We can learn a lot about the north from EJO’s books. Born in Southport, she never regarded England north of Watford as non-existent and obviously loved the moors and hills, the lakes and the fells as much as she did North Wales or Scotland. She sets books in, and introduces characters from, the Wirral and south Lancashire, the Lake District, two parts of Yorkshire and north Derbyshire. Think of Jen and her Yorkshire moors, Damaris and Rachel at school in south Lancashire and at home in the Lake District, Lindy and Anne Bellanne from the Wirral, the girls educated or living near Rocklands school, all of whom, sooner or later, find themselves at the Abbey. We have not followed EJO around south Lancashire or the Wirral but we have enjoyed expeditions to Yorkshire and north Derbyshire and to the Lake District, which is where we will begin.
We drove north towards Penrith and then took the A592 that runs alongside Ullswater, through Glenridding and Patterdale, and then up over the Kirkstone Pass. In Dancer from the Abbey Rachel walks over from Crossriggs to Ullswater and plans to come back this way.
Most people agree that the probable site of Hiker’s Halt, where Rachel and Damaris find themselves jobs in a cafe in Maidlin to the Rescue, is on what is now a narrow but well-made road that leads down from the top of the Kirkstone Pass to Ambleside.
‘The famous pass, leading out of the town was very steep, too steep for any but reckless motorists, but was much used in summer by walkers and climbers. There was an inn at the top, where the road joined the motor highway, but there was none in the whole three miles of the rough ascent, and it was climbing all the way. An empty cottage stood about two thirds of the way up however, and Lizzie Baldry had bought this...’ (pp.47-48). We drove down it but could well believe that it would have been a difficult road for cars in EJO’s time Although there is no sign of a cottage, empty or otherwise, everything else fits in.
Beyond Ambleside we visited Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin, who is thought to have inspired the idea of ‘Queens’ at Whitelands College, on which EJO based her idea of Queens. We were fortunate in that there happened to be an exhibition of some of the gowns worn by early Queens and another of what is called ‘Ruskin lace’, tying in with EJO’s love of crafts.
In our search for a possible location for the Ellerton farm, Crossriggs, we took as our guide a passage from Maidlin to the Rescue. Rachel and Damaris have been sitting on the fells above Windermere; they come down to the main road, make a final decision not to tell Pip about their plans to run away and hide at Miss Baldry’s and they turn their backs on the busy town (Windermere) and set out ‘for the country and the farm’. EJO comments that ‘they had a long tramp before them’ and this is only too true. The A591 runs along the route described – through Ambleside, alongside Rydal Water and through Grasmere, climbing up to the old county boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland. Helvellyn is to the right of the road and a track goes off to Grisedale Farm. This is the area where the Ellertons farmed, a fact confirmed elsewhere. When Maidlin and Jen drive up to look at the old farm, Maidlin remembers the road out of Grasmere and the fact that ‘the farm’s just over the boundary line’ (p.195). In Guardians Rachel takes Damaris for an imaginary walk up the fells, mentioning Seat Sandal, Grasmere and Rydal Water (p.89). There is further evidence in Dancer (p.162) and in Damaris at Dorothy’s (Chapter 25). EJO was quite clear about the site of Crossriggs.
There are no doubt more tea-shops and gift shops here than there were in EJO’s day but the church is still there and so are the graves of the Wordsworth family that Jen insisted on visiting. And we had our coffee at Baldry’s Cafe – obviously Baldry is a local name.
This section is based on Island to Abbey (Girls Gone By Publishers, 2006) by Stella Waring and Sheila Ray and on the following article:
Stella Waring and Sheila Ray, ‘Yorkshire Moors and Lakeland Fells: EJO Tour 1993’, The Abbey Chronicle 16, 1994.
South Yorkshire and Derbyshire
EJO knew the area that lies to the north and west of Sheffield and made good use of her knowledge. She stayed with friends near Froggatt Edge in Derbyshire and later visited Bolsterstone in Yorkshire, where Ribbie, a young invalid boy who had enjoyed one of her books lived. His home, Waldershaigh, became the house where the girls of Rocklands School, based in Sheffield, spent their summer terms and the moors nearby became the site of Jen’s home, The Grange. A Go-Ahead Schoolgirl (1919) was the first of the Rocklands books and Jen’s Yorkshire home got its first mention in The Girls of the Abbey School (1921). Rocklands girls subsequently turn up in the Abbey books and Jen’s Yorkshire home becomes a house where ‘tired’ business girls can enjoy much-needed holidays and is mentioned throughout the Abbey saga.
‘Edges’, which are a feature of this region, are cliff-like ridges that fall sharply to a valley below. Froggatt Edge, which is the best known, is a spectacular beauty spot and lies to the south of Bolsterstone but Hollin Edge Height, just to the east of Bolsterstone, no doubt inspired the idea of the ‘talking cave’ that plays an important part in the Rocklands books.
During the early C20 many reservoirs were created in this region to improve the supply of fresh water to the growing towns and cities. The most famous is Ladybower, where there is now a visitors’ centre, but there are two in the valley below Bolsterstone, Broomhead and More Hall and it is the construction of these and the existence of ‘Tin Town’ to house the workers that feature in the Rocklands books.
When we visited in 1993, this was still a small windswept grey stone village, lying on a ridge about 1000’ above sea level, with a square-towered church, much as it is described in The Abbey Girls Go Back to School and Queen of the Abbey Girls. Waldershaigh lies about half-a-mile out of the village, one of several large Victorian mansions. Ribbie (Reginald Willis Wilson), who inspired the character of ‘Wriggles’, died in 1919 and is buried in the churchyard.
The tin buildings of ‘Tin Town’ have long gone and new houses have been built to supplement the few old stone buildings that remain in the village near the reservoir.
Eyam, not far from Froggatt Edge, is the famous ‘plague’ village. The great plague of 1665 was brought from London to Eyam in merchandise and the villagers, led by the minister, cut themselves off from the outside world to prevent it spreading. EJO may have heard this story when she was visiting her friends and she uses it in Mistress Nanciebel (1910).. There is now a museum telling the history of the plague and its effect in Eyam.
This is undoubtedly the original of Stonecliffe, the town where the dancing competition in Jen of the Abbey School takes place, the fictional name made up from a combination of Penistone and the nearby Wharncliffe. In 1993 there was an impressive array of turn-of-the-century municipal buildings including a public hall, council offices and a Carnegie library.
Coming from the south, leave the M1 on the A617 and travel west via the A617, A619 and A623 to Carver. Froggatt and Eyam are nearby. Then drive north to Ewden, Bolsterstone and Penistone. Travelling from the north, leave the M1 on the A628 to Penistone and do the places the other way round.
This section is based on Island to Abbey (Girls Gone By Publishers, 2006) by Stella Waring and Sheila Ray and on the following article:
Stella Waring and Sheila Ray, ‘Yorkshire Moors and Lakeland Fells: EJO Tour 1993, The Abbey Chronicle 16, 1994.
During the period between 1913 and 1914 EJO published four books set in North Yorkshire - Rosaly’s New School (1913), At School with the Roundheads (1915), Finding Her Family (1916) and A School Camp Fire (1917). It is an area rich in things of interest to EJO, including abbeys and folk dancing. EJO’s brother Hugo went to a Quaker School in York and her brother Roderick, while training to become a Congregational minister, worked with the Beach Missions, probably in this area. She had obviously spent time here. In 1996, we made our base in Goathland, which has more recently been made famous by the ITV Heartbeat series.
This is the site of Rosaly’s New School and we found many of the places that are described there. We drove down to Beck Hole to the site of the old station and the stepping-stones, the place where Rosaly met Andrew. We climbed the ‘long green slope’ which, as Rosaly tells him, is the track of the original railway from Beck Hole up to Goathland – ‘the green road is all that’s left to remind people of the old line’.
Like Rosaly and Andrew, we got to the top of the green lane and turned to the left and found the road junction where Rosaly pointed to the school that was being built – alas no school but still plenty of room (in 1996) to build one. All the directions point to this spot and the site of the school was clinched by the fact that across the valley we could see a house that might have inspired Moorside Manor.
There are still many wide green spaces in Goathland, punctuated by wandering sheep, and, despite the increase in cars and tourists since EJO’s days, the scene would have been familiar to her – ‘the grey church across the wide road with sheep cropping the turf under its walls’.
There were very few red brick buildings in Goathland so when we found a large red house of the right period, we thought it might have inspired the home of the Dalby family. Near the church we took the path to Mallyan Spout as do the juniors, guided by Miss Peel. This is a famous beauty spot – a waterfall and a pool below.
The railway in this part of the world has changed considerably since the time when EJO knew it and some of it has been closed. However, some stretches have been restored as the North Yorkshire Railway and is a major tourist attraction. One of the main incidents in Rosaly’s New School involves the railway – Ronald misdirects Malvina and her party to Egton Bridge station instead of to the Goathland station. Both are delightful period pieces and having visited them we can understand why the latter was better for anyone arriving at Moorside Manor – arriving at Egton would involve driving up a steep hill, which in the days before modern cars, would be something of a pull. We couldn’t find a site for Moorside Manor but think Thackridge Farm is a possible candidate.
It would be possible to drive by minor roads from Egton Bridge to Castleton but we drove north to join the A171, where we turned to the west and then turned off at the reservoir, Lockwood Beck, on our way to Castleton and Danby. Brenda, one of the central characters in Finding Her Family, lives in ‘Castleford’ while Jenny, Polly, Trillo and Pinky in At School with the Roundheads take a long walk across the moors and visit Castleford. The day was rather misty but on a clear day it is possible to see in the distance the monument to Captain Cook, who was born in this area. The moors ahead of us matched the descriptions of ‘wide open brown wastes, one rounded hill to the left...one white road running straight ahead’ (At School with the Roundheads, p. 105) and ‘wide open country, the unfenced white toad running through the midst of the heather-clad uplands’ (Finding Her Family, p.79). In late August the sweeping moors that so delighted Polly were glorious with deep purple heather. We came down into Castleton, passed the station where Polly and Pinky had ginger beer and turned back, continued to the site of the ‘iron church’ and ‘crossed the bridge to go up the dale’ where we found a farm that could have been Brenda’s home. We then drove to Saltburn via Danby and some of the old mining villages.
This is a seaside resort, very popular in Edwardian days, that appears in Finding Her Family under its real name and in Roundheads as Redburn. We parked near Old Saltburn and the Skelton Beck, rode up to the promenade and the Jewel Streets in the elegant cliff lift and walked along Amber Street, took a picture of the Victorian letterbox in Milton Street, where Audrey posted her letter, and explored the station building which is now just a railway terminus with the rest imaginatively devoted to a variety of shops and an Information Office. At the north end of the promenade is a building that matches the description of the school. We went into the public library where we were able to read P D Moore’s history of Glenhow School, a boys’ school that existed at the time when EJO knew Saltburn and may have inspired her to create her fictional boys’ school, even though she put it at the other end of the promenade in a convalescent home. We spent time on the beach where Brenda, Audrey and Hazel mounted an exhibition, telling the story of St. Hilda’s Abbey at Whitby. We then returned to the car at Old Saltburn down by the sea, which Audrey points out to Hazel, with its white cottages and ‘our only pub’. Looking up, one can see where the ‘Halfpenny Bridge’ would have been – the toll house on one side and the Zetland Hotel on the other are clearly visible.
Whitby and Staithes, both of which are named in Finding her Family, lie to the south of Saltburn and are easily accessible. In Whitby there is a steep climb up from the harbour to St. Hilda’s Abbey, where Audrey goes to meet her elder brother.
Harrogate and Pateley Bridge
Our journey back to Wales took us past Fountains Abbey (another Cistercian foundation) and Studley Royal, both of which are visited by the girls in A School CampFire (p.51) to the area in which A School Camp Fire is set. It seems as if EJO may have visited Pateley Bridge, which could be the ‘quiet gray town in the dale’ (p.2) reached by train from Harrogate, that she mentions. In 1910 there was an Isolation Hospital about one and a half miles from the town, which may have given her the idea for the hospital, where Priscilla’s mother is the housekeeper. One local landmark mentioned consists of ‘two funny rocks we’ve looked at so often standing up on the hill like pillars’ (A School Camp Fire, p.153). This is apparently a reference to ‘Yorke’s Folly’, which can be reached by taking the Otley road out of Pateley Bridge; it had not, in 1997, been developed as a major tourist attraction like Brimham Rocks, which are now owned by the National Trust. EJO was obviously fascinated by them and they are described in the book in great detail, ‘And there’s one place where there are hundreds of them, all together, all with names...Druid’s Altar..The Idol...The Yoke of Oxen...Monkey’s Face, and the Lover’s Leap and the Pivot Rock, and the Dancing Bear...’ (A School Camp Fire, p.41).
This section is based on Island to Abbey (Girls Gone By Publishers, 2006) by Stella Waring and Sheila Ray, on the following article:
‘In the Steps of the Roundheads, Rosaly and Hazel’ by Stella Waring and Sheila Ray, Abbey Chronicle, 25, 1997, pp.46-52.
Our task was made very much easier by the research done by Kate Kirman and Jennifer Hignell articles that had appeared in earlier issues of The Abbey Chronicle, and the information about the Pateley Bridge area has been supplied more recently by Vivien Evans.
For pictures of locations see the Abbey Picture Gallery