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?
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