Mary Houseman a nature explorer

Natasha & Andrea Petty with their 8th prize plaques in the YFC National Final Country Spotter Competition, 1989. Coordinating colours completely accidental! Own photo.

Country spotters was a new competition for the national federation of young farmers. Who would sign up? With Aunty Christine as club leader, I was often volunteered for the non-obvious classes. And who better to join me in the two-person team than my oldest friend, Andrea Petty (see also Swinsty Hall). Somehow, we flew through the county round and were headed for Stoneleigh and the national finals. I remember thinking I should revise (I was a reasonably conscientious teenage) but honestly a competition that could require identification of anything from cows through weather to rock formations doesn’t allow for last minute cramming.

Fortunately, Grandma (Mary Houseman) was a nature explorer. Encouraged in her studies by Norwood School teacher, Miss Heaton, Grandma eventually spotted and recorded 150 species of wildflowers in our local area. (Almost, I should add, as keen eyed may notice the odd duplication in the list). Local really does mean local to within a few miles of her home at Prospect Farm, Lindley. Grandma was not an explorer in the conventional sense as she almost never left the Washburn valley.

Together, aged six and sixty, we walked, explored, picked and pressed local wildflowers. Those of a certain age may remember the heavy thump of a telephone directory through the letterbox or more likely the postman knocking on the door because it wouldn’t fit through. Living on the boundary of several districts the towering pile of directories formed a perfect flower press. Two scrapbooks remain a beautiful reminder of that time.

The knowledge I had gained from those walks, together with Andrea’s own, led us to, if not quite to a victory, at least to an unexpected 8th place in the national finals.

Thirty years on I realise the most valuable thing is not the prize, nor is it my enduring knowledge. Rather, with both climate & biodiversity in crisis, it is the record of a list of wildflowers growing in the Washburn valley in the 1930s and a scrapbook of the same for the 1980s.

Jesse Houseman “With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley”

Article about the recording of “With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley.” Jesse Houseman is standing in the top right. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 11 August 1955. Downloaded from the British Newspaper Archives.

Grandma’s memoirs contain only the briefest of entries about her Dad, Jesse Houseman’s, radio appearance in 1955.

By this time Dad had lived on his own for a year. I used to bake him a pie. Muriel, Jessie also took him something and did his washing. He was on a programme with Wilfred Pickles”.

So brief in fact that I paid it no attention. Until, in a newspaper archives search for “Jesse Houseman” and “cricket” I stumbled across a little gem. Nothing to do with cricket. Instead, it’s a photo of Jesse, talking to Wilfred Pickles prior to the recording of a show about the Washburn Valley.

As an aside, Wilfred Pickles, an actor, radio presenter and proud Yorkshire man, was the very first BBC broadcaster to speak in an accent other than received pronunciation in 1941. Developed as a strategy to prevent Germany from so easily imitating our newscasters, the cheery “Good Neet” with which Wilfred ended his midnight news broadcasts endured him to many northern listeners.

There must have been great excitement in “the most beautiful valley I have ever seen” (Wilfred Pickle’s words) and it is a measure of the esteem in which Jesse was held that he was one of the nine people chosen to participate in “Children’s Hour: With Wilfred in the Washburn Valley” broadcast on BBC Home Service North at 5pm, Saturday, 22 August 1955.

Appearing with Jesse were Richard Grange, Brenda Dibb, Alfred Pope, Alan Bailey, Alf Evans, Mrs Armitage, Will Dolphin & Walter Flesher. It would have been wonderful to hear my great grandfather’s voice but sadly I’ve not yet been able to track down a recording of the programme. One day, perhaps, this briefest of blogs might attract the attention of someone researching a dusty old box of home recorded radio. It would be an amazing resource for the Washburn Heritage Centre too. For now, I’m just delighted to have found a little more context to Grandma’s memoirs.

Radio Times issue 1657, listing programme, from bbc programme index