Winifred Holtby’s Yorkshire Roots – A Family Connection

The Prior Rick Hudson thanked members and guests for attending despite a day of heavy rain.  He introduced the speaker Robin Horspool.  Robin is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, an artist, writer, teacher, and lecturer on art and heritage.  Robin’s topic was “Winifred Holtby’s Yorkshire Roots – a Family Connection”.

Robin explained that his grandfather Robert Horspool and his father Maurice Horspool were both members of the Augustinian Society.  Robert indeed was a founder member. More to the point, they both knew Winifred Holtby and her family and friends, and the family has retained correspondence received from Winifred.

Robin gave a review of Winifred Holtby’s life and achievements. She was brought up in a grand farm house in Rudston which still exists. Her bedroom was at the back corner facing west. Winifred developed a close friendship with Vera Brittain. They had both served as nurses in World War One, Winifred in the WAAC’s (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps).  It was this experience that drew them together and fuelled their anti-war and social reforming zeal. Winifred continued to live with Vera and her husband after Vera married.

 Robin reviewed Winifred’s works. During her life she was best known as a journalist, but it is through her novels that her fame lives on.  Winifred died tragically young at the age of 37 in 1935 and is buried at Rudston. After Winifred’s death, Vera visited Bridlington, staying at the Alexandra Hotel, whilst researching for her book “Testament of Friendship”, about her friendship with Winifred.

It is through Winifred’s work and the recollections of the Horspool family that we can feel her love of East Yorkshire.  She said, “My heart is in Yorkshire”.  She also said that her whole life was bound up with the East Yorkshire landscape – rolling fields and black mills. Robin’s grandfather Robert first met Winifred when she was just two years old. Her golden hair and blue eyes were striking. Robert knew her parents well through their involvement with Bridlington Grammar School were Robert taught. Robert gave Winifred personnel tuition in art and edited a book of poems she wrote as a schoolgirl. Robin pointed out Winifred and Vera on his parents wedding photograph. One of Winifred’s last engagements was to speak at the Bridlington Grammar School at the request of Robert.

Robin showed us copies of correspondence received from Winifred. He also shared his father and grandfather’s recollections about Winifred and her friend Vera Brittain. His father said that Sarah Burton in “South Riding” was the Winifred created character that was most like her. The correspondence, and Winifred’s own WAAC badge which she gave them, are now treasured by the Horspool family.

The vote of thanks was given by Judy Wilson.  She thanked Robin for bringing Winifred Holtby to life so successfully that Judy felt as if Winifred was now a friend of hers, a feeling echoed by the audience.