A walk of wonder

The Hanging Stones Walk in Rosedale is a fantastic celebration of land and art

It may not have escaped your notice that I am rather fond of walking on the North York Moors. I only need half an excuse to head over there for a gallop in the heather. I recently gave a talk to the lovely people of Rosedale WI and someone there mentioned a walk that sounded absolutely fascinating.  

Known as the Hanging Stones Walk, it is much more than just your average bimble. It is an art project sponsored by the Ross Foundation (an organisation that supports initiatives related to art, community, sport, music and education). The foundation commissioned renowned sculptor Andrew Goldsworthy who is famous for his spectacular pieces of land art located in both rural and urban settings.   

The idea of the walk, which starts in Rosedale Abbey, is to create a living and experiential artwork using existing neglected or derelict farm buildings dotted around Northdale. The land belongs to the Rosedale Estate and a series of ancient pathways have been resurrected to link each building. Although the circular walk is not quite finished (there will ultimately be ten buildings to visit), the current series of nine buildings can be visited in four to six hours, depending on how fast you walk and how long you spend in each one. You have to be fairly fit, and able to read a map to locate the buildings. If you do find it a bit strenuous, you have the opportunity to take a breather at each stopping point.   

These old structures have been given a new lease of life, with the original stones being reused as far as possible. They have been constructed in a way that is sympathetic to their original use, and to the land that surrounds them, as if they have always belonged there. They are padlocked shut, so you have to book in advance, and places are limited, but it is well worth the effort. You collect a key and a map, and are let loose to find your way.  

Each installation has its own name, such as ‘Bog’s House’ and ‘Job’s Well’, and as you head towards each one, you begin to wonder what you might find when you arrive, to wonder about its past history and how it was used. What stories would the old building tell if it could speak? The anticipation grows as you put the little key in the lock, because from the outside there are very few visible clues as to what’s going on on the inside. I’m not going to say what is in each, because finding out is part of the enjoyment, but I can say that both of us who went declared ‘Wow’ several times. It was so impressive, and wonderful to just sit by ourselves inside these once neglected buildings to marvel at what they have now become. None of them had any electricity or mains services, and we were often sitting in near darkness with little sound except the calls of birds and the trickling of water. But it gave us some sense of what it must have been like back in the day, back in the times when the residents of these remote dales were not blessed with electric lights, or modern gadgets. It was incredibly peaceful, and a real tonic to be able to switch off from the constant sensual harassment inflicted upon us by everyday life.   

The walk in between each building was a delight in itself too, with expansive views down the valley towards Rosedale, which just served to highlight why it is one of the most beautiful dales in the whole of North Yorkshire.  

It was a privilege to be able to visit, and I marvel at how the creative mind of Andrew Goldsworthy has managed to conceive this amazing, breathtaking art, while at the same time pay homage to the nature and function of the old buildings and the land in which they sit.  

The day we went was overcast, so I plan to go back again on a warm summer’s day and do it all over again. The thing is, if it hadn’t have been for that tip-off resulting from my visit to Rosedale WI I would never have found out about this walk.  

What other wonders are hidden in North Yorkshire that I have yet to find?  

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 12th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 10th May 2023.

Writing and rewards

My nana aged about three (seated) with her family outside the Thee Blast Furnaces pub, Glaisdale, in about 1919. Her mum, Sarah Jane Williamson, was the sister of reader Jeremy Williamson’s great-grandfather George Williamson.

One of the things I most enjoy about writing a weekly column is that fact that you lovely readers get in touch with comments, observations, recollections and feedback. Firstly, it gives me enormous satisfaction to know that my efforts to entertain are not in vain, and secondly, your messages often result in new opportunities to research topics which provide material for future columns.

This week I was showered with an embarrassment of riches on the ‘readers getting in touch’ front. No less than five people contacted me, all talking about different subjects.

Gillian Hunt (who was featured last week) furnished me with more fascinating details relating to aspects of sampler embroidery, which I may come back to at a later date, while Jeremy Williamson wrote to me revealing that we are related. My great-grandfather Thomas Rhea, who was licensee of the Three Blast Furnaces Inn (later the Anglers’ Rest) in Glaisdale, was married to Sarah Jane Williamson, Jeremy’s great aunt. Sarah Jane was sister to his grandfather George Henry Williamson, and George was landlord of the Robin Hood and Little John pub in Castleton from 1939 until the 1960s. Sadly, that pub went a similar way to the Angler’s Rest, and has been converted into a house. Jeremy has only recently found out that George Henry was one of nine children, and went on to father ten children. We have a wonderful picture of my nana’s family outside the Three Blast Furnaces when she was around three alongside her parents and five siblings (she did have two more, an elder brother who died when he was just two, and another younger brother yet to be born). Imagine buying Christmas presents for that lot. It makes me think my family of three children barely qualifies me to call myself a parent.

Terry Ashby got in touch after reading my column about pathways a few weeks back. Terry is a staunch advocate for the protection of historical footpaths, bridleways and boundaries and has written extensively on the subject. He laments the fact that many routes either disappear, or their original use becomes lost when not protected, observing: “There are many instances of, for example, bridleways which reach boundaries or other dividing obstacles and become footpaths on the other side. Some tracks or paths end for no apparent reason.” I wonder if any of you have encountered that problem? I imagine it must be very annoying if you’re out enjoying a leisurely hack when the bridleway you’re following suddenly disappears.

Peter Allen emailed me following my article about poltergeists, correcting me about ‘Lady Nunnington’. In fact there never was a Lady Nunnington – the ghost was actually known as ‘The Proud Lady of Nunnington’.

And lastly, Linda Chambers, in an old-school 20th century manner, wrote me an actual letter. She used to live in my home village, and recalled (as do many long-term residents), the sight of my dad climbing the local hill every day in his trademark white, cable-knit sweater. She came up with a question that I couldn’t answer, asking if I had heard of ‘King Henry’s Night’.

“I was told about this some years back by an elderly gentleman (now dead) who lived at Thorgill,” she says. “It apparently centred around young people going out on a particular night and meeting up with likely suitors. Not sure what their parents thought but no doubt it was eagerly anticipated.”

Naturally, I was straight into my dad’s vast collection of cuttings, files and books gathered over the sixty years of his writing career, but came up empty-handed. I also tried a few searches online, but they were pretty fruitless. So this is where you come in. Have you heard of it, and if so what can you tell us? Recent requests for help on all sorts of subjects have come up trumps, so I am hopeful that at least one of you reading this will either know, or has the means to find out.

Then I can write about it and take all the glory.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 28th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 26th April 2023

A path to inspiration

Public footpaths have often existed for thousands of years

The familiar fat yellow arrows show which way to go after crossing the stile

As a follow-up to my last column about the tragic case of William Winter who lost his wife and three young children to Scarlet Fever in May 1889, I was planning this week to discuss the havoc the disease wreaked on England in the nineteenth century. But as I wrote, it dawned on me that the subject matter was thoroughly miserable. I questioned whether I, as a columnist for this esteemed paper, was serving you readers by showering you in melancholy and thus making you as miserable as I felt. Let’s face it, over recent weeks I’ve bombarded you with tales of disease, death and graveyards.

So I did what I always do when I’m faced with such a quandary; I stopped writing. As a writer, you have to trust that inspiration will come, and you learn not to struggle on when your ideas don’t work. By the next morning, I still had very little notion as to what misery-free topic I would write about and once I had exhausted all the usual procrastination-induced tasks (like hanging out washing, making pots of tea, watching Netflix), I did the next best thing. I went for a walk.

I’m lucky to have instant access to the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside outside my front door and, thanks to the kindness of a local farmer, am allowed to wander across his land up to the top of a hill where I can take in the glorious views over my home valley. It helps me clear my mind just a little bit.

The route through his field joins a public footpath across the top of the hills and I soon came to a stile where the way ahead was signposted by familiar fat yellow arrows put in place by the North York Moors National Park Authority. I didn’t need them though as the direction was clearly visible thanks to the many thousands of feet that had trodden it before me.

And that, dear people, is when the inspiration for this particular column finally arrived. How did this footpath get here, and how old was it?

A path across land can become an official right of way if it has been used continuously by the public for at least 20 years and, once approved, it is a classification bound by law. In many cases, these routes have existed for generations, and in the days before instant communication and motorised transport many were packhorse trails, used for delivering messages and shifting goods between settlements.

Different paths would be forged for different reasons, and there are clues as to their age and purpose. For example, if a path runs directly between two villages (and especially if those villages appear in the Doomsday Book), it is likely to have existed for thousands of years, originally linking tribal settlements to one another. Later on, from the first century AD until the fifth, we were occupied by the Romans who took highways and byways to a whole new level, being the first civilisation to construct formal paved roads, forging their way for many miles right across the landscape. It made it easier to move armies, weapons and supplies from one part of the country to another. Many Roman roads form the basis of our transport network today, while others have become public footpaths and bridleways, and the rest have been swallowed up by agricultural land or development, although their imprint can sometimes still be seen from the air.

Other public footpaths trace their roots back to specific purposes. A ‘monk’s trod’ ran between monasteries and religious sites, a ‘corpse trail’ was a path to church along which coffins would be borne, ‘miners’ tracks’ were formed in remote parts of the Dales and Moors when the land was exploited for tin and lead, and ‘drove roads’ were created to drive livestock to markets, sometimes stretching for hundreds of miles (much of the Cleveland Way is an old drove road).

These networks of paths provide insight into how our forbears went about their everyday lives. The one I was using led to a local historical monument, thought to be a late Bronze Age animal enclosure, which means I was following a route that was created around 3,000 years ago.

So next time you walk one of your local public footpaths, I wonder if you can work out its age, and how it came to be?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 7th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 5th April 2023

Photographic memories

At the end of our skirmish across the North York Moors, we were blessed with the most stunning sunset, seen here from Wheeldale Gill. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


The Esk Valley News Quarterly, and in the background on my iPad, the article about my dad which included the picture of my parents’ wedding that I had been searching for all day long.


On one of my recent skirmishes across the North York Moors, I particularly wanted to visit St Hedda’s Church in Egton Bridge because, as well as being a beautiful building, it is where my parents were married.

I wanted to show it to my companion because, although it doesn’t look that special on the outside, inside it is an absolutely stunning church. Designed in 1867 by notable architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield (who was also responsible for the Catholic cathedrals in Salford and Sheffield) when you open the doors you are greeted by a vision of colour and splendour, dominated by a spectacular curved sky blue ceiling decorated with gold stars. The altar is surrounded on all sides by brightly coloured paintings and panels depicting saints and scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. It is reminiscent of the ornate church interiors you see in places like Italy and Spain rather than in a remote corner of the North York Moors.

As we came out of the church, I was keen to show my friend a favourite picture of Mum and Dad leaving the church just after their wedding. They married on 10th January 1959 after a nasty snow storm, and it is a gorgeously atmospheric image taken by Whitby photographer John Tindale.

I scrolled through the photos on my phone, but could I find the picture in question? I could not. It may have had something to do with the fact there are, ridiculously, 30,000+ stored on there. I spent much of the rest of the day trying to locate it in between our various pit stops. I finally gave up and concentrated on the task in hand, which was looking for Hannah Raw’s grave (as featured last week) and visiting the Witching Post pub in Egton, which is has a witch post in the ceiling as you walk into the bar.

Once at the pub, we got chatting to the charming staff, explaining what we were doing. They suggested that I needed to get my hands on a copy of the local magazine, Esk Valley News, the latest edition of which had just come out. It had a piece on witch posts and they informed us that we could get hold of it at the Co-op in Grosmont, so that was our next destination. 

I must confess that I imagined this magazine would be some amateurish free pamphlet put together with the main aim of advertising local trades and suppliers. How wrong was I! I was presented with a very professionally-produced journal stretching to a whopping 165 pages. It is a quarterly publication, and this edition was a ‘folklore, witchcraft and tradition’ special, absolutely jam-packed with contributions from local writers and experts. Having a quick flick through I put it in my bag, planning to read it properly when I got home (Incidentally, if you are ever in Grosmont, then I recommend you visit this little Co-op because not only is it a very useful shop and post office, it also stocks delicious home-made pies, pastries and cakes, and we couldn’t resist indulging!).

It was a very successful trip, and provided me (as you may have noticed over recent weeks) with plenty of fodder for future columns. We ended the day with a walk along Wheeldale Gill, and on the way back were blessed with one the most glorious sunsets I have seen. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Once home, I handed my copy of Esk Valley News to my mum, who was born and bred there, and therefore was very interested to see it. In the meantime, I sat down to mull over the day’s events and examine the dozens of pictures I’d taken on the trip, deciding which ones would the best to accompany future columns (which explains why I have 30,000+ on my phone!). 

Mum’s voice interrupted me: “Did you buy this because your dad is in it?”

“What?” I took back the magazine, and sure enough, there was a two-page feature on my dad written by a childhood friend. I had no idea and had failed to spot it when I’d flicked through earlier.

And right there with the article was a picture of my parents at their wedding. Yes, the very same one I’d been looking for all day long. I think that is what one might call a rather serendipitous purchase.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 10th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 8th March 2023

Wheeling back time

Wheeldale Road on the North York Moors is often called the ‘Roman Road’, but is it actually Roman in origin?

On a recent outing across the North York Moors, my companion and I opted for a quiet back road from Pickering, up through Newton-on-Rawcliffe towards Stape and beyond, which ultimately ends up in the village where my parents were married, Egton Bridge.

It is a road that is not for the faint-hearted because more or less all the way it is barely wider than a single track, so you have to be constantly on your guard for traffic coming in the other direction. There is an unwritten code among moorland drivers that, when faced with an oncoming vehicle, both of you slow down, and the one nearest to a suitable place to pull in does so to allow the other to pass. A flash of the headlights or a raised hand is always in order to thank the person who gave way, and they usually respond with friendly wave. Patience is the virtue of the North York Moors driver.

There are, of course, those that ignore that code, those who feel that they own the roads and everyone else should get out of their way. They simply refuse to pull in and head towards you with a stubborn pig-headedness that is selfish and irritating. We have a name for these kinds of drivers that I won’t repeat here!

The occasional bad driver did not detract from this gorgeous route though, which took us past the old Wheeldale Road, also known as Wade’s Causeway after the legend where the giant Wade builds a way for his wife Bel to more easily drive her flock of  sheep across the inhospitable landscape. It’s an ancient route that many refer to as the Roman Road, thanks to it appearing on a 1720 map, and in historical texts, with that name.

The thing is, it might not be Roman at all, as its constriction differs from other roads that are confirmed to be Roman in origin. Archaeologists debate to this day about who built it and when. There are characteristics which point away from the Italian invaders, such as the fact that its upper surface is made up of large stone slabs, whereas Roman roads were covered in gravel. Roman roads are also renowned for being dead straight, whereas the Wheeldale Road has a number of curves.

Although only a short section is visible today, some believe it linked Whitby with a Roman settlement at Amotherby near Malton, passing through the camp at Cawthorn near Pickering. Traces of an ancient road have been found in that direction, which adds weight to the theory. However, other archaeologists suggest it is much later and of mediaeval construction, while others think it dates from even earlier than the Romans, and attribute it to the Neolithic or Bronze ages.

Is it possible that it is a mish-mash of all those ideas? Perhaps ancient man forged what they thought was the easiest route across the landscape, and then the Romans came along and rather than go to the trouble of digging out a whole new road, used what was already there to create a more formal and recognisable road. Then in the mediaeval period, moor dwellers patched it up a bit, and added their own features, and as such, sparked a debate which has divided historians ever since. Of course, I know absolutely nothing about it really, so am hopeful that some expert reading this will put me straight.

On the subject of ancient highways, I am fascinated by stories of the old drove roads that criss-cross North Yorkshire, particularly with the idea that men would move great herds of livestock all the way from Scotland to London to sell at the markets there. Drovers were renowned for being extremely hardy, and I found a cutting from 1985 in my Dad’s files about a Yorkshire Dalesman named Jammy O’Sarah’s who drove a flock of sheep up hill and down dale through days of freezing blizzards to get to their new owner in Skirethorns.

When he finally emerged at his destination, the sheep’s fleeces ‘were so burdened by rain, sleet and snow and frozen by the wind that they could scarcely trudge through the gathering drifts.’ And all Jammy said was: “It’s been what you might call a comfortless journey,” before collapsing where he stood with cold and exhaustion.

Thankfully, he was saved from death after being fed with ‘enough rum to kill a weaker man’.

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 3rd and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 1st March 2023

Flowers for Hannah

I had a quiet moment of reflection after placing my tulips on Hannah’s grave in Glaisdale.
The inscription on Hannah Raw/Hall’s grave, where she is buried. She died in 1890 at the age of 64. Readers’ detective work helped me track the grave down.


The quest to find out more about Hannah Raw has produced some excellent information, thanks in a large part to reader Marion Atkinson’s endeavours. Best of all, Marion told me where she was buried.

If you remember, nine-year-old Hannah’s 19th century sampler is on my mum’s kitchen wall alongside two by my ancestors Mary Atkinson and Jane Lacy. We didn’t know anything about Hannah or how we came to have her sampler, but for many years it was kept rolled up with Jane Lacy’s at my Nana’s home. I wanted to find out who Hannah was, and why we had possession of her pretty piece of sewing. Thanks to Marion, and to sampler and family history enthusiast Gillian Hunt, we had started to build a picture of Hannah’s life (we also discovered that, remarkably, Marion and I are distant relatives!).

We found out that sadly Hannah’s parents had died when she was young, her mum Ellis in the same year that Hannah created her sampler (1835) and her father Matthew when she was just 13. By the time of the 1841 census, 15-year-old orphan Hannah was in service living with the Adamson family. Initially we thought that there was no trace of her after the 1841 census. But we were wrong!

Thanks to Marion’s detective work, we can now flesh out much of the rest of Hannah’s story.

On 23rd December 1850 when she was 24, Hannah married John Hall, 34, a grocer and draper born in Castleton and they set up home in Lealholm. By the time of the next census ten years later, the couple had had two children, Sarah, aged nine, and six-year-old Ellis, named after Hannah’s late mother. Husband John was now listed as a joiner and wheelwright. Not much of note changed for the next ten years, but by the 1881 census, when Hannah was 55 and John 65, 26-year-old Ellis had left home, while 29-year-old Sarah, listed as a dressmaker, was still living with her parents.

In fact Sarah never married, and lived with Hannah and John all their lives. Sadly, Hannah died in 1890 at Lealholm aged 64 (and not in the Whitby district a year later, as we had wondered in my last piece about her). Marion also told me that John died in 1903 at Lealholm when he was aged 87 and that both were buried in the graveyard of the Church of St Thomas, Glaisdale.

Now I don’t need much of an excuse to go for a spin across the North York Moors, especially to the village where my dad was born, so last Sunday, a friend and I jumped in the car and set off on the hunt for Hannah’s grave. I was determined to lay some flowers and pay my respects to this child/woman whose nearly 200-year-old piece of embroidery on our kitchen wall sparked such curiosity, and whose start in life had been so difficult.

The grave wasn’t hard to find, as I was armed with a picture of it that was already available online. Finally I was as close as I was ever going to get to meeting Hannah Raw. I lay down my tulips, and read the inscription:



I spent a quiet moment thinking of Hannah, of how difficult her childhood must have been and hoping that, against the odds, she had found some happiness in life.

And it seems she did. Her youngest daughter Ellis married Glaisdale joiner William Hodgson in 1878, and thanks to them, Hannah became a grandmother to eight children, four boys and four girls.

Therefore, we can conclude that there must be some living descendants of Hannah Hall (nee Raw), and wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of them is reading this piece? If you think that is you, then please get in touch by either contacting this paper, or through my contact page at countrymansdaughter.com.

One of my goals was to find a picture of Hannah, but as photography was in still its infancy when she was alive, it’s unlikely one exists. There is a tiny glimmer of hope though. Famous Moors photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941) was active during Hannah’s lifetime, so who knows? Maybe he snapped our long lost lady!

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 24th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 22nd February 2023

Hannah’s story goes on

Hannah Raw’s sampler that hangs on my mum’s wall

The letters MR and ER on the bottom right are her parent’s initials. The letters ‘ER’ are in dark thread showing that her mother, Ellis, was dead before Hannah made this sampler.

Following my pieces about North York Moors orphan Hannah Raw, I have been contacted by Gillian Hunt from Newcastle, who loves to study samplers and also enjoys tracing family histories. Great news for me, and for any of you who are also intrigued by this expanding tale.

If you recall, nine-year-old Hannah’s 19th century sampler is on the wall of my mum’s kitchen alongside two done by my ancestors Mary Atkinson and Jane Lacy. We didn’t know anything about Hannah or how we came to have her sampler, but for many years it was kept rolled up with Jane Lacy’s at my Nana’s home. We had some clues (featured in my last piece) from my distant relative Marion Atkinson, who believed that Hannah’s parents died when she was quite young. 

Gillian suggests that there may be a Scottish influence in the sampler design because the peacock with the fanned tail at the lower left corner and the band of capital letters across the top are very characteristic of that region. Scottish samplers also contain a lot of red and green threads, which Hannah used, although it may be that these were all she had available. She adds that Scottish samplers often featured the initials of other family members which, if sewn in black or dark thread, meant they pre-deceased the sampler’s creator. Hannah’s sampler has two sets of initials after the date; MR, which is in pale blue, and ER, which is in dark grey. 

Gillan says: “I picked up Hannah on the 1841 census, but it is of limited use to genealogists as it does not give places of birth, relationships between the members of a household, and the ages may be slightly inaccurate. On the Library edition of Ancestry.com, often more information is pulled through at the right hand side of the page if you click their name on the census list. For Hannah, it pulled up only a record of baptism: ‘Hannah Roe, baptised 23 September 1825 at Glaisdale, daughter of Matthew Roe, a labourer, and his wife, Ellis of Hartoff (Hartoft)’.”

Gillian goes on: “Hannah’s parents’ names fit the initials MR and ER on the sampler. If Hannah worked the sampler early in 1835, she would still be nine years old at the time. The fact that the name has been recorded as Roe rather than Raw is not particularly concerning – names were often misheard and misspelled, even by curates. Ellis as a female name is very unusual. It is common for a mother’s maiden name to be given to a son as a first name but I have never come across it as a daughter’s name. Is it a corruption of Alice or Elise/Elisa?”

Gillian discovered that there was a marriage recorded at Danby on 29 August 1820 of Matthew Raw to Ellis Winspear, which must be Hannah’s parents due to the unusual name of the bride. Both signed the register with their mark, which meant they could not write. She also found a record of Ellis Raw being buried at Danby on 15 February 1835. There will not be a death certificate for her as civil registration did not begin until 1837 and given that her children were born at approximately two-yearly intervals, Gillian thinks it is possible that Ellis died as a result of pregnancy or child birth. As the initials ER are in dark thread, it means Hannah completed the sampler after her mother died and sometime before 23 September 1835, as she would have turned 10 years old by that date.

“There is a burial for Matthew Raw in the Pickering registration district (which covered Hartoft) registered between April and June 1838. This fits with your information that Hannah’s parents died when she was young. I can’t find any other information about him, except for the baptisms of his children,” says Gillian.

In conclusion, Gillian writes: “Hannah was born in 1825, the third of seven children of Matthew, a farmer, and Ellis Raw of Hartoft. Her sampler was completed in 1835, prior to 23 September 1835. Both parents had died by the time Hannah was 13. This probably meant that Hannah had little choice but to go into service, living with the Adamson family in 1841. There is no trace of Hannah after 1841 although it is possible she died unmarried in the Whitby registration district between April and June 1891 aged 76.”

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 20th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 18th January 2023

Is the truth in the post?

Dad continued to research witch posts and their connection to the martyr Father Nicholas Postgate right up until his death in 2017.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2023! I do hope you’ve had a wonderful time over the holiday season. For us, the festive period is always a time of joy alongside reflection, when we think of our lost loved ones who are not here to share it with us, and about other people who suffer loss and illness around this time of year.

If you’ve read any of my dad Peter Walker’s writing, either through his books or columns, you’ll know how proud he was of his home county and he would agree with a commentator I heard saying: “Of all the regions of our great country, Yorkshire seems to pride itself on taking most pride in itself.”

Dad grew up in Glaisdale, a small village in the heart of the North York Moors, and in a 1979 article I found in his study at my mum’s house, he tells us how lucky he was to have a childhood which allowed him to freely roam the rural landscape. He writes: “Remote and beautiful, it boasts several isolated farmsteads and I used to visit friends there, living in solitary splendour and away from the bustle of life in the towns.”

These ancient farmhouses were very sturdily built and Dad found their interiors fascinating, particularly the huge inglenook fireplaces. At least two that he visited had carvings on the wooden posts supporting the smoke hoods of these fires. The posts were known as ‘witch posts’ and they sparked in Dad an interest that lasted right up until his death in 2017. In his later years, it became a real quest to find out more about the stories behind them. What he discovered went against many long-held beliefs but Dad was convinced his research proved him right.

Originally it was thought that these carvings were intended to ward off evil spirits and witches, hence the name. They were usually crosses, some simple, while others were more complicated, with the cross forming the centre and elaborate carvings surrounding it. But over the years, Dad came to believe they were in fact associated with the legendary Martyr of the Moors, Father Nicholas Postgate.

Postgate carried out his ministry in the 1600s at a time when Catholics were being persecuted by the state, and to be caught practicing mass was considered a treasonable offence. Therefore many Catholic priests went underground, and, like Postgate himself, often hid in open sight by being ‘employed’ by wealthy landowners as servants and gardeners. Although these landowners outwardly appeared to support the Church of England, in fact they still secretly practised Catholicism thanks to brave priests like Fr Postgate.

Moorland locals devised cunning ways of letting fellow Catholics know where mass was being celebrated, such as hanging out a certain number of items on a washing line near the home in question. Unfortunately, Postgate was eventually caught baptising a child and was executed in York in 1679. In 1987, his sacrifice was recognised by Pope John Paul II, who beatified him alongside 84 other Catholic martyrs from England and Wales.

During his quest to find out more about Postgate, Dad discovered that witch posts bearing these cross symbols only proliferated during the time of the martyr, and only in areas where he is thought to have visited, which is the main reason why he believed they were connected to Postgate. Their purpose, he suggested, was to secretly indicate to fellow Catholics that they were in a safe house. It is possible that the association with evil spirits and witches was a deliberate ploy by Catholics to spread misinformation so that the true meaning behind the symbols would not be discovered. One of these posts can be seen in the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole today.

Dad was finally able to publish his theories in his book ‘Blessed Nicholas Postgate, Martyr of the Moors’, a comprehensive biography of the holy man. As I was researching this piece, I came across a Yorkshire Post interview he did in 2012 and what I didn’t know was that his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2007 was what inspired him to finally write the book.

“It’s a story I feel very strongly about and thought I should get on with the book before I died,” he said.

I wonder if anyone reading this knows where any more witch posts can be found?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 6th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 4th January 2023

Still hunting for Hannah

Mary Atkinson, left, my mum’s grandmother, standing outside her home in Lealholm on the North York Moors with my mum’s mum, also called Mary.

Mary Atkinson, my mum’s grandmother, whose sampler we have on our kitchen wall, made when she was 12.

My recent quest to find out more about a little 19th century girl from the North York Moors called Hannah Raw has borne fruit.

If you recall I wrote about some 19th century samplers on the wall of my mum’s kitchen. Two were done by ancestors, one called Mary Atkinson, who was 12 when she created hers in 1876 and was my mum’s maternal grandmother, and Jane Lacy, who was 10 in 1837 when she created her sampler, and was Mum’s great great aunt on her mother’s side. The third sampler was by Hannah Raw, who was nine in 1835, but about whom I knew nothing. We don’t know how we came to have her sampler, but for many years it was kept rolled up with Jane Lacy’s at my Nana’s home.

One reader contacted me to say his neighbour had the surname Raw and hailed from the Glaisdale/Lealholm area. I’m trying to get in touch with him to see if he can help. I was also contacted by Marion Atkinson who originates from Lealholm and she believed we were distant relatives on my mother’s side. She wrote: “My father was Dick Atkinson of Lealholm, and I knew your dad and your gran. My 4x great grandfather was John Raw of Fryup.”

She added: “Mary (Polly) Atkinson, b.1864, married Jack Lacy, a blacksmith at Lealholm. She was sister to my great grandfather, Thomas William Atkinson, b.1871.”

This Mary Atkinson that Marion mentioned is the same one whose sampler adorns our wall, and is indeed my mum’s maternal grandmother. So Marion is related (albeit at a distance) to my mum’s side of the family. But could she also be a distant relative of Hannah, via her 4x great grandfather?

She tried to find out a bit more about Hannah, and believes that her parents died when she was still young. If that is the case, in the days when social care did not exist, it is possible, that she was taken in by other nearby families to be looked after, and maybe by the Lacy family, which could explain why we have the sampler she made when she was just nine years old. By the time she was 15, according to the 1841 National Census (which anyone can view online), a Hannah Raw was living in the Whitby area in the household of James and Catharine Adamson, a couple in their 40s, alongside Ann Backer and Sarah Backer, who were 25 and 20 respectively, as well as a boy called Isaac Cacomb, aged 15. We think it is the right Hannah, but what was she doing there?

The fascinating thing about the census is that it lists the occupations alongside the names. James Adamson was a farmer and, as there is nothing listed against Catharine’s name, I am assuming she is his wife (rather than than a brother or sister). Next to the two Backer women is listed ‘Ind’, which I have discovered is the abbreviation for ‘independent’, in other words, living by their own means. This meant they did not have a profession and was applied to men, single women and widows. Young Isaac was listed as a farm labourer, presumably employed by Mr Adamson, and our Hannah had ‘F.S.’ written beside her name, which means ‘Female Servant’, and so it appears that she was employed by the Adamsons as a live-in servant.

Marion has kindly offended to try to find out more, but if you do know anything more about Hannah, please get in touch with me via this paper or on my contact page at www.countrymansdaughter.com.

I mentioned our connection to Marion to my mum, who remembered a little about Mary Atkinson, particularly the fact that people called her Polly. She didn’t get to meet her, though, as Mary died on 21st August, 1935, almost two years before my mum was born. Mum said she recalled seeing a picture of Mary, but wasn’t sure where it was. Of course, that set me off digging into the family archives, pulling out all the old photo albums hidden in various cupboards upstairs. After a good old rummage, I found said picture, and it gave me such a thrill to be able to put a face to the 200-year-old name that has hung on our wall for so many years.

I wonder if the day will come when I can do the same for Hannah?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 30th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 28th December 2022

A story that’s dead in the water?

The Lewis Creighton painting of Dead Man’s Pool near Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

A salmon leaps out of the water in the corner above Creighton’s signature

Another of Creighton’s paintings on my aunt’s wall, this one of Beggar’s Bridge near Glaisdale, North Yorkshire

I was visiting my aunt in Pickering recently and remarked upon the several Lewis Creighton pictures on her wall. He was known as The Moorland Painter, thanks to his wonderful depictions of the North York Moors.

Creighton was a familiar feature of my childhood, in as much as my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, all had his paintings. My dad’s maternal grandparents ran the Anglers’ Rest pub in Glaisdale, and the family story goes that Creighton used to frequent the pub and would sometimes settle his tab with paintings. I have no idea if that is true, but we do seem to have accumulated a fair few of them.

You will still find pieces of his work for sale today and they fetch a few hundred pounds. I don’t understand why they are not more expensive, as some that are in our hands are very well done. He had a particular gift for mood, colour, light and shade.

One of the four on my aunt’s wall caught my eye, as it had a slightly different feel to the others. Instead of rugged moorland scenery, it illustrated the calm and serene waters of a river. My aunt explained that it was a spot called Dead Man’s Pool, which lies on the River Esk, not far from Beggar’s Bridge in Glaisdale.

From what I can gather, Dead Man’s Pool is a particularly deep section, and over the years has had a reputation for being a favourite place to catch salmon and brown trout. In fact, my ancestors, the Rheas, were instrumental in re-introducing salmon to the Esk, I think in the 1920s or 30s, after they had died out about a decade earlier. As I mentioned, my great grandfather, Thomas Rhea, ran a public house which was originally called Three Blast Furnaces after the local iron works. The works had closed down in 1875, yet fishing in the area was very popular, with people travelling from all over try their luck in the Esk. So in the 1930s, Thomas Rhea changed the name of the pub to Anglers’ Rest.

I asked my aunt if she knew how that part of the river got such a tragic name, and she said something along the lines of “People used to go up there to finish themselves off”! Of course, I then needed to find out more, and to discover whether what she was saying was true.

It turns out there is not a vast amount written about Dead Man’s Pool, but I did find an article in the Whitby Gazette from 30th October 1903 which described it as ‘the only salmon-anglers’ paradise in Yorkshire’.

The same piece goes on to say, ‘It is a piece of dead-looking water where three years ago an angler fished up a good boot from the bottom, the very boot, so ‘tis said, which was lost by the unfortunate person after whom this pool was named.’ But the writer does not elaborate further on the story.

I also came across a sad tale that happened a few years later, in 1906. Appearing in the Leeds and Yorkshire Mercury on June 1st of that year, it explained: ‘The unaccountable absence of Mr Wm Middleton, residing at the Anglers’ Quarters, Glaisdale, occasioned much anxiety to his relatives throughout Wednesday, and during the latter portion of the day, a search for him was instituted. This resulted in his body being found in Dead Man’s Pool, Arncliffe Woods, about eight o’clock in the evening.’

A report from the same day in the Whitby Gazette stated that Mr Middleton was a businessman from Stratford, London, who’d been staying with his brother-in-law, Edward Caygill, in Glaisdale for some weeks. At the inquest, Mr Caygill testified that something had been troubling Mr Middleton, but he could not say what, although on the night before his disappearance, he had been ‘as full of life as could be’. He had never threatened to take his own life. However, the jury returned a verdict of suicide by drowning while in an unsound state of mind. Records show that the pool was named many years before this event though.

Incidentally, during my search, I found that an oil painting of Dead Man’s Pool by a Mr & Mrs Lester Sutcliffe, sold for £7.7s in October 1897.

Anyone know how much that would be worth in today’s money?

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

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 29th April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 27th April 2022.