Historian’s rich legacy

Major Jim Houdsworth (centre) with war veterans Oliver Shillitoe (left) and Jim Baker DSM at Blackpool Cenotaph. The group are going to London on Monday to find out if the resort has won its Veterans Week 2008 bid. PIC BY ROB LOCK

Major Jim Houdsworth (centre) with war veterans Oliver Shillitoe (left) and Jim Baker DSM at Blackpool Cenotaph. The group are going to London on Monday to find out if the resort has won its Veterans Week 2008 bid. PIC BY ROB LOCK

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TRIBUTES have been paid to one of Spen’s most respected writers and historians who has died at the age of 93.

Poet, novelist, historian, journalist and editor Mabel Ferrett, of Vernon Road, Heckmondwike, took on many roles in her long life.

She will be most remembered locally as founder president - and later life president - of the Spen Valley Historical Society, and for her books on the Brontë family.

She was also a member of the Pennine Poets, hosting their workshops at her home for 30 years, and founded the Fighting Cock Press publishing house.

Born Mabel Frankland in Ossett, she trained at the College of Ripon and taught in Leeds during the war. She moved to Heckmondwike after marrying Harold Ferrett, a solicitor. They had one son, John.

By the 1960s Mabel was an established poet, her first collection appearing in 1956. Her historical novel The Angry Men was serialised on BBC Radio in 1967 and 1968. It portrays the struggle of desperate weavers, against the building of industrial mills along the Spen Valley.

When the Spen Valley Historical Society was formed in 1972, Mabel and Harold were on the committee. The name ‘Spen Valley’ was chosen to include Oakenshaw, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike along the valley bottom, and Gomersal and Hartshead on the uplands. At the first AGM, Mabel was voted president.

Mabel’s articles appeared in the Society’s journals, local press and magazines. In 1976 she won an award from the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, one of many prizes during her career.

After Harold’s death, she earned her living as a journalist, and was a regular contributor to the Yorkshire Ridings Magazine, and The Yorkshire Journal.

Mabel also worked at Red House Museum and Oakwell Hall, and traced the Brontë family’s connections with the Spen Valley. Her books Shirley Country, The Brontës in the Spen Valley and The Taylors at the Red House were successful, as were her booklets on Hartshead Church.

Her love of the area is also seen in her poetry. Between 1971 and 1996 five more collections were published, including a prestigious selection by the University of Salzburg, Scathed Earth.

She continued writing and editing well into her eighties. Her last poetry collection, Imaginary Gates, and an autobiography After Passchendaele were published in 2001 and 2003. To celebrate the Pennine Poets Anniversary in 2006, she wrote a fascinating account of the group and its many connections, Forty Years of Pennine Poets: Spirit and Emotion.

Pauline Kirk, who became Mabel’s partner in the Fighting Cock Press, knew her for more than 30 years.

She said: “I owe her a great deal myself, for she encouraged my own writing career. Glancing at her books again, I am reminded how much she achieved. We will miss her.”

Dr Gordon Terry, a member of the Spen Valley Historical Society, said: “She was a most competent person in all the things that she did. She was a great enthusiast for local history which is evident by all she achieved.”

Her funeral service took place on Monday at Hartshead Parish Church.