Made in North Yorkshire: Miss Winifred Jacob Smith MBE

The next Great North Yorkshire Daughter is Miss Winifred Jacob Smith. Winifred and her family were extremely community spirited and well known within the local area of Knaresborough. Alongside her invaluable contribution to the war effort during World War Two, Miss Winifred Jacob Smith is perhaps best known for bequeathing Scriven park (now Jacob Smith Park) near Knaresborough to her community upon her death in May 2003, aged 91.

View of Jacob Smith Park in the sunshine
Image courtesy of the Friends of Jacob Smith Park

Early life

Winifred was born on 4 August 1911, in Humberton (between Knaresborough and Boroughbridge), to parents Jacob and Dora Smith. It had been tradition within the Smith family for the eldest son to be given the first-name Jacob, however as Jacob and Dora only had daughters; they incorporated ‘Jacob’ into Winifred and her elder sister Dorothy’s surname, so the tradition could live on. The Smith family had long established roots within the farming industry in Knaresborough; and Winifred’s mother, Dora, was President of the Knaresborough Women’s Institute (WI).

Yorkshire Women’s Land Army

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, Winifred, aged 30, and her sister Dorothy joined the Women’s Land Army for North Yorkshire. The purpose of the Women’s Land Army was to fill the agricultural jobs left vacant after many farmers had gone to fight in the war. The work on the farms was labour intensive, and involved long days working in the fields.

Quote from land girl, Freda Williams, featured in the Women’s Land Army exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.
Photograph of the Women’s Land Army exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.
Quote from land girl, Gwen Marsh, featured in the Women’s Land Army exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming.

The work of the Women’s Land Army was crucial to feed the nation during both wars and even after the Second World War. Despite this, it has been argued that much of the work of the Women’s Land Army has not always been fairly recognised.

Winifred (left) and her sister Dorothy (centre) at a Women’s Land Army recruitment stand
Image courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming

After joining in 1939, Winifred soon became Organiser for the Women’s Land Army for North Yorkshire, and later the whole of Yorkshire. This would involve carrying out welfare visits on Land Girls in their accommodation, and writing monthly Women’s Land Army newsletters, which were sent out across Yorkshire, an example of which can be seen below from November 1943.

Yorkshire Museum of Farming

The Yorkshire Museum of Farming, based at Murton Park near York holds the archive of Miss Winifred Jacob Smith, including records from her time as Organiser of the Yorkshire Women’s Land Army. This archive has formed the basis of their permanent Women’s Land Army exhibition, the largest exhibition on the Women’s Land Army in the country, images of which can be seen below:

We spoke to Dr Mike Tyler and Tegwen Hammersley from the Yorkshire Museum of Farming to find out more about the importance of the Women’s Land Army in supporting the war effort, and the type of work Winifred Jacob Smith would have carried out as organiser:

Dr Mike Tyler, curator at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming

Tegwen Hammersley, education officer at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming

Member of the Order of the British Empire

On 28 February 1951, Winifred Jacob Smith received an MBE from King George VI for her leadership of the Yorkshire Women’s Land Army during the Second World War. The photograph below shows Winifred receiving her MBE at Buckingham Palace, alongside her sister Dorothy and mother Dora.

Winifred Jacob Smith (centre) receiving her MBE at Buckingham Palace, with her sister Dorothy (left) and mother Dora (right)
Image courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum of Farming

A lasting gift

Upon her death in May 2003, Winifred bequeathed what was then called Scriven Park near Knaresborough to her local community for all generations to benefit from “the freedom and beauty that public parks bring”. The land, which would later become the park covered 30 acres, and had once been home to Winifred and her sister Dorothy’s award winning Ayreshire cattle.

Aerial photograph of Jacob Smith Park
Image courtesy of Friends of Jacob Smith Park and Doug Young

Prior to this, since the 18th century, the land and Scriven Hall had been part of the Slingsby family estate. Winifred left the park to Harrogate Borough Council, who continue to maintain it for the local community to enjoy, and it was officially opened to the public as Jacob Smith Park in 2008.

Friends of Jacob Smith Park

The Friends of Jacob Smith Park is a local community group, which was established in 2008, alongside the opening of the park to the public. We spoke to Jo Smalley, secretary of the Friends of Jacob Smith Park group, to find out more about the purpose and aims of the Friends group, she said:

By providing the link between the community and the local authority, we are committed to encouraging all ages to value and enjoy their park, whilst sharing it with respect for one another and nature. We are also passionate about enhancing the biodiversity of the park and bringing people together to care for such a special recreational green space, an important home for wildlife, a historical landscape and a valuable educational setting.

Jo Smalley, Secretary of the Friends of Jacob Smith group, at the wildlife pond in Jacob Smith Park

Jo continued by discussing the important legacy Winfred Jacob-Smith left in her local community by bequeathing the park in her Scriven, she said:

Miss Winifred Jacob Smith MBE granted us all the freedom of the park, and we must never take it for granted. The park really does greet us like an old friend every time we enter its gate – offering us safety inside its impressive stone walls as we walk in the company of ancient trees.

It is so important that it is enjoyed as Miss Jacob Smith intended- by everyone- and cherished for generations to come.

We would like to thank the members of the public, and particularly the Friends of Jacob Smith Park and Yorkshire Museum of Farming for their support and insight into the life of Miss Winifred Jacob Smith MBE.


Further information

If you would like to find out more about Miss Winifred Jacob Smith MBE and her influence in North Yorkshire, you can visit:

The Friends of Jacob Smith Park and Facebook page

Or for more information about the role of the Women’s Land Army in North Yorkshire you can visit:

The Yorkshire Museum of Farming’s permanent Women’s Land Army exhibition

Sources

  • Yorkshire Museum of Farming Women’s Land Army exhibition
  • Friends of Jacob Smith Park website
  • Yorkshire Women at War: Story of the Women’s Land Army Hostels by Marion Jefferies, which includes a chapter on Winifred Jacob Smith
  • Boroughbridge and District Historical Society
  • Harrogate Herald
  • Knaresborough Post Archives

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