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Discovering the secrets of a Dewsbury lady's diary
Pages from the diary
Pages from the Dewsbury diary reveal much about the writer's life

Reading someone else's diary is rarely a good idea, but for Stuart Hartley in Dewsbury it was the start of a fascinating journey back in time.

Only after buying an old red diary did Stuart start to discover its secrets.

Thanks to him, we can now get an insight into the life of a well-to-do woman in early 20th century Dewsbury.

Stuart admits the diary became an obsession: "It really did take over. I was doing this when perhaps I should have been doing other things!"

Stuart Hartley and the Dewsbury diary
Stuart Hartley has spent many hours researching the mystery diary

The small diary originally came to light on a well-known internet auction site and for historian Stuart it was an opportunity too good to miss.

As a member of heritage group Dewsbury Matters, Stuart says his eyes lit up when he saw it advertised: "It was the diary of a Dewsbury lady. There were a few pages scanned in and they looked interesting - really small writing but a lot of it."

One bid later and he was the diary's proud owner. Once delivered into his eager hands he was immediately intrigued by its contents.

He explains: "It's a diary for 1911 and when I opened it every day is full, every single day. It's very neat handwriting and very, very full. It was quite difficult to read."

As soon as Stuart delved further into the diary, the life of this Dewsbury woman began to come into focus: "There are lots of names, a lot of references. In the back there are building society account numbers.

"There are people's addresses and details of people she'd written to. She was a prolific letter-writer and in 1911 she wrote 160 letters - that's virtually one every day. And she always put when people had replied."

Joseph Newsome
The diarist's father was Joseph Newsome, seen here with his family

But just who was this busy diarist and letter-writer who lived in Dewsbury 100 years ago? Stuart, with help from friends Alan and Jackie Thomas, set about finding an answer.

As Stuart says, it was a big task: "I took a lot of time. I was doing work on some part of it every day. I'm sure there are lots of things we missed even though we've read it."

Exactly which Dewsbury lady wrote the diary is still proving elusive but Stuart is now in a position to reveal a few things about her.

She was, he believes, one of the daughters of Joseph Bailey Newsome, a rich West Riding mill owner, and she spent a lot of time at Wellfield House, the Newsome family home at Batley Carr.

Whichever daughter it was, Stuart says her family's privileged lifestyle shines out from every page of the diary.

He explains: "They had a car. They also used to go visiting all over in what was called a 'dog carriage'. I'd never come across this before, but I found out that it's quite an elaborate carriage pulled by a horse. They went all over in that.

"They had huge greenhouses, grew hock grapes and made their own wine. They used to drink this every night - there's a reference to the fact that they bottled 140 bottles of hock in one day!

"There were laid-out lawns, two tennis courts, orchards, asparagus beds and a little lodge. They played bridge every night and they had afternoon tea on the lawn.

"The lifestyle was certainly that of a very wealthy family."

They played bridge every night and they had afternoon tea on the lawn. The lifestyle was certainly that of a very wealthy family
Stuart Hartley on life at Wellfield.

Clearly the Newsome daughters lived very different lives to the ones lived by the workers at their father's mill which was located very close to Wellfield House.

The diary also reveals that the writer enjoyed a bit of what we might call retail therapy.

Stuart says: "They went shopping almost every day. When you go into Batley Carr now it's local authority housing but at that time it was all shops down there - every type of shop you could ever have wanted. They had a cook and a servant but the mother and the daughter obviously enjoyed shopping."

And it wasn't just in the West Riding that the family did their shopping. Stuart says the diary reveals that shopping for the finest clothes meant a journey further afield - after all it was a case of nothing but the best.

He says: "She refers to the fact that they bought all their clothes from [high class department store] Marshall and Snelgrove's in Scarborough. They went over there specifically on Coronation Day in 1911 just to go to that shop, see the decorations and buy clothes."

Nearly 100 years on from when this diary of a Dewsbury lady was first written, it is little details like this that make it come alive and give 21st century readers an insight into what life was like as the daughter of a wealthy West Riding mill owner.

The diary
Stuart originally discovered the Dewsbury diary via the internet

It's thanks to the efforts of Stuart Hartley - together with friends Alan and Jackie - that we can now enjoy this unique view of life in a bygone era.

Now that the little red diary has given up many of its secrets, Stuart has moved on to investigate another online purchase - this time the diary of an early-20th century Dewsbury druggist - what we might call a chemist.

Contained within it are recipes for hair restorer, cough mixture, curry powder and even haemorrhoid preparations. Stuart would surely agree that turning the pages of history always makes for a fascinating and sometimes surprising read!

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