The Diaries of
Joseph Norman Frankland

Elizabeth Shorrock

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

In the early nineteen hundreds Joseph Norman Frankland was a boy living with his family at Middlesber, Austwick, a farm on top of a small hill between Austwick and Lawkland Mosses. He developed a keen interest in natural history especially botany. With growing knowledge gained from observation, books which he acquired and writing to various experts he soon became a skilful field naturalist.

On leaving school he went as an apprentice wood worker to Ingleton, this was to be his career for the rest of his working life. When he was working for a living, he moved with his family to Chapel House, Horton in Craven.

Any spare time from work in winter was spent reading botany books, corresponding with people of similar interests, and mounting his growing collection of pressed wild flowers. At that time this was considered normal practice, to collect one specimen of each different flower. Now however, with the increasing decline of our native flora, it is no longer practised and in some cases it is illegal to pick wild flowers.

In summer he walked or biked long distances, trying to discover some exciting new find, or confirming an old record. He would also check sites already discovered. Sometimes on his own or with a friend, maybe joining a group of people exploring the countryside, rubbish tips, old canals, deserted churchyards: any waste ground was investigated and often produced unusual and rare flowers.

One day in summer he decided to explore the Ainsdale Dunes at Southport. I now quote from an account by Fred Holder of his first encounter with J Norman Frankland:

" 'Reg, there is a fellow coming along with a bag on his back!'

This remark was uttered by the writer on viewing a hatless youth plodding across a duneslack at Freshfield in the summer of 1926. We were, at that period, holding the status of Hon. Watchers for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which implies that we were thanked for our "invaluable services" and then promptly forgotten by headquarters.

The intruder was accosted and put through the third degree, while two pairs of eyes focused on the haversack, it had a potential bulge which seemed to shriek "eggs". Much to our surprise the latter were not forthcoming the stranger disgorged several botany books and some hard tack. We soon realised that in this wandering tyke we found a man after our own hearts. We made him welcome and softened his hard tack with a drink in our tent.

Together we have since basked in the genial sunlight of the dunes of S. Lanes and the Wirral We have been soaked to the skin on the Sands of Dee. Ribblehead and Austwick Moss have given to us joyous hours, but to me my recent stay in the Craven Area must rank as pre-eminent for its sustained period of unalloyed pleasure among the real things of life."

This chance meeting was the start of a friendship that was to last for the rest of our lives. They spent holidays together, visiting each other's homes and they kept in touch with a regular correspondence. Both made notes of visits to various sites all connected with natural history.

They gave each other nicknames:

Fred Holder - The Scribe

J. Norman Frankland - The Poet

Then they made a pact to write essays and to have them bound, made into books. Half came to be written by Fred mainly about the Southport area, the other half by Norman about the Yorkshire Dales. The books are mostly natural history but also teem with personal events in their lives - e.g.. Both getting married - and with photos, poems, sketches and paintings. Norman also describes customs, memories of his boyhood and people he met during his life in the Dales. These are a unique record and I feel the North Craven Heritage Trust members will be interested in his very descriptive observations.

The first book was for the year 1933, two were for 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937 besides three hard backed books about two holidays they spent together. I also have in diary form, though not bound, volumes written by Norman for the years 1938 to 1945.

In retirement he was living in Thornton in Craven when his wife Madge died and he came to live in Newby near Clapham with his sister-in-law. He was still very active in his eighties and loved roaming around Newby, Clapham and Austwick the area he knew so well. He also was a keen gardener. He died in 1995 aged 91. In his lifetime he saw many changes and in writing them down has recorded them for posterity.

I first met Norman when he was living in Settle: I had started taking an interest in wild flowers and he helped me with kindness and patience. He gave me diaries hoping that they would be looked after not destroyed. A founder member of the Craven Naturalists at Skipton, Warden of Colt Park Reserve at Ribblehead, Committee member of Craven Museum, and at one time author of an article every week for the Craven Herald, he also led many walks for a number of societies. His herbarium is at the Liverpool Museum.

Cherry Blossom, Photo: Richard Ellis