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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skeldale House is not the Tardis

We arrive at Skeldale House

It comes as a shock, to arrive in this rural English town, walk past the small shops along these seemingly ordinary streets, and suddenly find oneself before the real Skeldale House.  Now known as The World of James Herriot, this is the building that Sigfried Farnon purchased from an aging veterinarian; this the place James Herriot traveled to at Sigfried’s invitation.  For many years, it served not only as the men’s workplace, but also their home.  The community has lovingly preserved this brick building, and turned it into a museum dedicated to his life and work.  I have watched “All Creatures Great and Small,” the BBC TV show based upon his life.  I have read the exploits described in his books.  My appreciation of the man, his work, and the area of Yorkshire he fell in love with drew me to his real-life town of Thirsk.  Now I am finally here!

The plaque reads:
James Alfred Wight 1916-1995.
Veterinary Surgeon & Author of the James Herriot books
lived & worked here.
His stories & characters were portrayed in Film & Television as
All Creatures Great & Small.

In the TV show, “All Creatures Great and Small,” Skeldale House seems infinitely large.  Like the Tardis in “Doctor Who,” it seems full of an impossible number of rooms.  As Sigfried is a bachelor when James starts working for him, he keeps many of these rooms locked up.  When James and Helen marry, and she comes to live with them in Skeldale, Sigfried gradually opens up some of these previously unused rooms.  Yet in his books, Herriot also mentions that whenever Sigfried had someone coming to spend the night, rather than have their housekeeper Mrs. Hall clean out and prepare one of the rooms, Sigfried would leave his younger brother Tristan a note: “Cancel your plans, pack up, and go spend the night with Mother.” 

In the TV show, James, Sigfried and Tristan may all be
working in the same room.  This one...really?

The books and the TV show don’t lie: this is a big house.  It stands three stories tall.  Yet one thing that struck me was how small some of the rooms were, particularly the rooms in which the men worked.  Many of these rooms have a fireplace in them to keep them warm during the Winter.  Back in Holmfirth, one of our walks (not Ashley Jackson’s walk, but an exploration of our own) took us past a modern building site.  Along the side of that gently sloping hill, with a gorgeous view of the valley below, several houses were being built.  Unlike in Southern California, the exterior walls of these future homes consisted of two separate walls of masonry, with a thick space between for insulation.  I have little knowledge of house-building techniques in Britain, and how they have changed throughout time.  I’m not even sure how old Skeldale House is.  I wonder whether the house was built with one layer of bricks or two, and if they used anything for insulation back then.

As you can see, the men didn't invest in the small-animal
side of their practice like Granville Bennett did.

In the TV show, all the rooms seem huge, so capable of being used for a myriad of possibilities.  James and Helen’s new room, the little apartment on the third floor that Sigfried gives them after they marry, seems as large as my house.  Yet this is an area of Yorkshire where temperatures regularly fall below zero in the Winter.  So, in an era without modern room heaters, let alone central heating, it makes sense that each of the rooms would be small, and those that were not needed would be kept locked up and unused.  Still, I cannot imagine one man seeing a client and his animal in the first floor rooms devoted to their business.  They seem so tiny! 

There’s not even room to swing a cat!  Assuming, that is (for some obscure medical reason) they needed to do so. 

Thanks for following along,
Dragon Dave

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