See also our article James Herriot in Yorkshire
Skeldale House, the location of the World of James Herriot Museum, was the real home of veterinarian Alfred Wight, portrayed as James Herriot in his books and TV series. The house is as it existed in the 1940s with the sitting room, breakfast room, kitchen, and dining rooms on display. The dispensary with its bottles is also frozen in time as is the consulting room. The building next door has been incorporated into Skeldale house as a further display area for the museum.
The museum explores veterinary science and also has on display some of the TV series sets. Computer displays enhance the experience. A film about the real James Herriot is shown. An interactive science gallery especially for children uses veterinary science as the theme. There are 4000 artefacts of past veterinary practice on show.
Before the 1950s most vets in the area treated farm animals (pigs, sheep, cattle, horses), not small pets. The consulting room in the house was used when dogs and cats were added to the practice. It also served as a store room for veterinary supplies. Family meals were taken in the breakfast room, and the table was sometimes used for operations on small pets.
Alf Wight was born in Sunderland in 1916. He was raised in Glasgow. Growing up, he was keen on books and the outdoor life. At the age of 13 he decided to become a vet and went to Glasgow Veterinary School, graduating in 1939. He worked in Sunderland for a few months before moving to Yorkshire and joining Sinclair’s Thirsk practice tending to large farm animals.
It was in Thirsk that Wight met and fell in love with his future wife, Joan Catherine Danbury, who was a secretary. They were married in November, 1941. The honeymoon was spent at the Wheatsheaf Inn in Caperby testing cattle for tuberculosis.
Wight derived his pen name from a Birmingham football goal keeper named Jim Herriot, a Scotsman. The first book, If Only They Could Talk, was published in 1970. His second book It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet was published two years later. However, the books did not take off until they were combined under the title All Creatures Great and Small for the US market. This was the beginning of their world-wide popularity. The BBC TV series ran between 1978 and 1990.
Donald Sinclair was the real name of the vet who served as a model for Siegfried in the Herriot books. Sinclair was a specialist with horses and was interested in racing pigeons. He was a family man and much admired in the larger community. He died in 1995.
The Austin 7 car used in the TV series sits in the cottage garden. The garden also reflects the 1940s with its cut flower bed, rose bed, and small vegetable plot.
For a time-line biography of Herriot (Alf Wight) visit the museum’s website.
James Herriot Museum
23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, Yorkshire
Tel. 0 1845 524 234
Open: April-end Oct, daily, 10am-5pm (last admission 4pm); Nov-end March, 11am-4pm; closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan
Web: World of James Herriot
Special exhibitions and events; shop; park on town streets/car park; allow at least 1.5 hours
To stay in Thirsk we recommend The Gallery. It’s right across the street from the museum.
Photos © by Barbara Ballard except photo of Alf Wight, Museum front door and TV car courtesy of World of James Herriot
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