On the border of the North York Moors, a little less than seven miles to the east of Northallerton is the village of Nether Silton.  Though the population is numbered in the region of one hundred inhabitants, Nether Silton nevertheless boasts a real country pub, The Gold Cup Inn, and amongst other interesting features in All Saints Church, the altar rails are supposedly made with wood taken from HMS Dreadnought.

Yet another noteworthy feature of this sleepy Yorkshire village can be found in the field to the south of All Saints, where stands a stone with a strange and puzzling inscription…

This squared-off stone pillar stands some 6 feet high, and on one face is caved with six lines of curious inscription in capital letters.  Apparently marking the site of a Mediaeval manor house, long since gone, when the building was demolished (or burned down, depending on which story is related) the landowner, a Squire Hicks, decided to leave a lasting memorial on the spot, and commissioned the stone carved with what is referred to as a “mnemonic” inscription which runs:









Though it’s known as the Puzzle Stone, it’s not so much of a mystery once the answer is revealed, however:

HTGOMHSHere the grand manor house stood;

TBBWOTGWWGthe black beams were oak, the great walls were good;

TWOTEWAHHthe walls of the east wing are hidden here;

ATCLABWHEYa thatched cottage like a barn was here erected year

AD1765Anno Domini 1765;

AWPSAYAA a wide porch spans a yard and alcove.


Easy, when you know how!



Following on from the previous ‘Provision for Pleasure’ post looking at what constituted ‘safe sex’ with regards to Georgian London’s Booming Sex Industry, time to turn to STDs.

Of course, sexually transmitted diseases have been known to mankind for centuries, but were certainly a prevalent scourge to 18th century society, especially so in the climate of London’s booming sex industry; people’s lack of awareness and understanding of STDs contributing to the widespread transmission of infections, and before the advent of modern medicine, remedies were few and hardly efficacious.


Wig and cosmetics for poxed prostitute

Six Stages of Mending a Face by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792, showing the various measures employed by ‘poxed’ prostitutes to disguise their condition.


From medieval times, syphilis was one of the most prevalent venereal diseases rampant throughout the sexually active population.  Blame culture is nothing new, and the advent and spread of the disease in Europe was said to have arisen from the crew members who picked up the disease on the voyages led by Christopher Columbus, who if such assertions are to be believed certainly discovered more than just the New World.  Supposedly spread on their return when docking at ports in Europe, syphilis, or grande verole, the ‘great pox’ as it was otherwise known went by a variety of other names, usually coined by those keen to shift the ultimate responsibility for the disease on to an enemy or a country other than their own.  Consequently, the French called it the ‘Neapolitan disease’, the ‘disease of Naples’ or the ‘Spanish disease’, while the English and Italians called it the ‘French disease’ or the ‘French pox’; the Germans called it the ‘French evil’.  

Whatever it was called, historians have concluded from the archives of prisons, hospitals and asylums that an estimated one-fifth of the population might have been infected at any one time, with London hospitals during the 18th century treating barely a fraction of those infected.   And that treatment was mercury.


Image result for mercury apothecary jar 18th century


The toxicity and terrible side-effects of mercury, however, caused neuropathy, kidney failure, and severe mouth ulcers and loss of teeth, and the death of a patient often resulting from mercurial poisoning rather than from the disease itself.  As treatment would often be prolonged, this gave rise to the saying, “A night with Venus, a lifetime with mercury”.  There were a plethora of other spurious ‘pox’ remedies available from quack doctors, such as ‘Dr Newman’s Anti-Venereal Pills’ as advertised in 18th-century newspapers, and doubtless, these were taken by many whose gullibility lined the pockets of the likes of ‘Dr Newman’.


The Daily Advertiser 5 August 1735

An advertisement appearing in The Daily Advertiser 5th August 1735 for Dr Newman’s Famous Anti-Venereal Pills.


With a view to avoiding contracting the pox in the first place, for those who could afford it, the purchase of ‘deflowering rights’ for a young virgin, as yet untainted, on the face of it seemed a costly yet worthwhile investment for a night of pleasure.  (There were huge profits to be made from such sexual transactions – as much as £150 – around £11,000 in today’s money.)  Yet it was not unknown for a working girl to be ‘restored’ to the financially rewarding state of virginity, some madams adept in employing various ‘secret’ procedures as a way of tricking a client into thinking he was bedding a virgo intacta.

Then there was the ‘virgin cleansing myth’, another opportunity for the bawds to profit from the belief that having sex with a virgin girl would cure a man of any sexually transmitted disease he might have contracted.  Of course, the outcome was obvious: the young innocent was invariably infected herself, going on to spread the disease still further.

While the ‘preservatives’ or ‘assurance caps’, that is to say, condoms mentioned in the previous post were seen primarily as a means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, rather than as an effective form of contraception, there were no guarantees; the frequent reuse of condoms, in view of their expensive nature significantly reduced their effectiveness.    Indeed one English physician, Daniel Turner, stated his belief that condoms actively encouraged men to have unsafe sex with different partners, while around this time many physicians decried the use of condoms on moral grounds, the reputation of prophylactics firmly cemented, associated with philanderers, prostitutes and the immoral.


Daniel Turner’s Syphilis – A practical dissertation on the venereal disease (1717)


Then as now, the consequences of ‘indirect sexual connection’ were inescapable – the assertion that each time you sleep with someone you also sleep with their past still rings true.  Thankfully today’s condoms do offer a measure of reassurance with regards to contracting an STD – so remember, ‘No balloons? No party!’


Image result for casanova condom


Image result for 18th century condoms


Following on from the previous ‘Provision for Pleasure’ post, time to take a look at what constituted ‘safe sex’ with regards to Georgian London’s Booming Sex Industry.

While ‘withdrawal’ was an age-old, albeit often unreliable method, interruption was hardly in the ethos of those bent on seeking pleasure and who had their heart (and their nether regions) set on a sexual encounter without the bounds of propriety.  However, for those with a measure of foresight, there were contraceptive choices available in the eighteenth century, though they were often costly and there was no guarantee of reliability either. But this did nothing to diminish the thriving customer base enjoyed by ‘Mrs Phillips’ who was the proprietress of The Green Canister, in Half Moon Street (now Bedford Street) in Covent Garden. Astutely located, at the time Covent Garden – or ‘the great square of Venus’ – was the prime location for Georgian London’s sex trade, and during her time as a courtesan, Phillips had clearly learned, as well as ‘turned’ a trick or two. Handbills printed to advertise her wares were given out to prospective customers in the street by link boys, keen to earn a few extra pennies, and amongst the most popular items touted were ‘preservatives’, or, more widely speaking, condoms.

Seen primarily as a means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, in 1776 one London advertiser described condoms as “implements of safety which secure the health of my customers”, and while there was no guarantee as to the effectiveness of 18th century condoms as a contraceptive, Casanova, best known as one of the most famous lovers in history, was one of the first reported as using ‘assurance caps’ to prevent impregnating his mistresses.


Image result for condom warehouse

Early quality control – Casanova would often blow up a condom before use to test for holes (left) while in the caricature (right) a woman in a ‘condom warehouse’ is seen blowing up a condom to make sure that it is not damaged.


In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, though the standard length on offer was between seven and eight inches, secured with a coloured ribbon tied around the base.  Made from either linen or ‘skin’ (sheep’s intestine) condoms could be used several times and men had only to wash them after each use.  Sold at pubs, barber shops, apothecary (chemist) shops and open-air markets, condoms were also sometimes available at the theatre –  it was after all the populous theatre scene in and around Covent Garden which promised a steady supply of potential sexual clients, either emerging during the intermission or seeking further entertainment after the show was over.

One firm proponent of condoms or ‘armour’ as he called them was James Boswell, whose London Journal is a richly informative source of information on sex in the eighteenth century; Boswell enthusiastically pursued a libertine lifestyle:

“At the bottom of the Haymarket I picked up a strong, jolly young damsel, and taking her under the arm I conducted her to Westminster Bridge, and then in armour complete did I engage her upon this noble edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much.”

In addition to condoms, outlets such The Green Canister would also have carried variations of the contraceptive sponge, a piece of natural sponge or linen with a length of ribbon stitched to it. Soaked in a dilute solution of lemon juice, or more commonly vinegar, this was a barrier method incorporating a supposed natural spermicide and favoured by prostitutes, but also employed by ‘ordinary’ women, especially those desirous of a break from childbearing.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, women were also known to utilise half a squeezed lemon as a kind of cervical cap; mention here again of the legendary lothario Casanova who took the credit for ‘inventing’ this barrier method, though there’s significant evidence to suggest that his claim on this astringent idea was not the first.  For thousands of years, women have inserted fruit acids, jellies, pastes and various objects and mixtures into their vagina in an attempt to prevent conception, with vaginal douches also used after intercourse as a contraceptive measure from at least the 1600’s.

Of course, there was one guaranteed sure-fire method of contraception universally available in the 18th century, still an option today, and one which was absolutely free – Abstinence!  But then where’s the fun in that?!

James Gillray, 'Fashionable Contrasts', 1792





Any dictionary definition will tell you that a ‘bawd’ is a woman who is in charge of, or keeps a brothel, yet despite the unscrupulous associations with such a profession, in Georgian London the ruthless exploitation of the rich market for sex spawned some of the eighteenth century’s most salaciously successful sexual entrepreneurs, who as well as amassing a great deal of money also gained a measure of celebrity through their notoriety into the bargain.

While much has been written about the seamy underbelly of 18th century London, particularly with regard to prostitution, this was nevertheless a lucrative aspect of the city’s ingrained climate of organised crime; those convicted of whoring, especially those who operated from the streets, regularly picked the pockets of the men they picked up, and often operated in league with other pickpockets, acting as a distracting decoy.

In most cases, theft rather than sex was the main object of the trade of prostitution.


While this profitable sideline to prostitution provided an additional livelihood, albeit criminal, for many, the real fortunes were those made by the notorious madams and procuresses who operated in ‘sin city’ during the reigns of the Hanoverians.  While they may have occupied a dubious place in society, even though some transacted business from beneath an obscuring veil of stylish respectability, these enterprising women capitalised on sexual demand, fulfilling the ‘Provision for Pleasure’ with a plentiful supply of prostitutes of both sexes.   Operating from the ‘disorderly houses’ proliferating in the vicinity of Covent Garden, or ‘the great square of Venus’ as it was otherwise known, this was the prime location for London’s sex trade, and astutely placed to take full advantage of the populous theatre scene which promised a steady supply of potential clients either emerging during the intermission or seeking further entertainment after the show was over.


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Covent Garden or ‘the great square of Venus’ as it was otherwise known.


Though contemporary denunciations of moral laxity and societal perversion sounded loud, the literary and illustrative treatments of the likes of Moll King, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, and Hogarth’s portrayals of Betty Careless were certainly emblematic of the brothel-keepers profession, and appealed to a public hungry for depictions drawn from the racier side of life.  Then as now, sex sells, and there was also a profit to be made from the real-life stories of the likes of Jane  Douglas, ‘The Empress of the Bawds’, not to mention the sales of ‘sexual directories’ such as ‘The Wandering Whore’.  Published during the Restoration period, this was a precursor to the scandalous and eminently successful ‘Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies’ , listing the sexual attributes and services offered by numerous ‘light-skirts’ and the streets where prostitutes might be found, as well as the locations of the Garden’s prime brothels from which many practiced ‘the oldest profession’.


Frontispiece and title page of 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies


Of the services on offer from the ‘Ladies’ featured in Harris’s List, naturally you got what you paid for, and sometimes an unwelcome extra in the form of a venereal disease; this was, after all, an age ravaged by syphilis.  For the less discerning gent  a ‘ threepenny upright’, that is to say, an encounter out in the open with a lowly streetwalker, might suffice, while for clients seeking a little more discretion a visit to a ‘bawdy house’ or a ‘bagnio’ (a bathhouse which  doubled as brothel) would fit the bill.  Of course, depending on the kind of ‘house’ kept, these establishments ranged from the functional to the opulent, reflecting the ‘amusements’ on offer therein.  At the King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, managed by the shrewd Moll King, sexual services were offered alongside the hot beverages, both served from the time the taverns shut until dawn, while the higher-end establishments, run by the likes of Elizabeth Dennison, were well known for “supplying the best ‘pieces’ in the Garden”.  Further up the scale, Charlotte Hayes considered one of the most desirable ‘women of the town’ was the owner of some of the city’s most luxurious brothels in and around King’s Place in St James’s.  Yet whether they be ‘Haymarket ware’, the term for a low-class prostitute, or a demanding courtesan, the goal was a common one – they were in it to make money.  And in this respect, much has been made of the economic contribution that the extent of prostitution had on the City’s prosperity, not only shaping eighteenth-century London but mooted as the financial bedrock of the City’s future development.

With estimates of as many as one in five young women engaged in prostitution at the time, this may well be plausible.  Certainly, this was an exploitative age.  For the thousands of girls who flocked to London each year seeking their fortunes, conversely, there were those lying in wait, keen to appropriate their naive willingness, as depicted in the opening scene of Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress.



In the first of Hogarth’s series of engravings, The Harlot’s Progress, the protagonist, Moll Hackabout, has arrived in London’s Cheapside and is being inspected by the pox-ridden Elizabeth Needham, a notorious procuress and brothel-keeper, who wants to secure Moll for prostitution – a fresh face and the promise of virginity meant that a higher price could be demanded from an eager client.


Eagerly anticipating the arrival of the rural coaches, these ‘bawds’, often women who had grown too old to make their own living from prostitution, would observe and select from the regular influx of country girls the most likely looking ‘raw materials’ for their trade.  And the ploy was a simple one: offering seemingly respectable work, once a false debt for lodgings and food had been run up, threats and violence were employed to ensnare the gullible innocents.  Seduced into a life of vice, which invariably turned out to be harsh, and short, their bodies, like those of the desperate homeless girls plucked from the streets of the city itself, were repeatedly sold for profit, callously exploited in feeding the appetite for paid for sex, which of course lined the mercenary Madam’s pocket…


In later ‘Provision for Pleasure‘ posts, I’ll be focusing on those ‘sexual entrepreneurs’ who managed to turn the infamy of brothel-keeping into a major industry, as well as delving into contraception, STD’s, fetishes, ‘Posture Girls’ and Molly Houses and some of the other salacious aspects of the Georgian sex industry.



Few writer’s works are as suffused with their native landscape as Thomas Hardy’s novels and poetry, and figuring large in the landscape of his mind, many of Hardy’s settings are inseparable from the places that inspired them, and indeed much of his appeal lies in his abstractions of Wessex, his revival of the ancient Saxon name for the southwestern counties of England which he described as ‘a partly-real, partly dream-country’.  

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) introduced the Wessex area setting (in the last edition of that novel Hardy reminds himself and his readers that it was in the pages of that book that he first made use of the ancient name of Wessex, described as ‘a merely realistic dream country’), and was to be the backdrop for all his major novels.   Though his reputation as a formidable writer was well established by the 1880’s, Hardy seems always to have placed poetry above fiction and regarded himself primarily as a poet, and indeed wrote poetry throughout his life.  However, for years circumstance dictated that he had to sell what he wrote to earn his living, Hardy forced to write fiction until such times as he was financially free to concentrate on verse,  his first collection of poetry not published until 1898.

Yet as well as drawing poetic inspiration from his ‘realistic dream country’ Hardy was also influenced by the changing seasons, and two of his poems conjuring up the imagery of the month of November seem an apt read at this time of year…

At Day-Close In November

The ten hours’ light is abating,
And a late bird flies across,
Where the pines, like waltzers waiting,
Give their black heads a toss.

Beech leaves, that yellow the noon-time,
Float past like specks in the eye;
I set every tree in my June time,
And now they obscure the sky.

And the children who ramble through here
Conceive that there never has been
A time when no tall trees grew here,
A time when none will be seen.


A Night In November

I marked when the weather changed,
And the panes began to quake,
And the winds rose up and ranged,
That night, lying half-awake.

Dead leaves blew into my room,
And alighted upon my bed,
And a tree declared to the gloom
Its sorrow that they were shed.

One leaf of them touched my hand,
And I thought that it was you
There stood as you used to stand,
And saying at last you knew!




Burned at the Stake


Summer’s next book has now been released – Burned at the Stake: The Life and Death of Mary Channing.

In 1706 19-year-old Mary Channing was convicted of poisoning her husband and became the last woman to be burned at the stake in Dorset. Despite her impressive attempts to defend herself, the jury had taken only half an hour to find her guilty. Yet on pronouncement of the death sentence, Mary ‘pleaded her belly’ and thus postponed her execution until after she had given birth to her child in gaol.

When the day finally arrived, her execution was made into something of a county fair, with 10,000 spectators gathering to view the barbaric ordeal upon the floor of Dorchester’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, Maumbury Rings. Although the law extended an act of clemency allowing for Mary to be strangled to death before the fires were lit, there is evidence to suggest that she was, in fact, still alive when consigned to the flames. After the gory spectacle was complete, it was said ‘not one of those 10,000 people ever cared particularly for hot roast after that.’

More than 300 years after her dramatic demise, Mary’s fate still holds a macabre fascination, as it did for Thomas Hardy, who recorded some of the grislier details of her execution in his notebooks and used her as the inspiration for his poem, ‘The Mock Wife’. Yet while Mary Channing has been granted a kind of grim celebrity, as well as an established place in the annals of female murderers, a measure of compelling sympathy for her case is nonetheless another lasting aspect of her legacy.

Available now:

Pen & Sword Books



& from all good High Street booksellers!




As Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn‘) or the ‘Festival of the Dead’ approaches, this very important date in the Pagan calendar is often superseded by the shenanigans habitually attendant on Halloween, celebrated on the night of October 31st.  Believed to be one of the original festivals behind the holiday we know as Halloween, this ‘Witch’s New Year’ is also associated with the Christian calendar, All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows’ Day, falling on November 1st, the preceding day known as All Hallows’ Eve – hence ‘Hallowe’en’.

While the run-up to the 31st, marked by the sale of pumpkins and fancy dress parties seems to begin earlier with every passing year, Samhain itself  is celebrated from sunset on October 31st to sunset on November 1st as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset, the date falling almost halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

With regards to the lore and customs of Samhain (meaning ‘Summer’s end’) firmly rooted in the Gaelic tradition, this is possibly the biggest festival of the Witches’ year, a time to remember those who have passed on, celebrate the end of a hopefully fruitful Summer and prepare for the long, dark Winter months ahead.  The end of the cycle of birth and growth, the celebratory rituals surrounding Samhain include bonfires, dancing and feasting, and indeed some of Halloween’s most common traditions such as the carving of pumpkins and bobbing for apples stem from Samhain’s harvest festival roots.  Though pumpkins are very much an imported American tradition, as the Celts regarded the human head as the Seat of the Soul, the concept of the carved pumpkin with a candle inside it as the Light shining from the Soul could be construed as a modern tradition fitting with the ethos of Samhain.

Concerning customs such as apple bobbing, we’re on firmer ground, however, as many of the apple games played at Samhain grew out of the belief in the Apple as a sacred and magical fruit.   (An apple, cut crosswise, reveals the five-pointed star, or pentacle at its core, a symbol of the Goddess.)  Symbolic of life and immortality, in Celtic tradition, apples were buried at Samhain as food for those souls who are waiting to be reborn, and as this is also considered a liminal time, when the veil between life and death grows thin, some celebrate Samhain with a ritual to guide the dead home, the Candle Ceremony of The Ancestors, opening a western-facing door or window and placing a candle in the opening.

So, whether you’re honouring your ancestors, or honouring your sugar craving by going trick-or-treating, whatever you do, have fun and enjoy as the nights lengthen and Winter begins.

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As a postscript, though the origins of Halloween may be ancient, the celebration still marks a turning point in our modern calendar, and it’s just a sleigh ride toward Christmas from here on in, and the surprising Pagan origins of our modern festive cheer will certainly make for another Blog with the approach of this beloved Winter holiday.

Treasure, Bank, Box, Brown, Case, Chest

‘X’ marks the spot!  The beloved trope of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ can surely be applied to a map of the Yorkshire Dales, if we are to believe the tales of buried treasure and caches of riches aplenty that still lay hidden and awaiting discovery, though in many cases a little more than mere spadework is required…

We begin with the tradition of the supposed hoard still waiting to be unearthed at Middleham Castle, the now extensive roofless ruin that was once the fortified royal palace and childhood home to Richard III.  Here it is intriguingly rumoured that a wealth of treasure is buried somewhere in the castle environs.   It is said that if you run around the castle three times, where you stop the treasure will be found; sadly the essential starting point for this race to riches is yet to be revealed, and so the treasure, and the tale, remain intact.

The remains of the once formidable Middleham Castle, the childhood home of Richard III, where a hoard of buried treasure remains undiscovered.

More buried treasure is waiting to be claimed within the ruined walls of Bowes Castle, situated on the old Roman road running through Stainmore and leading onto Cataractonium, or Catterick Garrison as we know the town today.  Bowes Castle was constructed on the foundations of the Roman fort Lavatrae, built in the late 1st Century, and traces of the garrison that once protected the Roman road on its course across the North Pennines, the modern route now followed by the busy A66, are still visible in the fields to the south of St Giles Church.  During the final days of the waning Roman occupation and a general disintegration in discipline, the soldiers stationed at Lavatrae went on a plundering spree of the surrounding villages, laying their hands on anything of value, especially gold…  Eventually, the victimised local inhabitants banded together in numbers strong enough to storm the fort in a revenge attack and massacred the Roman soldiers to a man.  However, clearly suspecting a local backlash the soldiers had previously and prudently buried all their ill-gotten loot, but with the entire garrison annihilated, the hidden location still remains a mystery.   It is said though, that on the anniversary of the massacre the ghosts of the murdered legionaries appear at Bowes Castle to re-enact the burying of the treasure, and associated folklore dating to the 16th Century tells of two local men who had the splendid idea of hiding in the ruins on such an anniversary so that they might ascertain exactly where to dig.  The enterprising pair claimed to have seen a procession of soldiers carrying a huge chest of gold which they then watched them bury.  However, before the location could be disclosed both men met a violent death within hours of each other…  The first was murdered by his greedy associate, who on proceeding to scrabble in the dirt at the appropriate spot was beckoned by a mysterious bloody red hand and dragged over the fields to the banks of the River Greta where his body was discovered the next day.  Understandably for many years, Lavatrae was shunned as a dark and sinister place, especially around the anniversary of the bloodbath that had taken place so many centuries before.

The site of the Roman fort of Lavatrae now lays beneath the ruined remains of Bowes Castle.

It is said that buried treasure also lies hidden within the now ruined Pendragon Castle near the hamlet of Outhgill in remote Mallerstang Dale.  Reputedly standing on the site of an earlier castle, built some 600 years previously by Uther Pendragon, purportedly the father of the legendary King Arthur, this 5th Century chieftain was at the spearhead so to speak of leading the local resistance against the invading Anglo-Saxons.  Uther has attracted much folklore and legend over time, with tales of how he battled a large dragon-like serpent while in Mallerstang, and his attempts to reroute the River Eden to create a moat for the Pendragon Castle.  According to tradition, it was at Pendragon that Uther met his end, he and a hundred of his men slain within the castle when Saxon invaders infiltrated the fortress after poisoning the waters of the castle well. While the existing ruins of the Norman castle date to the 12th Century, the legends of Uther’s ghost still hold, as do the tales of the hoard of treasure hidden therein, but bizarrely protected by a phantom black hen!  This plucky eternal guardian deters all would-be treasure hunters from digging for booty by frantically replacing any freshly dug soil as quickly as it can be excavated!

The atmospheric remains of Pendragon Castle, near Outhgill, but not a phantom black hen in sight…!

Though the Pendragon phantom chicken may seem an unusual sentinel, there is a strong tradition of hidden treasure being safeguarded by feathered custodians, with hens, cockerels, ravens and eagles (some even consuming the odd foolhardy treasure hunter) standing guard, and another tale of a custodial rooster can be found in William Henderson’s ‘Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders’ (1879).  Relating to a hoard of buried gold in Swaledale, possibly hidden by retreating Celtic tribesmen in the face of Roman incursions, Henderson wrote that he had learnt ‘from Mr. Robinson, of Hill House, Reeth, Yorkshire, that in his neighbourhood as in many others is a place called Maiden’s Castle, in which tradition avers a chest of gold is buried. “Many attempts,” he says, “have been made to gain possession of the treasure, and one party of adventurers actually came up to the chest and laid hold of it, when a hen appeared, flapped her wings, and put out the light. This occurred three times, and the men were obliged to desist. The next day was Sunday, still, they returned to the place. A violent storm of thunder and rain came on, however, and the ‘drift,’ in miners’ phrase, ‘ran’. My informant, an old man of the place, knew this, he said, for a fact.’

Yet another chicken is involved with the legend of treasure concealed beneath Stony Raise Cairn, the round barrow to the south of Addleborough Hill near Bainbridge in Wensleydale, supposedly belonging to a local giant who inhabited the area (it must be said that giants do seem to feature frequently in Dales folklore).  The tale told is that tripping on Stony Raise Cairn, the giant lost his grip and dropped his precious load.  It is said that to this day that the treasure remains beneath the cairn and bizarrely can only be uncovered with the assistance of a hen and an ape!  The unlikely pairing of poultry and primate has never been satisfactorily explained, but needless to say, this theory has yet to be put to the test.

The treasure hidden within Dob Park Lodge, an early 17th Century hunting lodge in the beautiful  Washburn Valley, may be difficult to locate as the original  directions to this hoard reference some internal features, and as Dob Park is now a ruined shell (the lodge’s state of collapse already well advanced when Turner painted his “On the Washburn, under Folly Hall” in 1815) the clues may well prove useless.  There is also a further impediment in the shape of the huge saucer-eyed black dog or Barguest (the Yorkshire name for legendary monstrous phantom black dogs of folklore) that is said to watch over the hidden treasure at Dob Park, and unusually also possessing the power of speech!   Some time in the 1800’s, a foolhardy, and it must be said very drunk individual ventured to explore the vaults of the lodge, the entrance to which was supposedly at the foot of a once winding stairway.  Claiming that he actually saw a great chest of gold, presumably, he was too inebriated to follow-up on his discovery, and one must assume that the gold and the formidable conversational canine remain in the ruined lodge to this day…

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The decaying remains of Dob Park Lodge, wherein lies a great chest of gold, and a huge saucer-eyed black dog set to watch over the treasure.

Image courtesy of T J Blackwell

Our final tale of buried treasure, which incidentally may have been ‘borrowed’ from the Persian story One Thousand and One Nights, is the tradition of the copious hidden gold discovered in the grounds of the 14th Century ruins of the castle at Upsall, the tiny estate village situated on the western slope of the Hambledon Hills.  Upsall Castle was ‘slighted’ during the English Civil War, the deliberate destruction by the Parliamentarians a fate which befell many castles and fortified houses, rendering them useless to the enemy.

Many, many years ago there lived in Upsall village a man called Jack who dreamed, on three successive nights, that if he travelled south to London Bridge he would hear something greatly to his advantage.  Nagged by the theme of his recurrent dreams, Jack walked the entire distance from Upsall to London, and on arrival in the Capital, he headed straight for London Bridge.  There he waited, day in, day out until his patience had all but deserted him.  On the point of returning home, thinking he had embarked on a fool’s errand, Jack was approached by a Quaker who politely enquired why he had been camped out on the bridge for so long.  After reluctantly admitting to his fantastical dreams, the Quaker laughed and admitted himself to having had the self-same dream the night before, but in his sleep he had been directed to go to Upsall in North Yorkshire, a place he didn’t know, and to dig under a certain bush in the grounds of the castle there, whereupon he would find a pot of gold; having noted Jack’s Yorkshire accent, the Quaker enquired whether he knew where Upsall was?  Astutely pleading ignorance, Jack immediately set off home in search of the Quaker’s dream horde himself, and after digging beneath a likely looking shrub unearthed a pot filled with gold, covered with a lid on which was written an inscription in a language he did not understand. The gold went straight into Jack’s pocket, while the pot and its lid were preserved as a memento in the village inn, where one day a bearded stranger, looking not unlike a Jew, caught sight of the pot and translated the inscription from the lid:

 ‘Look lower, where this stood is another twice as good’

On hearing the pot’s message in plain English, Jack resumed his spadework, returning to the bush and digging even deeper, he found another pot filled with a quantity of gold far more valuable even than the first.  Encouraged by this good fortune Jack dug deeper still and found yet another pot containing even more treasure.  And the moral of this story – good things come to those who wait – and dig!

Money, Coins, Gold, Currency, Coin, Finance

This October sees the 951st anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and of course you don’t need to be an eminent historian to remember that most celebrated of dates in English history – yet while 1066 is the pivotal year that every schoolchild knows by heart, there were in fact two decisive battles fought prior to Hastings, instrumental in determining the final outcome, and the bloody carnage of both engagements took place far to the North, on Yorkshire soil…

Overshadowed perhaps by the the final conflict between the Saxon hero, Harold, and the French villain, William of Normandy – or William ‘the Bastard’ as he was otherwise known (in reality, both were of Viking descent and neither had a particularly strong claim to the English throne)  Hastings – or the ‘Battle of Senlac Hill’ as preferred by pro-Saxon Victorian historians – is one of those landmark events that shines brightest from the dimness of the Dark Ages.   Consequently, the importance of both the battles fought at Fulford in York and at Stamford Bridge seems diminished in the collective national consciousness.  Indeed neither are represented in the stitches of the Bayeux Tapestry, yet an alternative outcome to either of these battles could have forced a fundamental change in the history of our Isles, and affect how we live our lives today.  From the formation of the United Kingdom to our Constitution, our economy, even down to the way we speak, while it is well nigh impossible to determine the course of British history without the Conquest, an alternative outcome to either Stamford Bridge or Fulford could have had considerable ramifications also.  Time for both of those Yorkshire battles to take a share of the limelight then.

The first of these bloody engagements. which certainly seems to have fallen between the cracks of popular history, was the Battle of Fulford, also known as the Battle of Fulford Cross or the Battle of York.  On the morning of 20th September 1066 the armies of Morcar of Northumbria and his brother Edwin of Mercia clashed with the forces of King Harald Hardrada of Norway, supported by Earl Tostig, King Harold of England’s disgraced turn-coat brother, the opposing sides facing one another across the marshland beside the River Ouse in Fulford, one-and-a-half miles from the centre of York.   This valiant Saxon attempt to face down the superior Norse army that had come to reclaim Britain as a Nordic nation was doomed to defeat and failure, however.  On that day the northern earls were outnumbered 4-1 when they took their positions on the miry ground at Fulford against Hardrada’s estimated 12,000 Norsemen, disgorged from 300 longships which had sailed up the Ouse and moored at Riccall.  With the front ranks locked together in a shield-wall, the Saxon spearsmen utilised any gap they could find to assault the axe-wielding opposition, yet caught between Harald Hardrada’s men on one side and Tostig’s army on the other, the Saxons were finally overwhelmed and their fate was sealed.  As they fell back, trapped between the Vikings and the River Ouse, those who were not cut down or crushed were drowned, and it was said that the tidal estuary of the Ouse, known locally as Germany Beck, ran red with the blood of fallen Saxons.

Prior to the Fulford massacre, everybody in England had been on invasion alert during 1066, and King Harold was now placed in an unenviable position.  Should he march his army north to confront Hardrada, leaving the south of England unprotected against the threat of invasion from across the Channel, or remain where he was in anticipation of the Norman offensive, leaving Hardrada to consolidate his control in Yorkshire?   Taking the decision to march north, Harold was optimistic that he could defeat Hardrada and still be able to return south in time to confront William’s army.

After Fulford, the Vikings received the surrender of York, the city capitulating without resistance, averting the inevitable sacking and savage reprisals had they fought on.   Decamping to Stamford Bridge, some seven miles to the east of York, Hardrada presumed that Harold would not leave the south of England unprotected against the threat of Norman invasion, and felt confident enough to leave a third of his men and armour with the longships moored at Riccall.  However, when Harold’s army reached York on the morning of the 25th, their numbers bolstered by the remnants of Morcar’s and Edwin’s defeated forces, he immediately marched from the city to Stamford Bridge, taking Hardrada completely by surprise.  At a parley prior to the battle, Harold offered his traitorous brother, Tostig, his earldom back if he would lay down his arms and rejoin him.  When Tostig asked what English lands Harald Hardrada could expect if he dismissed his Viking army, King Harold’s derisive reply was that ‘he would offer Hardrada seven foot of good English soil, or as much as he needed as he was taller than other men‘.   Battle commenced…

While the exact location of the main battlefield at Stamford Bridge is now difficult to determine, the site of the initial action was for control of the bridge itself.  Incredibly a huge and formidable Viking berserker clutching a massive double-bladed battle axe held the narrow crossing single-handedly, impeding the entire Saxon army.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that he slew up to 40 Englishmen, but was finally vanquished when one of Harold’s men ingeniously floated under the bridge in a half-barrel, and thrust his long spear through the laths of the bridge, mortally wounding the seemingly unstoppable warrior from beneath.

With the way now clear for the Saxon army to storm across the bridge, locking shields with the enemy on the western bank, the fierce and bloody battle raged on for hours, until, as dusk fell, Harald Hardrada, who had tirelessly wielded a two-handled sword to devastating effect, was finally struck down by an arrow to the windpipe.   Remaining true to his traitorous allegiance, Tostig took up the fallen Viking Raven Banner, the ‘Land-Ravager’, and fought on until he himself was slain.  Echoing the fate of the defeated Saxons at Fulford, as the routed Viking army was pursued, many of the fleeing Norsemen were drowned in the river.  This was a decisive victory for Harold, and notwithstanding those who’d perished in the River Derwent, so many of the invaders had fallen in such a small area that the field occupying what is now called ‘Battle Flats’, to the south-east of the town. was said to have been still whitened with bleached bones some 70 years after the battle.  Tellingly, of the 300 ships the Vikings arrived in, only 25 were needed to return the survivors to Norway.

In spite of his betrayal of his brother, Tostig’s body is believed to have been taken to York and buried at York Minster, presumably at King Harold’s behest, and while Harold had promised Hardrada a grave in ‘good English soil’, his the body was taken back to Norway and interred in Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim.

Harold’s victory was short-lived, however, as even while celebrating the Viking defeat at a banquet in York, he received word that Duke William had made landfall in Sussex.  The rest, as they say, is history…

Though the Battle of Stamford Bridge is probably the better known of the two precursors to Hastings, when questioned, most people will still allude to Chelsea FC’s home ground!  There has, however, been a recent revival of an old, almost lost, local tradition dating back to the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  Pies baked in the shape of a small boat with a symbolic spear-like wooden skewer protruding from the crust are once again customarily eaten on the first Sunday after the 25th September to commemorate the turning point of that historic battle.  Perhaps this accounts for the fierce face of the Viking warrior gracing the iconic pub sign for The New Inn, formerly The Swordsman Inn.  The site of the pub is just upstream from the present road bridge, where the original 11th-century bridge would have been, and where the mighty giant Viking berserker met his infamous battle’s end from beneath!


‘For the sake of decency, gentlemen, don’t hang me high.’  This was the last request of modest murderess Mary Blandy, who was hanged for the poisoning of her father in 1752.  Concerned that the young men amongst the crowd who had thronged to see her execution might look up her skirts as she was ‘turned off’ by the hangman, this last nod to propriety might appear farcical in one who was about to meet her maker.  Yet this was just another aspect of a case which attracted so much public attention in its day that some determined spectators even went to the lengths of climbing through the courtroom windows to get a glimpse of Mary while on trial.  Indeed her case remained newsworthy for the best part of 1752, for months garnering endless scrutiny and mixed reaction in the popular press.

Opinions are certainly still divided on the matter of Mary’s ‘intention’ in the poisoning of her father, and the extent to which her coercive lover, Captain William Cranstoun, was responsible for this murder by proxy.  Yet Mary Blandy’s trial was also notable in that it was the first time that detailed medical evidence had been presented in a court of law on a charge of murder by poisoning, and the first time that any court had accepted toxicological evidence in an arsenic poisoning case.   The forensic legacy of the acceptance of Dr Anthony Addington’s application of chemistry to a criminal investigation another compelling aspect of The First Forensic Hanging.

The First Forensic Hanging: The Toxic Truth That Killed Mary Blandy is due for publication 2018 (Pen & Sword Books)