Willie Riley died on 4th June 1961, shortly after travelling to St. Anne's, near Blackpool, for a short holiday with his wife Edith. His death was widely reported in the press.
NOVELIST MR. WILLIAM RILEY IS DEAD.
He wrote Windyridge.
Mr. William Riley, the famous Bradford-born author of Windyridge and 34 other novels, died yesterday at St. Annes following a heart attack. Mr. Riley, whose home was at Silverdale, near Morecambe, celebrated his 95th birthday on April 23rd. Born at Bradford Moor, he was educated at Bradford Grammar School, then joined his father's firm and later, with his brother, founded a new firm of optical lantern slide makers.
Business and his work for the Methodist Church were Mr. Riley's life until middle age when he wrote his first novel, Windyridge with no thought of having it published. The book was intended to entertain his wife and some of her women friends. Mr. Riley read it to them chapter by chapter as he wrote it, and it was in 1912 when he yielded to their persuasion to send it to a publisher.
KEPT THE LETTER
The publisher accepted Windyridge believing that the author was a woman, and his first letter was addressed to 'Miss Riley.' The mistake amused Mr. Riley and he kept the letter. Windyridge sold over half a million copies and Jenkins have been Mr. Riley's publishers ever since.
Mr. Riley had been in good health recently, and some old friends from Bradley, Mr. and Mrs. George green went to see him in St. Anne's to find him very well. His ninety-fifth birthday fell just before the publication of his last book, 'The Man and the Mountain,' and the BBS took the occasion to broadcast an interview with him. In it Mr. Riley spoke clearly and lucidly of his very happy life in which, he said, Methodism had been the greatest influence.
'Friendship has been accelerated since I wrote books,' he said, 'I don't think a week passes without I get letters from people who often live in humble circumstances, who say they have been influenced by my books. This has been very helpful.' The royalties from his last book are being devoted to the British and Foreign Bible Society.
Mr. Riley moved his home to Silverdale in 1919, but while he lived in Bradford his religious life was centred on Carlisle Road Methodist Church. He became a local preacher in 1886 and was still preaching on the Lancaster Methodist Circuit when he was almost 90.
Such was the impression that Windyridge made that hundreds of houses all over the country were named after that cottage in Hawksworth that Mr. Riley described in the book. But strangely, Mr. Riley never went inside the cottage until nearly 40 years after this book was published.
Mr. Riley's home in Silverdale was called 'Windyridge,' but when the climb to the house became too much for him some years ago he moved to a house near the centre of the village.
LIVED BY PEN
Although he had lived by his pen for nearly 50 years, Mr. Riley never planned a book beforehand. 'I started with an idea,' he said. 'Then, like Thackeray, I just let the characters tell their own story as we go along. Often I didn't know how a book would end until the last chapter was in sight.' He wrote in longhand using student note books.
Mr. Riley's autobiography Sunset Reflections, was published six years ago. Of his 35 books 30 were novels and the remainder geographical or religious. Mr. Riley is survived by his second wife, Mrs. Edith Mary Riley, whom he married in 1932.
William Riley: author of Windyridge
William Riley, the author who established himself with his first novel, Windyridge died yesterday at Silverdale, near Carnforth. He was 95. It was not until he was in his forties that Riley wrote Windyridge a novel for which the original was the village of Hawksworth on the edge of Rumbolds Moor in Wharfedale. It was published in 1912 and was an immediate success, over 300,000 copies being sold. The book was compared by reviewers to 'Cranford,' and a number of them found it difficult to accept that an author, who captured so closely in his writing the mental approach of a woman, could possibly be a man.. Indeed, when the book was accepted by Herbert Jenkins, Ltd., - it was the first book they published – Riley received a letter from them addressed to 'Miss Riley.'
Originally he had no intention of publishing the book and composed it to cheer up two daughters of a Bradford family whose mother, father and sisters all died suddenly. They persuaded him to publish it and its success led him to resign his job as the managing director of a Bradford optical firm and become a full time author. The title of the book became the name of countless semi-detached houses owned by expatriate Yorkshiremen and although he wrote another 35 books none of them achieved the same success as Windyridge He was, however, a regional writer of considerable stature and his last book, 'The Man and the Mountain,' was published last month.
William Riley was married twice. His first wife died in 1929 and he married again three years later.
Author of Windyridge
Mr. William Riley, whose observant and sympathetic studies of his native county and the neighbouring Lancashire will be remembered with affection and pleasure, died on Sunday while on holiday at St. Annes, Lancashire. He was 95.
The son of a Yorkshire stuff merchant, he was born on April 23, 1886, and after attending Bradford Grammar School joined his father in his business. After some years thus spent he entered the optical trade and helped to inaugurate the business of lantern slide makers which under the name of Riley Brothers operated both in England and America. While managing director of this company he wrote his first book, Windyridge.
His purpose in writing the story was, he said, to bring a little colour into the lives of two old ladies who were friends of his wife and himself. He wrote a chapter a week and read it to them on Saturday nights. He admitted later that he was not always sure which way the tale would go. When it was finished his audience, persuaded of its quality, urged him to publish it. Knowing nothing of the commercial side of authorship he put the names of several publishers in a hat, adding, at the last minute, the name of Herbert Jenkins, who, he had just read, was about to set up as a publisher. Jenkins's name was drawn, the manuscript was submitted and accepted, and Windyridge became Jenkins's first title. The book was an immediate success and some 300,000 copies were sold. In Yorkshiremen it bred a special affection and thousands of houses all over the world bear the name 'Windyridge.'
After this initial success Riley devoted himself chiefly to writing and lecturing in the main about Yorkshire but with excursions over the border into Lancashire and sometimes even farther afield, as, for instance, in his life of the prophet Jeremiah under the title The Man of Anathoth.
His second novel Netherleigh, published in 1915, for all the sentimentality of the subject, had qualities of observation and of underlying robustness which began to come to fruition in Jerry and Ben with its finely described background of Upper Wharfedale and attained full power in Laycock of Lonedale, a rather old-fashioned but sturdy and wholesome study of the disinherited son who made good.
His first wife, Clara Hirst, a Yorkshirewoman, whom he had married in 1892, died in 1929, and he married 'over the border' in 1932 Edith Mary Berry, of Silverdale, near Carnforth. Thenceforward his work was less exclusively concerned with Yorkshire. Indeed, in the year of his marriage he published an unusual and attractive study of the upland country of North Lancashire just south of the Westmorland border where the hills open out on to Morecambe Bay between the mouths of the Lune and the Kent, under the title The Silver Dale. Such was his early tribute to the country in which he was to live for the remainder of his days. He published in all over 30 books (the last has lately appeared), including Windyridge Re-visited and some Windyridge Plays, and an autobiography, Sunset Reflections, with an introduction by the Rev. Dr. W. E. R. Sangster, a former president of the Methodist Conference; Riley was well known in the North as a Methodist lay preacher and even in extreme old age he was active in the cause of religion.
Mr. W. Riley, author of Windyridge dies at 95.
Mr. William Riley, Bradford-born author who since 1919 had lived at Silverdale where he took a lively interest in village and church affairs, died suddenly at St. Annes on Sea on Sunday. He was 95. He and his wife went to St. Annes on Saturday. During the night he was taken ill and he died about 7 o'clock on Sunday morning.
Mr. Riley attended Bradford grammar school where he was contemporary with Frederick Delius the world famous musician, Sir Frank Dyson, Astronomer Royal, and Cutcliffe Hyne the creator of Captain Kettle. He left school to join his in the family business as stuff merchants. He later, however, entered the optical trade and with other members of his family launched a firm of lantern slide makers which under the title of Riley Bros., operated in England and America. He was still managing director of the firm when he wrote Windyridge his most famous book, which was subsequently translated into several languages.
It was a visit to Silverdale during a holiday at Morecambe which decided him to make his home there and in 1919, at the age of 53, he gave up business, moved to Silverdale and gave all his time to writing.
WROTE 30 BOOKS
He wrote 30 books and although the earlier books were chiefly concerned with Yorkshire he later widened their scope and one 'The Silver Dale' featured his adopted village and countryside.
In 1957 he wrote Sunset Reflections, an autobiography in which he looked back over 91 momentous years. But it was not the end of this author's literary career for only last month 'The Man and the Mountain,' a religious book, was published with an intimation that all royalties would be devoted to missionary work.
Mr. Riley was twice married. His first wife, a Yorkshire woman, died in 1929 and in 1932 he married Mrs. Edith Berry, of Silverdale, who survives him.
There were few village organisations which did not receive full support from this active man. He was particularly devoted to those which dealt with artistic and cultural subjects and he was one of the founders of the Gaskell Memorial Hall opened in 1931. The first play presented at the hall was one adapted by Mr. Riley from 'Cranford.'
A deeply religious man he had a life long association with the Methodist Church in which he had held almost every lay office. He was a local preacher for 75 years and recently received an illuminated testimonial from the President of the Methodist conference.
The funeral was at Silverdale yesterday, preceded by a service at Silverdale Methodist Church.
This past month the village has lost a 'grand old man' in the passing of William Riley, known to thousands outside this little place for the pleasure given to them from his books. He was a good staunch Methodist, but certainly no bigot. He knew his way into our Church, and came when the occasion arose. He, with his wife, unfailingly supported all our Church efforts, and was in many ways our very good friend, one to whom the words 'Christian Unity' was no idle phrase. In himself, he was a very young 95 years, when able to get about, he got about with a surprisingly light gait, with a smile here and a quip there. One always felt he was a happy man, with an inward happiness that could not conceal itself. One felt that he recovered so nobly from his latter illnesses just because he was so ready to go to his Maker calmly and readily, but equally ready to go on enjoying life, if that was God's will. With his passing to his well-earned rest, we as a village have lost a dear kind friend. To his widow, we extend our sincere thoughts and feelings, not so much of sorrow, as thankfulness to have known him.
by Rev. J. E. Noel Coleman