker to the man whose company now turns over millions of pounds a year manufacturing livestock trailers, but it is Gunnerside that will always hold a special place in his heart and where he returns every two years with the York Philharmonic Choir.

“If I’d had my own way I’d have been a sheep farmer up here,” says Graham. “My mother Doris was evacuated with me to Gunnerside in 1940 where we stayed with Betsy Eglin, after first having been evacuated to her mother’s in Ben Rhydding where I was born.

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“My father Walter had been a Methodist minister here in 1924 and when my parents married they also came for their honeymoon, but he was preaching in Rotherham at the time mum and I had to come here.

Graham in the pulpit at Gunnerside Methodist Chapel.

“We were up in Gunnerside for about 10-11 months before rejoining dad in Rotherham and subsequently moving to Lincoln and Sheffield as he moved chapels every five years, but on leaving school at 15 I got a job working on a farm with John (Uncle Jack) Ralph Rutter. We’d known Uncle Jack and Aunt Hannah, not my real aunt and uncle, from all our visits as we’d regularly holiday up in the dale.

“He only had about 30 acres with half a dozen dairy cows and 80 sheep but it was what I wanted to do. I’d started with him in June 1955 and Uncle Jack passed away the following February. I stayed a while longer working on another farm at Haggs Gill for Tarn Bainbridge.”

Graham’s move to pastures new and flatter land saw him leave his beloved Swaledale once again.

“Dad had nattered me to get on to the plains of Lincolnshire or Yorkshire with bigger farms where there would be better prospects and that led me initially to Sand Hutton near York and next to work for the Dixon family at Gravel Pit Farm nearby where I stayed 26 years. I’d met my wife Maureen on coming down from the hills of Swaledale. She was a gamekeeper’s daughter from Buttercrambe.”

Graham in the pulpit at Gunnerside Methodist Chapel.

It was Graham’s natural talent for mending and making things that led him back to Swaledale years later when he attended Muker Show with his trailers, one of the few agricultural trade stands at the show and where I first met him.

“I’ve never been a book reader, but I could look at something engineering wise and master it. It was just something in me. The only award I ever won at school was for artistic ironwork and when our children were young I designed and manufactured our own trailer tent that led to where we are today. My youngest son Matthew now runs Graham Edwards Trailers that manufactures over 1000 livestock trailers a year as well as caravan chassis, car transporters, roadsigns and equine trailer chassis.”

Graham found another way back to Swaledale not only with his trailers but also through his love of singing.

“I’d always had an interest and enjoyed listening to choirs and when we moved to Corner Farm Bungalow in Bolton near Fangfoss where we are today I joined Pocklington Male Voice Choir. I moved to York Philharmonic Choir 18 months later and I’ve been there ever since. I’m a tenor.

“I find it very relaxing and it was good for me to keep to a discipline of doing something different rather than all the time thinking I had to do this or that business wise. I don’t enjoy solos. I’ve tried but the stress spoils my evening. I get a lot of pleasure out of singing. We play 30 concerts a year and we do reasonably well in competitions such as the Eskdale Music Festival.”

Competing in a competition in Morecambe brought about yet another link to Gunnerside and has led to the now bi-annual appearance of the York Philharmonic at the chapel where his father preached.

“We had a bass called Jack Stockdale in the choir. I’d known him for years without really ever getting to know him but when he passed away in 1989 I found out he was a Gunnerside lad. We’d won five trophies at the competition and Jack’s wife, Mary, had played piano, as she did, despite losing her husband two days prior.

“When I rang my friends in Swaledale to tell them how well we’d done and how Mary had played so bravely and so well Jenny Calvert, whose family are farmers and ran the blacksmith’s shop, said ‘you’re talking about my Uncle Jack’.

“I couldn’t believe the link. That’s when Aunt Hannah’s children Rita and Betty Rutter asked if the choir would play a concert so I set the ball rolling and we’ve played every other year since 1990. We’re back next September.”