Novel events to champion village life of writer Holtby

Simon and Angela Dawson who live at Rudston House. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Simon and Angela Dawson who live at Rudston House. Pic: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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THIS WEEKEND keen walkers and local historians will have the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of Yorkshire’s most famous authors.

‘Walk Where Winifred Walked’ will give people the chance to see first-hand the beautiful gardens and countryside vistas that inspired novelist and journalist Winifred Holtby in the early-20th century.

A series of events will mark the 80th anniversary of the death of Winifred Hotlby.

A series of events will mark the 80th anniversary of the death of Winifred Hotlby.

The walks start from Winifred’s birthplace - Rudston House - at 10am and 1.30pm tomorrow. Three different routes; two miles, four miles and five miles, are designed to give visitors and insight into the landscapes that inspired such works as ‘Anderby Wold’ and ‘South Riding.’

Angela and Simon Dawson, whose family have owned Rudston House since 1918, say the gardens are largely unchanged since Winifred’s day.

“We still have the dell, a sunken natural pond in the woodland area of the garden, where Winifred sat to write My Garden and Other Poems,” Angela explained.

“She also planted a weeping elm tree when she was a child, but sadly it got Dutch elm disease and we had to chop it down. However, we used the wood from that tree to make a circular seat with a plaque on, explaining what happened and we have planted a weeping silver lime instead.”

The writer left her mark on the property - literally.

“In her writing she says she looked out westward across the farm from her bedroom and there is still a ‘w’ that she carved in the window frame of that room.”

Winifred, who was born in the village of Rudston which lies between Bridlington and Driffield, was passionate about the East Riding and based all of her books on the distinctive landscape and people of the area.

Bridlington was re-named ‘Hardrascliffe’, Withernsea ‘Kiplington’ and Hull ‘Kingsport’ but all are clearly recognisable in her novels along with the Humber, re-named ‘the Leame’.

Winifred started writing from an early age and her mother, Alice Holtby, had Winifred’s first collection of poetry ‘My Garden and Other Poems’ published for her when she was just 13-years-old.

Alice later became the first female Alderman of the East Riding and was said to be unhappy about Winifred using her experiences in local government to write ‘South Riding’.

After attending Queen Margaret’s School in Scarborough, Winifred won a place at Sommerville College, Oxford and went off to university. It was at Oxford that she met fellow writer Vera Brittain and the two became great friends.

After university, the two women lived together and launched their writing careers. Winifred wrote novels as well as being a journalist and an editor of magazines. She also frequently lectured at the League of Nations as a committed pacifist and equal rights campaigner.

However the scarlet fever she had contracted as a child had led to Bright’s disease - sclerosis of the kidneys.

Despite her ill health, Winifred returned to Hornsea to finish her final novel, ‘South Riding’, which was completed just one month before she died, aged 37.

“In the 1920s it was quite uncommon for a farmer’s daughter from the Wolds to go on to Oxford,” Angela Dawson said.

“If she had lived longer she could have achieved so much more, as she was a social reformer and had plans for more books and even wanted to become an MP.”

Despite being so young when she died, Winifred was a prolific writer and had already written five novels.

Fittingly, given her love for her local area, she was buried in the churchyard at Rudston, with her grave lined with ivy taken from outside her window at Rudston House.

Tomorrow’s walks are the first in a series of events being staged by the social committee at All Saints Church in the village to mark the 80th anniversary of Winifred’s death. Each one will raise funds for the church which boasts a heritage visitor centre and includes information about the village’s most famous daughter.

Committee member June Sellers said: “We hope the series of events will make people more aware of what Winifred represented and educate us all about her life and work.

“As a committee we’re getting on and we decided to celebrate this special anniversary, as in another 10 or 20 years we may not have the energy to organise events like this.”

Angela added: “People say when they come that they can still feel the spirit of Winifred around the house and the gardens. When you read her books you can see that she has written about places she knows, in Anderby Wold she is very clearly describing the area around the village and even Rudston itself.”

Celebrations in store

Tomorrow’s walks from Rudston House are the first in a series of events planned in the village to mark the 80th anniversary of Winifred Holtby’s death.

On May 28 there will be a talk ‘Winifred Holtby - her Yorkshire roots and family connections’ by Robin Horspool, whose grandfather Robert taught Winifred and spotted her talent for writing from an early age.

An open gardens event follows, at Rudston House on June 27-28, 10am-5pm on both days, and a three-day flower festival will be held in September, where the displays will reflect and celebrate Winifred’s life and work.