Saturday, 30 October 2010

November's Ghostly Happenings

 (Entrance to Hyde Hall by Robert Edwards - Creative Commons Licence)

Hyde Hall at Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire is the venue on November 1st to see the ghost of Sir John Jocelyn riding a spectral horse down the drive of his former home. Another version says he rides his white horse furiously along an avenue near the church,

Sir John was a Nonconformist in an area dominated by Quakers. The church authorities rejected his request to be buried in the churchyard along with his favourite horse, so he left instructions that he was to be buried in the Hall grounds. In November 1741 he was buried, as per his instructions, without a coffin or shroud in a circle of yews along the main driveway to the Hall. There is no evidence that his horse was slaughtered and buried next to him.

The singer Suzi Quatro who once owned the Hall claimed that a guest room was haunted by a ghost named Richard. Supposedly the spirit of a little girl also walked around parts of the house.

The Hall later became a girls’ school.


On 3rd November the ghost of Lady Costania Coleraine runs through the rooms of Bruce Castle in Tottenham screaming in anguish. 

(Bruce Hall by Julian Osley -Creative Commons Licence}

Henry, the 2nd Lord Coleraine took over the house after his father’s death renaming it Bruce Castle. He had married Costania in an effort to restore his family’s fortune lost in the Civil War. He had a continuing affair with Sarah Alston (who he married in 1661 after the death of his wife.

Henry was a cruel man and confined his wife to upper rooms in the Castle, later effectively imprisoning her in the small rooms of the clock tower. On 3rd November 1680 she managed to escape with her infant son and flung herself off the Castle balcony to her death. Supposedly her suicide is replayed on the anniversary.

A reference to the Ghostly Lady of Bruce Castle appeared in the 1858 March Edition of the Tottenham and Edmonton Advertiser.

Bruce Castle, once the home of Sir Rowland Hill, is now a museum. In addition to local history records its exhibits include displays from the early postal service.

The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore is built on the site of a former convent. On 13th November the host of a grey lady, thought to be a nun, returns to haunt the wards.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Licence to Kill

Written last year for Yarm Writers on War or Peace - to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of WWII. As Remembrance Day is coming closer, I thought it appropriate to air it again.

Licence To Kill

He described war as ‘a licence to kill’ and in his last years Harry Patch used his experience at Paschendale to promote peace and reconciliation. He reminded us that WWI was eventually settled over an office table and wondered why the politicians and generals couldn’t have done that before millions of lives had been destroyed. That war has been described as ‘The war to end all wars.’ It has turned out to be anything but that.
The guns fell silent on 11 November 1918 after four years of unrelenting slaughter. For those that survived, peace opened up a world of uncertainties. It was a case of ‘what do we do next?’ 1919 saw Spanish flu claim millions of men who had returned from the trenches. One story tells of a soldier with symptoms of flu whose treatment became ‘fill him up with rum, and let him take his chance.’
Prior to WWII attempts to talk proved pointless. Chamberlain’s infamous piece of paper, proclaimed as heralding ‘Peace in our time,’ brought about nothing of the sort. Many WWI veterans were to see service in the Home Guard or as volunteers in the Fire Service. More lives were lost in bombing raids, before one bomb ended it all by killing 100,000 in Japan.
Why is it then that wars have continued in places like Korea, Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan? Will we never learn?
WWI saw poetry from Brooke, Sassoon and Owen that still serves as a reminder of the futility of war. In poetry you can find verses that amuse, shock or stir.
In your collection you might choose Chesterman’s William the Conquerer:
William the Conqueror, 1066,
Said to his captains, 'I mean to affix
England to Normandy. Go out and borrow
Some bows and some arrows, we're starting tomorrow.'
So William went conquering hither and thither
'Til Angles and Saxons were all of a dither
He conquered so quickly you couldn't keep count
Of the counties he conquered, I think they amount
To ten, or a dozen, or even a score,
And I haven't a doubt he'd have conquered some more,
So full and so proud of his conquering tricks
Was William the Conqueror, 1066.
But death put an end to the tactics, thank Heaven,
Of William the Conqueror, 1087.

A Shakespeare fan might recite from Henry V, a verse to precede a fight:
Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger...
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot!
Follow your spirit; and upon this charge,
Cry, "God for Harry! England and Saint George!

Perhaps you can be wiser after the event as Tennyson proclaimed:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Maybe though it was Wilfred Owen who hit the spot when he described the effect of poisoned gas and exposed:
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Even today the politicians decree that those lost and maimed in Afghanistan have not served in vain. Perhaps they should read ‘A Soldier Died Today’ by A Lawrence Vaincourt:
He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.

And tho' sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we'll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world's a little poorer, for a soldier died today.

He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won't note his passing, though a soldier died today.

When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?

A politician's stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.

It's so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?

He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier's part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor while he's here to hear the praise,
Then at least let's give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

What else can be said as they unload the coffins from the Hercules at RAF Lyneham to pass through Wootton Bassett again.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Yarm Town Hall - 300th Anniversary

© Ian Britton - - Creative Commons Licence

The Town Hall in the middle of Yarm High Street was erected in 1710 by the Lord of the Manor as a Court House in place of a ruinous Tollbooth. Later used by local magistrates for petty sessions it is now the meeting place of the parish council.

The Dutch style brick building is square in plan and two stories high, with a pyramidical, red-tiled roof surmounted by a wooden clock-and-bell turret covered by a leaded cupola carrying a weather vane.

Originally it had two open arches on each side of the ground floor and stairs leading to the room above, now used by the parish council. Two arches were bricked up in 1888 when a room was made to house the town weighing machine.

On the south face marked stones show the heights reached by the floods of 1771 and 1881; plaques commemorate the local members of the first railway committee and the Yarm men in the Boer War.

Bottom plague shows height of floods

To commemorate the anniversary pictures of historic Yarm have been added to the ‘alcoves’ and end walls of the building. These pictures include Yarm Fair from earlier years, True Lovers Walk and the railway viaduct. On the north side the centre of the picture is hidden by a letter box. Yorkshire’s white rose flag flutters from the pole at the right even although strictly the town is not in Yorkshire any more.

The alarum bell which once hung above the clock used to be rung to warn of fires and floods. Dated 1690 it is inscribed:

"Si Deus pro nobis ouis contra nos." (If God is for Us, who is against us?)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Yarm Fair

 In the early 1300s Yarm was said to be the largest seaport in the North of England It was also the site for the bridge over the river Tees nearest the sea. Today’s bridge includes two arches which date from 1400 - when rebuilt by Bishop Skirlaw of Durham. However the story of the bridge is for another time.

The 2010 Yarm fair has just finished. The charter for the fair was granted by King John in the early 13th century. Originally the fair saw the sale of cattle, horses, sheep and cheese and at one time the fair was the biggest fair for cheese in North East England. In the early 1900s over 500 tons of cheese would be traded from unprotected stacks on the pavement. There would be no chance of that happening these days.

Fair in c.1949

Modern ride

In 1901 the High Street was packed with shows, roundabouts, cattle and sightseers The modern fair consists of white knuckle rides, fortune tellers, lots of bright lights and loud music. Many businesses now close down while the fair is in town and the horse trading has been moved away from the main street.

Yarm High Street
(Photo by Ian Britton - - Creative Commons licence)

Yarm Town Hall
(Photo by Ian Britton - - Creative Commons licence)

At one time hundreds of horses would be bought and sold after being put through their paces. In his book, The Yarm of Yesterday, Malcolm Race tells the story of a young boy left in charge of a horse while his grandfather was in one of Yarm’s many pubs.  The boy was only too pleased the lead the animal up and down the High Street for a prospective buyer. The man had handed over £50 and was leading the horse away when he discovered that the horse was blind. The boy had long since disappeared!

Fair rides
(Photo by thornej - - Creative Commons Licence)

Friday, 15 October 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan – Blurb

 Publication date is scheduled for 28 October. Follow the link for information from Big Bad Media.

50 Stories for Pakistan – Blurb

Monday, 11 October 2010

North Yorkshire Village Dogs - Pippa

The colour of this 17 month old Cockerpoo is officially apricot. Her muzzle and the ends of her ears, obviously derived from her spaniel lineage, are brown. Pippa has such a gentle touch; it feels like being brushed with a feather when she greets you in the street, unable to contain her excitement of meeting someone she knows. However if you visit Pippa at home you soon find out that her touch is somewhat heavier as she jumps up to welcome you.
Pippa came from a Lincoln breeder at the age of 8 weeks and was chosen for her size, temperament and for the fact that she does not shed any hair. Pippa is a well behaved dog, especially for her age. She walks well on a lead and responses to commands; if her owner stops to talk, Pippa will sit down without being told and waits patiently until it’s time to move on. Her Middlesbrough trainer has obviously done a good job with her and with her owner too, of course.
Full of life at all times, Pippa is just at home on the beach and especially on the moors which she gets to at least once a week. She is not at all afraid of going in the sea. There are no problems giving her a bath or drying her with a hair drier. When she comes in from a walk she will sit on the mat and raise each paw in turn to be wiped, even when she is dry and not dirty at all.
At home Pippa has the run of the house and looks very comfortable curled up in an easy chair; her colour blends in well with the fabric of the chair, so well if fact you might not realise she is there. Although she has a basket and light duvet, Pippa will sleep anywhere including on the bed.
Pippa has a ‘tuggy’ rope and a soft elephant toy, but what she really likes is to play with a tennis ball. She will bring it to you and if you are seated, and not paying attention, she places it between your knees. You are expected to play.
Pippa thinks all dogs should play and chase her; she is in her element when the dogs from another Yorkshire village come to visit. The fun she has in the garden with Poppy, a Westie, and Morse, a black Labrador is hectic. However they will take time out to be photographed on the garden seat.
If you think that Pippa looks a bit tousled you should see her scamper in the snow and how her coat collects little snowballs which dangle from her fur.
For such a friendly dog you may find it strange that she is not keen on being cuddled unless that is there is something she is not sure about.
Pippa’s identity tag, in addition to her name and telephone number in case she’s lost, also contains a request ‘Please scan me.’ This will let people know that Pippa is micro-chipped as well. If you meet her you would understand why you would want to take her home with you. Perhaps it is appropriate that she is fed on dry mix by James Wellbeloved.
When anyone approaches the house called ‘Pippins’ she will be heard to bark and will be seen dashing along the inside of the front bay window. Is it a warning or just her saying that she is ready to play?
No, she’s making sure you know that this Cockerpoo is Lady Pippa of Pippins.
{Last of series to be transferred from the old site - new dogs to follow in future months}

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Apples Galore

I wrote this for a another site two years ago. As I have been peeling apples again today I thought I would give it an airing even although Apple Day is two weeks away.

Apples Galore

October 21 was Apple Day - the day to celebrate British apples. I was to darned busy to celebrate. I was peeling apples.

This is the only apple tree we have - the photo is from 2006. This year after two years drastic pruning it has more apples it seems. There must be thousands of the red and rosy things.

I've tried kicking them under the hedge. I don't even mind if the rabbits and squirrels chew their way through a dozen. Blackbirds are allowed to peck away to their heart's content. We let them get on with it.

This year I have been banned from making apple chutney as we've only just finished the lot from last year.

I have a crate full in the garage and even a private store in my office.

I feed them to the horses and give bags and bags away. I eat at least an apple a day, not to mentioned stewed apples or the effect they have. Just let's say that when I'm on the golf course my partners stay upwind of me.

Then of course there are apple dumplings, baked apple, fritters, apple cake, crumble and charlotte. Then there are those mixed with rhubarb, blackberries, gooseberries, josterberries - not all at the same time. We've even considered apple and beetroot crumble but balked at the thought of that.

Apples go in red cabbage, stuffed mushrooms and all kinds of stews and casseroles. Pork, bacon and ham joints all have had their share.

We've given cider and apple juice a miss and apparently I'm too old for toffee apples. Now that's a shame.

I haven't had time to enter the longest peel competition; I decided apple and spoon races, and pin the maggott on the apple are not for me. I'm too bashful to try the apple shy.

I ask you, with a name like mine what chance would I have at apple bobbing - I'd sooner be in the pub with a pint of scrumpy made from someone else's apples.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Occult October

Warwickshire is the place to be on October 23rd for the re-enactment of the sights and sounds of the Battle of Edgehill, The battle in 1642 was the first of the Civil War and apart from clearing the way to London for Charles I the battle was indecisive. About a 1000 lives were lost and 2- 3000 wounded.

A month after the battle shepherds witnessed what they believed to be another battle - cavalry, gun smoke, beating drums and screams of the wounded.

The battle was re-enacted again on Christmas Eve. When reports of this event reached the King, he sent six army officers to investigate. They spoke to witnesses who were said to have seen the event twice, including one who had fought at Edgehill and recognised some of the spectres. A pamphlet from the time described what happened as, “A great wonder in heaven showing the late apparitions and the prodigious noyse of war and battles, seen at Edgehill, near Keinton…” Over time the spectral battle ceased to be reported although in the 1940s a local schoolmaster reported that the ghostly phenomenon was a common occurrence in the area around the field.

However as a result of King Charles’ Royal Commission, the Public Records Office officially recognises the Edgehill ghosts. No other British phantoms have this distinction.

The Mermaid Inn in Rye, Sussex is reputed to be Britain’s most haunted pub. One of the many haunting experiences there is a ghostly duel with swords said to be re-enacted on 29th October. The fight ends with one swordsman plunging his rapier into the chest of the other. He drags the body into the corner of the room, opens a trap door and disposes of the body under the floorboards, before disappearing.

In Lydiard Milicent, Nr Swindon, Wiltshire the ghost of Lady Blunt returns to the garden of the manor house on 30th October – the anniversary of the date on which she witnessed the murder of her betrothed over two centuries ago.

For Halloween you have many ghosts to choose from - a huntsman and hounds at Civiger Gorge near Burnley; a phantom dog and the pealing of bells at Armboth Fell in The lake District; a ghostly monk walking in the chapel ruins at Minsden, Hertfordshire. But it’s Netley Abbey, next to Southampton Water that warrants a special mention.

[By Daphne Grant ]

Thomas Gray once described the Abbey as: 'Pregnant with poetry ... one need not have a very fantastic imagination to see spirits at noon-day' but was it all imagination'

At Halloween it’s the ghost of, Blind Peter, a Cistercian monk that takes centre stage. The curse of Netley Abbey is dates from the time of the dissolution of the monasteries and when Blind Peter became the guardian of the Abbey’s treasure. A man named Mr Slown attempted to find the treasure and started to dig a hole. Moments later he ran out screaming and collapsed from a heart attack, his dying words, “For God’s sake block it up.” He had been frightened to death.

The influence of Netley Abbey on Robert Walpole, Thomas Gray, the artist Turner and Constable is described along with history, ghosts and all, can be seen at:

It has even been argued that the Abbey inspired Jane Austen to write her spoof Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey, whilst on a picnic with her niece Fanny Knight and other family members.

In Northanger Abbey Catharine Morland observes, “As they drew near the end of their journey, her impatience for the sight of the Abbey....returned in full force, and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe, to afford a glimpse of its mossy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows.”

Friday, 1 October 2010

Flamboyant or Reserved

This is the first piece I wrote on joining Yarm Writers. The topic set is typically an alternative; you can chose to write on, in this case, flamboyant or reserved - or both. How you interpret the topic is up to you and you can write an article, a poem or a piece of fiction.

Flamboyant or Reserved

Boot Wood cannot be described as flamboyant. Nor can it claim to be reserved as, unlike Castle Eden Dean, it has not acquired the status of a North-East Natural Nature Reserve.

The noises in the wood are not loud, but the modern world makes its presence felt by the hum of speeding traffic, the whine of aircraft overhead and even the rumble of a far off train.

On a windy day in March, the eerie creaks of rubbing branches interspersed with the rattle of last year's ash keys are more modest. Brash however is the blackbird's warning protest cry at your intrusion into its realm. And if the clatter of wood pigeons' flight does not make you jump, you cannot but be impressed by the exuberant territorial call of the cock pheasant, celebrating his escape from the last of winter's February shoots. Brightly coloured and showy, he struts his stuff while his harem of hens are more reserved with dull plumage that you only see when they are brave enough to venture out into the stubble fields.

At this time of year, the colours of the wood are subdued, with holly and ivy-covered ash providing a green and pale tan backdrop against a clear blue sky. There are no hints of flowers yet to come as the leggy snowdrops have passed their best, with only three lonely daffodils looking lost against the brown carpet of horse chestnut leaves. A few white violets tinged with blue are trying to make an impression of flamboyance; it will be a while before the white blooms of the spreading chestnut confidently stake a showy claim for dominance. There certainly is no hint of bright red flowers as can be seen on Madagascan trees.

Smooth and patterned trunks of different shades of green and grey and brown give away the ages of the trees, none of which are old enough to be on an ancient woodland inventory. Boot Wood would rather be reserved or better still preserved, even although it has not reached a stage where preservation orders protect it or its trees. It contains no footpaths or bridle ways thus confirming Byron's words that "There is a pleasure in pathless woods".

Of modest size, under two hectares, Boot Wood was planted in the 1880s beside what was then a turnpike road, from which stagecoach passengers could take a rest at the nearby Crown. It seems unlikely that they would have graced the wood in their flamboyant finery. Now man has marked his presence by the litter left which demonstrates the fast food and careless culture of today. Discarded traffic cones, plastic ‘skull-caps' and a yellow traffic lamp betray completed road works on the road that has turned from pike to ‘A'. Tall Trees name-bands have been jettisoned from among the glitz on the bejewelled wrists of flashy and ostentatious nightclub guests. Do you still want to be flamboyant or reserved?

What of the wood? It may not wish to be compared to a cold French gothic stone traced with static waves and ornate decoration; its tree tops can create a moving wave of living greenery; but wait until its vibrant hues of autumn and the vivid shades of red of hips and haws proclaim that it would be proud to be both flamboyant and reserved