Comfort in words for farmer whose wife was a rock

Frank Pedley at his home in Richmond with a photograph he took of his wife Ruth in 1958. (GL1007/95a)
Frank Pedley at his home in Richmond with a photograph he took of his wife Ruth in 1958. (GL1007/95a)
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WHEN RENOWNED Wensleydale Longwool sheep breeder and judge Ruth Pedley deliberated over her choice of male and female champions at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2007, little was she or her husband to know that within the week she would be gone.

Theirs had been a true love story of passion, adventure, family pride and utter devotion that is evident for posterity in a new book Arthursdale Boy-Nidderdale Girl written by Frank Pedley who, eight years on, is still, in his own words, making the best of things.

“When people ask how I am I can’t say happy. Losing Ruth was basically the end of my life. Ours was a love story and I wanted to bring those emotions through as best I could, but I primarily wanted the book to act as a written record for my family, particularly those descendants not yet born, and to show our principles, what we were trying to do and how our life developed through the routes we took at each crossroads. I had been collating photographs, records, dairies and other paraphernalia for about six months and writing notes so that it all meant something to future generations when I realised it would be just as easy to write it as a book.”

Frank tells of his early years, being the illegitimate son of Doris Pedley, living at what is now 23 Nook Road but was then called ‘Wycoller’ in Arthursdale, now part of the village of Scholes just east of Leeds, and his schooling at Tadcaster Grammar where he first met the love of his life.

He tells of Ruth’s ‘pedigree’ born in Bewerley, near Pateley Bridge the daughter of parents who were teachers.

The thread that holds the book together though is the romance that began nearly five years after they’d previously seen each other. Frank had by then enlisted, joined The Green Howards in Richmond, completed military training at Sandhurst and was about to be posted with the Royal Signals in Germany.

“We’d been at school together but Ruth’s father had died of a coronary on the eve of her return at the end of the summer holidays. They’d lived in the schoolhouse and with his sudden death they had to vacate the accommodation and both Ruth and her mother had to find work. I thought about her a great deal before my first posting and we met up just prior to me leaving.”

In October 1955, following weekly correspondence during his posting - including delicately handled detail over assuring her that he’d extricated himself from a previous relationship and having found out she was already engaged to be married to another, he sent the letter that was to signal their next 50-plus years together: “Dear Ruth, first of all darling, let me tell you that I love you just as much as I knew I would before I came on leave; you’re the girl with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. It would be unbearable without you… Yes, you can certainly rely on me to remain absolutely faithful and to write regularly – I’m head over heels in love with you and no other girl will interest me now… Thank you for always looking so beautiful for me, for being so sweet and charming – in fact thank you for everything… All my love, Hamish”.

“Ruth always called me Hamish. It was the name I used at Tadcaster Grammar School. My full name is Francis Hamish Pedley. When I joined the army Frank came about but Ruth always introduced me as Hamish.”

Frank’s military career saw service in Belgium, Germany and Malaya. He recalls their Malayan experience echoing what it must have been like for British military in India years previously.

“It was a completely different lifestyle to any other part of the British army and although the workload was heavy our time there was absolutely wonderful, but after many Cold War postings in Belgium and Germany I managed to get a succession of them in England and that brought about our purchase of The Old Hall in Hunton, near Catterick Garrison.”

The purchase in 1981 saw a change in the dynamics of the Hamish-Ruth axis that would see Ruth on the front line and how most in the farming community of Wensleydale and Swaledale would become familiar with them in the ensuing years.

“During my time as an army officer Ruth had given total, enduring support not just to me but to the regiment where I had risen to Lietenant-Colonel. It was now Ruth’s turn to take the reins. We’d taken on eight acres of land with The Old Hall and on advice from other farmers we decided to start with sheep. What started as a hobby ended up becoming very serious indeed and Ruth’s talent with the Wensleydale Longwool breed was remarkable, but we didn’t start with them.

“We’d had Mules and Mashams that we had put to a Suffolk tup, but when I’d finished work one day (I’d take on a civilian role in army recruiting by then) I arrived home to find Ruth in a very enthusiastic state. She’d seen local sheep breeder David Ford with a Wensleydale ram in the centre of Leyburn. It was on a halter and was being led down the steps of Midland Bank a little while later when we both saw it together. That was the moment when our passion for Wensleydale sheep was ignited – a flame that burned brightly right through to the Great Yorkshire Show of 2007.”

PERSONAL TALE IS ONE TO SHARE

While writing the book may have proved cathartic for Frank, his hopes of it providing a documentary record of his and Ruth’s lives and devout togetherness for future Pedley generations are more than justified. There is little doubt that their three sons’ families will cherish Frank’s labours.

In a descriptive extract from one of Hamish’s letters after Ruth made him aware of her fiancé, Hamish uses a sporting analogy after she had written about ‘playing the game’: “However, Ruth, the stumps have not been drawn yet and I shall endeavour to play the right stroke to the right ball.”

Arthursdale Boy-Nidderdale Girl is published by Book Guild Publishing and is available through all bookshops and as an e-book.