The Bell-Irving Ladies

For a period of eighteen years, including those of the First World War, the Bell-Irving family lived at Rokeby Park, near Barnard Castle. While many of the women of Teesdale played an important part in keeping the ‘home front’ running during the War, the roles that Mrs Bell-Irving and her daughter Miss Bell-Irving fulfilled were extensive, and varied in content.

When War broke out, Mrs Bell-Irving was already President of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association in the Greta Bridge area and continued in this role for the rest of the War.

She was District representative for the Red Cross in the Greta Bridge Division of the North Riding of Yorkshire. She also organised two Voluntary Aid Detachments, running working parties associated with each group.

Mrs Bell-Irving attended and spoke at various local Patriotic Meetings, and in June 1915 was called upon to make a speech at a meeting in the Morrit Memorial School in support of the ‘War Service for Women’ Scheme, alongside three other key-note speakers. In March 1916, she presided over a meeting to discuss the enlisting of the labour of women on the land to secure a good harvest for 1916. At the end of 1916, she gave tea parties at Rokeby Park for the Voluntary Workers Association, to thank those local women for their work during the year.

Rokeby Park was offered as a venue for many tea parties at which injured soldiers were entertained. Groups of soldiers and their nurses were given tours of the house, the art and the gardens, as well as teas and entertainment. At one party in September ‘one injured soldier played piano, and another injured one-legged soldier got up to dance’.

Fund raising bazaars and garden fetes were held at Rokeby in aid of The Red Cross Society, the French Wounded and other charities. In September 1919, a Peace Fete was celebrated at Rokeby, which raised £216 for church repairs and also for the National Institute for the Blind. In June 1920, a supper was organised by The Bell-Irvings to welcome home returning soldiers, and they presented the returning troops with forty china mugs and cups emblazoned with the arms of the allies.

Her daughter, Marda Bell-Irving was no less busy during the war period and was Commandant of the local Red Cross detachment. In 1916 she became District Organiser for the ‘Women’s Work on the Land’ Scheme around Rokeby.

Miss Bell-Irving appeared very keen on producing amateur dramatic presentations to fund raise for charity, involving other local people and Officers and men stationed at local military camps. Some concerts were performed at Rokeby School, and in December 1915, she took part in two productions of ‘Hal The Highwayman’ at the former Victoria Hall in Barnard Castle.

Both ladies worked hard to support the work of Teesdale people during the war, to acknowledge the importance of women in the war effort and to offer the splendour of Rokeby Park as entertainment to injured soldiers in the area.