Peter's Visit (with Jane Royston) 2009
By Peter Charles-Thorne.
Click images to enlarge
Bridge scene - the picture of Dora riding copper was actually taken on the other side.
Initially, I had began drawing sketches of some of the Follyfoot characters during the beginning of 2009 (having been inspired by the new DVD release of the series- in which I have copied some of the actors from) and learnt that Jane Royston (the very horse manager on the production team) was writing a book about Follyfoot.
As a youngster, I vaguely remembered watching some of the stories and recall a ‘sad girl and a ‘bossy boy’ looking after horses on a farm . In 2009, I think that anyone who is now in their early 50’s onwards (and who would have been a teenager then)is perhaps the right age now to have appreciated the series ethos and it’s underlying meaning - so really (at the time of writing) I am still a ‘youngster’ at 42!
I decided to contact Jane (via BBC Radio Leeds) and asked whether they could kindly get in touch with her (as she had previously been interviewed by them) and explained whether she would be interested in looking at the drawings -with a view of possibly including some of them in her forthcoming book. I eventually had a call back from the Radio station whom said that she was and would get in touch. Jane did and I eventually posted some off to her explaining that I wanted to carry on drawing new ones because I wasn’t happy with the first ones I’d already sent her! She had explained that she couldn’t guarantee the drawings would be included in the book-due to space restrictions and added costs- (and whether the book would even be published) but was pleased either way to have a look at them. I explained that I hoped to eventually turn them into postcards as well.
During this time I also got in touch with Christopher Ussher, of the Harewood Estate, and asked whether I could have a look around the old farm and to also possibly invite Jane Royston (along with her friend Ray Knight). Permission was duly granted and I met both Jane and Ray who is the co author and a long-term Follyfoot fan at the Archway entrance to the Harewood Estate on the 18th June 2009. We were also introduced to Laxmi Bantawa, a retired Gurkha and Operations Manager. Here we were kindly escorted around parts of the Estate in his 4x4 vehicle where we had a quick look through some of the quiet, hidden wooded areas of the Estate. Jane Royston reminisced riding some of her favourite horses there and pointing out where some of the Follyfoot scenes were taken-including the famous bridge where Dora rides across on Copper Prince in the story, ‘The four -legged Hat’ - and I believe other episodes. (see picture). Jane felt little had changed here and it seemed unbelievable that we were probably just over 5 miles away from the centre of busy Leeds.
We eventually left the main estate area and drove briefly along the A61 and then turned left onto the private road which was originally made by Yorkshire Television) that leads directly to the old farm (or ‘ruin’ as Laxmi preferred to call it) and parked up in the area directly behind the back of the buildings that was once the Follyfoot Production crew’s/staff car park and also Jane Royston’s caravan home (whilst the series was being filmed).
Having then thanked Laxmi, we immediately set off through the large ‘gap’ that was once the middle sheds- positioned between ‘Steve’s barn’ and the main top barn (the latter of which as any fan of Folly foot will know was actually used as the staff’s canteen between filming breaks) and entered the top area of the Follyfoot courtyard. At the time of our visit, this was overgrown with waist- height nettles and brambles with no visible signs of any cobbled ground (concrete or otherwise) underneath our feet however being a lover of the outdoors, I readily bashed and flattened a pathway towards the top barn (where I remembered ole’ Ron would usually skive off and have a fag! -I would have joined him but I don’t smoke). Whilst I was doing this, both Jane and Ray looked on, wide -eyed and had stayed put. Jane had been hoping the area may have been cleared of undergrowth to allow us all a good look around. Also Ray had wanted to take some extra pictures to potentially add to their new book.
Of course there isn’t much to see apart from the occasional piece of farm equipment and bits of wood lying around. On our particular visit, young crows and starlings had perched up in the rafters and were constantly cawing. Unfortunately there were no great bales of straw here to keep the place warm and friendly-or even to throw down to both Steve or Dora to catch below either! In fact it all seemed very dark, dusty and dirty - derelict and draughty to me -with cobwebs everywhere! Also it felt unsafe going inside the barns-in case something collapsed. Jane Royston genuinely believes Follyfoot Farm is haunted! The farm is at least 300-or more years old. I must admit on our particular visit (even during the height of the day in the summer) it felt as if we were encroaching upon ‘hallowed -ground’ and entering a ‘ghost-farm’. I wonder what this place is like in the depths of winter- ‘very cold!’- was the reply by Jane. Apparently during filming there (even in the summer) the weather could change very quickly and become very wet and bleak -whilst at the same time, it was usually a ‘sunny and pleasant Leeds’.
Certainly today, Jane feels it is not the Follyfoot Farm that she once remembered and says it’s a very ‘sad place now’.
For my part, despite in recent years having become a newly-converted Follyfoot fan, I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to look around the old farm -especially with Jane Royston on hand -and I definitely felt pangs of nostalgia and imagined all the frantic activity and creativity that occurred here once - albeit in a different time-in which Jane was a part of all those years ago. The ambience felt magical and surreal. I would encourage any Follyfoot fan (whether you live on the other side of the world) to come here and experience the place for yourself.
We were all curious to know what had happened to the two distinct, large blue doors that were once fixed to the top barn (and that they always seemed to appear in each episode of Follyfoot) but now are long gone. Likewise the old stone, water-trough that was positioned next to the middle stable-sheds- which presumably has been removed at some point to allow access for the farmer’s machinery etc (or alternatively, legitimately reinstated in someone’s garden as a feature/ornament). Does anyone really know of it’s whereabouts? On the same theme, Ray had joked to Jane and asked her what had happened to the (famous) ‘Follyfoot Farm’ sign on one of the front gates leading into the farm. At the time, I believe there was a ‘knowing-look’ between the pair! As long as it’s being ‘looked-after’ and in ‘safe hands’ I thought.
As regards the top barn itself, both Jane Royston and I were concerned by the missing door’s lintel which appears to have a large crack forming near it’s centre. It would be a shame if this were to eventually collapse (due possibly to heavy rain or snow etc) because a large part of the barn roof will fall with it -thus wiping out a visible link with the past. I hope the Harewood Estate might be able to look into this and consider fixing a temporary support underneath it. Clearly there is much need of TLC especially to the brickwork and now rapidly deteriorated exterior mortar throughout the rest of the farm buildings.(see pictures).
Ray Knight had asked me what I thought of the farm itself (on this being my first visit)and whether it looked small etc. Firstly, Ray is an ‘old pro’ when it comes to Follyfoot knowledge and has apparently met and interviewed all the stars-except Desmond Llewelyn, whom he interviewed on the phone instead! He has been here before and I admire his audacity and no-boundary approach. As regards the size of the farm itself, to me it did-and didn’t look small-if that makes sense. In fact as I’d pointed out to Ray (and as everyone is aware of) the lower half of the farm is now privately owned and the main, lower barn (in which Steve Hodson’s character ‘Steve’ had slept upstairs in) is now a converted new home, therefore any curious Follyfoot fan is only able to experience a part of it’s ambience-and not the full, emotional picture.
At the time, I told him that I wished we could visit the whole farm from below instead (at the front entrance)-where all the main activity took place in the series-and where Follyfoot, as a memory could be properly, nostalgically explored. But of course this has been altered as well. I believe the top of the Farm is ‘dying’ and I admitted I ‘hated’ the dividing wall that now effectively, separates the ‘past from the present’ and pretended (with the gift of hindsight) that if I had the money, I would have bought the whole site years ago-and had it lovingly- restored-to become a working ,‘classic - soap museum’, for Follyfoot fans to pay and visit (like a smaller version of Flambards in Cornwall)! And for a few quid extra, sleep overnight in Steve’s old upstairs barn room too!
In reality, the present owners (in which I believe Jane knows) have beautifully renovated their side of the boundary. It’s extended, south facing façade of the old farm house cottage (Holin Hall) would now clearly make a future ‘Lady Dora’ proud to work and reside in! In fact Jane Royston hinted to me that anyone who looks around inside the old, top barns and courtyard(please seek permission first from the Harewood Estate) should respect the nearby neighbours privacy and not attempt to take pictures of Steve’s old residence in the series (I may be inadvertently guilty here too).
After I had climbed on top of the last remaining original boundary wall and took a picture of the old donkey shed (now sadly recently missing it‘s roof - see picture) I noticed the healthy looking young oak tree (see picture) that is well established near by (very close to where the original ‘lightning-tree ’ once stood) and we speculated was this somehow a part of it, now resurrected, ‘phoenix’- like to replace the old oak? In fact this tree can be seen in some of the earlier Follyfoot episodes (especially in series one) where there seemed to be more emphasis on the ‘lightning -tree’ itself (of course it is considerably smaller). I suppose this tree must be at least 70 years old now (still an ‘oak-toddler’ but ‘retirement-time’ for humans). As we gradually made our way down away from the back of the farm and towards the lake area, Jane had commented the ground was uneven (for horse riding). We could see both horse and cattle hoof marks made along the edge of the lake. Of course we had not seen any horses as yet. The one thing I noticed about the whole area was that it is naturally a very wind- swept environment.
It was frankly amazing walking along the edge of Holin lake knowing that in times gone by, Gillian Blake and others had played out their roles as memorable characters in a series watched by millions of teens (and adults) up and down the country, in this very spot. I’d even remarked to Jane that I detected a genius in it’s Executive Producer, Tony Essex. She had to agree.
Hidden Lake Hidden Lake
As we approached the other side towards the trees both Jane and Ray wanted to visit the small hidden lake that is set within the copse (where in particular, Steve and Wendy had their picnic in the episode called ‘The Prize’-along with the car for company!). Ray wanted to look around and take further pictures. I followed along through the trees and watched Ray take them. It was a bit overgrown here but I recall the sun was shinning briefly on the lake, with a little hint of rain in the air. Jane had remarked that this area had changed very little since her Follyfoot days. It was certainly very peaceful…
If ever a new modern series was made of Follyfoot then the farm would need to be restored and Dora would reside in the near by stately home!
As we stepped back over the wooden style into the field again Jane further remarked that this grassed area was where Dora and Steve would do some of their horse jumping scenes such as in the episode called ‘The Awakening’. We then made our way leftwards beyond a big beech tree where Ray intended to walk up the steep hill and take more pictures. I understand in the episode called, ‘The Charity Horse’ young gip falls from his horse and rolls down the gravely slope and ' badly injures himself '. It was here on the right-hand side that Ray and I began to have a look around. Where Gip had fallen (or rather his adult stunt double)the area is natuarally overgrown etc and I believe a digger was used to carve out a slope here for the scene to take place. As we both set off, we left Jane by the boundary fence who watched us trudge through the bog! Unfortunately Jane had not brought along her Wellington boots-so I offered to carry her over via a ‘piggy-back’ but Jane (laughingly) politely declined this offer! As we reached the top, I looked down and Jane was glancing away from us and back over the lake towards Follyfoot Farm-and no doubt in deep contemplation.
I believe she is a woman who harbours many unique memories of her Follyfoot days while being on the production team, some good-some bad. She had witnessed people being hired and fired on the set but had lasted throughout the three series- simply because she believes Tony Essex realised he needed her experience and expertise in managing the horses.
Having got his pictures, Ray and I returned to Jane and we all slowly made our way back up the track (with the lake on our left) and again the wind was pretty breezy there.
When we eventually got back to the car we all got inside to keep out of the cold wind and here I showed Jane and Ray my original drawings (and some new ones) -all of these have been drawn on the back of cut - out cereal packets and numbered 1-45. I then waited for their reaction and opinions! They both thought the drawings were excellent and Jane had commented that her favourite picture was (no’41) of Dora (or really Gillian Blake) because she felt I had captured her look and mood ‘off screen’! Ray was impressed by the drawings of Hazel, Veronica Quilligan (no’21) and liked that particular picture especially. In fact (to my surprise) they both thought that I had captured Hazel the best. Initially, I had found it difficult to capture Gillian Blake’s looks but towards the end hopefully I did. Ray had also commented that Gillian would love to see them!
As an added afterthought, when I was drawing the pictures, I often listened to the Cocteau Twins-in particular their album ‘Four Calendar Café and I genuinely feel that these are Dora’s songs especially ‘Evangeline’, whilst I think Hazel’s song is ‘Know who you are at every age’. Had the series continued instead, then many Follyfoot fans reckon Hazel would have eventually taken over Follyfoot from Dora.
Then to Ray’s sudden surprise, I brought out the 1976 Follyfoot annual from my rucksack and politely asked Jane whether she would sign it for me! Jane did and Ray joked that he would be watching ‘E-bay’ more closely from now on! However this is my own ‘treasured souvenir’ to remind me of our visit to Follyfoot Farm! (see picture).
We all got out of the car and had one more quick look around the buildings. As Ray was re-aiming his camera, I rushed back to my rucksack and got the book out again and suggested to Jane whether she could hold the Follyfoot book as well (whilst she was already peering out through one of the windowless frames of the ‘Canteen barn’) and then to give a smile and a wave back ! (see pictures).
Both Ray and I duly took our pictures and after our final thoughts and farewells to the memories of those that once brought this old relic alive during the early seventies, we got back to the car and drove along the same track that originally led us here. Jane had earlier spotted a horse in the distance but alas no horse rider had visited the farm on our visit. Interestingly, just before we reached the main Harrogate Road, we noticed a ‘lightning tree’ to the right of us (see picture)
and coming to a halt-Ray and I once more clicked away! It seemed very appropriate to the three of us, that the last picture to be taken on this particular memorable day, was the famous symbol that Follyfoot fans (the world over) have come to recognise and appreciate - along with it’s words-and The Settler’s song,……… ‘Grow, grow the lightning tree’……………………………..
Many thanks to The Harewood Estate and in particular Laxmi Bantawa.
Peter Charles-Thorne (14th October 2009).