Book Review – Windyridge: A Classic Yorkshire Novel

Windyridge: A Classic Yorkshire Novel by Willie Riley; with a new introduction by David M. Copeland. Northern Heritage Publications, 2010. 62 + 245 pp. ISBN 978-1-906600-18-1 pbk; 978-1-906600-34-1 hdbk.

Available at Bradford Libraries

windyridge

Windyridge was a sensation when first published in 1912. Written as a story told to two motherless girls he and his wife had befriended, they badgered him to send the script to a publisher. This he did, and struck lucky, very lucky. Featuring a cast of Yorkshire characters as well as locations based on real West Yorkshire moors and villages, Windyridge sold some half a million copies, remaining in print until 1961, with Riley becoming a household name.

This iconic novel has now been reprinted in an elegantly produced edition with a new introduction by Riley scholar, David Copeland, giving an account of the author’s life. Riley’s text has been reproduced in its entirety, including the photographs of the Yorkshire landscape that appeared in the original book.

When the book was published in 1912, Riley had been Managing Director for fourteen years of the Bradford-based firm of Riley Brothers Ltd., an innovative company hiring and selling optical lantern slides and the associated equipment, including an international mail order business.  This activity was but part of the family business activities, all of which had been established by Willie’s father, Joseph, who had gone into business on his own account as a stuff merchant.  Riley junior was also a major figure in northern Methodism, being an active and sought-after local preacher, as well as a popular speaker on a variety of subjects.  He had never intended to become an author, and although not writing his first, Windyridge, until he was 46, by the end of his life in 1961 he had written a total of 39 books, selling a total of over a million copies.

The storyline is simple and straightforward: Grace Holden, a single lady of thirty-four, left London where she worked, and rented a cottage in ‘Windyridge’ (based on Hawksworth) to experience the country life and ways of a small Yorkshire community. Grace gets to know the district, including the nearby communities of Marsland (Baildon), Fawkshill (Guiseley), Romanton (Ilkley), the cities of Airelee (Leeds) and Broadbeck (Bradford), and the famous Uncle Ned’s inn (Dick Hudson’s).  The tone of the novel is homely and positive, with a strong Christian ethos.  Windyridge was followed at almost yearly intervals by books in similar vein.

Copeland’s extensive 62-page introduction is based on his Master’s thesis for Bradford University. It covers the genesis of the story; the importance of location and Riley’s pen-portraits; an extensive account of the reviews and the reception of the novel; the innovative marketing of Windyridge by publisher Herbert Jenkins (whose first book it was); the consequences for the village of Hawksworth; Riley’s early history and his career change on joining the literary world; his family life and his later years.  I would have welcomed a list of Riley’s other books and something about them, perhaps at the expense of the numerous reviews of Windyridge, but we welcome back into the public domain this popular author, and hope for more Riley reprints.

Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.

 

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