Dorothy Hartley brings me to tears

So far there my TV life there have been three people, when I’ve interviewed them on camera, who have managed to bring a little tear to my eye.

The first was a lady who escaped Nazi Germany on one of the Kindertransport trains as a girl, describing being reunited with her parents at the end of the war.

The second I met at The National Trust’s ‘Back to Back’ houses in Birmingham. This lady had grown up in a cramped, crowded house just like the ones the National Trust have, and knocked me for six when she told me that the first time she’d ever slept on her own in a bed was at the age of sixty, after the death of her husband.

And the third I met on Saturday, in the Welsh village of Fron. Malcolm Wiles was the man who’d driven and run errands for and generally helped the writer and food historian Dorothy Hartley (‘Miss Hartley’ as he always calls her) in the last years of her life there.

I’ve spent the last year, on and off, making a BBC4 programme about Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985), her magnificent book ‘Food in England’, published in 1954, and her rather odd, nomadic, creative life which took her up and down England recording lost customs, weird foods, and ancient housekeeping habits.  In the picture up there I’m actually holding her own handbag, outside her house at Fron.

These will be the final words of the film, which we completed on Sunday by her grave in Fron churchyard. I hope they sum up the respect I feel for both him, and her:

‘Dorothy died in 1985, and it was Malcolm who brought her body up from the house to the churchyard. I was really struck how much Malcolm and her other friends still seem to miss her.

They regret the fact that she left no children, but instead she did leave us this amazing book.

As I’ve followed Dorothy up and down the country from Yorkshire, to Leicestershire, to Suffolk, to Wales, I’ve come to appreciate how magnificently eccentric she was.

She devoted her whole life to this mad quest of capturing a lost world. And thank goodness she did, the world needs crazy, passionate people like Dorothy.

There’s just one final piece to add to the picture: a home movie, showing her doing what she loved to do: working in the garden, and digging up potatoes for dinner.’

And the movie of Dorothy in the garden will play over the closing credits.


4 thoughts on “Dorothy Hartley brings me to tears

  1. Rob Keirle

    Hi Lucy, I just spent a very enjoyable hour watching (how royal illness changed history),down here in australia we are a little starved of old history. Iooking at your website you make refrence to the lady that escaped nazi germany , could you tell me where to find this story.kind regards. Rob

  2. Lucy Post author

    Rob, thanks for your kind words! Have a little Google of ‘kindertransport’ for the harrowing stories of Jewish children escaping from the Nazis – there are many books and films to be found on this topic.

  3. Stephen Shearon

    You have become a favorite in our household (although we’re reduced to watching your documentaries via a website the name of which I shall not mention). We’re fans. And we especially enjoyed the piece on Dorothy Hartley.

  4. Nomi Schawe Lane

    I watch your Documentary on the incredible Dorothy Hartley at least once a month and like clockwork I am brought to tears. It is the combination of her amazing life and how closely her life mirrored my Great Grandmothers and Grandmothers lives .I have lost them both and my Mother over the past 3 years ,they were my life and ingrained in me my passion for the past in every aspect I’m very particular with accurate food, interiors and clothing I drive my Husband to wide eyed silence …”from cellar to dome and everything in the home …Its who you are as is what you eat” I will never forget my Grandmother saying that and I will never forget your passionate words on The Dorothy Hartley Thank you so so much you are Brilliant

    Alegra Naomi Schawe-Lane

    P.S. I am trying to find the perfect crockery to cook my own bargemen’s one pot and If you have any ideas or a second in your busy schedule to convey I would be he happiest Lady in the world …..


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