Ella Pontefract

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Ella Pontefract
Born 1896
Died 23 February 1945(1945-02-23) (aged 48–49)
Nationality British
Occupation Author
Known for Books on the Yorkshire Dales

Ella Pontefract (1896–1945) was the author of six books on the social history of the Yorkshire Dales related to disappearing rural traditions. Though thin and slightly built she was spirited and lively minded. Her character was charming and modest.

"She loved people and was the best listener I have ever met" Joan Ingilby.[1]:10

The recording of reminiscences, oral history, is a very noticeable feature of the work of Ella Pontefract. Women were among the first to interrogate local inhabitants for history based on personal reminiscences.[2] Ella and her partner Marie Hartley developed a rigorous transcription method for recording Yorkshire dialect, and vocabulary including the subtle distinctions between adjacent valleys. They showed great enthusiasm for and interest in the skills, crafts and ways the Dales made its living.[3]

She had "great strength of mind and independence of thought. In the villages she was deeply loved for her infinite kindness and abiding affection for the stone villages." David Brooks, The Yorkshire Post 1945.

Early days[edit]

Ella recorded the oral history of places like Dibbles Bridge in Wharfedale.

Ella Pontefract was born in the textile valleys of Yorkshire into prosperous families[1]:9 of Huddersfield and Penistone district. Her father's people had been manufacturers and yeomen farmers, her mother's grandfather the founder of Haig textile machinery manufacturers.[1]:5 The family upheld liberal politics and the high standards of conduct of the nonconformist Chapel. Ella attended Wheelwright Grammar School in Dewsbury, then Highfield Private School in Harrogate.[1]:6 In 1912 the parents moved the family moved up to Lindley Moor between Huddersfield and Halifax, but the postwar slump of 1925 necessitated they move again, and they chose Wetherby. Also at that time Ella had her first breakdown due to high blood pressure and spent a year or two in forced inactivity. Her neighbour's daughter Marie Hartley, although nine years younger,[1]:9 became her inseparable lifelong friend. In 1927 they started walking tours, with friends, of the Yorkshire Dales. Ella kept journals whist Marie painted and drew landscapes.[1]:16


Ella wanted to write stories and articles professionally, so when in 1931 Marie won a place to study art at the Slade School in London,[3] Ella went too. She attended classes at University College in many subjects and took private tuition in journalism.[1]:18 On their return to Yorkshire they settled back with their respective parents but resolved to set up a partnership to produce books on the Dales and Yorkshire.


In 1932 their success started with "The Charm of Yorkshire Churches" illustrated articles published in the Yorkshire Weekly Post of Leeds 1932–1936. They travelled to every church and produced a feature a week for three-and-a-half years. These were later republished c.1937 as a 199-page hardback book of the same name by the Yorkshire Weekly Post. Also in 1932 was published Ella's first article in The Countryman. In 1933 they were referred to a professional in the business, Ernest E. Taylor, who advised them and presented their first book to J. M. Dent, who agreed to publish.[1]:46 This was followed by five more books on the life and customs of the Yorkshire Dales. Hartley's curiosity also took them on several tours of the rest of Yorkshire where they got on just as well with steelworkers, deep-sea fishermen and textile weavers.[3] In 1934 they bought a car and caravan trailer to camp onsite for their studies for succeeding books. In 1939, when the Yorkshire Dalesman was founded by Harry Scott they contributed to its early numbers and helped to establish it securely.[4]

Book List[edit]

Books by Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley
Title Illustration Binding Pages Date Publisher ISBN
Swaledale woodcuts, photos Hardcover 174 1934 J. M. Dent & Sons
" " Paperback 233 1988 Smith Settle Publishing 978-1-870071-19-2
Wensleydale woodcuts, photos Hardcover 244 1936 J. M. Dent & Sons
" " Hardcover 75 1988 Littlehampton Book Servs 978-0-460-03617-7
" " Paperback 229 1989 Smith Settle Publishing 978-1-870071-20-8
The Charm of Yorkshire Churches pen and ink Hardcover 199 1937 Yorkshire Weekly Post
Wharfedale woodcuts, photos Hardcover 229 1938 J. M. Dent & Sons
" " Paperback 229 1988 Smith Settle Publishing 978-1-870071-20-8
" " Paperback 229 1992 Dalesman Publishing 978-1-870071-21-5
Yorkshire Tour pen ink, photos Hardcover 336 1939 J. M. Dent & Sons 978-0-460-03616-0
" " Paperback 336 2002 Dalesman Publishing 978-1-85825-182-0
Yorkshire Cottage pen and ink Hardcover 158 1947 J. M. Dent & Sons
" " Hardcover 176 1978 Littlehampton Book Servs 978-0-460-04340-3
" " Paperback 176 1984 Dalesman Publishing 978-0-85206-801-4


Ella wrote of Alice, a 'wild' 4-year-old child living here at Crackpot Hall overlooking Swaledale.

When war broke out they still lived with their parents and served at the Amblance Depot in Wetherby. But in 1941, when a sister took over nursing their mother, Ella and Marie moved into the 17th-century cottage they had been having restored up in Wensleydale at Askrigg. When they travelled collecting stories they also recorded in detail every item they collected on their visits to markets, auctions and house sales, describing the exact context of their use. These items of personal, domestic and working life in the Dales were used by Marie for her woodcuts and drawings. When others heard of this they donated many more.[5] Their efforts to preserve the county's rural heritage and artefacts peaked in 1941 when they heard about Mr Horne's museum being put up for auction. This museum in Leyburn had been in existence for over a hundred years.[3] On 5 November with great foresight they bought thirteen lots from the sale, the core of the collection, to prevent them from going out of the region.[6] Their collection is now included in the Dales Countryside museum at Hawes, Wensleydale.[5]

Final days[edit]

"Ella Pontefract struggled long with ill health. Though in those later years very frail she was no trembler." David Brooks, The Yorkshire Post, 1945.

But her high blood pressure overtook her and after a year of illness she died 23 February 1945. After some time Marie Hartley wrote "Yorkshire Heritage"[1] a devoted memoir including many of Ella's later diary notes. It was published in 1950. Ella's artwork has been highly acclaimed and exhibited.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hartley, Marie (1950). Yorkshire Heritage, a memoir to Ella Pontefract (1st ed.). London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. 
  2. ^ "Oral history – An Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall", Marriage and Family Encyclopedia, JRank, archived from the original on 28 September 2011, retrieved 13 September 2011 
  3. ^ a b c d Wainwright, Martin (17 May 2006). "Obituary: Marie Hartley | Books | The Guardian". The Guardian. London: GMG. ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Retrieved 23 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Chronological List of Books, The Dales Org, archived from the original on 6 January 2009, retrieved 13 September 2011 
  5. ^ a b History of the Dales County Museum, The Dales Org, archived from the original on 24 March 2009, retrieved 13 September 2011 
  6. ^ Obituary of Marie Hartley, London: The Telegraph, 26 May 2006, retrieved 13 September 2011 
  7. ^ All about Marie Hartley, The Dales Org, retrieved 22 December 2016