Horses and Hard work

Excellent talk yesterday from David Alred about Nidderdale.
Obviously it helps that so many members are familiar with our local jewel of a valley. Well, this was a comprehensively researched set of photos from the local inhabitants of old photos that they had in the family. (black and white, or sepia, of course!)

It was so impressive that David talked in depth about the villages where the photos were taken, but also about the individuals and the scene. It was really personalised work – a fantastic project.

I was struck by the differences between their rural life in the 1880s to 1950 period concerned and our own lives today.

So many people were involved in manual work – really manual work, digging, scything, shearing, mining, quarry work. The photos of work in the 1990s on constructing Gouthwaite reservoir showed the hundreds of navvies hard at work with hand shovels, and even in the 1920s construction of Scar reservoir mechanical support from cranes and trains looked a bit of a Health and Safety nightmare!

Horses were everywhere, often with carts or wagons behind! Those lovely Shire horses that we nowadays see (before Covid) only at The Yorkshire Show were busy pulling massive loads of loose hay (no hay bales then) or massive pipes to conduct the water from the reservoirs being built. Not the few smart, elegant racehorses or leisure horses we see today in the valley

I never knew that Pateley Bridge had two railway stations then, linking so many tiny railway stations on the way to Harrogate (7 services each way every day!) and up the valley to the reservoirs.

With the arrival of the railways and of early cars (solid wheels – no power steering either!) villagers were able to get out a bit more, and you sense that this started the loss of this small community life, with its fairs and feasts and close local relationships.

The faces of the valley folk were expressive. Many weatherworn, craggy faces, full of experience and resolve.

I wonder how I would have coped if I had lived in those times? Not very well, I suspect. We’re all so relatively pampered now – office work, living in warm houses, machines to do all the work (though we do have to know how to get them to do what we want them to). Perhaps the next change will be all the machines doing the work, with us kept on as ‘machine minders’, with no real role other than to collect our digital paycheck. Would that be so bad?

A wonderful look back – not so far, really – to a simpler, harder life, but with many benefits that we only recognise when we lose them!