Today, Kirkby Fleetham, near Northallerton, is holding its Community Heritage Open Day in the village hall. We previewed it last week with a selection of extremely tall tales from the village’s past.

In compiling our tales, we were warned off using too much from a booklet written in 1967 by Arthur Tweedy because, it was said, his stories might not always be accurate. Consequently, we didn’t tell his tale of how his grandfather, the gravedigger at Kirkby Fleetham church, had died – apparently, while digging a new grave in the congested churchyard, he suddenly sank into an old one and, overcome by the stench and the shock, passed away two days later.

However, David Severs in Northallerton points us to the highly regarded book Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside by Pamela Horn, which was first published in 1976. The author tells how young Arthur asked his father why he should call the squire of Kirkby Fleetham, or anyone else who thought themselves above the status of a farm labourer, “sir”.


Wise old Mr Tweedy replied: “Because ‘sir’, my boy, is only the nickname for a fool.”

With hindsight now we are warming to Mr Tweedy, perhaps we should have used more of his stories. Instead, we used one that was impeccably sourced from the Women’s Institute book of Yorkshire villages. It told how a taxidermist in Fleetham was sent a litter of dead lion cubs to stuff only for one to turn out to be alive so it was kept as a pet for many years, its roar shattering the village peace.

Darlington and Stockton Times: St Mary's Church, which is about a mile from the existing village of Fleetham but once had its own village of Kirkby around it

Dr Severs says: “When I worked in the police control room some 50 years ago, we received a 999 call from a garage on the A1.

Start 2024 informed and subscribe to the D&S Times online for just £3 for 3 months. Click here

“A van had just been filled with petrol and after it was driven away, a pool of blood was left on the forecourt.

“It was assumed there was a body in the van so a patrol car was dispatched to intercept it.

“The car did just that and it was indeed found that the van was carrying a body – that of a dead bear which was being taken to the taxidermist you mentioned.”

The heritage open day, featuring cakes, runs from 10am to 2pm.