TODAY is celebrated as Umbrella Day when many English people carry umbrellas to mark the invention of this remarkable device. However, they were once considered rare in the Yorkshire Dales and also upon the moors. As a famous saying reminds us “Umbrellas are mighty rare contraptions on t’Yorkshire Moors and in t’Dales.”
However, they can be considered a useful piece of apparatus and in fact, not too long ago they became the standard equipment of gentlemen working in the City of London. They went to their offices in dark suits and bowler hats whilst always carrying a black umbrella, even if it was never used to deflect the rain.
As today celebrates the invention of those famous items of equipment, it may have escaped the notice of many readers that this coming Tuesday, February 14, is Plum Shuttle Eating Day and also the traditional date when the crocus blooms. Across the borders, signen cakes are eaten in Cumberland whilst fishing nets are blessed along the coast of Northumberland. However, Backward Bean Day does not arrive until February 29, a day that appears only during Leap Years – and it is not a Leap Year this year. But we enjoyed one last year.
However, in addition to Plum Shuttle Eating Day, next Tuesday is also the Feast Day of St Valentine but no-one is quite sure which of the Valentines are honoured on this day. Some fifty-two saints were called Valentine, and three of them share the same feast day of February 14, none being a man from our northern British counties. All appear to have lived in Rome where some eight churches celebrated the feast and the lives of the various Valentines.
Nonetheless, a saint called Valentine is widely celebrated as the Patron Saint of Lovers in many countries outside Italy and in some parts of the world, wild birds are said to select their partners on that same day. Two stories indicate that Valentine was a thoughtful character.
One concerns a priest called Valentine who was jailed for reasons that are not clear but whilst in custody, he wrote notes to the pretty daughter of his jailer, thanking her for her friendship and the care she showed towards him whilst in prison. He signed those notes “Your Valentine.”
Another priest called Valentine who was venerated as a saint also worked as a physician but for reasons that are not explained he was executed in 269, later being invoked against blindness and epilepsy.
A third suggestion for the origin of the Valentine’s Day custom of sending romantic cards to the object of one’s affections is that in some countries lots were drawn by hopeful young men.
The names of girls who wanted to be considered as potential wives or lovers were written on cards that were thrown into a huge tub, to be thoroughly mixed and later drawn out by hopeful young men. It was indeed a lottery but even today, hopeful romantics send anonymous cards to the person of their devotions! And there is no doubt this ancient custom has produced some enduring relationships.
An old Yorkshire custom on St Valentine’s Day was for a lovesick girl to take a hard-boiled egg, remove the yolk and fill the cavity with salt. Before going to bed she would eat the egg, after which she must neither talk nor drink. It was believed that when she then fell asleep, she would dream of her future husband.
Landowners and gardeners would also be guided by this date. It heralded the time when many would sow their seeds from hoppers or seed baskets. As they did so, they would call out, “Saint Valentine, set thy hopper by mine.” It was the date for Yorkshiremen to sow their beans and a verse that issued a warning when sowing beans also suggested four should be sown for every one that was expected to grow. An accompanying verse was:
One to rot and one to grow,
One for the pigeon and one for the crow.
And finally, to explain plum shuttles! They are dough buns shaped like shuttles and made with caraway seeds and currants.
A rocky romance
As we are heading for one of the most romantic dates in our calendar, I thought I would relate a powerful love story that features in the magical Brimham Rocks, now in the care of the National Trust. These fascinatingly-shaped giant boulders can be reached from either the B6265 - Ripon to Pateley Bridge road - or via the village of Summerbridge on the B6165 between Pateley Bridge and Ripley.
The story concerns a young man called Edwin who lived near Brimham Rocks and a beautiful girl called Julia. Sadly, her father strongly disapproved of Edwin and protested about their relationship, with the inevitable result that they began to meet in secret. Edwin quickly realised that the only way to seal his love for Julia was to marry her and so he announced his intentions to the intense anger of her father. He made it abundantly clear that he would never approve the marriage, and would never give away his daughter to marry Edwin.
Edwin decided that if Julia’s father persisted in his refusal, then there was no reason to live. Edwin explained his feelings to Julia who agreed, and so the young couple decided to end their lives by leaping from one of the highest of the Brimham Rocks. Edwin said he knew the exact place to enter eternity and borrowed a swift horse. Both them mounted and so the horse was galloped up to the Rocks where Edwin had selected the site of their final act of defiance. But Julia’s father had discovered their absence in time to see them galloping towards Brimham.
Realising Julia’s intentions after all his advice to her, he set off in pursuit on his fastest horse and also headed for Brimham Rocks. He arrived in time to see the young couple standing hand-in-hand on the highest point among the tangle of boulders, each preparing to leap into eternity. He shouted at them to wait until he arrived and spoke to them, but the pair had made up their minds. They would not wait.
Watched by Julia’s agonising and horrified father, the youngsters held hands and leapt from the highest rock. But as they hurtled towards the rocky ground below, something miraculous happened. Julia’s heavy clothes billowed open almost like a parachute and they floated gently to the ground, holding hands and not believing what was happening.
Julia’s father was so overcome by their miraculous rescue that he gave his consent to the marriage, and, so it is said, they lived happily ever after. Their amazing survival has led to much speculation about how they could have survived – some say it was due to Julia’s dress and petticoats acting as a parachute, others said a fairy had carried them to safety and some believed it was the power of the Druids that had saved their lives. That rock is now known as Lovers’ Leap or Lovers’ Rock.