Surprise Find: W.Riley

Surprise Find: W.Riley

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We found this letter from a W.Riley in one of the books donated for the recent Afternoon Tea & Book Fair. It’s given us a bit of a surprise! It reads:

May 5th 1941

Dear Mr Midgley

It is not the children’s fault that they are late this morning. They were downstairs some 3 hours during the gunfire & were not roused until much beyond the usual time.

Yours sincerely


Mary Pollitt & Dorothy Taylor

We could just about make out an address imprinted into the paper at the top right of the letter which reads: “The Laurels”, Silverdale, Nr Carnforth. So we did some research…


“The Laurels” proved to be the home of author William Riley, 1866 – 1961. Known as Willie, he became famous for his book Windyridge, which was published in 1912. But he authored 38 other books too. He was also well known locally as a Methodist lay preacher. Presumably it was due to Willie’s fame that Mr Midgley then kept hold of the letter and used it as a bookmark.

Willie was from Bradford originally and the University of Bradford has an archive collection available for viewing.

As for the gunfire, we discovered that there were some bombing raids over Liverpool in early May. We also came across a record of a local military unit doing a demonstration of 2 inch and 3 inch mortars on May 4th which would tie in better.

We’re not sure about Mary Pollitt and Dorothy Taylor. Perhaps they were evacuees being given a home by Willie and his wife Edith? There were certainly evacuees from Salford in the area at that time. If you know more then please get in touch via the comment section or via the contact form.

Grand old man

When Willie died his obituary appeared in a number of newspapers including The Times and The Guardian. But this tribute was in the local Silverdale Parish Bulletin from someone who must have known him well:

This past month the village has lost a ‘grand old man’ in the passing of William Riley, known to thousands outside this little place for the pleasure given to them from his books.

He was a good staunch Methodist, but certainly no bigot. He knew his way into our Church, and came when the occasion arose. with his wife, he unfailingly supported all our Church efforts, and was in many ways our very good friend, one to whom the words ‘Christian Unity’ was no idle phrase.

In himself, he was a very young 95 years, when able to get about, he got about with a surprisingly light gait, with a smile here and a quip there. One always felt he was a happy man, with an inward happiness that could not conceal itself.

One felt that he recovered so nobly from his latter illnesses just because he was so ready to go to his Maker calmly and readily, but equally ready to go on enjoying life, if that was God’s will.

With his passing to his well-earned rest, we as a village have lost a dear kind friend. To his widow, we extend our sincere thoughts and feelings, not so much of sorrow, as thankfulness to have known him.


[For more about St John & St Mark, Bury please visit our ‘about’ page. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read then please give this post a ‘like’ or leave a comment. Thank you]


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