I chose to write about the life of C.V. Horner after discovering his autobiography in Burnett et al The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. Given the title of the memoir, ‘Ups and Downs’, I was curious to know about the variety of events that Horner experienced in his lifetime; in addition, his life was spent in Yorkshire, a place that my family and I visit for a weekend every year, fuelling my curiosity further. The manuscript was typed by his daughter, and the memoir itself discusses a vast variety of subjects, including his childhood, following in his father’s footsteps, his time in the Royal Navy, and seemingly everything else in-between that one can experience while living in the Yorkshire Dales.
C.V. Horner’s memoir, typed by his daughter, was written at the request of a number of his friends when he was seventy-eight, which gives me the feeling that he was initially somewhat reluctant before being persuaded. As per the title, the majority of his life was spent in the Yorkshire dales, where his ‘forebearers have been the natives for many generations.’ (0) His introduction carries a bittersweet sentiment, lamenting that he is seventy-eight years-old, suffering from arthritis, and unfortunately a widow, dedicating his manuscript to his late-wife, “Loie”, ‘a wonderful companion for forty years.’ (0) However, he praises the hard work of his two sons and three daughters, as well as remembering that he is a proud grandfather to seven grandchildren – ‘what more could one wish for in their old age?’ (0)
Born in Swinithwaite on 28 September 1897, Horner had three brothers and lost his mother in 1900, before he or any of his siblings were six-years-old. As a result, Horner mentions that he has almost no recollection of his mother, and as such, his father was a greater influence in his early years, stating: ‘it was in his foot-steps, as a gamekeeper, I was to follow in later years.’ (1) Horner proceeds to describe the events of his father’s life, including the time he and a farmer stole the supper of “Spanker”, the landlord of the Wensleydale Heifer Inn. These kinds of shenanigans were not unheard of – ‘[s]uch practical jokes were taken in good spirits and were the source of much amusement amongst friends and neighbours.’ (7)
One of the various manners of work that Horner talks about is his time as a freelance rabbit-catcher, at which point he spent the majority of his time in Bishopdale. He recalls that ‘[a]t one farm, where the farmer had four teenage daughters, [he] found a lady’s slipper in one of [his] snares’. (48) This is an example of the light-hearted humour that Horner peppers throughout his memoir, continuing that he did not know ‘whether the culprit was trying to catch [him] or wanted [him] to catch her’. (48) As well as Bishopdale, Horner mentions that he would also travel to Widdale, ‘a little valley beyond Hawes, in the higher reaches of Wensleydale’, (49) and to the foot of Wensleydale, where he notes that foxes were also pests in addition to rabbits. Amusingly, he describes the time when he happened to catch a human rather than an animal in one of his snares, though ultimately, no harm came to him. Horner states:
It was dusk and I had set a snare on a footpath, not anticipating that anyone would use the path at that time of night, I had not gone far when I saw someone coming along the path. I kept out of sight and saw him go “neck and crop”, when his foot caught in the snare!! (51)
Horner’s aforementioned following of his father’s footsteps is highlighted in chapter nine. A lot of his life seemed to be surrounded by animals, with Horner discussing how being a gamekeeper allowed him to study various animals. He details the habits of foxes, badgers, rats, stoats, and many other animals. He even takes the time to address the pre-conceived idea that many people have about gamekeepers; he says that if people ‘were to spend only a day with [a gamekeeper] they would be amazed by the amount of knowledge he needs to accomplish a never ending variety of tasks, by no means all related to dog and gun.’ (111)
Towards the end of the memoir, he talks about his experiences with hospitals and how he discovered that many hospitals ‘have a fair proportion of staff with hearts of gold’. (199) Before he takes one final look back on his life, he states that his doctor told him he was ‘good for a few years’ (210) and advised him to take various pills in order to keep him going.
- Burnett, John, David Vincent and David Mayall. Ed. ‘C.V. Horner.’ The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography 1790-1945. 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989: 2:422.