Projects and Activities
Members of the Society are involved in a range of Projects and Activities; listed on this page are the aims and objectives, and current status of some of these initiatives.
Members who would like to be involved in any of these - or who would
like to propose others - are invited to use the Contact
The Helmsley Archive - click here!
The original John Collier collection of approximately 3250 images, of which about 1350 had been scanned and digitised, has been expanded by a further 1450 images donated by Helmsley residents and consequently, in recognition of the large number of different contributors, the collection is now referred to as The Helmsley Archive.
Meetings are held occasionally when local residents bring their photographs for scanning and provide invaluable information about the images in the collection, such as names, dates, locations, events and other interesting anecdotal detail. All this information is then recorded and linked to the relevant images. The collection is growing rapidly as word spreads and more and more people want to contribute and be involved. As part of the project, oral histories have also been recorded by the late Mike Titchmarsh, a retired GP, who had interviewed some of his former patients about their recollections of life in Helmsley during the 20th century. This information is also being linked to the images in the collection.
Prints of images from the Archive have been used for several displays during the last year:
The Helmsley Archive Project continues to expand as new images and information are added, and this work is contributing significantly to our knowledge of the history of Helmsley during the last century. None of this would have been possible without the continued support and commitment of Helmsley Town Council and the North York Moors National Park Authority, and the enthusiasm of all the Helmsley residents involved.
If you have any interesting
photographs of Helmsley that you are willing to share with us - or if
you might be able to supply information about any ones we already have
- please Contact
28th January 2008 - one of the few sunny, windless days of January - enabled Alastair Oswald and Andrew Burn of English Heritage to carry out an archaeological and topographical survey of the Boltby Scar bronze/iron age hillfort, with the help (or hindrance) of two local volunteers and one from the Society.
Amongst the finds, whilst carrying out the geophysics,
was pottery ranging from Roman to Mediaeval (and, of course, modern).
Richard Myerscough also found some Hildenley limestone and some West
Riding Flag, which indicates a high status building.
The Aqueduct carrying the Nawton Course over Bonfield Gill - damaged by the floods of 2005
It may seem strange to be enthusiastic about studying watercourses flowing from the North Yorkshire Moors! After all, there are streams everywhere. Aren't there? However, once anyone has read Isabel McLean's book "Water from the Moors" (published by the North York Moors National Parks Authority in 2005 and available from Helmsley bookshops), they will understand that this project is helping to compile a record of an astonishing engineering feat, altering the lives of many people for the better and supervised by a man whose private life was very irregular, especially as he was a Quaker. Joseph Foord and "his men" made the races which carried water from the higher Moors in the North, where the gritstone rocks keep rainwater on the surface in streams, to the Tabular Hills, where the underlying limestone allows the water to percolate through, so that the surface dries quickly. Until they did this, the only way to alleviate drought in summer was to carry water up hundreds of feet, by foot and by horse-drawn cart. Frequently, cattle died and crops wilted. Yields were low and life was very hard.
Isabel McLean's book not only describes the route of each course and investigates the ways in which they were constructed lined only with a little sand. With this, Foord could say "if it Continue Running one week after it is brought it will Certainly hold to it as the Water Natureally makes its self a Bed to Run on". Some are running still, two hundred and fifty years later and most were stopped deliberately, when council water arrived in the twentieth century. The longest was twelve and three quarter miles long, carrying water from Tripsdale to farms near Helmsley. They crossed steep slopes, bogs, rock, ravines, cols, spoil heaps, streams and farmland using embankments, bridges, stone troughs and a lot of hard work, collecting water from springs and streams along the way, supplying villages and farms, animals and humans. The surveying tools were simple, yet the accuracy was amazing, with very shallow descents over miles of moorland. The courses needed constant maintenance and the book tells of the men who cleared and repaired them as well as recording the words of people who still remember them in use.
The Project aims to add to Isabel McLean's work by recording the exact
routes of the courses and their condition. There are long stretches
still surviving but they are under constant threat - not from the local
people who know about them and usually take care not to damage them
- but from landslips, from floods, from animals and from the occasional
human carelessness. There are still some mysteries concerning the watercourses:
No one knows how Foord surveyed them (although the Ryedale Folk Museum
has one of his instruments, a self-adapted level). Did he start from
the end or the source? Were they all unlined? The exact routes are not
certain and in places they appear to climb!
We have several volunteers so far who have realised that this involves gentle walks over the moors, in fine, mainly winter weather, taking notes, sketches and photographs. We will get to know the owners and tenants of the land over which the races pass, many of whom already understand the value of these extraordinary man-made rills, which enabled their forefathers to make a better living from their farms.
The Project is in combination with the CANDO (Cultural
and Natural Development Opportunity) team at the NYMNPA, and
members of the Society will benefit from the training they can provide,
as well as learning about the latest recording techniques and digital
Ed's report, presented at the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Society
can be seen here.