A FEW days ago, I was admiring the view from Ampleforth Beacon when a motorist halted at my side and asked, “Which is the way to Derby?” I felt tempted to give the response “If I was you, I wouldn’t start from here,” but as he was elderly with an equally elderly lady at his side, I decided to guide him, particularly as I had driven to Derby and back from Ampleforth only a few days earlier.
“Have you a map?” I asked.
“No,” he replied in a strong Scots accent. “Only this.”
And he’d showed me an envelope with a lot of scribbles on the back and said his wife was guiding him with that, adding that she had got lost and they had come down from Edinburgh. When I suggested he headed for York and then looked for signs for the A1 or M1 south, our local signposts being very clear how to find York, he shook his head and said: “Oh, no, I’ve been told to keep clear of York traffic!”
I suggested he headed for Thirsk and looked for the A1 South, and checked his route at suitable service stations. Off they went and I never heard any more of them. But they are not alone in travelling long distances without the aid of a map.
Another person of that ilk had driven from Coventry and was seeking Flaming Park Zoo – and almost found it. His “map” was a postcard bearing a few scribbles and I had to try and decipher those.
A colleague was a new policeman in Whitby when a motorist eased to a halt at his side and asked: “Where are the Italian gardens?”
“We haven’t any,” replied Dave.
“How long have you been working here?” asked the angry driver.
“Six months,” said Dave.
“Well,” said the motorist. “That explains it! I’ve been coming to Scarborough for 20 years, and I know there are Italian gardens here.”
“This is not Scarborough, it’s Whitby,” replied Dave with as much politeness as he could muster. And the driver slunk off without an apology.
An oft-asked question in Whitby is “Where is Dracula’s grave” to which the local folks reply, “At the top of the 199 steps.”
Now, I am told, a replica grave has been installed at the top of those steps so I hope fans will know to find this fictional object. I wonder how many will think it is real?
One of the questions I am repeatedly asked is “Where is Rosedale Abbey?” The answer is that there is no abbey at Rosedale, even though it is mentioned in maps and on signposts.
But there used to be a Roman Catholic priory with a community of nuns so it is difficult to know when the suffix “abbey” was added. Certainly it was in use when Ordnance Survey maps were first published c1840 but in earlier times, the area was known simply as Rosedale, albeit in one or other of its earlier versions. In the 12th century, for example, it was known as Russedal or Russedale, that name changing in the following centuries to become Rossdale in the 14th century and Rosedale in the 15th. It is thought the name derives from the personal name of Russi, the name Rosedale thus meaning Russi’s valley. Several dales in that locality have a personal name as their first element.
So if there is no abbey, what is the story of the priory? It was founded by Robert de Stuteville during the reign of Henry II (1133-89) but completed in the reign of Richard I (1157-99). He is better known as Richard the Lionheart and became king of England in 1189, following the death of Henry II. He was known widely as a brave man – the French gave him the name of coeur-de-lion (heart of a lion) because he spent a lot of time in that country involved in various battles and in fact he died there in combat.
Robert de Stuteville also founded a nunnery at Keldholme, near Kirkbymoorside, but dedicated Rosedale Priory to St Mary and St Laurence, the patron saints of the present Anglican parish church. Stuteville attached the whole of the dale to the priory and it soon became a thriving enterprise with sheep farming as its main sources of income. Ironworks also existed in Rosedale from the earliest times and another Stuteville called Eustace gave to the priory before 1209 his lands known as Baggthwaite, but did not include his furnaces.
The nuns, it seems, would have welcomed such a gift although in 1328 they were granted some iron-ore workings by Edward II. Throughout their time in Rosedale, the nuns were strong and resourceful, making a huge success of their priory. So what happened to Rosedale Priory?
Like so many Catholic abbeys and priories, it was destroyed by King Henry VIII as a prelude to the Reformation, with one valuation being £41 13s 0d (£13.65) and another £37 12s 5d (£37.62). At the time it contained the prioress and eight or nine nuns, suggesting that it was quite a small but very active establishment.
Sadly, very little survives. People seeking the ruins will find merely part of a turret staircase near the village school although above the doorway of the parish church is a stone bearing the words Omnia Vanitas said to have been carved by one of the nuns. The present Anglican church, however was not built until 1839, doubtless making use of some of the priory’s dressed stones.
The remaining stones of the priory were utilised during the incredible Klondyke-style hunt for ironstone in Rosedale. In 1851, the population of Rosedale was around 550 but at its peak, the population rose to some 5,000 due to the influx of miners. To accommodate the massive numbers, the stones of the old priory were utilised to build accommodation, the school, a lecture hall and even what were described as chapels for dissenters.
From 1851 until 1926, Rosedale flourished with its ironstone being used on Teesside and in Durham, but when it was over the dale returned to its peaceful state. One relic was the famous chimney at the summit of Chimney Bank but that was demolished in 1972 on the grounds it was unsafe. And an old staircase is all that remains of Rosedale’s busy little priory.
And a nightingale sang...
One of the prevailing pieces of folk lore in my part of Yorkshire is that a nightingale once sang at Byland Abbey between Coxwold and Wass. I heard this tale when I first came to live in the area and even now it is repeated as if it was true – which it may be! However, pinning the story down to a date has always been impossible and the folks who reckoned they heard the bird have long since gone to their own place in the sky.
However, I can state quite firmly that I have both heard and seen a nightingale – but not in England. We had a family holiday in Spain where we hired a large villa and each night, we all gathered in the extensive garden for our evening meal. And, quite literally every night as we ate around 8pm, a nightingale would appear in the tallest of the garden trees and serenade us.
His song was tremendous and very musical, ideal accompaniment for an evening meal out of doors in summer and because he appeared each evening at eight o’clock, we called him our Eight O’Clock Nightingale.