The Yew – An Original Christmas Tree

Sam Newton – Woodland Creation Assistant

Yew links to Christmas and Christianity and back beyond into the depths of time. Like other evergreens, branches of yew were brought into people’s houses at Christmas as decoration and also as bitter reminder of the Christian Passion.

Yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard, Goathland. This churchyard contains some of the largest yew trees in the North York Moors. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

Yew trees (Taxus baccata) are now strongly associated with churchyards. They are a connection to the old Norse and Celt beliefs that yew trees protected against bewitchment and death. Pagans celebrated the yew at the mid winter festival of Saturnalia, which later melted into Christmas. Many old churchyard yews may have been planted by church-builders, brought out of the woods and into a civilised setting. Or later on top of graves to ward off evil around the dead and provide branches to be carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals. It became a tradition without a remembrance of its origins.

There are also a number of churchyard yews predating their churches, and even Christianity. Some trees alive today in Britain are truly ancient. The Fortingall Yew in Scotland is possibly between 2,000 and 3,000 years old – a myth tells of Pontius Pilate as the son of a Roman envoy, being born beneath and playing as a child within its branches. While the Ankerwycke Yew witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, as an already 1,000-year-old tree overlooking Runnymede meadows in Surrey.

The first few lines of ‘Lines on the Ancient Yew in Darley Church Yard’ (in Derbyshire)
By Samuel Barker

Thou art an interesting tree,
The fact’s beyond dispute,
Thy monster trunk and giant bows
And intersecting roots,
Rearing in solemn grandeur,
Thy patriarchal head,
Reigning in midnight dimness,
O’er the regions of the dead.

Male yew tree in St Nicholas’ Churchyard, Bransdale, showing the beginnings of next year’s flowers. Yew trees are dioicous, with individual plants either male or female. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

The story of the yew tree is one of life, death, and resurrection. It was said by the noted forester and dendrologist Alan Mitchell, that “there is no theoretical end to this tree, no need for it to die”.

Yews reach such old age through an amazing ability to renew themselves and return from apparent decay. New shoots from the base can coalesce with the main trunk, while lowered branches can put down roots, and fallen trees remain alive as long as the smallest amount of root remains attached. Ancient trees can be split into several parts, and no longer look like one tree, but can go on surviving for many hundreds of years more.

St Nicholas’ Church, Bransdale, and its churchyard yew tree. Copyright Sam Newton, NYMNPA.

Death lingers in these long-lived trees, with all parts of the plant containing highly poisonous taxine alkaloids. Yet at the same time these same highly poisonous chemicals provide modern day science with anti-cancer compounds. The yew tree can regenerate us, as well as itself.

Yorkshire has a strong but somewhat forgotten link to yew trees. The ancient Celtic name for the City of York is Eborakon, which can be translated to ‘the place where the yew trees grow’, or came from the name Eburos, meaning ‘yew man’. In the North York Moors, yew trees are common in churchyards, and can occasionally be encountered in the surrounding areas.

For more information about this natural and cultural marvel have a look at the Ancient Yew Group’s website

Down in Yon Forest

Rachel Pickering – Woodland Team Leader

Deep in Cropton Forest is a very special place called High Leaf Howe. Its actually just a grassy clearing within the forest with a large mound, the ‘howe’, in one corner and a ruined house in another. Our archaeologists are probably more interested in the howe but for me it’s the ruin that is magical. I recall my grandma Ethel talking very fondly of her childhood at ‘Leaf Howe’ which was a small holding of about 20 acres on the edge of Wheeldale Moor where they grazed 20 sheep. They also had 3 cows and my grandma had hens which she sold the eggs from to help her parents pay the rent to Keldy Estate*. Her dad made besoms (brooms used in the steel works to clean the slag off the rolled steel when it was red hot) from the heather and her mother cleaned the school at Stape to make ends meet.

*The Forestry Commission acquired the freehold of the Keldy Estate in 1948 to incorporate into their Rosedale Forest holding, now named Cropton Forest.

High Leaf Howe, then. Property of Rachel Pickering.Recently I was looking into the census data for Stape and made a remarkable discovery. Not only had my grandma been born at High Leaf Howe but also her father Bertie in 1895 and his father George in 1851. Four generations of my direct descendants lived there.  During the first lockdown I was looking through some old family photos and imagine my delight when I came across a small black and white photo which had the words ‘Leaf Howe’ penned on the back! Even better I could recognise that the girl outside the house was grandma and the shy head poking out of the door was her mother Ada.

I have taken my father and my two children to see the old homestead, and although my son was more interested in climbing a nearby tree at the time I’d like to think my two will see the significance of this special place in the future.

High Leaf Howe, now. Copyright Rachel Pickering.

 

Creative writing

A poem from the North York Moors

What is the sky?

Everchanging and expressive,
space and heaven combined.
Infinite and important,
vast desert on high.

Mother Nature flaunting her power,
April showers, hurricanes and storms.
Summoning angry clouds, heavy with rain,
Later filled with light, warming your bones.

Blustery winds and excitable gusts,
fresh air fills and cleanses the lungs.
Billowing clouds, creating beams and rays,
dappled across the undulating land.

Everchanging season casting shifting light.
Rainbows, shooting stars and Aurora Borealis
flashing colours over the great canvas.
Heaven’s glory or natural phenomenon?

Streaked with man’s machines, airplane trails,
aerials, satellites and drones.
Great machines can’t compare
nothing more than flecks on this dome.

Sunrises and sunsets marking our days,
celebrating with glorious colours.
Ink-washed turning to boundless jet black,
encrusted with the finest jewels ready to wish upon.

Westerdale Skyscape. Copyright Christopher Watt, NYMNPA.

The Winter King

Paul Thompson – Ryevitalise Programme Officer

Trees give us so much – visually from a landscape perspective, environmentally by cleaning the air producing oxygen and storing carbon, and emotionally as spending time in a woodland is said to boost our immune system and have a restorative effect on our mental wellbeing.  They have also had a leading role in our cultural heritage and seasonal festivals for thousands of years.

At this time of year there is one tree in particular that stands out in hedgerows and woodlands across the land – relishing the freezing temperatures, still in leaf and adorned with bright red berries, it’s the humble holly tree (Ilex aquilarium).

Close up of holly. Copyright Kirsty Brown, NYMNPA.

Image of Old Father Christmas with a holly crown and a yule log on his back. From Wikipedia.This species’ highly recognisable spiky, waxy leaves contain cells with anti-freeze properties and were historically used as winter forage for sheep, while the berries now continue to provide food and shelter for migrating fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes. Pagan folklore has the Holly as the Winter King ruling over the cold winter months and providing food and shelter for wildlife during this crucial time, while the warmer half of the year is personified by his counterpart and adversary the Oak King; the two doing battle at the spring and autumn equinox to regain their crown. It is suggested that the origins of Father Christmas hail from the idea of the Holly King, traditionally dressed in evergreen.

The Romans gave boughs of holly to friends during the festival of Saturnalia – a celebration of Saturn and the winter solstice, later christianised to make Christmas. Christian mythology had it that holly sprang up under the footsteps of Christ, “the leaves’ spines representing the crown of thorns and the red berries the drops of his blood”. The name holly derives from “holy tree”; Jesus’ cross was said to have been made from holly wood. From medieval times holly was being used to decorate churches and people’s homes during the festival of Christmas, and it wasn’t until Victorian times that conifer trees started to take centre place thanks to Prince Albert.

In the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership Scheme area we are lucky to have some of the largest specimens of holly in the UK.

Holly Tree in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Birch Wood nature reserve in Bilsdale. Copyright Paul Thompson, NYMNPA.

We also have some fantastic veteran and ancient oak trees in the Ryevitalise area; indeed one of the largest collections of ancient oak trees in northern England.  These arboricultural giants are home to one of the rarest mammals in the UK, the alcathoe bat. The presence of alcathoe bat was reaffirmed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) who were commissioned to carry out research into the distribution of bat populations as part of the development of the Ryevtialise scheme. The River Rye riparian corridors and adjoining hedgerows provide feeding super-highways for bat species. Ryevitalise will be expanding on this research through a citizen science project that will train up and empower the local community to monitor both the local bat and veteran tree populations to ensure they are valued and continue to thrive in our landscape.

If you would like to find out more about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership, upcoming volunteer opportunities and events please keep an eye on our website pages.

Ryevitalise logo

Annoying the neighbours

Agnes thought that it was round about this time of year when the nights were getting darker that the Fay woman came to the house. She knocked on the back door and asked for bread and cheese. She looked odd; something about her eyes, the sheen of her skin and how she mouthed her words. Anyway Agnes was busy, she had the milk to churn and the wool to card, and the baby was crying again – she didn’t mean to but she said no and shut the door sharply.

Now Agnes stood on the side of the stony hill looking down at her family’s farm, she had seen her children taken out in shrouds one by one. Then her grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. She stood still with beetles and caterpillars in her hair. She’d long given up on being hopeful as the years grew up around her.

She stretched her spindly thorny fingers. Sometimes a blackbird or a thrush would come and sing to her, she would give them dark red berries in return. In May when the sun shone on the blossom there would be people talking and laughing nearby. But no one took her back and into their homes – it would be unlucky. Then each year the blossom would start to fade and release its cloying scent of death.

Agnes had always done what she should when it came to the Fay. She didn’t look them in the eye. She left them out the last of the beer of the year and the last apple on the tree. She wasn’t vain, she wasn’t cruel, she didn’t deserve this. It was just that one time – that one mistake.

Now and then a poor traveller looking for anything better would linger and if they had absolutely nothing they might nibble on the leaves because someone once told them they tasted like bread and cheese. Then Agnes would remember what had happened for her to end up here. She reached out to help but offered poor shelter from the batterings of life.

She dreamt lots of times of saying sorry and begging to be released but she rarely saw any Fay and when she did they would just wink at her and disappear back into the landscape.

In the frost she would cling on to lichen like clothing. In the cold and wind she would nash her teeth and wave her scraggy scrawny arms. There was no one left to remember her or wonder what happened to her. She’d long given up expecting someone would come with a saving axe or a rescuing saw.

Agnes stood skeletal with her feet rooted in the ground. Her skin knarled and knotted and her body tangled. She was stuck where she was on a side of a stony hill, turned into a Hawthorn Tree by a grumpy fairy…

Root tree - shmector.com - Free vector art

Standing up for standing stones

Nick Mason – Archaeology Officer

In the last couple of Monuments for the Future inspired blogs, we’ve looked at the hillforts and barrows of the North York Moors. This time we’ll ponder another monument type which often springs to mind when we think of prehistoric archaeology visible in the landscape today: standing stones.

The North York Moors has an abundance of stones set upright in the ground for various reasons. Not all of these stones are prehistoric: indeed the Historic Environment Record records 161 individual stones across the park recorded as ‘standing stones’, of which 129 are of likely prehistoric origin. But there are a further 1459 monuments recorded as ‘boundary stones’ with a medieval or later explanation. The distinction between standing stone and boundary stone is not always completely clear, as we shall see below, but these figures do mean that erected stones of one sort or another account for approximately 8.5% of all recorded monuments in the North York Moors. Let’s not even think about the number of historic gateposts out there…

People started to erect standing stones across the country in the late Neolithic period (2500-3000 BC), and carried on doing so up to the end of the Bronze Age around 700 BC. Like much of prehistoric archaeology, it can be very hard to know what was going on and to impose definitions on these big lumps of rock. Sometimes multiple stones are used in conjunction to create circles (often referred to as henges) or other shapes, or long rows stretching hundreds of metres, and then others stand alone. But why were people doing this?

It’s a long running joke in archaeology that if we don’t understand the function of a feature then it must be part of a long forgotten ritual, but for many surviving prehistoric features it seems that that is the most likely explanation. Some stones are associated with other features, such as a large slab next to a bridleway over Danby Rigg which forms part of a cairn under which Victorian archaeologists found deposited urns. Others accompany barrows, pits or stone-lined chambers. The common theme so far is death and burial: were people using standing stones to mark the spots belonging to the dead? were they a commemoration, in the same way we use gravestones and memorials today? or perhaps the stone warned others not to get too close…

Danby Rigg standing stone and ring cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

Whilst many stones may have been raised to honour the dead or perform ritual practices around, others may have had a more mundane but useful purpose. If you’ve been out and about on the moors you’ll know how disorientating they can be, especially in bad weather. The last thing you want to do is get lost and stumble into someone’s barrow, and so we think some stones might have been erected as way markers, as a familiar point in the landscape to meet at or to help get you home.

Over time, some stones gathered cup and ring marks, and people buried items around them. These stones might be crossing the gap between the sacred and the profane, a physical object people can relate to, but which represents far more than the sum of its parts.

I mentioned at the start that there is not a clear distinction between some standing stones and modern boundaries. Some continue to have a function today, having been re-used by people looking to make their mark. A great example is the Cammon Stone, which stands on the parish boundary between Bransdale and Farndale West. This was initially erected on the watershed by prehistoric inhabitants of the area, perhaps marking a territorial boundary or route. At some point in the post-medieval period letters were carved into it, proclaiming the land ownership to anyone who came past. Then in the 19th century someone wrote ‘Hallelujah’ on it, followed by the Ordnance Survey who inscribed a survey benchmark into the base! So over the years the Cammon Stone has served as a boundary symbol for different cultures, in multiple religious functions, and as part of the very modern practice of mapping.

Cammon Stone with inscriptions. Copyright NYMNPA.

 

Cammon Stone with further inscriptions. Copyright NYMNPA.Another stone which might represent different sacred uses is Low Cross, just north of Appleton-le-Moors. This curious piece of limestone, with a hole cut right through it, started life as a large prehistoric stone, but was transformed into a wayside cross by some enterprising mediaeval person. It probably served a very similar function in this role, reminding people of their religion and marking out a safe route. Since then it has fallen apart, a plaque seems to have come and gone, and it’s thought the hole might have been used to pay tolls, but it remains in place today as a lasting reminder of the people who once lived there. A 3D model of Low Cross today can be seen here – Low Cross standing stone by Nick Mason Archaeology on Sketchfab

All of this is why standing stones are so exciting to archaeologists – they stand in place today as physical emblems of the prehistoric, when so little else of those people remains. That’s why any examples which are in good condition are likely to be protected as Scheduled Monuments. All of those mentioned in the text here are Scheduled, and as solid as they may seem, sometimes they need some work to look after them. Unstable ground, visitor numbers, even cattle can cause a stone to become threatened. Work was recently carried out to reinstate one of the Newgate Foot stones which had fallen over. This project restored the collection of stones (which might be a small henge monument) closer to what they originally looked like. This is a more complex operation than it sounds, as the ground had to be carefully prepared and excavated to ensure that deposits which might give us valuable dating evidence were not being disturbed.

A similar operation was carried out on Wade’s Stone near Lythe, a monument with giant-related folklore ascribed to it.

If you’d like to see some archaeology and take in a breath of fresh air there are many popular walks around the North York Moors which pass close to prehistoric monuments as they run along the higher ground. As ever, you can always find out more about the fascinating past of the North York Moors using our interactive Historic Environment Record map, so why not find your closest monument and pay a visit. The Monuments for the Future project is always on the look-out for monuments at risk, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think a standing stone needs some attention. You can always volunteer with the National Park if you’d like to help with conserving our monuments.

Hand of Glory

Three men sat in the corner of the public house. They didn’t say much, they were waiting.

The other people around them were still talking about the hanging seven days earlier. The executed man had struggled for a long time when he dropped, the crowd had gone quiet by the time he went still. Most people had known him, he was always a bit odd, a bit menacing.

Sometime after midnight the three men went out into the dark and then kept walking till they got to the bridge. The moon was hidden by clouds, but they could hear where the gibbet was by the creaking and clanking, and they could smell it too. Not for the first time the smaller man, Esau Fawcett, regretted saying yes but it was too late now. The other two grasped his legs and lifted him up, he thought he would fall and he reached out at what was in front of him. He grasped the chained corpse of the gibbeted man. His eyes were sinking, his jaw was dropping, his skin was rotting. Esau managed to pull out his boning knife and reach for the caged right hand. It came away easily enough, and dropped onto the road.

There was no one to see the three men as they returned with their prize. Esau went home to his wife and his bed but he couldn’t sleep, he kept remembering how the hand had felt, so cold and clammy. On the agreed day they met up again, the older man had the hand. It had been cured like a ham, the smell was now of saltpetre. It looked grey and withered and had been dried hard. The long straight fingers looked like dead twigs. Esau wondered aloud whether it would actually work. The older man promised that it would, that they could rob the farmer’s house and no one would wake, because of the Hand of Glory.

Esau kept thinking of what he would do with the money as they approached the farmhouse. There was no signs of life but they had to be sure that everyone was definitely asleep. The older man struck a flint and lit the dry moss in a tinderbox. It crackled and glowed and he lowered the hand towards the flame. For a moment nothing happened, Esau hoped that there was someone still awake in the house and they’d just have to go home and go to bed … but then the middle finger caught alight. Esau scrambled through a small back window they forced open. The older man passed him the hand. Esau grasped it tightly holding the flame upwards.

In the dark of the house the ghastly candle provided little light, it flickered and hissed. Esau didn’t see the edge of the table or the jug of gale beer, it fell onto the flagstones with a loud crash. Esau froze – but nothing happened. No one came. From outside the other two urged him on so he went on into the larder, and found the money box. He made a lot more noise opening it up with his iron crow, but it didn’t matter, still no one came. The Hand of Glory had spellbound the household just like it was supposed to.

Outside and away from the farmstead they struggled to extinguish the flame until the older man remembered blood would work, and they found a recently disembowelled rabbit. Esau felt much better than he had for weeks as he went home in the early morning. He had the hand with him because the other two had to carry the money box away but they’d be sure to meet up soon to share out the spoils. He wasn’t afraid of the hand anymore, he thought of it as a tool not a piece of a person, and he put it under his bed for safe keeping in case he needed it again. He got into his bed beside his sleeping wife.

Sometime later he woke up. He felt a cold dry hand around his wrist. He noticed a growing smell of decay. He heard a metallic creaking. He didn’t want to but he couldn’t help opening his eyes. He looked straight into a face whose eyes were sunken, whose jaw had dropped, whose skin was rotten. ‘Give me back my hand’ it said.

As the mourners walked back to the village after Esau’s burial, none of them looked at the gibbet by the bridge and no one noticed the hanging blackened corpse had two hands again.

The idea of a Hand of Glory is found across Europe complete with different rules and traditions for what it could do and how to make it work. In Britain and Ireland stories from antiquarians are mixed up with reports of actual use. There is a hand kept in Whitby Museum, supposedly a Hand of Glory, it was apparently found in the wall of a cottage in Castleton.

A to Z: a slew of Ss

S

SAINTS

A number of saints are associated with the North York Moors. Geographical associations can sometimes be found in the name of parish churches dedicated to particular saints, like St Oswald’s, St Cuthbert’s or St Hilda’s, all Anglo-Saxon celebrities when the north east of England was particularly important for the celtic branch of Christianity before the church in England romanized. Not all saints are Anglo-Saxon, it’s just that quite a lot of them are in Britain, many awarded sainthood before canonization became more centrally organised.

The full name of the church in the village of Oswaldkirk (which means Oswald’s Church) is the Church of St Oswald, King and Martyr. St Oswald (died 642) was a King of Northumbria, the kingdom included most of Yorkshire at one time or another. Oswald converted to Christianity as a young man in exile on the island of Iona, a hotbed of celtic Christianity whilst the rest of Britain was mostly pagan. He regained his kingdom as a Christian and then made it his mission to spread the new religion. He died in battle against pagan Mercians in 642, hence the title of Martyr. His body was supposedly cut up in a pagan ritual, but this meant his body parts were them disseminated across the country, and even onto the continent, as inspirational Christian relics.

St Cuthbert (died 687) was a monk for most of his life, he was the Prior on Lindisfarne before he gave it up to become a hermit on one of the nearby Inner Farne islands. After his death he became a very popular saint widely venerated across the north of England and beyond, probably because of his steadfastness and asceticism as well as his holiness. Over 400 years later he was said to have had an incorrupt corpse when dug up, which always makes an impression. St Aiden (died 651) was the first Prior on Lindisfarne and seems to have had a similar character and calling to Cuthbert, but he ended up partly eclipsed by his successor in the saint popularity stakes. Although there are many St Cutchbert’s Churches round and about the Norht York Moors, but only one within, at Kildale. But there are two St Aidan’s, in Oswaldkirk and in Carlton.

St Hilda (died 680) as an Abbess had status in the Christian hierarchy which gave her authority and influence in her lifetime, her personal qualities meant that continued after her death. She was an advocate of education, and her own wisdom was greatly valued. She was first an Abbess at Hartlepool before re-founding the Abbey of Whitby (not the current ruin), where monks and nuns lived separately but worshipped together. She hosted the important Synod of Whitby in 663/4 at which it was decided that the future of the English church should be Roman. Like Cuthbert, after her death Hilda was widely venerated in the north of England. There are St Hilda’s Churches in Ampleforth, Beadlam, Danby and Hinderwell – which is a derivation of the name Hilda’s well.

The church in Lastingham is named after St Chad but it is St Cedd, his brother, who is buried in the crypt. St Cedd (died 664) was an important person in the hierarchy of the Anglo-Saxon church, as well as founding a monastery at Lastingham he evangelized all over England and was known as the bishop of the East Saxons i.e. Essex. St Chad (died 672) succeeded him as Abbot of Lastingham but spent much of his time converting the re-occuring Mercians in the midlands of England. Both brothers learned their ‘trade’ on Lindisfarne before being sent out by various Christian kings of Northumbria to convert the pagans in the rest of England. There are also St Chad’s Churches in Sproxton and Hutton le Hole.

St Caedmon (died 680) is a particularly local saint, he was possibly a herdsman from Whitby before he became a monk at Whitby Abbey whilst Hilda was the Abbess. He never had a position of authority like the other saints mentioned, he did however have a gift for composing poetry in the vernacular which illustrated Christian stories and ideas, so helping to spread the faith. One thing to note is that there are no churches dedicated to St Caedmon, but he does get to patronise a school in Whitby.

SEGMENTED EMBANKED PIT ALIGNMENTS

Segmented Embanked Pit Alignments (SEPA) are an historic earthwork feature of the north east of the North York Moors, identified by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England as a specific type of monument in the 1990s. Previously this type of feature had been classed as a double pit alignment – two lines of pits marking a boundary. A SEPA earthwork however is made up of two or three pairs of pits inside two parallel enclosing banks largely made from the spoil from the pits, these are generally in what appear to be conjoined segments. The segmentation suggests development over time rather than a linear structure created in one go as a land boundary.

In each case the SEPAs appear to be aligned with nearby Bronze Age barrows (burial mounds), which suggest the SEPA are Bronze Age too and could have had a related ritual purpose. The alignment of all the SEPAs is north-west to south-east. This alignment seems to have taken precedence to any alignment with the barrows. The parallel banks were oddly low, which means the earthworks were not prominent in the landscape when they were constructed, unlike the barrows.

No similar features have been identified in the rest of Britain. SEPAs are therefore particularly important and are now scheduled along with their associated barrows. There are three locations of SEPA earthworks within ten miles of each other – on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor (SM 1020351), on Danby Rigg (SM 1018782) and on Ugthorpe Moor (SM 1016532 and SM 1016533). Graham Lee, our previous Archaeological Conservation Officer, believes there is also a SEPA monument near to Boltby aligned to a nearby scheduled round barrow (SM 1010343).

SEPA on Middle Rigg, Easington High Moor - the ranging rod is in one of the pits. Copyright NYMNPA.

SHEEP

Sheep are the main stock animal farmed in the North York Moors. According to Defra’s June 2016 agricultural census returns, there were 296,120 sheep in the National Park at that time, five and a half times the number of cattle. Why the pastures, grasslands and moors of the North York Moors are used for sheep is based on current economics and a couple of centuries of custom. Sheep can manage on open moorland for a lot of the year without much input if they’re hefted – which means when a flock keeps to a certain part of an area because of learnt behaviour, rather than needing fencing. But just like there are a variety of different habitats and landscapes in the North York Moors, there are a variety of different sheep breeds and farming methods, and not all North York Moors sheep spend summer amongst the heather.

Blackface sheep on moorland. Copyright NYMNPA.

One of the main breeds in the North York Moors are Blackface. Blackface sheep are hardy and easily hefted, so good on northern hills. Mixing sheep breeds to develop sheep that best suit local conditions and to accentuate their best commercial features is an ongoing endeavour amongst sheep farmers. A mule is a cross breed sheep, mixing the qualities of a Blackface sheep with a more commercial breed either for wool or for meat.

Ram, ewe and lamb are common enough descriptive nouns for sheep, but there are a lot more you’ll need to know if you want to talk sheep with a North York Moors farmer. For instance a tup is another name for a ram, a wether is a castrated male lamb, a hog is an older lamb more than a year old, a gimmer is an older lamb which will be used for breeding.

North York Moors sheep flock. Copyright NYMNPA.

If you want to find out more about sheep, and who wouldn’t – have a look at the National Sheep Association’s very informative website.

SMUGGLING and other criminal enterprises

The North York Moors has high cliffs, sheltered coves and small fishing villages on its eastern coastal edge. So ideal for people with boats in the 17th to 19th centuries  to bring in comestibles whilst avoiding being made to pay custom and excise duties due to the government. This smuggling was never on the scale of that in the south of England because of the distance from the continent, but there were local opportunities for small boats to go out to sea and collect goods from passing ships.

The fact that the terrain of the North York Moors and distance from authority meant it was difficult to collect duties plus the fact that many people didn’t want to pay the duties, together meant organised criminal enterprise was rife. There weren’t very many ways of making money, smuggling was one, as long as you weren’t caught and potentially transported or executed.

Goods were landed, held in coastal villages and farms, and then distributed, all the while the Customs and Excise Officers tried to prevent this with varying enthusiasm and results. The British Government used money from duties to help finance numerous wars in Europe and so always wanted to collect as much money as possible because wars are always expensive. Customs were levied on imported foreign goods (charged at recognised ports) and excise was levied on domestic production.

Such widespread smuggling reached a peak of activity at the beginning of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic Wars. It wasn’t all brandy, silk and tea however, another comestible which suffered from a high rate of tax was salt, both home produced and imported. The Wagon and Horses Inn, just north of the Hole of Horcum, was surrounded by treacherous and secretive moorland, it was also alongside the main road across the moors connecting the coast around Whitby and the south to Pickering, York and beyond. The name of the inn underlines the importance of the location for transportation, and because of this location it became a criminal hub. Untaxed salt was held at the inn, fisherman from the coast would bring in their fish to be salted and then moved on to be sold. Salted fish could be transported more widely and therefore could make more profit, as long as the salt was untaxed. Everyone knew what was happening and there were frequent raids by Excise Officers. The story goes that on one occasion a single Excise Officer managed to catch the felons by surprise, and he ended up murdered. Elements of stories then got muddled up together. The body is supposed to have been buried under the fire place, a tradition was established that the fire should never be allowed to got out else the devil would arise or the ghost of the murdered man would seek revenge or more prosaically the body might be discovered.

Later the Wagon and Horses was renamed the Saltersgate Inn, the wider site is now called Saltergate. It’s obvious what the first part of the name signifies, and the word ‘gate’ means a road. The Saltersgate Inn recently fell into dereliction, it is due to be demolished and the site redeveloped. So far no body has been found.

SOCIAL CAPITAL

Social capital is defined by Wikipedia as a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central; transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation; and market agents produce goods and services not mainly for themselves, but for a common good.

We’ve recently helped a PhD student from Bangor University by putting him in touch with North York Moors Farmers willing to answer questions about what it is that motivates them to engage (or not) with high nature value farming and/or agri-environment schemes.

The research being undertaken is aiming to identify social capital types within farmer groups. It is recognised that there will be significant impacts on farming communities, especially upland livestock farmers, as a result of agriculture policy changes post-Brexit. So having an understanding of how resilient communities are and how able they are to adapt to change will be valuable in the design and potential success of future land management schemes seeking to deliver environmental outcomes. An aim of this research is to try and understand whether high levels of social capital are a driver that encourages a farmer’s participation in high nature value farming and/or engagement in agri-environment schemes? whether a farmer’s participation leads to greater levels of social capital? or are there other drivers that come into play?  Whatever conclusions are drawn from this research, one thing is certain – there must have been some very interesting conversations being had around farmhouse kitchen tables over the past few weeks!

SUNDEW

On particularly wet peaty acidic areas of moorland you might find Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia. It grows low to the ground with upright stems and small white flowers in the summer. Sundews use photosynthesis like many plants to make glucose for energy, but plants also tend to need nutrients and minerals usually obtained by their roots from the soil they grow in. But the wet soils on which this species live have few nutrients and minerals because these have leached away. Many plants would find this habitat too inhospitable but Drosera rotundifolia has a proactive solution to supplementing its diet. It has leaves with sticky inward curving hairs in which unsuspecting insects get trapped when they come to look for nectar, and are then slowly digested by enzymes. It is one of a number of carnivorous plants across the world.

Round-leaved sundew, Bransdale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q, R

A New Kiln for Rosedale: a poetic perspective from 1865 – Part 1

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

A Brief Historical Note

The ironstone industrial sites of the North York Moors and the Cleveland Hills were of great national economic importance in their time (Historic England Listing – Rosedale East Mines calcining kilns and iron mines) and utilised a considerable workforce for this most gruelling of industries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The massive structures, the sense of progress, the nobility of endeavour, inspired emotional and artistic responses.

Stone Kilns from Nab Scar - copyright Paddy Chambers

A unique contemporary insight into the industrial expansion in Rosedale comes from this wonderfully evocative anonymously-written narrative poem about the New Kiln’s design trialled here – as transcribed by the noted local historian Malcolm Bisby.

The kiln, built as an experiment in 1865 alongside the more traditional designs of the age, provided work for skilled individuals from across the region. Rosedale was productive in both mining quality ironstone and being able to calcine (or roast) it on site, before it was carried away by locomotives along the specially-constructed railways, which extended into the Durham and Tees areas from the heart of the North York Moors. As the poet recalls, the kilns roasted ‘by day as well as night’, a glow which lit the landscape in a way we can only imagine today in the peaceful and tranquil setting of Rosedale . . .

 ‘Discussion between two friends on the New Kiln while building, noting a few of its’ misfortunes, 1865’

 Transcribed by Malcolm Bisby

1. I long have looked for you,
‘Midst all I’ve had to do,
And many changes there has been
Since last I talked with you.

2. I’m glad once more your face to see –
Don’t think that I am joking,
While some say I am far too fast
My lines are provoking.

3. You long have wish’d to know
Our doings in this place,
And I am going to tell you
Although ‘tis a sad disgrace.

4. ‘Tis two full years at least
Since first I came this way,
Come listen and you soon will hear
What I have got to say.

5. At first I shall remind you
When here we sat alone,
And watch’d the men lay down
The first foundation stone.

6. We wondered what all this could mean
Until we saw that man
He said “They’re going to build a kiln
But ten to one she’ll stand.”

7. We did not take much notice then
To see them first begin,
But before they reach’d half the top,
Our fears they did begin,

8. Then people soon began to talk
As shortly you shall hear
Some of them spied a crack or two
And they began to fear.

9. The news soon spread from place to place
In country and in town,
And those who live to see the day
She’ll surely tumble down.

10. The mason work look’d strong and good
For which I shall allow
The master of them all you know
He came from Lastingham town.

11. The fitter came with screws and bolts
To finish and adorn,
It would be better perhaps for me.
To let these men alone.

12. Their work I’m sure it was admired
By all that came this way,
But sad to think as well as say
It shortly all gave way.

13. Then all the skill of man was tried
The kiln for to keep up
But they like all the rest you see
Had nothing but bad luck.

14. Up spoke a workman of this place –
A wild and wicked wretch
“This kiln will fall and that you’ll see,
And kill poor old Frank Petch.”

15. Up spoke another and he said
“Thou wants this kiln to fall,
But if she does thou may depend
It’s a bad job for us all.”

16. “Thou need not start to grunt and growl
About t’bad job, thou’ll see.
There’ll always be plenty of work
For either thee or me.”

17. “Thou doesn’t care for t’masters
When thou thy wage has got,
If’t kiln do fall in spite of us
And beggar all t’job lot.

18. “I don’t think it would beggar them
If she was down today,
Our gentlemen are very rich
As I’ve heard people say.”

19. “They’re very rich I must agree
But they’ve had heavy losses,
She has so many times given way
It’s sure to tax their purses.”

20. Some hundreds of pounds was paid –
Nay, thousand I may say,
But in spite of all that they could do
Part of this kiln gave way.

21. The workmen for awhile stood still
And looked sore amaz’d
And if we’d had the masters here
They might have gone quite craz’d..

Rosedale Kiln and rail wagons - Rosedale History Society Archive

22. It was a pity for to see
This noble kiln diminish’d
And worst of all she fell you know
Before she was quite finished.

23. The bricklayers too I’ve got to mention
Likewise their noble work,
I could not learn what were their names
They said they came from York.

24. And those were men of noble skill
They show’d their work was good
But it would have looked better
If only it had stood.

25. I wish you had been there to hear
The rumours on that day
Go where you will, you hear the cry
The kiln is giving way.

26. You that this kiln have never seen
You may believe my words
She was tied back you soon shall hear
With some large iron rods.

27. The rods began to crack and break
The workmen cried “Begum –
To the Blacksmith’s shop you must away
Tell Carter he’s to come.

28. “And while you thus to Carter go,
The Blacksmith for to tell,
Somebody else must run away,
And fetch Mr. Fell.”

29. And something else I now shall state
As clear as ever I can
And when you hear my story out
I think you’ll know the man.

30. It is not very long ago
They played the man a trick
I shall not state what is his name,
I’ll only say “Old Mick”.

31. This man was tired – There is no doubt
And he’d gone home to bed,
No doubt but this noble kiln
Was running in his head

32. But some one to his door came,
And in a haste did say,
“You must arise, a bad job’s up
The kiln is giving way.”

33. “And will she fall?” the inmate cried
“Yes that she will and soon,
You must be quick and come away
Or before you’re there she’s down”.

34. So without any more enquiring
This man did go to see
And the kiln was standing then alright,
How simple man must be!

35. But tricks like these are far too bad,
To either friend or foe
But what can you expect from those
Which do not better know?

36. I would have them for the future try
To do the best they can
And in their minds to always bear
That manners take the man,

37. But on this point I must not dwell
For they are leading the kiln away
And with the stones they’re mending t’road
I saw the other day.

38. And every body came to see
This kiln when she fell down
T’was such a crash! The news soon spread
In country and in town.

39. T’will be remembered there’s no doubt
As long as we’re alive,
And we’ll tell what passed in Rosedale
In eighteen sixty five.

40. And generations yet to come,
Will remember what I’ve said,
When the noble workmen of this kiln
Lie numbered with the dead

41. But a different plan they’ve tried at last,
And not a better one can be.
Instead of having her all in one,
They’ve made her into three

42. It’s thought she’ll stand and not disgrace
The last inventor’s plan,
But stone to calcine she will burn
Three times the age of man . . .

A view of the Rosedale East new mines as they were best known - Rosedale History Society Archive

We’re only half way through – the finale of this fascinating poem will follow shortly, with a unique commentary by Malcolm Bisby.

Land of Iron logos

Shaped by people

A new leaflet has been published which highlights the historic environments of British National Parks –Our Historic Environment: special landscapes shaped by people‘. The number one purpose of the National Parks is to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of their areas.

The cultural heritage reference is not just an add on, a poor cousin to nature. As well as shaping the physical landscape cultural heritage is fundamental to providing a sense of place which is just as important in making a National Park special.

Helmsley Castle - copyright English Heritage

Whereas in British National Parks sometimes it’s easy to overlook the influence of people on the natural environment, whereas the historic environment is all about human impact and residue. Here on the ground in the North York Moors it’s not possible to disentangle the natural and historic environments – a 400 year old veteran tree is a natural feature, but it is there because of woodland management in the past; rare Ring Ouzels breed in Rosedale because of the presence of industrial structures left over from the 19th century; the large conifer forests of the North York Moors are there because of a national policy of afforestation after World War 1.

East Kilns, Rosedale - copyright NYMNPA

Across the country the most important cultural heritage sites are protected through designation by Historic England, Cadw and Historic Environment Scotland. But there are 1000s and 1000s of other significant sites, structures, finds and features, which National Park Authorities are working to conserve on their patch, alongside the protected sites. By building up research, increasing understanding, and informing interpretation National Park Authorities seek to connect and engage people, both locals and visitors, with their heritage and history.

Close up of drystone wall with engraved date - copyright NYMNPA

Since the last Ice Age – the flint tools, hearth deposits, cup and ring marked stones of the subsisting Mesolithic and Neolithic periods; the pottery, earthwork dykes, burial mounds of the ritualistic Bronze and Iron Ages; the forts, settlements, castles of centuries of invasion/assimilation of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and then Normans; the abbeys, cruck houses, ridge and furrow of the striving middle ages; the alum works, musket balls and ‘witch posts’ of the religiously provocative Tudor, Stuart and Civil War period; the designed landscapes, water races, stationary engines and railway lines of the industrious 18th and 19th centuries; the radar stations, tank tracks, gas works of the technological 20th century – the North York Moors landscape retains the physical evidence of history (the what and where). Along with documents, maps and other primary sources this provides an historic environment framework, with lots of room left for investigation, imagination and involvement into the how and why.

Coastal archaeology - copyright NYMNPA