By Ailsa Mackenzie 

Regulars of The White Hart Folk Club, Mickleby, North Yorkshire, were greatly saddened at the recent passing of Mary Heron, who died peacefully at her home in Glaisdale in September 2019 in her ninety-seventh year. Mary, together with her husband Giles, had been a regular of the folk club from its days as Whitby Folk Club decades ago. When the folk club moved to The Black Bull, at Ugthorpe, and then The White Hart, at Mickleby, their stalwart support continued unabated.

Mary Rosalie Heron (nee Barran) (pictured with Giles)  lived in Sussex as a child, in an age when horses still ruled and traditions were staunchly and lovingly upheld. She became involved with farming while still a girl and met Giles, a schoolmaster, when he attended a week of singing and dancing at Mary’s home. They were married in the arctic winter of 1963 when Mary was 40, she having devoted many years to caring for her five younger sisters following the early death of their father.

During ten years as the wife of a housemaster, with no official post of her own, she helped to resuscitate the school farm, involving pupils in everything possible. This led Giles and Mary to decide to buy Bank House Farm, at Glaisdale. In 1962 they embarked on a life-changing adventure, buying the derelict hill farm in order to provide young people with experience of purposeful unskilled farm work in beautiful and healthy surroundings.  

It took ten years of hard work to restore the fertility of the farm.

Despite a busy life at Bank House Farm, they continued to support the folk club and their local church community. In later years they came to The White Hart Folk Club as often as Mary’s health would permit, and always enthralled us with their songs. In recent years  they were asked twice to be guests at the club so that we could hear their folk music repertoire. On the first occasion they gave us 33 songs entirely from memory. 

They gave their fee to the Bhopal disaster charity.

Regulars at the club used to look for the folk club door to open and for Mary and Giles to come in. 

Somehow they always seemed to lift the evening with their good cheer and enthusiasm for singing. They were a joy to listen to. Mary had intelligence, beauty and grace as well as a love for singing. She studied at the University of Oxford and while there set up a folk club with, among others, Louis Killen.

It was a great honour for the club to be asked by Giles to perform at Mary’s funeral service in St. Thomas’s Church, Glaisdale. Taking part were club regulars Mick Madden, Di Henderson, Marion Hall, Ailsa MacKenzie, Colin Mather and Eddie Murphy, who were joined by Phil Harty, Dave Moss and Mary’s niece Meg Makower.

Mary was buried in the hillside above her beloved farm to the accompaniment of a trio of faithful fiddlers at her graveside. Mary will be very much missed at the folk club, and it is to be hoped that Giles continues to attend as often as he can. His request for regulars to perform at Mary’s funeral service shows that folk clubs can indeed be a family to many of us who attend them.

Their book Farming With Mary is still obtainable online and well worth reading to discover the role they played in ensuring that young, often troubled, people learnt about getting on in life, as well as their own determination to farm organically.