Monday, 1 February 2010

Dorothy Hartley a remarkable woman

Dorothy Hartley was born in the 1890's and spent most of her long life traveling the country and writing about old craft skills, country ways, old recipes and such like.

There are many books of that type and most are pretty much like modern day local journalism, it is clear the writer stayed long enough to get the basics of a story and was gone inside the hour. Dorothy Hartley was very different and it comes through in her remarkable books.

When writing about coppice workers she would stay in the coppice for a couple of days to get a full picture of the work. She did her own lovely drawings and got a deep understanding of the different crafts. She was paid £8 a week which did not pay for B&Bs so she "never bothered much with camping equipment" and "when I say in the book I cooked over an open fire, it's true I did." She used to sleep in the hedge. "One can make a fire and boil a billy of water within 20 minutes, I could do it on a wet Irish bog if I had to." Twigs and logs were "so much more convenient" than messing about with stoves.

Her descriptions of lobster pots come from deep understanding having been out overnight on the boats and seeing them working, everywhere in the books you can almost feel the textures in her descriptions and there is always a deep reverence for the knowledge and skill of the old countryfolk. I really wonder what they made of her, an educated woman mixing with gypsies, laborers and craftsfolk and sleeping in the woods in the 1930's, remarkable.

Top of my suggested reading list and an absolute classic would be "Made in England" and Tthe Countryman's England" and "The Land of England" are a bit more twee for the general reader. Her "Food in England " is also a classic study of old country recipes which she collected all her long life. Each one is recorded with the story of where she first saw it prepared.
Couple of nice biogs here  and here
And here is a link to buy Made in England second hand. Currently one available for £5 delivered.

Any other fans out there?


  1. Read Food in England but haven't explored anything else. Now I'm totally fired up to explore more of her works. From your description of her, she sounds rather intrepid and heroic. I thought she was all about cooking - but it seems there's much more to her than that. She may be my new inspiration.

  2. Sounds like a fascinating woman, I'll be checking her books out

  3. She was a serious medieval historian too. I also have "Life and Work of the People of England vol 1 AD 1000-1500"

    Journalism of this vintage often looked down upon country folk but Hartley's writings are full of genuine understanding.