We are saddened to announce that May Foster Pickles (nee Bowling) passed away at Abbeydale on 29 October 2013 after a short illness.

Funeral and memorial arrangements

The funeral service was held on Thursday 14 November 2013 at 3.40pm at Rawdon Crematorium. Her coffin left the Sanctuary at Christchurch, Ilkley for the journey to Rawdon Crematorium, Leeds Road, Rawdon, Leeds LS19 6JP. Family members and personal friends gathered at Rawdon.

A public Service of Thanksgiving for her life was held on Friday 15 November 2013 at 11.30, at Christchurch on The Grove, Ilkley for her many friends.

May's ashes are to be interred with those of Charles on 24 July 2014 in the Garden of Remembrance at St. Olaf's Church, Wasdale Head. 

May ... in her own words

"May Pickles was born in Cross Flatts, Leeds on 21 July 1922 and came to llkley in 1931 where she has lived ever since. Her interest in local history and archaeology began in the late 1960s and led to a specialism in historical demography.

In 1951 she married Charles Pickles, a distinguished and highly respected climber of his day. May always had a love of walking and the countryside. She became a member of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District thus following her husband. Later she joined a local walking group "The Spring Greens". In both Clubs she made long lasting and valuable friendships.

She has written extensively on Wharfedale in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, more recently, published work on Yorkshire boundaries and population migration from a national perspective.

For many years, she served as co-editor on the board of Local Population Studies and as a Council Member of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. She held the office of a Vice President of the Olicana Historical Society and was one time Chairman of the local WEA in which she had an interest for many years.

May was a loyal and active member of the Methodist Church from 1944 when she belonged to the Wells Road Church."

Obituary: May Pickles 1922 - 2013 : Local historian, demographer, author, archaeologist, wife, mother and good friend to many


may pickles at 90As a researcher of historical demography from parish records, May would have been amused by this record of her own life:

  • Born: 21 July 1922 at Crossflatts, Leeds, the only child of Herbert Bowling, director of an iron foundry, and May Foster.
  • Accepted into membership of the Methodist Church: 25 June 1944 at Wells Road, Ilkley
  • Married: 23 May 1951 at Wells Road Methodist Church, Ilkley, to Charles Pickles, a local solicitor
  • Died: 29 October 2013, at Abbeydale, Ilkley

But May knew well that a life well-lived is made up of the rich social fabric of relationships and contributions, not just this catalogue of anniversary dates. Born into a Yorkshire family, one of her earliest memories was of standing on the steps of Leeds Town Hall when her maternal grandfather David Blythe Foster was sworn in as the first socialist Lord Mayor of the city in 1928.

Shortly afterwards, in 1931, the family moved to Ilkley, living first at ‘Thornacre’ on Bolling Road and then at ‘Overbrook’ on Victoria Avenue. May attended Winton School in Ben Rhydding before moving to Prince Henry’s in Otley, travelling there by bus each day. Walking and cycling around the Dales with her parents started her interest in the outdoors, followed by holidays with friends with the Holiday Fellowship (now HF) in the Lake District and elsewhere. On leaving school, May took a shorthand and typing course at Ilkley School of Commerce. Her first job was with the newly created Wool Control in Menston, set up on the outbreak of War. In 1941, she moved to Martin’s Bank in Ilkley (where the Santander branch is now located) and where John Spensley was the branch manager.

She met Charles at Ben Rhydding Tennis Club after he returned from active service in Africa and Burma. Charles was a sole-practitioner solicitor in the firm of George Turnbull and Son in Bradford, the firm later merging with others to form Wade and Co where Charles eventually became senior partner. May maintained the family homes – always named ‘Brackenclose’ after an early climbing club hut in Wasdale in the Lakes - first in Lower Manley Road and later at 78 Bolling Road. Tim was born in 1952 and Helen in 1954.

May and Charles bought a Vauxhall Wyvern car in 1955, shortly followed by a caravan which became the base for regular weekends and holidays until the 1980s. For several summers it was parked at either Thorneythwaite in Borrowdale or Elterwater in Langdale whilst Charles went climbing and May took the children on gentler adventures. There were grand tours to Scotland, London, Norfolk, France and the Alps with mountaineering adventures on Ben Nevis and the Aiguille Verte, Chamonix.

As Tim and Helen grew up and spent more time away from home, May began to re-engage in learning and discovery. She attended adult education classes in art and literature and became increasingly involved in the Workers Educational Association in Ilkley. She found her particular interest in local history and this was to occupy her for the rest of her life. Under the tutelage of Prof Jean LePatourel, she became involved in archaeological ‘digs’ across Yorkshire; boxes of ‘finds’ started to fill the house. From archaeology her interest spread into parish histories, local demography and parish boundaries. There were numerous trips to walk and explore historic boundaries uncovering the changing historic settlement patterns of Yorkshire’s villages. Parish registers, hearth tax and poll tax returns became rich sources of information from which to construct, often revelatory, maps of the changing population structures within regions. May made significant contributions to this emerging field of local demographic studies. The hamlets of Denton and Asquith were always of particular interest as May’s family had owned land in Asquith.

These interests led May to active roles in the Olicana Historical Society and the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS). She served as an officer on their committees for many years, becoming Olicana’s Honorary Vice-President. She was a co-editor and member of the editorial board of the Cambridge-based Local Population Studies (LPS) from its earliest days and regularly attended its conferences in Cambridge and elsewhere. She contributed papers to LPS, the YAS Journals and elsewhere on Wharfedale in the 17th and 18th centuries. She co-edited Yorkshire Boundaries for the YAS and published work on population migration from a national perspective. Together with Moira Long, May founded a series of publications under the Mid-Wharfedale Local History Research Group detailing aspects of Yorkshire history; her own titles in this series include The Early History of the Society of Friends in Mid-Wharfedale and Craven and Pre-Victorian Ilkley 1672-1811 (“a very mean place”).

With Charles’s long-standing interest in rock climbing and mountaineering, May came to know more of the Lake District through caravanning and fell-walking. In 1980 she eventually joined Charles in membership of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and went on to enjoy many meets in the Lakes, Wales and particularly Scotland, finding a whole new circle of friends. Later she joined the Spring Greens walking group in Ilkley, and continued her interest in walking and the mountains until the end.

Charles died in 1991 just after their fortieth wedding anniversary. Saddened but undeterred, May set about finding a more convenient house in which to live. When nothing suitable was available, she commissioned a purpose-built house in the garden of the family home on Manor Rise. The maturing garden continued to be a source of great joy until her increasing infirmity necessitated a move to Abbeydale in recent years.

Family and friends were of central importance throughout her life. The successes and achievements of her husband and children were a source of constant quiet pride. Friends came to appreciate her sharp mind, her liberal views, her keen sense of humour, her inspiring cheerfulness and her generous nature. She loved a good party and regularly hosted small suppers and parties in her home and garden. She greeted friends at the church, at society meetings, in the climbing and walking clubs, and in Ilkley town centre. Her extensive network of excellent friends and neighbours have been regular visitors as she became older and less mobile.

May was a lifelong Methodist attending Ben Rhydding church, Ilkley church, and more recently Christchurch on The Grove. Her quiet faith was a constant source of comfort and peace to her. A Service of Thanksgiving for her life was held at Christchurch on Friday 15 November 2013.