Swaledale brothers who inspired Sir David Attenborough nominated as part of historic campaign

• Photograph of the Kearton brothers’ famous ox hide, where they could sit inside and shoot animals whilst in disguise.
[kofi]

Two brothers who inspired Sir David Attenborough in his choice of career are the latest nominees in the Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters campaign.

The campaign, launched by North Yorkshire County Council and drawing on its County Record Office archives and the work of local history groups, is searching for those figures from the past who define what it means to be Made in North Yorkshire.

The third nominees in the series are brothers and wildlife photographers Richard and Cherry Kearton who were born in Thwaite, Upper Swaledale.

Through their innovative methods, extensive travels, books and films and sheer commitment to their craft, they allowed people across the world to see and learn about the natural world.

Richard was the elder brother, born in January 1862, and Cherry was born in July 1871.

They had another brother and two sisters. The brothers came from humble roots; they were brought up in relative poverty at a time when the Swaledale lead mines were in decline.

Day to day life, as well as the surrounding landscape, could be harsh, but also offered great opportunity for inspiration and adventure. Their father, John Kearton, taught the brothers where to find birds’ nests and how to identify bird songs.

Their grandfather, Cherry, a keen fisherman, taught them to fish. The brothers spent their childhood surrounded by people with a shared passion for the natural world.

Richard and Cherry lived at Corner House with their family. This has been remembered as the childhood home of the Kearton brothers with engravings surrounding the front door, including animals and the brothers’ initials and years of birth.

Helen Guy, trustee of Keld Resource Centre, said: “Their passion for wildlife photography was so apparent that it is thought to have inspired a young Sir David Attenborough to pursue a career in wildlife film and photography.

“He wrote a letter to us saying ‘the brothers virtually invented natural history photography, Cherry’s cinema film about the penguins on Dassen Island captivated me when I saw it as a boy back in the 1930s’; which is absolutely amazing when you think about it.”

The brothers always pushed themselves and the limits of the photographic technology available at the time. To achieve many of the wildlife photographs that they captured, they created natural hides where they could sit and wait for birds and other animals to return to their habitats whilst in disguise.

Their hides included an artificial ox, which they constructed with the help of a taxidermist and covered in ox skin. The brothers would crouch inside the ox and position the camera on top of a wooden frame inside and wait patiently for the right shot.

• Photograph of Cherry Kearton hanging off a cliff with his camera attached to his back, it shows the lengths the brothers went to get the perfect shot.

As a result of their innovative techniques, in 1892 the brothers became the first to take a photograph of a birds’ nest with eggs inside. They had to overcome many physical obstacles to capture their shots. This included climbing sheer cliffs and waiting patiently for hours in often claustrophobic conditions, without moving. They were utterly committed to getting the perfect shot, no matter the risk.

The brothers cemented their partnership through the publication of several books together. Richard would write the content and Cherry would take the photographs. In 1895, the brothers published their first ground-breaking book, ‘British Birds’ Nests How, Where and When to Find and Identify Them’.

It was seen as revolutionary as it was the first nature book illustrated throughout by photographs. Both brothers were determined to learn as much as they could about nature through practical research.

Leader of North Yorkshire County Council Councillor Carl Les said: “In these unprecedented times, it is important that we still look to celebrate the things that make us North Yorkshire, including our heritage, determination, and innovation. The Kearton brothers’ work shows the opportunities for inspiration and creativity offered by the county’s rural landscape.

“We have received several nominations, but are looking for more. We would love the public to continue getting involved with Great North Yorkshire Sons and Daughters, which has proved so popular. If you feel there is someone who made a difference to your community in the past, please contact us.”

Nominations can be sent to MadeInNorthYorkshire@northyorks.gov.uk

Ten life stories will be featured in the series, after which the public will be invited to vote to find the greatest son or daughter.

Read more about the Kearton Brothers and Made in North Yorkshire at: www.northyorks.gov.uk/made-in-north-yorkshire