A FEW weeks ago, I was in Northallerton when I was surprised to meet a former colleague who now lives in Lancashire. As we chatted in the High Street, one of Richard Preston’s heavy goods vehicles drove past, bearing its famous logo “Prestons of Potto.”

“That’s surely a mistake,” commented my companion. “Shouldn’t it read Potto’s of Preston?”

“No,” I told him. “It’s a firm of goods vehicles based in Potto, a village not far from here.”

“Potto? That’s a weird name for a village,” he frowned. “Why is it called that?”

“Now you’ve got me stumped!” I admitted, adding, “But I’ll find out and let you know.”

Potto lies in a triangle of land between Stokesley, Northallerton and Yarm and was once known for the nearby railway station at Trenholme Bar, on the Whitby-Middlesbrough LNER line. It does not feature in many of the local topographical books although my Place Names of the North Riding does feature Potto whose name is said to mean a hill near a small valley.

Apparently it was known as Pothowe in the thirteenth century and by the thirteenth century, its name had changed to Pottowe. My references do not say when the present spelling of its name was adopted.

Probably in later centuries, its name became Pottowe when it was held by the Meinills, Lords of Whortlon whose name might now be spelt as Meynell and it was described as a township or manor. Indeed, in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) it gave its name to a noble family, the head of which was Robert de Pottowe who held lands there, for which he paid two shillings to the King’s bailiff.

Within the township of Pottowe lay the hamlet of Trenholme in which a parcel of land was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury but it seems most of the land in that area was parcelled out to different proprietors.

The soil was generally considered good although varied according to its precise location. Some of the surrounding areas comprised mainly heavy peat-moss covered with heath whilst in nearby Scugdale, gravelly loam prevailed. Under skilful management, however, the land produced good crops of corn and grass, and the sheep were considered hardy.

On the moors near Scarth Nick there were extensive and productive quarries that produced very good building stone that was used in the parish but also further afield.

Industries in the Whorlton and Pottowe localities at that time – the eighteenth century – included the linen weavers of Swainby with local men being employed in the bleach-grounds but with most of the inhabitants working in agriculture.

In a survey conducted in 1801, Pottowe had 36 inhabited houses, 36 families, 4 uninhabited houses, and the population consisted of 92 males and 82 females.

That is ancient Potto in a nutshell!

My information comes from “The History of Cleveland” by the Rev. John Graves, originally published in 1808. At that time, the whole of Cleveland lay within the North Riding of Yorkshire and barely resembled the modern Cleveland County that is based around Tees-side.

Learning curve

When a handsome pied wagtail appeared at the side of our fish pond and walked down the ramp towards the edge of the water with its tail bobbing up and down as only a wagtail’s can, my wife and I were rather surprised.

Even though we were a very few yards away, I felt the bird was rather close – perhaps it hadn’t noticed us? However, a few years earlier we had a pair of these black and white beauties nesting among ivy within a metre or so of our outdoor table.

For most of the time that we used the table, that pair completely ignored us although the female did scold us occasionally when she considered we were sitting too close to her nest.

It is difficult but not impossible to distinguish the male from the female pied wagtail – except that the female builds the nest. Our delight at seeing one so close to us on that second occasion in the evening spring sunshine and about to dip into our fish pond, turned to puzzlement when another wagtail arrived.

The pair stood side by side as if contemplating the daring move of walking together down the ramp to the water’s edge but then I realised these two were not alike. They weren’t male and female in courtship. A superficial glance might have suggested both were pied wagtails, otherwise known as water wagtails, the name I gave them when I was a child, but there were some evident differences.

The main distinction was that the newcomer’s plumage was not all black and white. Its upper parts seemed to have a brownish-grey or yellowish tint, but I did not notice any yellowness around its underparts. What was conspicuous was the newcomer’s black throat and bib although I cannot recall whether it had a black cap or not. In size, it was about the same as the pied wagtail at its side.

This sighting was in late March before the nesting season and my first reaction was that the subordinate of the pair was a juvenile, probably one from last year’s brood. Certainly, it seemed that the senior pied wagtail was teaching his offspring something about fish ponds and ramps. I must admit I wondered if the newcomer was a white wagtail, this being a European version of our pied wagtail, but its curious brown-yellow upper parts suggested otherwise.

However, a little more research suggested that the newcomer was indeed a youngster from last year’s brood. A juvenile pied wagtail retains its youthful plumage until the spring following its hatching and its first-year colouring consists of greyish plumage with a hint of yellow on the face, plus a prominent black chin and bib.

There are similarities between one of these juveniles and a grey wagtail with some resemblance to the white wagtail. In thinking it through, I am sure the pair we witnessed was an adult accompanied by a youngster from last year, the elder one showing his offspring how to cope with fish ponds, ramps and fountains.

Cuckoo Day

And finally, next Thursday, April 14, is Cuckoo Day. By long tradition, this is when the cuckoo is supposed to arrive on our shores and so many of us will be hoping to hear it. In some areas, it was thought that if you turned the cash in your pocket or purse when you first heard the cuckoo, it would herald great riches. Good luck!