Who was the Countryman?


The Countryman was my dad, Peter N Walker (aka Nicholas Rhea), who died on 21st April 2017 from prostate cancer.

He was a full-time writer for more than 35 years, and before that, wrote in his spare time from his job as a policeman. He wrote stories based on his experiences and they were turned into the hugely successful TV series Heartbeat. But he also wrote much more, including crime novels, detective novels, short stories, local history books, collections of folk stories and tales, and also columns for local papers.

When he was younger, he used to read the Countryman’s Diary in the Darlington and Stockton Times by a well-known writer and local history expert, Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough. The Major had always been an inspiration and source of encouragement to my dad, who dreamed of taking over his column, so when he passed away, Dad was thrilled to be invited to take over. He continued that column for 41 years, and another (Rural View) for around 30 years in the Malton Gazette and Herald. Despite his success, he had a huge sense of loyalty and would not give up the weekly columns, continuing right up until a couple of weeks before his death, although towards the end, they were a struggle for him.

After his death, I began to wonder what would happen to his columns, and felt it would be a shame for them to simply disappear after so many years. With support from my family, I called the editors of the papers who readily agreed to my taking them over, even though I don’t have Dad’s writing pedigree, nor his extensive knowledge of all things country and Yorkshire. But, as my brother pointed out, I do have access to my dad’s archive, 40-plus years’ worth of columns to draw upon.

So I decided to take each column from the same week 40 years ago and see what I could use to inspire my column for today. What I have found is not only a wealth of material, but that it is bringing back some memories that were long-since forgotten, memories of my dad, and of our family, of which he was so proud. And it feels like I am getting to know my dad in a way I never expected nor thought possible. It’s an honour to be able to do it and, step by step, week by week, it is helping me make my way along the long road of grief that his passing has left behind.

Sarah xxx

A shoe on the wrong foot

My collection of shoes I couldn’t throw out

I’ve recently moved into a new bedroom following the construction of an extension to our home. We now have three good-sized bedrooms, and my son has decamped into my old room from the pokey box he put up with for several years following our move to this house.

It was an opportunity to have a good old clear out of all clothing that I’ve inexplicably hung on to, clothes that I bought but barely wore, or was hoping one day to fit back into. It’s quite cathartic getting rid of all that stuff, and I filled bag upon bag of unwanted items. As you do it, you ask yourself why on earth you hang on to it all. There were not enough days in the year to wear everything I kept in my wardrobe. Thankfully, there are plenty of clothing banks nearby and I hope someone will now be benefitting from all that excess of fabric in some way.

One of the most difficult things to get rid of is shoes. I love a pair of glamorous heels, although now I’m at the age where comfort is more important than glamour. I used to be able to convincingly rock a pair of stilettos and walk elegantly down the street with my head held high. Nowadays, if I’m in heels, it’s more of a wobbly-legged stagger you’d associate with a man in drag.

I did manage to let go of a few pairs, although I have hung on to more than I should, knowing that it is unlikely I will wear them again. But I just can’t bring myself to give them away. Not yet, anyway.

There are many beliefs and superstitions relating to shoes, as my dad reveals in his column from 19th January 1980. A friend had asked him why a shoe is tied to the back of a car used by a newly married couple. I’ve not been to a wedding for a number of years, but in the 1990s when I got married, it was common to have empty cans tied to the back bumper and they’d make an almighty clatter as they bounced along behind you.

In ancient Egypt, the bride’s father would hand her shoes to the groom, signifying that the responsibility for his daughter had now passed to his son-in-law. In Anglo-Saxon times, the father would give the groom one of his daughter’s shoes, and she had to lightly touch her own head with it to signify that she would be obedient to her new husband. By Tudor times, it became customary to throw shoes after the departing couple, and if one hit the groom, it would bring good luck. It is this custom that we think evolved into the tying of shoes behind the vehicle (somewhat less hazardous, one would imagine).

But it’s not just bridal couples who had to watch out for flying footwear. Shoes were also thrown after departing ships, or after people setting off on a long journey, or after those embarking on a new enterprise, to bestow good fortune on all involved.

But shoes are not always associated with good luck. Criminals would be beset by fear if they came across a boot or shoe left on a table, as that meant someone was bound to die by hanging, either the owner of the shoes, the householder, or the person who spotted them.

I’ve inherited a useful book from my dad about superstitions, and it features a bewildering number linked to shoes. There are superstitions associated with burning shoes, with shoes and Christmas, with putting shoes on a table, with putting shoes in a particular position, with shoes squeaking, with the act of putting shoes on, with throwing shoes and with simply wearing shoes.

But there is one of which I think we all need to take note, and that is to make sure we put the correct shoe on the correct foot first. According to Scottish folklore, if you want to ensure you have a good day, then you need to put the right one on before the left. However, according to Yorkshire folklore, putting your right one on first is unlucky. So it’s a lucking minefield!

But both traditions agree that if you inadvertently put your left shoe on the right foot, then an accident will soon befall you.

I think I’ll play it safe and just go barefoot.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 17th Jan and the Gazette & Herald on 15th  Jan 2020

Keeping the fires burning

Members of the Clavie Crew carry the burning clavie through the streets of Burghead, Scotland, on January 11 2018. The ‘Burning of the Clavie’ marks the ‘new year’, according to the ancient Julian calendar. 

January is possibly my least favourite month of the year. It’s at this time that I experience a slump in my mood because all the festivities of Christmas and New Year are over, the decorations have come down, and the weather outside is mostly dark and damp. And having checked the long-range forecast for January, it doesn’t look like anything exciting will be happening on the weather front any time soon. I apologise to all those who are not fond of snow, but I’m still a bit of a kid at heart, getting ridiculously giddy when I see big fat white flakes floating down from above.

So I do feel a wee bit jealous of those lucky people who live in Burghead, a fishing port in Morayshire, Scotland, which my dad mentions in his column from 12th January 1980. The villagers are lucky because they celebrate New Year’s Eve twice over, once on 31st December, and again on 11th January. So they know they still have one more celebration to look forward to, which must surely help get them through the mid-January funk that people like me experience.

The 11th January is known as Old New Year’s Eve, or Old Hogmanay, created when the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar. Although the new calendar was introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregory, it was not adopted fully by Great Britain until 1752. Eleven days were ‘lost’ in order to make our dates align with the rest of Europe, which had adopted the new system many years earlier. It meant that September 2nd 1752 was immediately followed by September 14th.

Although many people were dissatisfied with the new calendar, they did adapt to the new date to mark the start of the year. The villagers of Burghead, known as Brochers, embraced the ‘new’ New Year, but they also decided to celebrate twice instead of just the once, refusing to let their traditional festivities, normally held 11 days later, disappear.

This celebration is known as the Burning of the Clavie, and continues to this day, remaining exactly the same as it always has done. Its origins are unclear, but it is similar to Scandinavian fire festivals and is likely to have its roots in pagan folklore.

The clavie is an oak barrel that has been cut in half and mounted on a pole. The staves from the other half of the barrel are placed inside, along with wood chips and tar. The outside of the barrel is also coated in tar.

Then, villagers gather at the home of the Clavie King for a wee dram, before he ceremoniously sets the whole thing alight, after which it is hoisted aloft by his 20-strong Clavie Crew made up of men born and bred in Burghead. The current Clavie King has held the post for 32 years, having been elected after the previous king died. He leads the Clavie Crew and the flaming barrel, along with the rest of the villagers and spectators, in a procession through the streets. Along the way they throw burning staves onto the doorsteps of certain villagers to bring them good luck for the coming 12 months.

The parade then heads up the nearby Doorie Hill and places the Clavie upon the ruins of a Pictish fort where it is stoked up with more wood and creosote or tar to ensure a huge spectacle of smoke and flames. Eventually it starts to burn itself out, and embers tumble down the hill, which are eagerly gathered up by residents who take them home to light the first fire of the new year, and hopefully benefit from the luck that the clavie is said to bring. Blackened embers are also sent away to Brochers who no longer live in the village.

It must be quite unusual that such a celebration still exists, especially in today’s health and safety-conscious society. And yet there is something heartwarming about the fact that this long-held tradition prevails, thanks to the determination and persistence of one small village. I know there are a number of North Yorkshire villages that have their own quirky traditions, such as scarecrow festivals, maypole dancing and morris dancing, but I’ve not come across anything in our region that is as unique, or that has lasted unchanged as long as the Burning of the Clavie seems to have done.

Can anyone tell me any different?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 10th Jan and the Gazette & Herald on 8th Jan 2020

Handy New Year!

A ‘Hand of Glory’ which can be seen at Whitby Museum.
I can now open a my dad’s 1980 folder which is a treasure trove of memories

A very Happy New Year to you and welcome to the new decade of 2020! Who’d have thought we’d make it this far?

Some of you may still be feeling the after-effects of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, but I hope the excesses of the season are not taking too much of a toll on you.

It’s now that I have the exciting task of closing away last year’s folder of Dad’s columns, and opening up a new one. Each folder is stuffed full of columns, reader letters and my dad’s replies, as well as copies of the original hand-typed version that he would have posted to the editor. It’s a real treasure trove of memories, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

So now we are into the 1980s where we leave behind the glitter and funk of 1970s disco, the safety pins and pogo-ing of punk, and move towards the less scary soft, pastel-coloured fashions and synthesisers of the New Romantics. I would turn into a teenager in this year, so who knows what dreadful recollections will be dredged up through reading my dad’s columns over the next decade!

True to form, his first column of the year, dated 5th January 1980, is full of interesting topics including Twelfth Night & the Epiphany, Wassailing, and a revisit to Yew trees following a reader letter he’d received.

But I’m not choosing any of those lovely topics. Oh no. My eye was caught by something far more gruesome, known as the Hand of Glory (if you’re eating while reading this, I suggest you finish your food before carrying on).

Criminals believed that this ‘lucky charm’ would bring them success in their nefarious activities. The ghastly object could be obtained from only one source – the body of a hanged man – and it had to be cut from the corpse as soon as possible after death. So criminals would hang about public executions in the hope of stealing one.

Once the hand was severed, it was wrapped in a shroud which was tightened to squeeze out every last drop of blood. Sometimes it would then be moulded into a loosely closed fist, although not always, and be put through a curing process involving a salt and pepper mixture spread upon the hand and left for about two weeks, just like curing a ham or a side of bacon.

After curing, the hand was then hardened by placing it in the sun or popping it into a clay pot over a gentle heat.

The closed fist was formed to hold a candle, but not just any candle. The Hand of Glory candle had to be made from the fat of a hanged man, virgin wax and Lapland sesame, the latter being a plant from which oil was extracted. The wick was usually made from the hanged man’s hair, although hair from a dead child was also deemed acceptable.

Some hands had the fingers outstretched, and in this case, the five fingers themselves would be lit. If one finger went out or refused to light, it meant that one of the householders was still awake.

When the hand or candle was alight, the ne’er-do-wells believed it had magical properties which included rendering the user invisible, paralysing anyone who set eyes upon the flame (except the owner of the hand), and keeping nighttime burglars awake while making sleeping householders stay asleep. And so it was an indispensable tool to any self-respecting burglar, and its power was broken only once the flames were extinguished.

To complete this ritual, a special verse had to be quoted immediately after lighting the candle or fingers. It went:

Let those who rest more deeply sleep, let those awake their vigils keep.

Oh, Hand of Glory, shed thy light, and guide us to our spoils tonight.

The Hand of Glory is recorded to have been used in North Yorkshire on at least three occasions. The earliest was in 1797 when a felon raided the Spital Inn at Stainmore between Bowes and Brough. Another report came from 1820 in Danby, Eskdale and that Hand is now on display in Whitby Museum. The last recorded use was in 1824 during a burglary at the Oak Tree Inn, Leeming Bar, on the old A1 or Great North Road.

Well Glory Be!

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 3rd Jan and the Gazette & Herald on 1st Jan 2020

New year, new decade?

My boys a decade ago in 2010
My children have grown from boys to men over the past 10 years.

As the year draws to a close, we reflect on what has happened over the past 12 months and whether it turned out better than, worse than, or just as, expected. My year has been pretty good on the whole, and my remaining family all survived it, so things are looking up!

But not only is it the end of a year, it is the end of a decade, and I can’t quite get my head around the fact that it is ten years already since 2010, and 20 years since the turn of the millennium. Although I’m in a persistent state of shock at the speed of passing time, I do have daily reminders in the shape of my children. My two older boys were born in the 1990s, but the youngest wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye in the year 2000, being born as he was in early 2002. By the end of 2010 he was nearly eight years old and not even close to five foot tall, whereas now he is nearly 18 and a good six foot!

Despite him growing at a rate that suggests he keeps fertiliser in his socks, it is only this week that he has finally been able to escape the confines of a high ‘cabin-style’ single bed and migrate to a proper, ground-dwelling double bed. Poor child, how he has suffered. Until recently his room was just too small to fit in a normal bed plus furniture, but thanks to a house extension that is almost finished (after nine long months), his enduring patience has been rewarded with a large bedroom of his own, dominated by a king-sized bed, far more appropriate for a lanky, soon-to-be adult.

In my dad’s column from 29th December 1979, he debates about whether a decade begins in the year ending in ‘0’, or the following year.

Dad argues that the decade in which he is writing began on 1st January 1971 and would end on 31st December 1980. But surely, the 1980s started in 1980, didn’t they? Not according to Dad, who adds: “The end of the century should be December 31st, 2000, and not 1999, as the new century begins on January 1, 2001.”

But it just doesn’t work as well, does it? I mean, three nines turning into three zeros is far more party-worthy than plain old ‘001’ changing to ‘002’. It’s simply not as satisfying, and popular culture prefers it that way.

I remember at the new millennium having an argument with a lad called Fred with whom I used to work. He loved a heated discussion and would debate incessantly until you either lost the will to live, or stormed out in a huff of frustration.

He was arguing that the new millennium wouldn’t exist until 2001, whereas I was arguing that it would start on 1st January 2000. This went on for some time, with him barely allowing me to get a word in edgeways, until I said, crossly: “So if you’re right, then you’re telling me you did not exist for the first year after your date of birth?”

He stared at me open-mouthed, trying to find the words to counter-argue, but it was logic that couldn’t be contested. Eventually, he said: “I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been stumped!”, and as far as I can remember, it was the only time I ever heard him cave in during an argument.

As it turns out, he was technically right (and if you’re reading this, sorry Fred!) but the debate still rages on. The confusion can be traced right back to Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth century monk from the Eastern Roman Empire, who came up with ‘Anno Domini’ (meaning ‘the year of the Lord’) which was the concept of dating forward from the birth of Christ. The dates before that were then called ‘Before Christ’ or BC. However, it wasn’t until around 200 years later that the system was popularised by our own eighth century monk, the Venerable Bede, who included it in his most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People in AD731.

The problem was, the dating system jumped straight from 1BC to AD1, skipping the year zero. And thus, 2,020 years of confusion and debate were set in motion.

I wonder what the Venerable Bede would have said had he known we’d be arguing about it still?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 27th and the Gazette & Herald on 24th December 2019

Most wonderful time of the year?

My favourite time is when the turkey is on the table and I can finally relax
My mum and I have hosted our fair share of Christmases so know how exhausting it can be

Well the big day is just around the corner and no doubt any youngsters in your life will be bursting with excitement in anticipation of the arrival of the fat man in the red suit.

I heard a rather interesting statistic the other day following this question: ‘According to a recent survey, what percentage of adults think that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year?’ There were two answers to choose from, 34% or 54% (Which do you think is correct? I’ll tell you at the end of this column).

My teenage son immediately expressed shock that the higher number was not even higher because, surely, everyone MUST love Christmas?

Ahhh, the optimism of youth! I said the answer would depend on who the respondents were. If it was mainly young people and men, who have no idea of the amount of effort, work and stress that goes into making a wonderful Christmas, then the answer would be the higher one. If most of the respondents were women, then it would be the lower one (apologies to any males who take on the behemoth of Christmas, but statistics show it is still mostly women). Of course, you also have to factor in those who are alone, sick or missing loved ones, for which this time of year is especially difficult.

“You mean you don’t think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year?” my son asked in dismay.

I had to explain that I love lots of things about Christmas, particularly the bit where the turkey comes out of the oven and is on the table, as that’s when I know my job is done and I can start to relax. But for those of us who have to shoulder the responsibility of almost everything to do with Christmas, it is blooming hard graft. It should be compulsory for every person who has organised Christmas to be sent on an all-expenses-paid spa retreat for the whole of January to recover.

OK, so I know I am being a bit bah-humbug, and there is lots that I genuinely love about the festive season, but I do feel there is a distinct lack of awareness among those who do not have to do the bulk of the organising to understand the immense effort it takes to make it the ‘most wonderful time of the year’. And don’t get me started on the expense (I do have a 750-word limit, after all!).

Possibly what I enjoy most of all are the frequent gatherings with friends and family. I love it when we all get together over delicious food and overflowing drink to enjoy each other’s company.

As my dad explains in his column from 22nd December 1979, back in the day (and as I remember in the 1970s), it used to be customary for any visitors to be offered a slice of traditional Christmas cake and maybe even a glass of sherry. I’m not sure if that custom still persists, as fewer and fewer people make the traditional cake these days.

The cake would be big enough to last many servings, and as Dad wrote in 1979: ‘The milkman, butcher, postman and others must receive countless portions during their Christmas rounds.’

He remembers a local doctor who would keep several sheets of greaseproof paper in his bag, and politely ask his generous patients if he could take the cake home to share with his wife. By the time he’d finished his rounds, his bag would be bursting with slices, but at least he hadn’t offended anyone by refusing it, nor made himself ill by eating too much!

My mum still makes a deliciously moist traditional fruit cake, and I recall as youngsters, my three siblings and I were all invited to take a turn stirring the mixture. It would be a couple of months before Christmas, and would have been the first exciting hint that it wasn’t far away.

Although I wasn’t a massive fan of fruit cake, the best bit about it was that it would be coated in a thick layer of marzipan, and then another thick layer of rock-hard white royal icing. Some were even decorated with a ribbon around the outside and a collection of jaunty festive plastic figures on top.

Now back to the survey. The answer was 34%.

I wish you all the best for Christmas, and a very happy new year.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 20th and the Gazette & Herald on 18th December 2019

Earning our stripes

The lonely hearts ad on the reverse side of my dad’s column
A typical hand-drawn full page advertisement from 1979
A handsome, rather angular, gentlemen, sporting his stripy Viyella House shirt, stares moodily across the Binns Christmas advert

When I read my dad’s columns from 40 years ago, I often look at the reverse side of the cutting, which can have a variety of fascinating items to peruse. There may be adverts, letters to the editor, local notices, news stories and announcements, all accompanied by photographs or illustrations that evoke the 1970s and bring back memories of living through that memorable decade.

The content often reflects the time of year, so on the back of a February 1979 column is a letter to the editor discussing the harsh winter they were experiencing, while in March there are adverts for footwear and camping equipment to suggest Spring is on its way. Move on to July and August and there are notices for agricultural shows, gymkhanas and barbecues, whereas in December we see a huge advert from Binns department store trying to tempt us through its doors for our Christmas shopping.

And who could resist a Sanyo music centre with ‘3 wave band radio PLUS belt driven turntable, magnetic cartridge and diamond stylus’, not to mention the ‘front-loading Cassette deck’? Clearly, the ‘Cassette’ is a very important aspect of the music centre to warrant its own capital letter. What strikes me about these large newspaper adverts is that all the images that accompany them are hand-drawn, rather than photographs of the products. I presume this is because they were unable to reproduce quality photos of the product via black and white newsprint.

I wonder what became of all those genuinely talented advertisement artists? In the Binns advert, gazing across the page towards the Sanyo music centre is a rather moody and distinctly angular gentleman looking very dashing in his stripy ‘Viyella House’ shirt and fat kipper tie, also stripy. Gosh, how we loved stripes in the 1970s.

I discovered that Binns, a familiar name to many of us northerners, had mostly disappeared by the mid-1980s after being absorbed into the House of Fraser brand. However I was surprised to find that Viyella is still going, and despite a chequered history of buyouts and near bankruptcy, it still has many branches all over the country, as well as an online shop.

The name Viyella originally referred to a fabric made up of 55% merino wool and 45% cotton that was trademarked in 1894 by William Hollins and Co., becoming the first ever ‘branded’ fabric. However, Hollins and Co soon began to make clothes too, and so Viyella became a fashion brand in itself. In the 1970s it was synonymous with the stripy shirt, but a quick check on their website today, and out of the 120 shirt designs available, a mere four are stripy, while 12 are plain.

So what pattens are on the remaining 104 shirts? Can you guess?

Before you discover if you are right, I want to mention one advert that caught my eye on the back of Dad’s column from 15th December 1979. You can tell it’s winter, as there are many adverts placed by farm labourers looking for work, presumably having been laid off during the lean winter months. But below them is a single entry under the ‘Personal’ section that reads: ‘LONELY- UNATTACHED? Don’t be this Xmas. Contact Kate’s Intro Bureau for details of special offer and sample list of friendship-marriage partners. Thousands of members.’

How discreet this little ad is, although I do wonder if the grand claim of ‘thousands of members’ is a bit exaggerated, as back in those days, approaching a dating agency for help was seen as quite desperate and shameful. You’d never have admitted you had gone to one, even if you had.

How times have changed! The internet has revolutionised the dating scene, with countless apps and websites making it so much easier for singles to find partners. It has shed its somewhat seedy image, and couples are willing to talk about having met online. In fact, only this morning I heard that it is predicted that within the next decade, 40% of couples will have met via apps and websites, and that 2037 will be the ‘tipping point’ year, when more babies will be born to couples who met online than through a face to face date.

Did you get the shirt pattern right? I bet you’re not surprised to learn that the men of today prefer the ubiquitous checked shirt above any other. Will stripes ever come back?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 13th and the Gazette & Herald on 11th December 2019

It Beggar’s belief

Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale which was built by local man Tom Ferris, one of the pseudonyms used by my dad for his books. 
A grainy 1937 newspaper copy the 1899 photograph of the accident at Beggar’s Bridge in which the unfortunate horse died.

One of Dad’s quirky traits as an author was to write under different pseudonyms. He used six names in total, and when I asked why, he gave me a couple of reasons. The first was so that readers could distinguish between the different series of books. For example, he would write crime novels under his real name, Peter N. Walker (the ‘N’ was there to distinguish him from other Peter Walkers), but his Constable books (which inspired the TV series Heartbeat) were written under the name Nicholas Rhea.

The second reason was more pragmatic, in that in the early days, his publisher wouldn’t publish more than two books a year by the same author. As my dad was both prolific and canny, he began to write novels under different names so he could get more than two a year published. He ultimately had around 130 fiction and non-fiction titles issued, and from 1993 onwards, he only wrote under the pen name Nicholas Rhea.

Usually, he came up with names inspired by his own life. One was Christopher Coram, because we lived in Coram Cottage. Another was Andrew Arncliffe, after the woods where he and my mum used to take romantic walks. Nicholas Rhea came about because of his admiration for the Martyr of the Moors, Father Nicholas Postgate, while Rhea was his mother’s maiden name. And then there was James Ferguson, the name he used for a series of Emmerdale novels commissioned to accompany the TV soap. We are not sure how it came about, apart from the fact that Mum’s father’s first name was James, and Massey Ferguson was a famous tractor manufacturer (bearing in mind Emmerdale originally had ‘Farm’ in its title).

He only wrote one novel under the sixth name, ‘Tom Ferris’, in 1969, and I’m not sure why he never used it again. But I do know that the name came from a legend associated with his home village, Glaisdale, as he recounts in his column from 8th December 1979.

Tom Ferris (or Ferries as it is sometime written) was a 17th century benefactor of the village, well known for building ‘Beggar’s Bridge’, a narrow crossing over the River Esk. Like my dad, Ferris married a girl from nearby Egton Bridge, but Dad’s courtship was somewhat easier than poor Tom’s.

The legend goes that Tom was the son of a poor sheep farmer, but fell in love with a wealthy landowner’s daughter, Agnes Richardson. The couple wanted to marry, but Mr Richardson refused to allow his daughter to marry a ‘beggar’.

Tom vowed that he would go abroad to seek his fortune and return a rich man. The night before he was to depart, heavy rain caused the River Esk to flood and there was no way to cross, so Tom could not see his love for one final farewell.

Tom returned some years later having fulfilled his vow to become rich, and was able to marry his beloved Agnes. He built a bridge so that the River Esk would never again prevent anyone from being with their true love.

There is some truth to the tale, in that Tom Ferris did exist, did become wealthy and did marry Agnes. But in fact the bridge was built in 1619, one year after her death, by which time he had moved to Hull, where he continued to be successful, even becoming the city’s mayor. It is more likely that he built the bridge as a tribute to Agnes in the village where they courted as youngsters.

When I used to visit my Nana Walker in Glaisdale, I was fascinated by a picture that she had of a terrible accident involving Beggar’s Bridge in 1899. A wagon drawn by two horses was crossing the narrow bridge when they were spooked. One of the horses leapt over the low parapet and ended up dangling by its harness in mid air. It sadly didn’t survive the ordeal. A local amateur photographer, Joseph Readman, captured the gruesome scene, and the photograph became rather famous.

Some versions of the story say the second horse was already dead in the river below, but out of shot, while others say the second horse escaped. I’ve heard that there was more than one photograph taken at the time, with other shots showing the second horse. But which version is true, I wonder?

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 6th and the Gazette & Herald on 4th December 2019