Following my columns about festive birthdays, I have been contacted by one of the few people who declares to enjoy them.

Andrea Dandy says: “I was born on Christmas Day in 1941 and have loved every birthday. When I was a child my brother would complain I always got more presents than him. He didn't realize I never got any presents during the year. When I had three sons, they also always said I got a lot of presents at Christmas. I also have a nephew who was born on my 27th birthday.”

It sounds like Andrea was quite fortunate, with her loved ones making sure she had enough gifts to cover both Christmas and her birthday, contrary to the experiences of other readers who felt hard done by.

I get a bit of a thrill when readers find articles that I wrote a while back and come to me with new information.

Paul Ireson got in touch about a couple of columns I wrote in January 2023 concerning witch posts. If you remember, these carved posts are usually found near fireplaces in very old houses and originally it was thought that the carvings, often featuring crosses, were intended to ward off evil spirits and witches, hence the name. But over the years, my dad came to believe they were in fact associated with the legendary Martyr of the North York Moors, Father Nicholas Postgate, at a time when Catholics were being persecuted. Dad discovered that posts bearing these cross symbols only proliferated during the time of the martyr, and only in areas he is thought to have visited, which is the main reason why he believed they were connected to Postgate. Their purpose, he suggested, was to secretly indicate to fellow Catholics that they were in a safe house. It is possible that the association with witches was a deliberate ploy by Catholics to spread misinformation so that the true meaning behind the symbols would not be discovered. One of these posts can be seen in the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole today.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Reader Paul Ireson on one of his horses in Newton-on-Rawcliffe in about 1987. He owned and named Old Pond House which featured in my columns about witch posts in January 2023

In one of the columns, I mentioned a 17th Century cottage called Old Pond House which has a witch post in its living room. Paul revealed: “I bought Old Pond House in Newton-on-Rawcliffe (near Pickering) in 1986 for £38,000 including stables and a three-acre field. We lived there for several years. I had never heard of a witch post and occasionally people would look through the window and enquire about the post. I revisited Newton recently as I now live at Rosedale but didn’t get a chance to visit the house.”

Paul remembered that when he lived in Newton, there was a dairy farm and a post office-cum-shop in the village, but they have been converted into holiday rentals. He added that their house didn’t have a name and they’d wanted to call it "Pond House". Unfortunately, that name had already been taken by a neighbouring property and so, as their cottage was older, they chose "Old Pond House" instead! He said: “The witch post was in original condition and was always a talking point with visitors.

“At the time I was working in a shop and my wife was a receptionist which shows how affordable property was then. Mind you the mortgage rate was about 12 per cent! We lived there for four years and had two horses… We travelled to York to work every day in an old Volvo estate that did about 20 miles to the gallon. I recall a few bad winters when we would all wait for the snow plough to come up from Pickering before we could get to work.”

It makes me wonder whether people would go to that effort these days. Not only is the road as far as Pickering (where you pick up the main road) single track, and therefore not easy to navigate in wintry conditions, but it is also a good 35 miles into York. I do remember that, living in a village 20 miles from school, we would go to extraordinary lengths to get there, and very rarely did we look out of the window and decide it was too snowy to set out. These days, it seems, a few flakes come down and the whole of Britain grinds to a halt! But then, we were a hardy lot back then, weren’t we.

Or were we just foolhardy?

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