Obituary: Evelyn Ponsford, former pageant queen

Evelyn Ponsford
Evelyn Ponsford
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Evelyn Ponsford, who has died at 91, gained renown in the 1950s as the so-called “blonde bombshell of Buckden” who helped put the Dales village on the tourism map.

Her brief spell of national attention came after having been chosen to star in the Buckden Pageant in the Coronation year of 1953, which was then picked as the best celebration of its kind in the North.

Evelyn was a member of the Horner family of Redmire Farm, which is still run by her nephew and his family. Her father, John Horner, was also a farmer and well known figure in the area.

She went to Buckden and Kettlewell School and told tales of the terrible characters she encountered. One, she said, fetched worms to put in his sandwiches.

The baby of the Horner family, she was influenced by her sister, Sally, who joined the forces in the Second World War. Evelyn joined the Royal Observer Corps and was given the job of reporting any enemy aircraft flying into English airspace. Upon learning that she was underage, the Army tried unsuccessfully to get her to return her wages.

Her starring role as Elizabeth I came when she was 24. The pageant was written by Pauline Glover and based on a hunting scene supposed to have entertained the former Queen on a visit to the Dales.

Graham Watson, then landowner of Redmire, gave four rolls of peach, green, brown and gold velvet to make the dresses for the Queen and ladies in waiting.

On the day, Evelyn rode down the The Raikes on a white horse. On dismounting, a minor scandal ensued, as with no footstool available, her velvet gown rode up, in full view of the vicar, Mr Isherwood.

“By gum, Evelyn, you’ve got t’best legs in the Dales,” he reportedly exclaimed.

Her blonde bombshell soubriquet was acquired shortly thereafter, although its provenance is uncertain.

Evelyn stayed at home until she was 29, when she became a First Class stewardess on the Cunard Line traversing the Atlantic to New York and Montreal.

Shortly afterwards, she joined the Castle Line in order to visit her sister, Bertha, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It was on the Windsor Castle in 1962 that she met her future husband, Ron Ponsford.

They married in Cape Town two years later, and left the liners to start a fish and chip business in the village of Swinefleet, near Goole. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born there.

She and Ron survive her, along with her granddaughters, Bettë and Grace.