New year, new decade?

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My boys a decade ago in 2010
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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?

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My favourite time is when the turkey is on the table and I can finally relax
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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

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The lonely hearts ad on the reverse side of my dad’s column
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A typical hand-drawn full page advertisement from 1979
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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

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Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale which was built by local man Tom Ferris, one of the pseudonyms used by my dad for his books. 
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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

No stain on the countryside

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Amazing autumn colours in a beech hedge
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The beautiful autumn display has lasted longer this year
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York Glazier’s Trust restored the minster’s Great East Window. Picture by Frank Dwyer

As I have been going about my business around the North Yorkshire countryside recently, I’ve nearly come off the road several times while being mesmerised by the stunning beauty of the autumn trees. The variety of colours decorating our landscape has been simply breathtaking and, for me anyway, is some compensation for the long winter to come.

By the time you read this, it is likely that the leaves will have all but gone, but I wonder if you agree that the glorious colours have lasted longer than usual this year? I recall my regret in previous years at the brevity of the display, as usually the colourful leaves would be whipped from their branches once an October or November storm had raged through. But for 2019, although we have had plenty of rain, the winds have remained fairly benevolent over recent weeks, and so I am assuming this is why we have been blessed with a countryside kaleidoscope of dozens of shades of greens, yellows, oranges, reds and browns.

I was so overcome with what I was seeing the other day, that I had to stop the car, get out and just look. It was a beautiful, clear sunny morning, and the leaves upon the trees before me seemed illuminated from within as the sunlight landed upon them. As I looked up through the branches, it reminded me of being in church as a child, when I used to get distracted during Mass when the sun shone through the colourful stained glass windows, as if someone had flicked a switch to light them up.

In ages past, Yorkshire was renowned for the production of stained glass, particularly the city of York, and according to my dad’s column from 1st December 1979, a list of Freemen of the city from between 1330 and 1540 shows no less than 100 names of local ‘glassyers’, as they were then called.

It’s not certain exactly when stained glass began to be produced, but according to the Stained Glass Museum based at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, references to it have been found as far back as the seventh century, and by the 12th century it was a recognised art form. The techniques for making stained glass have remained largely unchanged since then, which we know thanks to a contemporary description by German Benedictine monk Roger of Helmarshausen who, under the pseudonym Theophilus, wrote ‘De Diversis Artibus’. This is an exceptionally valuable historical resource, as it is an exhaustive account of the techniques of all known crafts of the first half of the 12thcentury, and includes the earliest references in Europe to paper and oil painting.

Initially, there were only a limited number of colours to use, but in about 1300, a new stain was discovered which could turn white glass yellow, and blue glass green, which gave the artist more freedom to highlight hair, haloes and crowns.

Thanks to the Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, only a handful of examples of monastic medieval glazing survived, and general interest in the art of stained glass subsequently declined. However, it underwent a renaissance in the early 19th century following the Catholic revival, and enthusiasm for medieval and Gothic architecture grew when John Ruskin, the most influential Victorian art critic, labelled it the ‘true Catholic style’.

Many new churches were built and old ones restored in the movement, led by staunch Catholic and architect AWN Pugin, who believed that the Gothic style was the only one suitable for a truly Christian country. It led to a renewed demand for ecclesiastical stained glass, and the art form has remained buoyant ever since.

Today, York Glazier’s Trust are responsible for the conservation and maintenance of York Minster’s windows, as well as for the preservation of historic stained glass all over the country and further afield. They restored the badly damaged 16th century Rose Window after the dreadful fire of 1984, and more recently the enormous Great East Window, a project that was initiated in 2005 and completed in 2018. The 15th century window, which took three years to construct, is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain, with 300 separate glazed panels.

There are some wonderful examples of ancient stained glass in many of our smaller local churches, so next time you’re passing one, why not pop in and appreciate this most ancient of art forms.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 29th and the Gazette & Herald on 27th November 2019

Worming my way through history

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Working on this week’s column with a cup of tea, made from leaves in a pre-warmed pot and milk poured from a jug
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The Darlington Scouts emblem showing the Sockburn Worm with a sword in its neck

As I have mentioned before, I usually have no idea what I am going to write about in these columns before I sit down and read my dad’s piece from the corresponding week 40 years ago.

When I finished reading his column from 24th November 1979, I decided that I was going find out more about Sir John Conyers, who lived from 1255 until 1303, and was gifted lands around the village of Sockburn, seven miles south of Darlington, looped by the River Tees. The lands were a reward for his bravery at having slain the Worm of Sockburn.

I wasn’t sure what this ‘worm’ was, although I assumed it wasn’t the kind I found in my garden, as you wouldn’t need to be brave to slay one of those, let alone defend a whole village from one.

I discovered ‘worm’ was another name for a kind of dragon, known as a wyvern. Of course, then I had to find out what a wyvern was, and found that it’s like a winged dragon but with two legs instead of four.

As it happens, I had unknowingly seen countless pictures of wyverns but had assumed they were your common-or-garden dragon. Some images depict them walking upright, like a tyrannosaurus rex, while others show them in a more horizontal stance. But now that I’ve looked again at such pictures, it’s like looking at a dog or a horse with its front legs missing. It does look a bit odd!

It is likely that the worm story is an allegory for Viking marauders who were ransacking the north at the time and that Sir John was victorious in defending the village of Sockburn against them. Another interesting fact is that the Worm of Sockburn is supposed to have inspired Lewis Carroll, who lived in nearby Croft-on-Tees for many years, to write his poem, the Jabberwocky.

Wyverns will be familiar to Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fans, and one is even featured on the emblem of Darlington Scout Group, with Sir John Conyers’ conquering sword protruding from its neck. They also appear on noble coats of arms, such as that of Prince Edward’s wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and of Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.

It was at this point of this week’s meandering journey of historical discovery that I came across the most interesting fact of all. It wasn’t that Portuguese Catherine of Braganza was married to Charles II until his death in 1685, or that she was never allowed to be called Queen due to her Catholic faith, or that she never bore him a child despite him having at least 14 illegitimate children by seven other women, or that she was noted for making it fashionable for women to wear clothes normally associated with men, such as waistcoats and breeches.

No! It was the fact that she has been credited with introducing tea into this country!

Now, as a fairly snobbish tea drinker, who at home insists on leaf tea made in a pot that has been warmed first, only with water on the absolute point of boiling, and with milk poured from a jug and not the bottle, I think I owe a debt of gratitude to the woman who sparked a revolution in the drinking habits of a nation. She introduced us to a product that I simply could not live without. Tea has seen me through many obstacles in life, such as death, divorce and driving tests, and I have my little ritual every morning. I make time for my first cuppa of the day, taking a break from any work or chores to properly sit down, switch off and enjoy it.

Further research revealed that actually, Catherine couldn’t have been responsible for its introduction to these shores as Samuel Pepys talks about it in his diaries in 1660, five years before she moved here.

But like the princesses Margaret, Diana, Kate and Meghan that have followed her, she set the trend and made something quite uncommon become the height of fashion.

So we’ve been on quite a voyage this week, from Sir John Conyers, to the Sockburn Worm, to dragons, to wyverns, to Vikings, to Lewis Carroll, to the Jabberwocky, to Catherine of Braganza, to Charles II, to Samuel Pepys and finally, we end it all with a nice cup of tea.

Is there anything more satisfying than that?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 22nd and the Gazette & Herald on 24th November 2019

Wood yew believe it?

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A yew tree outside St Hilda’s Church, Ampleforth
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Bright red yew berries with their distinctive ‘hole’ in the centre
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A yew tree (on the right) on one of my dog walking routes

The yew is a more common sight in English churchyards than most other species of tree and there are a number of theories as to why this is the case.

Back in Mediaeval times, boys over the age of 16 were obliged to practise their archery skills after mass on a Sunday. As yew wood is strong and flexible, it is perfect for making bows, and so the trees were said to have been planted in churchyards for this purpose.

Another common tale went that because yews are highly poisonous to livestock, they would be planted near churches to stop commoners grazing their cattle over sacred ground.

However, both these stories are likely to be just myths, as the yew, which has a reputation for longevity, is usually much older than the church so would not have been planted in the churchyard, but rather the church would have been built near the already established tree.

This country was pagan long before Christianity came along, and in ancient lore, the yew was considered a sacred tree. Like many evergreens, it signified everlasting life with associations with death and rebirth due to its uncanny ability to not expire. In fact, even one that looks dead can often spring back to life, thanks to new shoots appearing from deep within the apparently dead tree carcass, rising up and surrounding the tree’s original trunk.

Its branches tend to grow downwards and where they hit the ground, new shoots can also spring up. A grove of yews can look like several separate trees, even though they are in fact still, technically, just the one tree.

The reason they are now commonly seen in churchyards is likely to be because when the Christians persecuted the pagans, they took over many of their sacred sites, replacing any pagan structures with new churches. The yew retained its mythical aura, and through Christian eyes, became a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.

In my dad’s column from 17th November 1979, he mentions a grant awarded from Derbyshire County Council to repair what was said to be the oldest yew in England, which was at St Helen’s Church, Darley Dale, and was believed to be 2,200 years old. He says he’s not sure if the claim is correct and cites another yew at Fortingall in Scotland which claims to be the oldest in Europe at between 3,000 and 9,000 years of age. I have also found references to other very aged yews, including at Defynnog, in Wales, which claims to be 5,000 years old, another in Ankerwycke, Berkshire, a comparative youngster at just 2,000 years, and then a middle-aged one of 4,000 years at Crowhurst in Surrey.

It is very tricky to determine which is the true ‘oldest’ yew, but their esteemed reputations have attracted many visitors over the centuries. In fact, in September 1863, the editor of The Times received a letter, purportedly from the Darley Dale yew itself, complaining about the significant amounts of visitors that had begun to arrive, thanks to the advent of trains making it easier for city-dwellers to travel into the countryside.

‘Until tourists began to multiply and excursion trains to run, I had scarcely a single scar, older than time and tempest had left, on my body. But now the Snookeses, and Tomkinses, and Joneses have begun to immortalize themselves (as is the fashion of that race) by cutting their names all over my bark,’ the letter reads.

The ‘tree’ beseeches the editor to publicise the problem so that someone might come to its aid to protect it from further damage. It took until 1876 for the ancient yew’s prayers to be answered, when parish records from May of that year show that Manchester solicitor Charles Lister Esq. had paid for a sturdy iron fence out of his own pocket to protect the yew from further vandalism. That fence, and the tree, still stand today.

One surprising fact about the English yew is that although its needles contain alkaloids that are poisonous to humans and animals, these alkaloids also contain chemicals that are effective in the treatment of some forms of cancer. Known as taxanes, these chemicals help stop new cancer cells forming, and are used in chemotherapy drugs for certain types of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

Although taxanes can be produced synthetically in a laboratory, yew clippings are still collected today to extract the chemical naturally.

Well, yew live and learn!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 15th and the Gazette & Herald on 13th November 2019