The curious case of Thomas Hurtley

Bill Mitchell
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

In the article in this Journal by Kay Exton on the development of tourism in Craven mention is made of a book by Thomas Hurtley, ‘A concise account of some of the natural curiosities in the environs of Malham in Craven, Yorkshire’. Twenty years ago Professor Frank Hodson acquired with his copy of this book two manuscript pages with remarks on the book’s origin and production and reported the content in an article in the Dalesman (October 1984, vol. 46, no.7).

The book, published in London in 1786, contains 268 pages but only 42 pages pretend to describe the area, and ‘much of the ornamental prose would apply to any region of natural grandeur equally with Malham’. There were four pages of dedication, twelve occupied by the names of 333 subscribers, three plates and no less than 177 pages relating to the Lambert family, especially John, who with a rank of General was one of Cromwell’s closest associates. His Civil War record was commended.

What was clearly a copy of the original manuscript commentary that Professor Hodson submitted to The Dalesman came to light recently. There is a pencilled name, Gamelict Lloyd, which is preceded by a query. We may never know who was the author but his observations are both pertinent and, some might think, impertinent. “Thos. Hurtley is a country Schoolmaster at Malham, who amused himself with composing miserable Verses upon the natural curiosities of Craven, in a stile [sic] much inferior to those celebrated Poets Sternhold and Hopkins. Impelled by a love of fame, and still more by a scanty salery [sic] and a numerous family he went about the country soliciting subscriptions for his Verses, which he proposed to publish with some short prose explanations. Being a poor simple fellow Charity induced many to subscribe to his work”. It has been reasonable to attribute Hurtley’s book to - Hurtley . Yet the writer of the notes on this work claims that Lister of Gisburne Park, whose vast estate extended to Malham Tarn, took what had been written in hand, stating he would increase the number of subscribers and superintend the publication. Hurtley told a friend it was the last he saw of the book before publication.

Lister doubled the number of subscribers, then applied radical ideas to the book. He had the plates drawn and engraved at his own expense. “The Revd-Collins, a Clergyman and constant companion of Mr Lister, wrote the appendixes”. The Verses that were the principal part of the book were totally omitted “and there were so many additions and alterations in the descriptive part that it is supposed that there is not a line remaining as it came out of the hands of honest Thomas Hurtley”.

Thomas Hurtley’s letter

Thomas Hurtley’s letter