Born in Leeds, the name of Barbara Taylor Bradford is known the world over thanks to a succession of bestselling novels.
While she moved to America after marrying her husband Robert Bradford in 1963, Yorkshire has remained close to her heart and has provided the inspiration for much of her work.
With her 29th novel due out next month, among the accolades she has accrued over the years, the writer can now also add “official ambassador for the county” as Welcome to Yorkshire makes her one of its dedicated patrons.
An obvious choice, but the city provided the backdrop not just for my childhood, but for the first 20 years of my life, so it has to be on the list.
I loved my time at Christ Church Elementary School and later Northcote Private School for Girls and while Armley might not be the most glamorous suburb of Leeds I will always remember it fondly.
I haven’t been back to Armley for a fair number of years, the last time was when I was invited back to reopen a revamped wing of the library. Given that my library ticket was one of my most treasured possession as a child it was a real honour. While Armley is no longer the bucolic place I remember, standing on the front steps of the library I could have easily been back in the 1940s or 50s.
There are so many corners of Leeds which bring back happy memories. There’s Albion Street in the city centre where the old Yorkshire Evening Post building used to be and where my writing career really began, Kirkgate market, which seemed like such a fabulous place when I was a child and whenever I think of Leeds images of the Marshall and Snelgrove department store, which I reinvented for A Woman of Substance as Harte Enterprises, are never far behind.
The stately home in East Leeds was where my mother and I would often head for a day trip. It was probably less than 10 miles from our home, but just getting there in those days was a bit of an adventure in itself, requiring a variety of buses and trams.
The truth was, it didn’t matter how long the journey took, it was always worth it. You knew that if the walls of that grand house could speak they would have had some fabulous stories to tell.
Owned by the Ingrams for three centuries, the family had connections to Mary Queen of Scots and it all seemed a world away from Armley. As you get older, it’s funny what sticks in your mind and the one thing I will always remember about Temple Newsam is discovering it had 365 windows, one for every day of the year.
My mother, Freda, came from Ripon and we went back so regularly I came to see it as almost a second home. Some of my earliest memories are of her telling me about the Ripon hornblower, who every single night for well over a thousand years had set the watch, or the day she tried to cross the stepping stones wearing a dress which had been dyed turquoise. You can probably tell where this is going – she fell in and had to walk home with bright blue legs. My mother probably told me that story a hundred times, but I never tired of listening to it.
She also developed a bit of an obsession with the deer park which inevitably rubbed off onto me. We spent hours there, many, many hours.
This particular area of Yorkshire is also special because it was where I met Margorie Clarke, who still to this day is one of my closest friends. As teenagers we would put on our high heels, smear on a little lipstick and go to a cafe in Ripon. Those Saturday nights were a big event for us and still to this day we laugh at how very worldly wise we thought we were.
If someone asked me for one image which sums up Yorkshire for me, it would probably be the Stray in the spring when the crocuses and daffodils are in full bloom. Many years ago Bob and I bought a weekend house in Connecticut. The property came with a wooded area next to the lawn and one of the first things I did was to plant it with exactly the same kind of flowers that I remembered from Harrogate.
I kept on planting and each year the carpet of colour got bigger and deeper. I called it my own personal Stray, my own slice of Yorkshire in New England.
There is something immediately comforting about being back in Harrogate. The last time Bob and I were there he asked me what I wanted to do. We could have gone to the baths, we could have gone to the Valley Gardens or ambled around the shops, but actually the only thing I wanted to do was go to Betty’s and have afternoon tea. Heaven on a plate.
I AM addicted to history and there is something wonderful about going to York and feeling you have been instantly transported back to medieval times. Just the names of the Archbishops throughout the centuries who made their mark on the minister, from Ealdwulf to Walter de Gray, read like characters out of some great novel of English literature.
The city is blessed with so much beautiful architecture and I challenge anyone to walk down the Shambles and not feel the breath of history.
Again I have early memories are of me and my mother going off on another adventure and stopping off for tea in an Ilkley cafe. But really it has a special place in my heart because of Richard Whiteley.
One time when I was back on in England on a promotional tour he wanted to do a piece for Calendar and instead of a usual studio interview he suggested we do something a little different, which is how we found ourselves traipsing across Ilkley Moor.
Bob spent most of the time at the back looking bemused as I excitedly pointed out the Cow and Calf . He was even more confused when after we’d finished filming we went for lunch and Richard and I ordered beans on toast.
There are some places you never forget because of the landscape and some places which you always associate with a person. Ilkley Moor and Richard, who I miss dearly, will always be intertwined.
As an author who grew up in Yorkshire, the home of the Brontës has to feature in any list of favourite places.
I remember falling in love with Wuthering Heights and insisting my mum and I climb to Top Withens. It’s an unforgiving walk, but my mother, knowing how much it meant to me, did as she always did and gamely trudged on.
I loved and still do their little childhood journals, written in handwriting which is ever so tiny. By the time I was 10 years old I was already writing stories and what the Brontës taught me was the real power of the imagination.
Apart from a brief foray to Belgium, Charlotte spent much of her life in Haworth, yet her novels read as though they were written by someone who had real worldly experience.
A few years ago I was invited to the Parsonage to talk about my books.
Had you told me as a child that I’d be back at that museum some day having become a successful author I wouldn’t have believed you. It really was quite emotional.
Most of the time we went on day trips, but every so often we would stay in a bed and breakfast and that was incredibly exciting.
Donkey rides were what I looked forward to the most and among many treasured family photographs is one of me on the sands wearing a bathing suit and holding a bucket and spade.
It’s funny, I used to say to Bob, “How did the weather get to be so bad in Yorkshire? When I was young it was always sunny”. It wasn’t of course and as he rightly pointed out, when you have enjoyed a happy childhood it’s easy to look back only remembering the good times.
I also have Scarborough to thank for my love of shellfish. At the end of day on the beach I would devour a tub of cockles or muscles with just a splash of vinegar and a sprinkling of pepper. Now oysters are my guilty pleasure, but whenever I have them I’m right back in Scarborough looking out to sea.
Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar
Robin Hood’s Bay is one of those rare places unaffected by the passage of time which is always a joy to visit. A few years ago now when Margorie’s husband Eric was still alive, we all headed across to the coast. It was a bitterly cold as we drove across the top of the moors and it was Eric who suggested we stop for a drink at the hotel in Ravenscar.
There is something wild about the landscape there and when I was looking for a name for a feuding dynasty in a modern take on the War of the Roses, Ravenscar seemed like a perfect fit.
The market town was one of the places where my love of history was first ignited. The ruins of the castle, which was the childhood home of Richard III, are steeped in stories of battles and political machinations.
It has a real sense of its past, but it’s also a thriving working community thanks to its links with horse racing.
Watching the horses as they head off to the Gallops is a truly incredible sight.
Join us for lunch to learn ‘secrets’
To celebrate the launch of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s latest novel, Secrets from the Past, Welcome to Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Post are holding a special lunch and signing at Hazlewood Castle, near Leeds.
At the event, which will also see her officially become a Yorkshire Patron and join an elite list of ambassadors for the county, the best-selling author will share an insight into her success.
The luncheon will take place on March 1, from 12 to 2.30pm and tickets, which include a two course lunch and a glass of bubbly, are available at £25.
To book tickets contact Kim Broderick on [email protected] or call 07738 283739.
Secrets from the Past, pubilshed by Harper Collins, priced £14.99, is out on February 28. To pre-order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 01748 821122.