Wednesday 10th January would have been Mum and Dad’s wedding anniversary, not an easy day for my mum, nor for the rest of the family, as we are still getting through our year of ‘firsts’ since Dad died last April.
They married at St Hedda’s Roman Catholic Church in Egton Bridge in 1959, and there had been heavy snowfall the night before. Many guests were unable to get through, although thankfully the Middlesbrough train was still running and stopped at several villages in the Esk Valley, including Dad’s home village of Glaisdale. The prize for most effort went to my intrepid Aunty Muriel who walked for four hours through the snow to make it, while Mum, in fur-lined boots, plodded with her bridesmaids from their home to the church up the road. The ushers set to shovelling snow from around the church, while the registrar was rescued from a drift en route by the photographer.
My dad used to recount a funny story about this registrar, and I hope you’ll indulge me as I retell it here.
Dad joined the North Riding Constabulary as a cadet based at Whitby Police Station at the age of 16. His inspector was a terrifying character who lived in a house next door. After an overnight snowstorm the police yard and paths were covered and he ordered Dad to clear it. When he had nearly finished, the inspector turned up and gave him a ferocious dressing down for not also clearing the paths to his private house. And so my weary young Dad went and did that too.
Seven years later, it was 10th January 1959. When the registrar arrived courtesy of the photographer, Dad noticed that he wore a distinctly miserable expression. He also recognised that distinctly miserable expression. Yes, it was was the same inspector, retired from the police but now a registrar, who had bellowed at him for not clearing snow to his own house. So when an usher gave the man a shovel and said, “Can you give us a hand?” Dad felt more than a little satisfaction. Although he would never confirm or deny it, I do believe that grumpy inspector was the inspiration for the character of Sergeant Oscar Blaketon from Dad’s Constable books (and TV’s Heartbeat). What goes around, comes around, I say!
Egton Bridge stands on the River Esk, which flows from its source high on the North York Moors for about 28 miles until it enters the North Sea at Whitby. In his column from 14th January 1978, Dad talks of another river, the Greta, which flows through Teesdale and into the Tees before it reaches the North Sea.
He says many of our northern rivers, like the Greta, owe their names to the Norsemen of old, for whom the letter ‘a’ meant ‘river’. In Old English, the ending ‘ea’ also meant ‘river’, and over the years, it has evolved into a number of endings, including ‘ey’, ‘ay’ or simply ‘y’, and in turn, these have evolved according to local dialect and pronunciations. For example, the Yeo in Devon and the Eye in Leicestershire would likely have the same roots in their names.
The River Greta means ‘river of stones’, and Yorkshire has a number of rivers with this name flowing through its limestone countryside. The word ‘Esk’ comes from the Celtic ‘isca’ which means ‘water’, and the word ‘whiskey’ has the same root too (I wonder how many people wished our rivers flowed with whiskey rather than water?). Interestingly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘esker’ means a long winding ridge of gravel and other sediment deposited by melting water from a retreating glacier, and one of the villages the Esk flows through is Glaisdale, whose name comes from the word ‘glacier’. There are several other River Esks, including one in the Lake District, and a few in Scotland.
The reason Mum and Dad had chosen such an odd time of year to get married was because Dad had heard there were some smart new police houses being built near Whitby. If he and my mum were married, they might be in with a chance of securing one. Sadly, it didn’t quite work out like that, and they instead ended up in a poky little flat – but only for a few months until a house became available. Although the reason for the timing of their wedding was more pragmatic than romantic, Mum and Dad remained happily and devotedly married for more than 58 years.