THERE are times we overhear snatches of conversation in busy places like pub bars or bus stops that seem baffling at the time. I recall a couple of ladies having lunch in one of my favourite bars when one of them said, “He was perfectly all right until he became a spy for the Japanese.” On another occasion I heard someone in a bus queue say, “I never thought for a moment that it was a bicycle pump.”

In a similar vein, some notices on display provide humour to their readers. For example, a notice in a local clothes shop window announced “Ladies and Gentleman’s alterations” and on another occasion, I visited a police headquarters in the Midlands when on the staircase to an upper floor, I noticed a fire extinguisher on the landing bearing a notice attached to its nozzle. It said, “This nozzle is damaged. Please use only in an emergency.”

In similar vein, my wife and I were enjoying morning coffee in a local café when, on one of those moments of silence, I overheard a man say to a colleague, “Well, of course, there’s a strong link between Goathland and Osmotherley.” That set me thinking – what could that link be with two places in distant parts of the North York Moors?

I checked in one of my reference books which was published more than a century ago in 1906 and it said, “Goathland is on the line between Pickering and Whitby” and as I wondered what sort of line this might be, I realised it was the spectacular railway line that still crosses those moors.

There is nothing in the brief entry about Goathland that would link it to Osmotherley although I did learn that spout as in Mallyan Spout is quite a rare name for a waterfall and there is also a Cautley Spout near Sedburgh. But the references contain nothing that would link Goathland with Osmotherley.

The name of a village is often a useful guide to its history and in Goathland’s case, it has often been thought its name had something to do with goats. That is not so. In this case, the village name probably comes from Goda’s Land, Goda being a Scandinavian settler in that area. Gothland is another possible source of the name, Goths settling here upon leaving their native area which is now called Sweden. Another suggestion is that Gode Land, one of is names, might refer to God’s Country.

I should add at this point that Goathland’s role as Aidensfield, the fictional village in my Constable series of books I wrote under the pseudonym of Nicholas Rhea, is a purely fictional community. In my books, Aidensfield is based on another village – but Yorkshire TV felt that Goathland with its spectacular scenery and steam railway would be an ideal setting for my police characters along with Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. And so it has been proved! That series is still being screened in far-off places around the world!

However, the old name of Godeland or God’s Country, where a religious establishment was founded, may provide the link with Osmotherley. In 1117, some 900 years ago, Godeland, then within the Forest of Pickering, was granted by Henry I to Osmund, a priest, so that he could pray for the soul of Queen Matilda and provide lodgings for the poor. This led to the establishment of St Mary’s Hermitage, but when times were hard this was transferred to the ownership of Whitby Abbey. There are no remains of that old hermitage but Goathland parish church is dedicated to St Mary.

It is Osmund, the priest, who provides a possible link with Osmotherley.

Whether this is the same Osmund who features in the early history of Goathland is uncertain, but it is thought that Osmotherley’s name might derive from the Old Norse language meaning Osmund’s Ley, ley being a clearing. It’s former name was Osmunderley but another source of the name comes from a legend associated with Roseberry Topping, then known as Odinsberg.

This is the legend. A local princess dreamt that her son, Os, would die and so she ordered a nurse to take the child out of harm’s way to the summit of Odinsberg. The nurse obeyed but as the child played on the peaceful sunny slopes, she fell asleep. The child wandered away and fell into a small pond in the heather and when the nurse awoke she found him, but it was too late. The little prince had drowned. He was buried at Osmotherley and his mother died from grief to be buried at his side. It is said the name of Osmotherley comes from “Os-by-his-mother-lay.” It’s improbable, but is a nice yarn.

Poppies link

TODAY is remembered under almost a dozen different names, some of them recalling Britain’s wartime losses and bravery by all in two World Wars - 1914-1918 and again in 1939-45. Many of us know it now as either Remembrance Day or Veterans’ Day in the USA and Canada – or simply Poppy Day.

It was King George V who suggested the commemoration of the dead of World War I by ceasing all normal activities for two minutes at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This became known as the Two Minute Silence. King George selected that particular time and date because it marked the signing of the Armistice at 11am on November 11, 1918 which ended that war. Thus it became known as Armistice Day.

Remembrance Day, marking the end of World War II, is honoured at the same time and in the same way but with displays of poppies, either real or artificial. The red Field Poppy that grew on the battlefields of Flanders is now the symbol of remembrance and is represented by either real or artificial poppies. One variety of the poppy is named after Somnus, the god of sleep.

In addition, today is marked by further celebrations or commemorations.

It is often known as Martinmas or Martlemas which are alternative names of the Feast Day of St Martin of Tours. He was Bishop of Tours in France for more than fifty years and died in AD 397 but in the 16th century, French Protestants destroyed his shrine in Tours. In some areas of England, Martinmas is still celebrated on November 23, a result of the calendar changes of 1752.

It was an important day for country folk because it was the day that rents were due, accounts settled and new tenancy agreements determined. Hiring fairs were held when labourers and domestic servants were selected and hired although some young country folk trekked into town to seek work there. In general it was a day of drinking, feasting and dancing but when youngsters packed their bags and headed for the excitement of town life, it became known as Pack Rag Day.

Another name for today was Stattis Day which is a corruption of Statutes Day when conditions for hiring farm workers were laid down by the law. In some areas, it was known as Martlemas Beef Day when enough beef for the coming year was placed in the household chimneys to cure.

Sometimes a short spell of warm fine weather will occur around now and this is known as St Martin’s Little Summer. Once that is over, winter is not far away. end