An exhibition of views of Swaledale from the golden era of postcards has opened this week at Tennants’ Garden Rooms at Leyburn.

The postcards come from the collection of Clive Torrens, and have been enlarged so that their fantastic details can be seen – indeed, every wrinkle can be seen on the face and every bone can be traced of the spindly fingers on the steering wheel of a lady who is believed to have been the Darlington & Stockton Times’ correspondent in the dale.

Most of the pictures were taken by John Brown Smithson, who established a photographic studio in Leyburn around 1870. He’d been born in Smarber, near Low Row, in 1848. His father was a lead miner, but he’d trained first as a gamekeeper and then a clockmaker before falling in love with photography. He established the Wensleydale Studio opposite Leyburn Town Hall and then took on the Railway Hotel, which, as a Methodist, he renamed the Wensleydale Temperance Hotel, and where he had space for a dark room and studio.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The unknown D&S Times Feetham correspondent from Swaledale, who features in the exhibition at

He had several studios in the dales, including one at Hawes and another at the army camp at Scotton during the First World War, and he is believed to have produced more than 50,000 postcard views.

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Picture postcards were allowed from 1896 and cost just a halfpenny to send. In their golden age up to the First World War, they were the equivalent of a text message or a Facebook post – and, because of the wonders of the postal system, they arrived almost as quickly as a text.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Brown family of Low Row on a haytime 1908 postcard from the new exhibition at Tennants

JB Smithson was not only the most prolific of several postcard photographers in Leyburn, he also had an awareness of the social history he was recording with his camera lens.

One of the 51 pictures in the exhibition features a fabulous old lady at the wheel of an amazing car. She is believed to be the D&S Times’ Feetham correspondent, although with a vehicle like that, she must have been a roving reporter in search of lineage.

Sadly, we have no records of who she might be – can anyone tell us anything about her, or where the picture was taken (that window with the dale rising steeply opposite must be a clue) or what sort of vehicle she was driving?