Explore & Discover
It’s easy to see why the World of James Herriot attracts visitors from all over the world. There’s so much to see and do here…
The 1940s house – home and surgery
Stepping through the famous red door of 23 Kirkgate, Thirsk is to step inside the World of James Herriot, the fully-restored site of his original 1940s home and veterinary practice (known in his books as Skeldale House, Darrowby) set in the heart of stunning Herriot Country.
Explore this magical time-capsule, where the world’s most famous vet and one of the most popular writers of the twentieth century lived, worked and wrote his much-loved stories based on his experiences as a young veterinary surgeon working among the farming community of North Yorkshire.
The home retains many of the original furnishings in the family rooms, frozen in time. The dining room doubled as the practice office, where farmers’ bills were typed up at the desk; the sitting room displays original books and family photos; the basement converted to an air raid shelter during the Second World War; the breakfast room favoured for its relative warmth and the reproduction of a typical farmhouse kitchen.
As well as a family home, it was also a busy surgery with a dispensary crammed with fascinating ancient and bizarre remedies and the cramped and primitive consulting room that saw the treatment of many a poorly pet – only creatures small were dealt with by Alf in here!
The World of James Herriot houses the largest collection of Herriot memorabilia in the world – from books, posters and letters to ornaments and collectables. The Memorabilia Room is dedicated to displaying items that were instrumental in James Herriot’s writing career.
This room contains the small portable typewriter that James Herriot first wrote the original manuscripts that would go on to become best-selling books. There are copies of the early film and TV scripts, posters advertising the film version of his stories and original books translated into a multitude of languages for his global audience. Alf never saw himself as an author and was amazed at his success.
The Real James Herriot focuses on the life of James Alfred Wight, who adopted the pen name to avoid being seen to advertise his practice. He selected James Herriot after watching the Birmingham FC’s goalkeeper of the same name appear on a televised football game! This room details his Sunderland and Glasgow upbringing and the route he took to Yorkshire and to becoming the world’s most famous vet.
Take a close-up look behind the scenes of a reproduced set from the BBC series All Creatures Great and Small and experience the fascinating world of the TV studio and what was involved in the making of the TV program.
You can be the star of the show! Get in front of the camera and imagine yourself as Christopher Timothy playing James Herriot, Robert Hardy as the eccentric Siegfried Farnon, Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, or Carol Drinkwater and Lynda Bellingham who both played James’ wife Helen Herriot.
The series was a hugely popular show and had two runs from 1978 to 1980 (based directly on Alf’s books) and 1988 to 1990 (filmed with original scripts). The equipment on display shows just how far technology has moved on in TV and film, the huge cameras, endless cables, the intense heat from the lighting rigs all making life pretty uncomfortable for the actors involved.
The Austin Seven
Aficianados of the BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small will thrill at the sight of the immaculately refurbished vintage Austin Seven, star of the opening credits and many a scene in the spectacular surroundings of rural Herriot Country.
‘AJO 71 had no brakes to speak of and very little in the way of steering. The producers wanted someone to drive it through the Dales and park it in a stream ready for filming. No one was brave enough or daft enough to do it, so I volunteered. I saw it as a challenge!’ – Bruce Grange, responsible for the Austin Seven’s restoration, after years of outdoor exposure to the elements and enthusiastic visitors.
When new in 1934, the Austin Seven cost the princely sum of £108 and had several owners before it came to Thirsk. It was used by the BBC in forty-one episodes, and is now taking pride of place in the World of James Herriot for fans young and old to admire.
Veterinary Science Rooms
There’s an incredible array too of veterinary paraphernalia from Herriot’s time as a young vet – in an era before advances in diagnostics, modern medicine and agricultural machinery. It is the largest collection in the world.
On display is a 4,000 piece archive showcasing veterinary instruments from the past to the modern day. These items chart the history and progress of the profession over the years. Some of the instruments appear primitive but were all designed for a particular purpose, since refined and updated for the modern vet’s practice.
The display reveals the close link with veterinary surgeons and the armed forces, from the days of the mounted cavalry and horses pulling gun carriages and supply wagons in warfare. Even today, ceremonial horses and battle-trained guard and sniffer dogs are the responsibility of the Royal Army Veterinary Corp, formed in 1796.
Foldyard and The Farrier’s Workshop
Much of Alf Wight’s work took place in farms all over North Yorkshire. To the rear of the house you will find the Foldyard and The Farrier exhibits, both with which Alf would have been very well-acquainted.
The Foldyard (described as an enclosure for sheep or cattle) houses a collection of primitive-looking hand tools in everyday use in farms before machinery appeared. In the hands of skilled workers, however, these tools were most effective. The Foldyard provides an authentic setting for visitors to watch an exclusive short film of Alf Wight, his family and friends and the cast of All Creatures Great and Small.
In the Farrier’s Workshop. the role of the farrier, which combines skills of both blacksmith and vet, is brought to life in this interesting exhibit. Before tractors and combine harvesters, farming relied on manual labour and what limited mechanisation existed was driven by horses. Farriers were an integral support to this system until the inevitable march of progress.
There’s no telling children ‘don’t touch’ in this gallery! Designed to engage children, young and old, the pieces use fun and interaction to educate visitors about farm animals and how they interact with our lives.
Interactive roomWannabe vets of all ages need to be hands on to test their mettle in our interactive gallery.
Full of fascinating facts, the gallery gives visitors the opportunity to test their skills, knowledge and reflexes whilst learning how vets work with farmers to keep animals fit and well. Not just for children!
There is one installation that TV viewers particularly will recognise and that’s the ‘not to be missed’ opportunity to place your hand up a cow’s bottom! An essential skill that every vet has to learn, All Creatures Great and Small actor Christopher Timothy famously did his part on several occasions, much to the amusement of the cast, crew and viewing public!
Gardens and Alf Wight Statue
To the rear of the house you’ll find the tranquil gardens featuring the recent addition of the Alf Wight Statue created by the celebrated sculptor and artist Sean Hedges-Quinn (whose previous client’s include Alf’s beloved Sunderland Football Club).
Officially unveiled by actor Christopher Timothy at a black tie dinner in 2014, the bronze tribute to Alf Wight was installed in 2015 to mark the 75th anniversary of Alf Wight’s arrival in the town. Christopher said: “I think Alf would have been touched, but ultimately he would have been horrified, he certainly wasn’t a self-publicist, he hated all the attention.”
Alf’s son and retired vet Jim Wight said for that reason, he and his sister had been reticent about the idea of having a statue made, but changed their minds on seeing the completed artwork. The statue was made possible thanks to the donation of a Suffolk man who admired Alf Wight’s work and his contribution to animal welfare. It also sparked the creation of the James Herriot Foundation Trust, which provides bursaries to young people working in veterinary science.