Yorkshire Literary Landscapes by Paul Chrystal (DestinWorld Publishing, £12.99)

THE author has written about 90 titles which largely look at the history of Yorkshire, but for his latest offering, produced by a Darlington publisher, he has looked at how the county’s landscape has inspired well known authors, so there are chapters on the Bronte sisters, James Herriott, Ted Hughes, Ian Mcmillan and Alan Bennett.

He argues that it was Pat Barker’s troubled beginnings in Thornaby – she was the product of a drunken, wartime one-night stand and so was brought up by her grandparents who ran a fish and chip shop – that presented her with the urban wastelands which are present in many of her novels and the queue at the chippie gave her an ear for working class speech patterns that bring her stories to life.

Whitby looms large, obviously because it inspired Bram Stoker to create Dracula. Another visitor was Elizabeth Gaskell, who stayed in Abbey Terrace for just a fortnight in 1859 but found enough inspiration to set her Sylvia’s Lovers story among the whaling community with the moors providing a vivid backdrop.

“The country for miles all around was moorland; high above the level of the sea towered the purple crags, whose summits were crowned with greensward that stole down the sides of the scaur a little way in grassy veins,” she wrote.

A lesser known Victorian writer is Mary Linskill, many of whose stories are based in the jet industry in which her father worked. They are so steeped in Whitby that The Haven Under the Hill of 1928 gives a chilling, if chatty, warning about the dangers of cliffs: “While they were sitting there talking quietly together and looking out over the sea, a sharp splinter of rock fell from the top of the cliff, spinning round and round as it fell, and it struck one of the sister on the back of the neck, so that it took her head quite off. The other sister saw it rolling away over the scaur to a great distance before it stopped. Think of that, my dear, whenever you are tempted to sit down under the cliffs. It is quite true, and what has happened once may always happen again.”

TIS the column before Christmas, so it should have at least a slightly seasonal feel. Therefore, we lay Christmas House before you…

Christmas House is in Newbiggin in Richmond. It has a plaque on it saying that on June 14, 1774, John Wesley preached on steps near it on his second visit to the town, although it was probably built two or three decades afterwards for Dr James Burchall.

It was built as one impressive house, and its Grade II listing notes that it “has a good painted stone doorcase with "Tower of the Winds" type columns”.

The Tower of the Winds is the world’s first municipal timepiece, built in Athens a century or so before the birth of Christ. It has a windvane on its roof and eight sundials on its octagonal sides while inside was a hydraulic clock that was powered by water draining from the nearby Acropolis. And, yes, its main door and windows have some pretty impressive columns down their sides.

The listed buildings schedule, though, refers to the property by its house number. In fact, there are very few mentions of “Christmas House” anywhere – even online, if you google “Christmas House, Richmond”, all you get are pictures of a house that is so renowned for its over-the-top decorations that it is known as Christmas House, and it is in Richmond, Virginia, rather than Richmond, North Yorkshire.

In fact, the only reference to the Newbiggin property being called Christmas House is the neat plaque by the Tower of the Winds doorcase.

So Christmas House is a Christmas mystery – unless you can explain. Please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk if you can.

A MONTH ago in this space, we told how a unique railway property was for sale in Eaglescliffe. It is the house of the Stockton & Darlington Railway's Yarm coal depot manager, which dates from about 1840 although what makes it unique is its late 1850s property plaque. The railway marked each of its houses with a unique number – in this case D13.

The Yarm coal depot was behind the Cleveland Bay pub, and was as close as the original railway came to Yorkshire without having to go to the expense of bridging the Tees. We said that much of the trackbed of the branchline which served it was impossible to discover, but David Bate, of the Stephenson Locomotive Society who lives in Eaglescliffe, has been able to pick it out.

"The Yarm branch diverged from the present Darlington-Eaglescliffe line where Allens West halt now stands, and ran alongside Durham Lane, crossing over Durham Lane and running alongside Urlay Nook Road past the depot house to the coal drops," he says. "The strip of land occupied by the trackbed to the west of Durham Lane was marked on old Ordnance Survey maps as late as 1917. Remarkably, when the Orchard housing estate on either side of Durham Lane was built by Yuills in the 1960s, this strip was left as a wide grass verge, which it remains to this day, although most people locally do not know its significance."

The depot itself – once known as the Hole of Paradise – has recently had flats built on top of it.

"There was requirement in the planning consent that the coal drops be preserved, and they were but unfortunately behind a high brick wall," says David. "This was for ‘health & safety' reasons, although the garage which had been on the site had used the arches as part of the workshop for many years.

"The original gate posts to the depot yard still stand at the entrance to the Cleveland Bay car park."

This is very exciting. These simple circular gateposts characterise S&DR constructions of the 1820s and 1830s – they can, for example, be seen at the other end of the line on the 1830 Gaunless bridge at the foot of Cockfield Fell.

A COUPLE of weeks ago in this space, we reprinted some 1968 adverts from the D&S Times, including an intriguing one from TV salesman Alan H Goodrick, who had branches in Northallerton and Darlington.

Picking up on the beat group zeitgeist, the advert suggested that the shop staff were the next Dave Clark Five. “Appearing daily throughout the festive season: The Al Goodrick Trio. Al Goodrick on Till, Brian Kelsey on Oscilloscope, Don Robinson on Wobbulator.”

It left Michael Waite of Catterick village feeling glad all over, because he was able to explain. “Oscilloscopes and wobbulators are pieces of test equipment used in radio and TV servicing – honestly,” he said.

An oscilloscope seems to measure signal voltage while a wobbulator works out how to receive a signal.

Michael adds that when Goodricks upgraded from selling black-and-white TVs, they invented a new work to promote their wares: “Goodricolour”.

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of…

December 21, 1918

THE edition of 100 years ago this week is genuinely historic – the first women in Britain had voted in a general election. Yet still the D&S Times said that polling day was “devoid of excitement”.

It said: “This is the first election in the history of the nation in which all the polls have been taken on one day, and it is also the first election at which women voted, 6,000,000 women having been placed upon the register.

“The striking feature of the day was undoubtedly the large exercise made by women of their new right.”

In Darlington, said the D&S, the women “had shown no special interest in the contest and there was a feeling that many of them would not trouble to record their votes, but the reverse was the actual case”.

In Thirsk, it was noticed that polling only got going in the evening when the lady voter had finished all her daily chores and was free to accompany her husband to the station.

“One wag averred that he never saw so many married couples walking the streets of Thirsk before,” said the D&S. “One lady went into the same box as her husband, and when the presiding officer pointed out that the ballot was secret, she said she would never think of voting other than as her husband did.

“Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle, who used her motor car for the purpose of conveying to the poll women voters on the Castle Howard estate, was one of the pioneers of woman suffrage, and she recorded her first Parliamentary vote.

“At Northallerton, the distinction of being the first woman to vote was gained by Mrs Mason, High Street, who presented herself at the polling station shortly after 8am. Mrs Emmerson, Marton Bridge, was the first woman voter at Ainderby Steeple, Mrs Jesse Kitching at Snape, and Mrs Ralph Stead at Bedale.”

In Richmond, the D&S said, “the women caused a surprise by the way they rolled up to cast their votes for the first time, many being accompanied by their husbands. To one who was entering the Town hall to exercise the newly-given suffrage a party of wounded soldiers called out: ‘Remember us; we have done our it for you at home.’ ‘You can depend upon me,’ replied the woman. ‘I have lost two of my sons, and Mr Wilson’s going to get my vote.’”

She was referring to Lt-Col Murrough Wilson, of Cliffe Hall near Piercebridge, who was the official Conservative Unionist candidate whose only opponent was Mr William Parlour, of Croft-on-Tees, who was representing the agricultural interest although, said the D&S, “it was well known that he held the same views as his opponent”.