The Diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke, part 1: Who was Lady Amabel?

Hello! My name is Christiane, and I am student at University of Leeds where I am doing a Masters in War and Strategy. As part of my course I am doing an internship at the Leeds office of West Yorkshire Archive Services. I have been working with the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke.  The following three posts are a written version of my talk at the International Women’s Day event on 8 March at the History Centre in Wakefield.


Just a few of Amabel’s diaries are shown here, there are 37 in total.

A diary holds the writer’s innermost feelings that can’t be shared with anyone else. A diary can also be a way to remember events, whether big or small. It is a private possession that in most cases the writer did not intend to be read by anyone but him or herself.


This is what makes the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke so valuable as a historical source. Here we have a woman living in a period when women had limited outlets to express themselves commenting on politics and major events.

Born in 1751 to the second earl of Hardwicke, Philip Yorke and Jemima Yorke, née Campbell, Lady Amabel grew up in a household that was characterised by an intellectual and political atmosphere.[1] This would have a huge influence as she grew up and would shape her interests as an adult.

Lady Amabel was happily married to Lord Polwarth, Alexander Hume-Campbel from 1772 to his untimely death in 1781. Lady Amabel would never marry again nor did she have any children. The rest of her life she would spend in Bedfordshire and London until her death in 1833.

Thanks to her parents, Lady Amabel had a passionate interest in politics throughout her life. She lamented the fact that she as a woman could not enter politics but it did not stop her from taking part in political discussions with her friends and acquaintances. Indeed she would fill her diaries with her comments on political events.

Other women in the same period would also show an interest in politics, the Duchess of Devonshire being the most famous example.[2] Lady Amabel, however, stands out because her diaries have been preserved.

Lady Amabel was a keen diary writer, starting in 1769 and stopping in 1827. Her diaries offer a unique chance to read about a Georgian Lady’s life from the age of 18 till she was 76 years old.

[1] Dorian Gerhold, ‘Campbell, Amabel Hume- , suo jure Countess De Grey (1751–1833)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison ( Oxford: OUP, 2004) Online ed., edited by David Cannadine, (September 2014)<; (accessed 31 March, 2017)

[2] Linda Colley, ‘Womanpower’, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2009)


Christiane Askirk, University of Leeds, HIST5020M Making History: Archive Collaborations.

Note from WYAS – if you would like to see the diaries of Lady Amabel Yorke they can be found at our Leeds office of the West Yorkshire Archive Service, reference WYL150 as part of the Vyner of Studley Royal collection.  Parts 2 and 3 of Christiane’s blog will be posted on our Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal blog, coming soon!

Luddite Letters

There is a wonderful collection of Luddite letters in the Radcliffe of Rudding Park collection (WYL280) held at our Leeds office.  One of our volunteers, Luke McGurn, describes below a fascinating letter which shows just how much opposition there was to the introduction of machinery at local mills:

‘With respect to this Watch and Ward Act, you are not aware of the additional oppression you are bringing to your tenants and other occupants of land and all for the sake of two individuals in this district, which I am not afraid to subscribe their names, Mr Thomas Atkinson and Mr William Horsfall, who will soon be numbered with the dead’

wyl280_38_pg1wyl280_38_pg2An extract from a letter sent by an anonymous individual, who only signed the letter .A.B, to Huddersfield Magistrate Joseph Radcliffe on the 27th April 1812.The writer clearly has an agenda against Radcliffe’s recent anti-luddite activities and the mill owners Mr Atkinson and Mr Horsfall who had both introduced machines into their factories in previous years. A day after this was sent, on the 28th of April 1812, William Horsfall was assassinated by four Luddites, making it more than likely that this letter was penned by the murderer himself.  The death of William Horsfall is written about in Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley and contemporary newspapers report how George Mellor, Thomas Smith and William Thorpe were executed for his murder on the 8th January 1813.

Inspired by Archives

The HLF project team have been busy planning the opening World War One themed exhibition for the new West Yorkshire History Centre, due to open in late 2016. As part of this exhibition local textiles and fashion students have been designing and making garments inspired by our WW1 collections. 32 students from Wakefield College and Barnsley College have been to visit the archives in Wakefield and Leeds to develop ideas from the fascinating and poignant WW1 collections that we care for.

The students, many of whom had only limited knowledge about the war, spent time looking at, reading and handling original documents at the archive service to help them guide their design work, with many taking inspiration from war diaries, love letters and gifts such as embroidered hankies sent from the front line, trench maps and photos of women working on the land, in munitions factories, as members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps and as nurses in local hospitals.  Students also looked at the Hainsworth collection (WYL2325 & WYL2139), which contains fantastic swatches of fabric used for military uniforms and the Schofields of Leeds collection (WYL1262/39) to gain an insight into fashion during the war period.   Following their visit to the archive service, the groups went to Hainworths mill in Pudsey who have a long history of creating cloth for the military and were the inventors and sole producers of genuine khaki serge.  Here they witnessed fabric manufacturing at a working mill before going on to explore the rich archive at Sunny Bank Mills in Farsley who also supplied Khaki fabric for military uniforms during the war.  This research work has fed into creative sketchbooks, mood-boards and samples and has culminated in the students printing fabric and designing garments based on what they have seen.  These will form an exciting part of the opening exhibition and will help us to interpret and explore archive collections in new ways for our audiences. Wakefield museum will be supporting the exhibition by curating some of the garments in their exhibition spaces in Wakefield One.


The Big Draw

This year we took part in the Campaign for Drawing’s ‘Big Draw’, an annual event in October to promote visual literacy and to demonstrate the social, economic and health benefits that the universal language of drawing can bring.  We invited members of the Wakefield Art Club to have a relaxing morning of art in the archives by helping us document the Registry of Deeds through pencil sketches and photography before we say farewell to the building.

Members of the art club came equipped with pencils, sketchpads, erasers and cameras and set about capturing the details of the building through an artist’s eye.  The group also enjoyed looking at some of our Deeds volumes and finding out a little more about the work that the archive service does.  We hope to be able to offer regular opportunities to get involved in creative activities inspired by our collections once we are in the new building and we will be hosting a number of residencies for creative practitioners over the next 3 years.