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A Visit to the World of James Herriot

The World of James Herriot. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

The World of James Herriot, 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, Yorkshire YO7 1PL

Review by Ann Evans

If you’re a fan of All Creatures Great and Small, then a visit to the World of James Herriot is the perfect destination if you’re visiting Yorkshire.

James Harriot was the pen name of veterinary surgeon and author, Mr James Alfred Wight OBE. (M.R.C.V.S.) And the World of James Herriot is an award-winning visitor attraction, located at 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk, Yorkshire – the actual family home and surgery of Alf Wight.

Dining room and office. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

Enter through the red door and you find yourself in the 1940s styled hall with coats hanging from the pegs as if he’d just come home from attending a sick or pregnant farm animal. Leading off from the terracotta tiled corridor each room is furnished as it would have been in the mid-20th century.

The dining room also served as Alf Wight’s office. The desk has paperwork scattered about, an invoice is half written and still in the old Imperial Model 60 typewriter. The leather office chair shows many years of use and a lifelike figure of a local lady with her little dog sits patiently - It could just as easily have been a farmer who had called in to settle his bill.

Alf Wight's desk. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

The kitchen – the hub of the home would have echoed with chatter and laughter as Alf Wight and his wife Joan and their two children Rosie and Jim sat down to eat together or do their homework. Next door in the scullery, washing is hanging from rails to dry, food is being prepared for the family meals.

The atmosphere is enhanced by sounds from the 40s and 50s: the quiet crooning of Bing Crosby on the radiogram; the tick-tock and chimes of the grandfather clock in the hall; the shrill ringing of the old-fashioned telephone. Discarded toys and game are scattered on the sitting room floor.

The kitchen. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

At the end of the corridor is the Dispensary with shelves full of jars and colourful bottles containing tinctures and liquids for treating every kind of animal ailment. Often the prescribed medicines would be left in an unlocked box at the front door for farmers to pick up after normal hours. Close by is the Consulting Room with its weird contraptions and ancient-looking instruments is where the Alf Wight treated smaller domestic animals and no doubt where his ‘little cat and dog stories’ as he modestly describes his books, all started.

Photo courtesy of The World of James Herriot.

As you explore the house, the information plaques tell of the life of this vet which initially was treating farm animals, so much of his work would have been out on the wild Yorkshire moors in farms and fields in all weathers; again fuelling ideas for stories that would eventually be written in his books and seen on TV.

Dispensary. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

Reaching the Memorabilia and The Real James Herriot Room is where you’ll find a fascinating display of books, photographs, posters and models. James Harriot was aged 50 when he started to write – encouraged by his wife. Dig deep and you’ll spot the small portable typewriter on which he wrote his stories. His first book was published by Michael Joseph in 1970, entitled, If Only They Could Talk. A couple of years later came his second book, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet.

When these books were published together for the American market, its title was the one eventually chosen for the TV series, All Creatures Great and Small. Many more books followed, as did TV series, feature films and world-wide fame.

At the time of his first book being published, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had very strict rules regarding their members publishing anything under their own name, and so he had to write under a pseudonym.

Statue of James Alfred Wight OBE - James Herriot. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

Wandering out into the garden, you’ll immediately see the bronze life-sized statue of James Herriot, sculpted by Sean Hedges-Quinn and funded by a legacy left by a life member of the Friends of the World of James Herriot, Thomas Blinks of East Sussex. Nearby you’ll see the Austin 7 car which was driven by John Alderton in the film, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet; and the beautifully restored Austin Seven car used in the television series.

The Farriers. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

From here you can explore the Foldyard and Farrier with the old-fashioned tools and equipment used by farmers and blacksmiths in bygone times. In this atmospheric setting you can sit and watch a short film showing interviews of family, friends and cast members from All Creatures Great and Small. Then, combining reality with fiction, you can walk through a TV studio set up of James Herriot’s home complete with lighting rigs, a replica of what was used in the making of the BBC TV series.

A replica of the studio setting. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

Upstairs is the Yorkshire Vet room and Interactive gallery, the aim being to educate young people about animal welfare. It includes a photo opportunity with a life sized model cow. How you pose with it is up to you!

Browse the gift shop. Photo © Rob Tysall Pro Photography.

Finally, there’s the Museum of Veterinary Science – the only one in the UK, which has more than 4,000 exhibits marking the progress of this profession over the years. Finish your tour of this fascinating house at the gift shop where there’s lots of James Herriot memorabilia and souvenirs to remind you of your visit to the World of James Herriot.

Where to stay

The World of James Herriot is close to the town centre, with all it shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels. We stayed at Kirkgate House Hotel situated just a few doors away from the James Herriot visitors’ attraction. A homely traditional hotel with six spacious, comfortable rooms, a generous full English breakfast is served, parking at the rear of the building and a friendly welcoming host happy to tell you the best places locally to dine.


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