Hares are native to Britain, but rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are not considered to be native at least not since the last Ice Age. Rabbits, also known as coneys, were introduced first by the Romans and then imported by the Normans in the early medieval period. Rabbits were valued for their meat, fur and skin. On southern facing slopes of the North York Moors, rabbits were farmed from the medieval period through to the 20th century using warrening structures. Warrens were artificially constructed with embankments, ditches and ‘pillow’ mounds. Particularly common were ‘Rabbit-types’ where rabbits were caught through trap doors which released into pits. These artificial warrens allowed the rabbits to be managed (farmed) efficiently on a large scale.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries felt from rabbit skins and fur was an important money making product for the south east corner of the North York Moors. Felt was in demand for hats and rabbit was an alternative to beaver. The industry slowly declined with the last warrener working up until the 1920s. Many warrening sites have been lost as land has been re-used, but some large scale warrening complexes can still be traced in the Forestry Commission owned forests such as Dalby and Wykeham.
Wild/feral rabbits are now a particularly successful non-native invasive species, despite there being a number of native predator species.
As winter is losing its grip, hopefully the photo below will help brighten your day.
Ranunculus is the plant genus which includes our buttercup species and provides our countryside with vivid displays of yellow during the summer months. There are lots of different species, and here are but a few found across Britain including the North York Moors, all with sunny yellow flowers.
Meadow buttercup R.acris: Look at a hay meadow in the summer and the chances are that it is this species that is predominant. It is an indicator of moist unimproved grassland, and although it grows in a wide range of soil types it is not tolerant of high nutrient levels. As it can survive cutting and is not palatable to grazing stock, old meadows and pastures are where it thrives best.
Creeping buttercup R.repens: This buttercup can, from a distance, give the impression that you are looking at a species rich hay meadow. The reality can be very different though as this plant is very tolerant of high nutrient levels and disturbed ground and is sometimes considered a problem weed. It is often found around field gateways where poaching and tramping make it difficult for other plants to survive, and in overgrazed fields where it remains untouched by stock and readily out competes less tolerant plants. One of the key differences between this species and meadow buttercup is the presence of rooting runners which allow this plant to spread very effectively and quickly cover bare ground. The species’ method of reproduction (cloning) meant it was used a few years ago for an interesting study into aging meadows. https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2009/june/title-77794-en.html
Bulbous buttercup R. bulbosus: This species prefers much drier conditions and, like meadow buttercup, is an indicator of unimproved grassland with a low tolerance to fertilisers. It is common on well drained neutral or calcareous soils and can be identified by its downturned sepals (when flowering) and a swollen stem base which can be identified by carefully scratching a small amount of soil away from the base of the plant.
But it’s not just buttercups. Also in the same Ranunculus genus, and providing a splash of colour in the early days of spring before the other Ranunculs is Lesser Celandine (R.ficaria). This is easily identified by its narrow, glossy yellow petals, low-growing form and heart-shaped mottled leaves. It’s usually noticeable as it is in abundance when other plants are still tentatively emerging from their overwintering.
Finally, brightening up bogs in the summer is Lesser spearwort (R.flammula) which thrives in wet places and can often be found growing with soft rush in unimproved habitats. The flowers look very similar to a buttercup, but it has spear-shaped leaves.
In the 19th and early 20th century there was a trend for the better off in society, to provide the means to try and ‘improve’ their local workforce i.e. the not so well off. Rather than people gathering in public houses to drink, debauch and mutter – the idea instead was to provide an opportunity for social, moral, intellectual and spiritual improvement for the local community. ‘…the more he knows, the less hasty, the less violent, and the more correct will be his judgment and opinions’ (from the Manchester Spectator 1849).
The philanthropic benefactors would be local landowners, local business people on the rise, new industrial entrepreneurs, and often the local Church including non-conformists e.g. the Methodists. Individuals or local committees of bigwigs, would gift their local community a Reading Room, first in growing towns and then also in rural villages. Any local community who wanted to think themselves liberal and progressive needed a Reading Room. The provision of a building where men could read instructive newspapers, educational periodicals and improving books promoted the popular ideas of self-improvement and self-help. Reading Rooms were the forerunners of public libraries. It wasn’t all reading – they also hosted useful lectures and respectable entertainments as well.
There are a number of Reading Room buildings remaining in the North York Moors, some still used as community buildings and others converted. It is interesting that a number are clearly connected to industrial populations such as that in Rosedale, but others are located in more rural communities such as Boltby, Lastingham and Runswick Bay.
ROBERT HESELTINE HUDSON
“Rarely does a case, even of murder, excite such an intense interest as that which has been taken by the general public in the charge against Robert Heseltine Hudson, of the wilful murder of his wife and child on Roper Moor, near Helmsley, on the 8th of June last.”
“Accused was accommodated with a chair and remained remarkably quiet throughout the trial. He certainly had not the look of a murderer. There was nothing dreadful in the dark sallow countenance, nor repulsive in the black hair, eyebrows, and bearded face, with cultivated moustache trimmed in imperial fashion. The eye was steady and the body restful, and an expression of ease and indifference seemed reflected in a faint smile upon the lips which looked more natural than feigned. Hudson, for some reason, had practically nothing to say. He sat throughout the evidence without manifesting any perceptible distress and it was impossible to judge of the man’s inner consciousness from his appearance…What did seem probably to many observers was that Hudson had quietly resigned himself to his fate…”
From the Yorkshire Gazetteer Saturday 27 July 1895
Robert Hudson’s family was from near Helmsley, he went to school at nearby East Moors. His parents then moved the family to Darlington and as an adult Robert Hudson worked in Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham. However in May 1895 Hudson, then a house furnisher’s assistant, brought his wife Kate and their son Heseltine who was not yet one, back to where he had started from. They lodged in a house on Bondgate, Helmsley.
Robert Hudson took his family out for walks and drives in the local countryside – it was reported that Mrs Hudson complained that the places they visited were lonely. On 8 June Mr Hudson returned but his wife and child did not. He told his landlady that they had gone to visit an aunt in Hovingham. Hudson then swiftly disappeared on the 3.39 train to York. Suspicions were aroused resulting in a search of the lonely local countryside. After a while a recently dug hole was found under a clump of trees on Roppa Moor. The bodies of Kate and Heseltine Hudson were found together in the hole covered by a thin layer of soil. Their throats had been cut with a carving knife; Mrs Hudson’s hands were terribly injured suggesting she had struggled to stay the knife.
Hudson was tracked down to Birmingham and arrested, he was brought back first to Helmsley to be committed for trial and then taken to York Crown Court. The evidence was pretty overwhelming. Hudson had bought a spade from a Helmsley ironmonger and was seen cycling about with the spade tied to his bicycle. The spade was later found on Roppa Moor. A local man had come across the hole on Roppa Moor a couple of days before it was used as a grave. Various other local people identified him as a man they had seen acting suspiciously on and around Roppa Moor. Soon after the ‘disappearance’ of his wife Robert Hudson was advertising for a new wife “Bachelor, tall, dark, age 27, wishes to meet with lady of some means, with a view to early marriage”. There was also a pocket book in which Mr Hudson had written on 15 June – “One week from the saddest event in my life, at ten to one o’clock, and I am living yet”. The jury considered their verdict for c. 6 minutes. Robert Hudson was found guilty.
Robert Hudson did not directly confess to the murders, but he did blame bad company for his predicament and expressed repentance. He was hanged at York Castle on 13 August 1895.
ROMANS (1st to 4th centuries AD)
Following on the heels of trading links the Roman invasion and then entrenchment across most of Britain started with temporary military installations and infrastructure including connecting roads to maintain control. This was overtaken with more permanent military bases, as well as the establishment of towns, industrial centres and civilian farmsteads. Romanisation of society was backed up with military might, but at the same time the lure of Roman luxuries, the value of Roman technologies, and the promise of Roman advancement and power very much helped its spread.
Unlike the Iron Age native population, the Romans weren’t interested in living on the moors part of the North York Moors. Most Roman related remains are along the southern edge, close-ish to Malton and York which were major Roman towns. There are a number of minor “villa” complexes (Romano-British farmsteads) at Beadlam, Spaunton and Blandsby Park and the remains of two forts and a military camp at ‘Cawthorn Camps’.
There is another early fort at Lease Rigg in the north of the North York Moors. This site includes ramparts, barracks, stables, a granary, a praetorium (Officer quarters), and a principia (main building for admin and religion). The forts at Cawthorn and at Lease Rigg are connected by Wheeldale Road/Wades Causeway, which is recorded as a Roman road. Because of the lack of quality it has been suggested it isn’t actually a Roman road at all.
The North York Moors Historic Environment Record includes a number of Roman finds including pottery, tessalie (mosaic tiles), coins, armilla (metal armband), beads, weights, pins, and altars.
There are also a number of Roman signal stations along the coastal cliffs from the 4th century. The best example in the North York Moors is at Goldsborough. There might also have been a signal station at Ravenscar – the evidence for this is an engraved dedication stone identified in the 18th century, but this might have been brought onto the site from somewhere else after the Roman period. The stone reads IVSTINIANVSPP VINDICIANVS MASSIERIV(RR)/(PR) MCASTRVMFECIT A….0. (JUSTINIANUS COMMANDER VINDICIANUS…PRAEFECT OF SOLDIERS BUILT THIS TOWER AND FORT FROM GROUND LEVEL). Signal stations were built towards the end of the Roman period to guard against the growing threat of Angles and Saxons from the sea. By this time people on the edge of the Roman Empire were having to look after themselves because as the empire contracted it was clear no one was going to come and rescue them. The end of the Roman period fizzled out slowly. Often the new invaders would use the same sites, carefully chosen for their resources and setting. For example there is evidence that Cawthorn Camps was subsequently re-used as an Anglian settlement.