The WR Mitchell Archive

8th September 2013


I had the great pleasure of re-visiting the WR Mitchell Archive this week, in its homeland of Settle, North Yorkshire, sharing a selection of the digitised recordings with members of the local community.

The WR Mitchell Archive was collected by Bill Mitchell, formerly editor of the The Dalesman magazine, as he travelled up hill and down dale recording the lives of  ordinary folk on his cassette recorder. When starting his career in journalism in 1948 in Clapham, North Yorkshire, his editor Harry J Scott had told Bill “We  are interested in people not things“.

Whilst “tweed-clad, pipe-smoking” Scott donned his carpet slippers, Bill travelled the North of England interviewing Dales folk in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire. He recorded hundreds of hours of interviews on cassette tape which formed the basis for his written work; over 200 books as well as numerous articles for magazines and local and regional newspapers.

I had the great privilege of working on this incredible oral history collection of over 400 interviews in 2012 at Settle Stories and  tracked down more of Bill’s recordings in Bradford University Special Collections and Leeds University Collections.

There are many well-known Yorkshire personalities such as James Herriot, Hannah Hauxwell, Kit Calvert and Marie Hartley who were interviewed and recorded by Bill.  But it is the  interviews with ordinary Dales folk telling their own stories in their own words that always have the greatest impact. The great humour  and honesty of Dales folk recalling their lives in the early 20th century,  tales of ordinary people scraping a living against the odds in remote communities, really connects with Dales communities today. This week it was a real joy to play some of Bill’s recordings in Settle and witness people of the past reach out to the Dales folk of today; bridging the gap between past and present through the stories in the WR Mitchell Archive.

At present only a small proportion of the archive has been digitised – Settle Stories is working to raise monies to digitise more of the collection so  people can listen to these really unique stories of past lives. You can  listen to segments of the collection  on the WR Mitchell Archive website. Or you could pop along to Settle Stories Storytelling Festival this year and book out Bill Mitchell himself  in The People’s Library to hear some more tales of the Dales.