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).
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.
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.
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 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!
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.