Everybody knows the telegraph messenger. All over the kingdom, in town and country, his bright, smart uniform is to be seen and, next to the postman, no public servant of the Queen is more in request. His office is one of great responsibility and usefulness; and if on any given day the electric telegraph suddenly came to an end, business would speedily become disorganised, and a great inroad would also be made upon the happiness of many homes.
The messenger has no knowledge of the contents of the brown envelopes which are put into his hands to deliver with all speed. When he knocks at the door and hands in his message, he cannot tell whether he is a bearer of good news or ill. Sometimes his visit means nothing but sorrow. It may be the loss of the breadwinner by a fatal accident; or the news of a loved soldier son’s death in a far-off clime; or the tale of an attached daughter’s end in a London hospital after a lingering disease. Ah, well! for good or ill the telegraph messenger bustles about day after day, proud to be in Her Majesty’s service, and conscious that his calling is of real use to the community.
The conditions on which boys are taken into the service are not without interest. The limits of age are from 13 to 15.
Candidates between 13 and 14 must be at least four feet seven inches in height, without boots, and candidates between 14 and 15 not less than four feet eight inches. They must have passed Standard V of the new Educational Code, or some equivalent test, and are required to produce a satisfactory certificate of health from their own medical attendant, and certificate of having been satisfactorily vaccinated within the last seven years.
Duty does not commence, as a rule, before 8am and it continues for nine hours. The wages are 7s a week, rising by 1s a week annually to 11s, and uniform is supplied, including boots. All candidates have to sign a declaration, stating they are fully aware that this employment will not entitle them to promotion, compensation, or pension. That their services will be discontinued on their attaining 16 years of age, unless they then succeed in passing a competitive examination for direct appointment as postmen on reaching 18 years of age, or elect to remain two years longer as messengers, on the understanding that if they then enlist as soldiers, they shall, after serving the prescribed time with the colours, have preference over soldiers who have never been in the service of the Post Office, in obtaining employment in that department.
The other day I had a peep at the small Blue Book of ‘Instructions for Messengers in London’, which each messenger is required to produce at every inspection, and also whenever asked for by the messenger’s superior officer. The instructions cover conduct and delivery. Rule 6. ‘You are at all times to keep yourself scrupulously clean, and to have your hair short and neatly cut.’ Or Rule 9… ‘You must take off your cap when in the Office, and you must always be respectful in your manner when spoken to by any person.’ City messengers are specially cautioned against sliding down handrails of the staircases! This is certainly a hard saying, for most health, high-spirited lads are under the impression that sliding down the handrail is an expeditious and graceful way of coming downstairs!
Rules 11 and 12 will command the sympathy of many people. 11. ‘You are strictly forbidden to smoke in or abut the Office, at any time, or in the streets when you are in uniform. Gambling, raffling, playing cards, and practical joking are strictly prohibited’. 12. ‘You must not, on any account, go into public-houses during your hours of duty except to deliver telegrams,’ which leads me to say that the Post Office.
At Christmas time severe temptations are placed in the way of the postmen and telegraph messengers. The ‘Christmas Glass’ has been the ruin of many fine fellows. Let us hope that this year the Christmas box to the postman and to the telegraph messenger will be in current coin, so that the receiver may take it home, and spend it in the way he thinks best, or put it by in the Savings Bank for the rainy day which is sure to come when least expected.
From Church Monthly 1893, pp336-338. with permission of Aysgarth PCC. The illustration was drawn by H Johnson
Maypole dancing in the Vicarage garden following a Flower Festival probably in the 1930s.
There was great excitement at St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays in 1894 when a large hamper of flowers arrived from Aysgarth (see below). The bouquets had been presented by children at the Flower Service at St Andrew’s Church. A year earlier the Vicar, the Rev Fenwick Stow, reported that 300 children had attended the service. It seems incredible now that there were so many children in Aysgarth parish.
The children came from their small village schools (there were five at that time – at Aysgarth, Carperby, West Burton, Cross Lanes and Bishopdale) not just for the Flower Services but also for the teas and sports at the Vicarage (now Stow House) afterwards. They, with their families and friends, obviously had a great time and as well as bringing a lot of joy into the lives of the girls at St Chads in Headingley, Leeds, as can be seen from this letter published in the August 1894 edition of the Aysgarth Parish Magazine:
Please’m Matron says, will you come down and see the flowers? Oh! they are so lovely, and such lots of ‘em.
I gladly obeyed the summons and went down, and this is what I saw – A large table on which were several buckets filled with flowers of every hue – surrounded by eager faces, some hands-filled with flowery treasures, while those who had not yet secured any looked with longing eyes at the great bunches still unappropriated; but soon there was not a child without a flower, and it was amusing to see what each chose, and to hear the chatter – one little mite rejoicing in a huge peony which she had pinned on her pinafore, and remarking to anybody who would listen to her ‘Oh, my! isn’t it a beauty?’
‘Forget-me-nots,’ says a voice, and there is a rush for the happy finder. ‘Look at my button-hole’ from the irrepressible wearer of the peony – and acting upon the idea thus suggested, the Matron says, “Now, I will give a prize to the girl who makes the prettiest button-hole.’
Great is the excitement and the rush for flowers, and when any one has found a special treasure, one is reminded of the happy chicken in the poultry-yard who has secured a dainty tit-bit, only to be pursued by his envying companions and with neither time nor chance to enjoy the prize. But here there is enough for all, and soon the excitement settles down into earnest business – and now some have finished and everybody thinks everybody else’s is better than theirs, and there is much speculation.
One dark-eyed girl has a really artistic spray, a bunch of pansies, which must have won the prize, only she, alas is in disgrace and so cannot compete.
When all have finished, and their folded names are fastened to their respective bunches, they are laid on white paper, and very pretty they look. ‘Quite a flower show’ someone remarks. Then every one is turned out of the room while the judges (who have not been in the room during the arrangement) perform their office – a difficult one – for the merit is very even . The excitement and impatience outside is extreme, and when we are allowed to come in again, there is dead silence in the orderly line round the room, though the sparkling eyes speak plainly enough.
The momentous decision is given – a sweet little bunch of yellow, white and dead-pink daisies takes the first prize, and two others receive a second and third. Not a murmur of discontent is heard from the unsuccessful ones. They don their bunches, and think themselves very smart indeed. The proposal of a future competition in which the Matrons shall also compete, their exhibits to be judged by the prize-winners among the girls is received with acclamation – and so ends a happy evening.
All this pleasure was the result of a gift of flowers, and we feel sure that who send us, and others, hampers of flowers will like to know how much pleasure they give and how their beauty softens our girls and brightens their lives.
The writer continued:
It is much to be wished that our friends at Aysgarth, who so generously responded to their Vicar’s appeal could have been present at St Chad’s Home when their offerings were unpacked. The excitement and interest of the girls and children who were privileged to be present, was fully shared by the Matrons notably by the one-in-charge of the kitchen, who remarked ‘This butter has just come in the nick of time for I had none to send up for tea! Eggs! More eggs! Eggs again! Oh, look a these lovely brown ones – (and at those packed in moss) arn’t they pretty.’
Eggs were the special feature (39 dozen) and much we have enjoyed them since, that is some of them, for the greater number have been subjected to some mysterious process by means of which they will keep till Xmas (always supposing we do not eat them before then).
The clothing was eagerly seized upon by the clothing Matron. The biscuits, sweets, toys, and other good things gladdened the eyes of all, and we felt, as we watched the happy faces and eager hands, what a privilege it was to be able to give so much pleasure.
The Rev Stow reported that year about the Flower Service:
The Church was full, almost all the children of the parish and many adults were present. Before the sermon, while hymns were being sung, the children marched up the middle aisle each bearing a bouquet of flowers, and many of them also parcels of clothing, eggs, butter, money &c., as offerings in aid of the Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. In addition about £4 was collected.
During the service the sun had been shining brightly, but after all had assembled in the Vicarage garden unfortunately a very heavy shower occurred. However, all got their tea either inside the house or out of doors as soon as the rain ceased. After this Miss Hill, one of the secretaries for ‘Waifs and Strays’ spoke a few words before a large and attentive audience about those for whom the society carries on its noble work.
The company then adjourned to the field in front of the house where the children held their athletic sports. A nice sum was collected for prizes and some exciting races were run. All seemed in good spirits and enjoyed themselves heartily. After a few speeches and cheers the proceedings terminated.
The flowers were sent, some to the Leeds Infirmary; some to St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays; and some to Stockton-on-Tees.
The church has copies of its parish magazine dating back to 1892. In 1892 it was reported: ‘A flower service was held at Aysgarth Church on Thursday June 30th. Each child brought a bouquet of flowers – six hampers of which were afterwards sent to the Leeds Infirmary. After the service the children of the parish and many of their parents and other adult parishioners had tea at the Vicarage. In all about 300 sat down. The weather was fine and it was a bright and pleasant occasion.’
It’s possible that was the first flower service at Aysgarth for the following year the vicar wrote: ‘Our flower service was held on Tuesday June 20. A still larger number of children attended than in 1892. Indeed there was scarcely a child in the parish absent. The quality of the flowers showed improvement. Many of our young friends must have taken a great deal of trouble to procure such charming bouquets.’ A shortened form of service was used and the address (by the Precentor of Ripon Minster) was ‘simple but admirable’.
Everyone – including 300 children – then adjourned to the Vicarage garden for tea and an afternoon of sports organised by the ‘gentlemen of the parish’ who gave handsome prizes to the boys and girls. And at the end of the afternoon each child was presented with a toy. These included 100 dolls which had been dressed at the Vicarage with the assistance of a ‘working party’ of friends. These, it was said, ‘delighted the motherly hearts of the little girls’. The other gifts included bats, balls, scissors, work baskets and musical instruments.
The Rev Stow added: “Quite a number of parishioners gave gratuitous help on the occasion which was indeed everybody’s treat.’ Two hampers of flowers were sent that year to the Leeds Infirmary and one to the York County Hospital.
The following year the church began supporting St Chad’s for, as the Rev Stow said in 1895, the flower service provided an ‘opportunity for our children who have happy homes to contribute to the welfare of those poor children who have no homes, or those who, whether they have homes or not, are cruelly treated. Children are invited to bring as offerings eggs or butter, toys or articles of clothing, or anything else ornamental or useful, in addition to their bouquets of flowers.’
Even more children attended the service in 1895 and the fun, the vicar said, carried on till after sunset. In June 1898 the entertainment went on into the evening thanks to a concert by the West Burton Brass Band. The Rev Stow commented again on how so many helped to make the day so successful and enjoyable. And that year participants could buy copies of photographs of those at the tea and sports.
No flower services were held during World War I but were resumed in 1919. For many years after that war the music in the evening was provided by the Hawes Band. It is not clear when the church stopped holding the services although it is likely that occurred during World War II.
The Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (shortened to The Waifs and Strays Society) was founded in 1881 and by 1902 was caring for over 3,000 children in 90 homes. In 1946 it became the Church of England Children’s Society and i n 1982 that was further shortened to The Children’s Society. It continues to be Britain’s largest child support society having adapted to the needs of our modern society and now helping those from all faiths and backgrounds.
Maypole photo: from scrapbook of the late May Tunstall with kind permission of Tunstall family
Church Monthly annuals with kind permission of Aysgarth PCC
Group photo outside the Vicarage on a flower service day c 1900: the original was from the Rev Stow and reproduced in Marian and John Kirby’s ‘Aysgarth Church – Odd bits of history and some of its people’ published by John Kirby in 2009, with kind permission of Matt and Liz Kirby
The first was my negative reaction to the arrogance of the first paragraph – that the British, so steeped in their belief in their empire, should think that they had a God-given right to colonise another country and that it would be better for them doing so.
But then I was pleased to see that Church organisations were so ready and willing to provide encouragement and assistance to those who were making such a huge step into the unknown. Some came from very rural communities – just like Pte James Pickard Bell.
He was born in Aysgarth in 1888, the son of the station master, William Bell and his wife Barbara. James emigrated to Canada in 1910 when he was 22 to farm on the prairies of Manitoba. He enlisted in the Army in 1915 and, when with the 43rd Canadians (Grenade Section), was killed during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in October 1916. He was last seen leading a section of the bombers towards the German Lines and his body was never recovered. There is a photograph of him on Thoralby Through Time.
From The Church Monthly, May 1892
On Board an Emigration Ship
by the Rev C R Job, Vicar of Newington, Hull
The question of emigration is one which is daily being pressed home with greater force upon vast numbers of people in this country. The rapid growth of population, and the limited area of land capable of cultivation, enclosed by water on every side, point to a time not far distant when ‘pastures new’ must be sought beyond the seas to a very much greater extent than they are now by our sons and daughters. Happily for us, we are a nation of colonists. While we are patriotic to a degree, and love the old country with a love that never dies, we are also gifted with a love of adventure and enterprise, coupled with the power of settling down in far-off lands, and surrounding ourselves with the comforts and happy institutions of the home of our birth. And happily, also for us the wide world offers vast fields in every way suited to our requirements. An incessant stream of enthusiastic humanity is pouring from our ports, going forth ‘to replenish the earth, and subdue it.’; and wherever they place themselves, under the beneficent smile of our Great Father, the wild waste becomes a fruitful field, the prairie becomes a pasture land, and the ‘desert is made to blossom as the rose’.
It was my lot to accompany a large body of emigrants, who sailed from Liverpool for Canada, last year; and it may not be without interest to some to hear what the journey is like. While attempting to describe the incidents of the voyage, I propose to also to try to give such information as I can for the guidance of those who may be contemplating emigration.
Canada, being nearer than any of the other British Colonies, can be reached quicker, and at less expense, the time occupied from Liverpool to Quebec or Halifax being from nine to eleven days. The cost for third class passengers is about £4. Special emigrant trains meet the boats, fitted with sleeping berths, and which carry you to your destination at exceedingly low fares.
It is always wise to be provided with warm clothing for the journey, and also for wear in the severe weather on the other side. Clothing is one of the few things which are more costly in Canada than in England. Everything necessary in the way of food is provided on board ship.
I will ask you to let your thoughts go with us from port to port. All is bustle and excitement as the time arrives for us to sail, luggage pours on board in tremendous confusion, partly because far too many leave everything to the last moment. Friends accompany us on the ship to see what it is like and to say last good-bye. Finally, the bell rings for friends to go ashore, the steam is up, the word is given to ‘let her go’, and we are off. Lingering, wistful looks are exchanged as long as eyesight will serve, and then we turn our attention to our new quarters, and try to accommodate ourselves to our novel situation. The decks are soon cleared of the piles of luggage of every description, and all is order and neatness.
Ere long the bell rings for dinner, and those who have crossed the ‘mill-pond’ as the Yankees call it, before, advise us to make a good meal while we can; and this advice we do our best to follow. At first, thoughts of home and thoughts of what may be before us fill our minds, and we are disposed to be silent but by-and-by, our natural friendliness loosens our tongues, and we break the ice of estrangement by some common-place remark, and soon we have many speaking acquaintances which, in some places, ripen into friendships. Indeed, our voyage is not without its romance, for at least one matrimonial engagement is formed ere we land.
I am appointed for this voyage by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to do what I can for the spiritual welfare of the emigrants, and to give them such assistance as I can in other ways as well. Many have been provided with letters from their parish clergyman, and these are first sought out, and a note made of their names and destination.
During the course of the voyage the acquaintance of many others is made, and advice is tendered wherever needed. All are urged not to put themselves in the hands of strangers when they land, as there are bad characters always on the look-out to take advantage of the ignorance of unwary ones. The name of the nearest clergyman to the place to which they are destined is given in each case, and they are urged to go to him in any case of difficulty. In many instances letters of introduction are written and put in their hands. And here let me say that every intending emigrant should, before starting, provide himself with a letter of introduction from his parish clergyman to the chaplain of the ship by which he intends to sail, and also one to take to the clergyman of the district in which he proposes to settle down. He will then be sure of a friend and adviser who may be of the greatest advantage to him.
Our passage is very smooth and pleasant until we reach the little town of Moville in the north of Ireland, where we call for the mails. We have yet to find our sea legs, for the Atlantic has ways of her own about which our seas know nothing. ‘Now, my boy, let us do the Old Salt as long as we can,’ said a friend who had crossed many times and knew what to expect. And steadily we paced the quarterdeck for half an hour, when conversation grew rapidly fitful and finally, after a long ominous pause, we betook ourselves below. The next few hours it is not necessary to describe. Everybody has heard of the stage of sea-sickness in which you are afraid you are going to die, and then the still worse stage in which you are afraid you are not. Suffice it to say, that sooner or later you get over it, and in four-and-twenty hours a very large proportion creep on deck, and enjoy the life-giving breeze and the delicious sunshine.
With a fairly calm sea, deck quoits, shovel-board and skipping ropes are produced on the third day, and everybody tries to enter into enjoyment of some kind. The ship is for a time our little world. There is not very much to do and our steps are circumscribed; but there are many lessons to be learned for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. There are many on board who are returning after a visit to the home country, and they are full of information, and ready to give it kindly and ungrudgingly. From these the wise ones seek to gather all they can.
They learn that it is useless for those who know nothing about farming to go and place themselves on the 160-acre free grants until they have first spent a couple of years as hired labourers. The people who are sure to get on are farmers, farm labourers, domestic servants, and artisans. Everybody who is steady and will work is sure of a living, but nothing is to be obtained without toil.
Opportunities for acts of kindness offer themselves, for some are sickly, and there is no lack of kind hearts who vie with each other to make all happy and bright. The ship’s doctor makes a tour of the emigrants’ quarters every day to see that everything is in a sanitary condition, and to minister to all who require his assistance. His cheery smile and encouraging words do good like a medicine.
Twice a day we have a bright little service on deck, weather permitting. Our choir consists of a dozen or so of the passengers who have voices. We sing a few hymns, in which all are ready to take part with a heartiness that is delightful and stirring. A portion of the Prayer Book service is used, and a short address is given. On Sundays the saloon is placed at our disposal, and is literally crammed with worshippers. Our surroundings seem to make worship very easy. We feel our utter dependence upon our God. We cannot but pray. Hearts are homesick, and turn instinctively to the One Father for comfort. Minds are anxious, and seek for guidance from the great God who holds all things in the hollow of His Hand. Our beautiful Church service never seemed so delightful nor so full of happy, holy associations as now. And when a small group of us gather round the Holy Table, in happy communion with each other and with our Lord, we can not feel that He who gave His life for us will take care of those we have left behind, and that our future, unknown as it is, is safe in His keeping.
The days go by pleasantly if a little slowly. Occasionally we see a passing ship and, if possible, signals are exchanged. And as we approach the banks of Newfoundland we get into the track of icebergs. Great is the excitement when the first is seen like a great mountain of snow rising out of the deep. It is sixty feet high and a quarter of a mile long. In the course of four-and-twenty hours we no less than twenty-three and each is different, and are all beautiful. But they are not things of beauty only. If a fog comes on they are a source of great danger as a collision with one of these masses of floating ice means almost certain shipwreck.
Soon, however, we are clear of their track and now we are anxiously inquiring, from the men on the watch, how soon we shall catch a sight of the longed-for land. So accurate are their calculations that they can tell us almost to a few minutes. A thrill of delight is experienced by all when the lighthouse gleam is first sighted. Another hour’s run and we shall be in Halifax harbour!” We are leaving the Atlantic rollers behind and passing into still waters. More lights are seen. A gun is fired on the ship and immediately answered by another on shore. Rockets are sent up and the sky is all ablaze with coloured stars.
It is a lovely night, the air is crisp and frosty, the moon beams upon us in brilliant fulness, and as we glide silently to the quay side, all the glories of the skies are reflected in the glassy sea. The whole is a touching illustration of the close of the Christian’s life when the waves of this troublesome world are safely passed, when all the perils and perplexities are for ever over, and he calmly enters into the ‘haven where he would be’.
With marvellous alacrity the living freight is unshipped and, after the scrutiny of the custom-house, the trains which are in waiting hurry us off to Montreal and to Ontario and the far West. Thus is the daughter colony continually receiving precious supplies from the mother country. And while she feeds and enriches them she, in her turn, is being made great and prosperous by them.
The Rev Job then provided the names and addresses of church organisations in the UK willing to help emigrants.
About Pte James Pickard Bell – ‘Wensleydale Remembered’ by Keith Taylor, Country Books, 2004, p128
Article by the Rev Job published in ‘The Church Monthly’, 1892, pp 150-152, with permission from Aysgarth PCC.
A boy filling his pockets with bottles so that he could collect beetles and other creepy crawlies conjures up memories of Gerald Durrell – or even his mentor, Theodore Stephanides. But this Theodore died in 1923, two years before Durrell was born.
The Rev Canon Theodore Wood FES (1863-1923) followed his father, the Rev John George Wood (1827-1889), in almost everything. Both trained to become Church of England clergy but then went on to become well-known for their popular books and articles about natural history. (Left: A boy in knicker-bockers like those Theodore Wood would have worn. Theodore had a sister, Amy, who was two years younger than him. The illustration is from the March 1892 issue of The Church Monthly.)
Theodore wrote in his biography about his father: “[It] may fairly be claimed for my father that he was the first to popularise natural history, and to render it interesting and even intelligible to non-scientific minds.” (The Rev J G Wood; His Life and Work by Theodore Wood FES)
The 1892 compilation of The Church Monthly owned by Aysgarth Church begins with a letter by the Rev Fenwick Stowe, Vicar of Aysgarth, introducing the new parish magazine. That January he reported that he had given the second of his two lectures (illustrated with lantern slides) about his visit to Canada “in the Gymnasium”. I am grateful to Bob Ellis and Liz Kirby for identifying this as having been a room in the tall building at the top of Church Bank opposite the Aysgarth Falls Hotel. In the 1881 census it was called the Palmer Flatt Boarding School and was also known to the local community as the Rev Hales’s school – for its headmaster from 1877 was the Rev Clement T Hales (1845-1900). He moved what had become Aysgarth School to its present site at Newton-le-Willows in 1890. From 1907 to 1947 the building housed the Aysgarth TB sanitorium.
In January 1892 the two-page parish magazine included the church notices and information about two baptisms. It ended with this comment by the Vicar: “We hope every one has noticed the beauty of our Christmas decorations.” This was followed by the January edition of The Church Monthly beginning with:
For more than twenty years now, with two or three brief interruptions, I have been one of those fortunate mortals who are able to enjoy a country ramble at all seasons of the year. I have made pretty fair use of my opportunities.
I began by incurring scorn and contumely at school because I would prefer insects to cricket, so that a fine “painted lady” or “lime hawk” seemed to me a better and a greater thing than a score of ever so many, not out; I have been looked upon as a sort of amiable lunatic almost ever since, owning to my fondness for going about with a net in my h and, and my pockets stuffed out with bottles and pill-boxes; and I am still regarded by a certain section of my parishioners as one who ought, by all means, to be encouraged (on the strength of sixpence apiece paid for many a blindworm and hedgehog), but who is undoubtedly in some respects much more than a little “daft”. “’Ee bring whoam to-ads in ‘is ‘arnkerchief, ‘ee du.”
But the result is, that from January to December I know pretty well what is going on in the fields and woodlands around me, where it is to be looked for, and how it is to be found. January might not seem a very promising month for out-door rambling; and yet I have always found much to interest me.
Once I went out, from pure curiosity, and without the least expectation of finding anything, to fish in a small pond, when the ice was five inches thick, and a sharp north-east wind was blowing. The cold was fearful, and seemed to numb one to the very marrow; yet life in that little pond was going on very much as usual. The frost had been too much for the fish, it is true; for the thick ice had prevented them from obtaining a proper supply of air…. When I cut out a hole with the chopper which I had brought with me, and sent down my net into the depths below, I found that the more lowly inhabitants of the waters were very lively indeed. Up came a big black beetle… a water boatman … a water-scorpion too, a flat, dull creature, with great jaw-like forelegs and a long bristle sticking out from the end of his body. There were several tiny beetles and several tiny grubs which would be beetles by-and-by, always provided that none of their numerous enemies ate them meanwhile.
In the outer world, however, insects during a frost, are conspicuous by their absence. As a matter of fact, they are as numerous as ever; only they are all in hiding. Moss is full of them; the loose rubbish underneath haystacks swarms with them; there are numbers beneath the bark of decaying trees, in company with a perfect host of spiders, wood-lice and centipedes; buried in the ground there are numbers and numbers more.
Farmers mostly welcome a hard winter largely with the notion that it will kill down the insects. Never was a more mistaken idea. If anything, indeed, a hard winter is rather beneficial to insects for it prevents the birds from getting at them. And in the following summer they are nearly always unusually plentiful.
Winter moths are curious creatures. One sees numbers of them on fences and tree-trunks in January when the weather is mild; and at night the attractions of the gas-lamps lure hundreds of them to their doom. They are very dull and unattractive-looking beings, most of them; slight in body and sombre in hue, with nothing whatever remarkable about them. But these are the males. The singularity lies in the females, which are fat-bodied, long-legged, spider-like creatures, with only the merest apologies for wings, and bearing no resemblance whatever to their lords and masters. What charms the latter can see in them it is difficult to understand. They are not pretty in our eyes; they are not graceful; they cannot even fly. Yet no doubt they are as beautiful in the eyes of the other sex as if they were as broad-winged themselves, and flashing with all the resplendent glories of some of the tropical butterflies.
One of these winter moths is white, and has a curious faculty of rendering itself quite indistinguishable when sitting upon a black fence. This it does by choosing a spot which has been splashed with mud by passing vehicles; and the mud-spot and the moth, somehow or other, from a few feet away, look to the unpractised eye exactly alike.
The titmice [blue tits] are making themselves very conspicuous. They like to be fed with fat in the winter months, and the best way to do it is to tie up a lump of suet in a piece of wide-meshed netting, and then suspend it by a yard or so of string from the branch of a tree. By this plan it is protected from the ever-aggressive sparrow, who cannot cling to the netting as the titmouse can, and is obliged to look jealously on while that feathered athlete peck away at the feast. The sparrow has often hustled the titmouse away from the morning crumbs on the window-ledge; it is something to the titmouse to find him baffled for once.
Nothing to see this January day? There is life, and plenty of it, everywhere about us. A fox prowling cautiously round that rabbit-warren on the side of the hill. Hounds don’t hunt him on frosty days, and he feels safe, and is looking about for a nice fat rabbit for dinner.
Here on this twig is a batch of insects’ eggs, encircling it in a broad ring as regularly as if they had been affixed by human art; there is a cocoon, spun neatly up in a chink of the bark. A neighbouring bough is riddled with beetle burrows; they tell a tale of disease and impending death. Even that tuft of grass at our feet is full of slumbering tenants.
We may not hear the busy hum of life that by-and-by will greet us; we may not see the thronging hordes of active creatures that by-and-by will be at work in wood and heath and fi8eld. Yet Nature is never really asleep; and even on this cold January day her pulses are throbbing around us, and her armies have only to be looked for in order to be found
It was reported in the February edition of the parish magazine that the weather had been so bad on January 18 that the Sunday School children from Thornton Rust had not been able to attend the Parish Tea in the Gymnasium. But those from Aysgarth and West Burton were there for the prize giving. They also provided the entertainment which included a number of new “Action Songs”. Two days later a concert, also in the Gymnasium, was well attended.
The vicar reported on two other concerts – and a serious epidemic of influenza. He wrote: “The epidemic has certainly reached us now but up to date of writing no very bad cases have been reported. It is much to be hoped that by God’s blessing the change in the weather may tend to stay the spread of the complaint.”
There was also a short financial report about the West Burton Clothing Club in 1891. It was noted that the club was started in 1874 and that more than £250 worth of clothing had been distributed to the poor of West Burton.
In his “A February Ramble” the Rev Wood grumbled about our British winters: “There is no depending upon winter at all. It may bring us a long spell of Siberian cold or it may pass by with scarcely a week of frost or a fall of snow.” He commented again on the fickleness of British weather in his March report (below).
In March the Rev Stowe reported that the list of Lent preachers was not complete “chiefly owing to the influenza”. But at least the churches were open – which cannot be said this year as we approach Easter.
March, to me, has been a month of many and grievous disappointments. When I was a boy in knicker-bockers, madly enthusiastic as any boy could be over butterflies, and moths, and beetles, and things creeping of every kind – with the exception of centipedes which have ever been my abhorrence – I always look forward with hope and gladness to the first few days of March as the end of the winter of my discontent.
According to the books in which I believed with all my small heart and soul, birds ought to be building, and flowers starting up, and bees busily working, and butterflies enjoying the warm spring sunshine, and moths flocking in their multitudes to the honey-laden catkins of the sallow. And yet, when that distressful month dawned, I sallied forth again and again, and searched tree-trunks by the hundred, and fences by the mile, and turned over stones in number greater than I should like to count, only to return home with saddened countenance, and boxes empty as when I set out.
And once, later, I took a special holiday in March, and went down to a certain favoured spot by the sea, on the strength of many notable captures made at that particular time in the preceding year, only to see the snow on the ground during the whole fortnight that I was there, while the wind never for a moment came from any quarter but the east. So that not a single insect summoned up courage to venture from its retreat.
Yet I have had many pleasant rambles in March, and seen many curious and interesting sights; for when the weather is mild, Nature commences her spring work in a hurry. Birds do begin to build, sometimes, and even get well on with family matters before the end of the month.
One can always look with some degree of certainty, for instance, for the nest of the thrush. For thrushes have two or even three broods to bring up in the course of the season, and therefore it behoves them to begin work early if they want to get their first quartet of nestlings fairly started in life before the gooseberries and currants are ripe.
But they are not at all wise birds in the way they set about their task. Their one great aim and object, indeed, seems to be to make their nest as obtrusively conspicuous as possible. So they either select a young and solitary tree, in which it must be plainly visible for fifty or sixty yards in every direction (they like oaks best, because the leaves are longest in coming), or they place it within a yard or two of a much-frequented pathway, or they leave a long streamer of straw hanging down, which cannot but attract the notice of every passer-by.
The blackbird, too, which begins building about the same time, is quite as foolish, although in a different way. It takes a good deal of trouble to conceal its nest, and stands by it most pluckily until one is just abreast of the bush in which it is built. Then, however, its courage seems suddenly to fail it, and off it flies with a loud and terrified squall, which inevitably betrays the secret of its dwelling.
A year of two ago I found a nest which had clearly been built by a blackbird of an original and economical turn of mind; for it was placed upon a bramble-branch against a paling, in such wise that the paling itself did duty as part of the structure. Strictly speaking, in fact, it was only half a nest, which was fastened against the fence very much as that of the martin is fastened against the wall of a house. After making it, however, the builder seemed to have been disappointed with the result, for no eggs were laid in it, and it had apparently been deserted as soon as it was finished.
A warm, sunny day in March is sure to bring out some butterflies. Most of these have been hiding away since the autumn in dark, sheltered corners, and are now bent on recuperating their bodily energies after their prolonged fast. So their object is to find, if it be possible, some early spring flower which will furnish them with a draught of refreshing nectar. Most of these butterflies look much the worse for wear. Their six weeks of pleasure and idleness in the autumn have result in wings chipped and torn, and the loss of many a plum and scale. And some are so tattered and worn that one marvels that they can fly at all.
But this pale yellow sulphur fluttering lazily by is as perfect and fresh as possible. He looks as if he has never flown before. As far as appearances go, he might have come out from the chrysalis this very day. ~And it is more than likely that he has don so for sulphurs, unlike peacocks, and admirals, and tortoiseshells, do not live through the winter as perfect butterflies, but wait until the first warm days of spring to emerge from the pupal shell.
Once, and only once, I ran a sulphur butterfly down in fair chase – soon after I began collecting when sulphurs, as yet, were rarities to me. It led me for fully three-quarters of a mile through a piece of rough and hilly woodland, and at last dropped utterly exhausted in the ferns just before me. I killed it, and pinned it into my collecting-box – a proceeding for which I have ever since been sorry. The insect had struggled gamely for its life and done far more than could have been expected of a little weak-winged butterfly. And I think it deserved its life.
We shall very likely see a squirrel – not gambolling among the trees, as by-and-by he will, but either visiting or returning from one of those stores of nuts and beech-mast which he laid up so carefully in the autumn. For his appetite, after five months or so of slumber, is as keen as that of the butterflies, and he is now able to reap the fruits of that strange instinct which led him to provide for a future of which, very likely, he had no conception at all. For how can a squirrel of three of four months old know that a time of frost and cold is coming in which it will be able to find no food? Yet it lays up its stores, just as if it had lived for years. Truly a wonderful instinct.
I once say a squirrel drop from the upper branches of a lofty tree. In leaping from one bough to another his missed his footing, and fell some fifty feet to the ground. I ran to the spot, expecting to find him a crushed and quivering carcase; but long before I could reach him he was on his feet again, scampering as fast as his short legs would carry him to the nearest tree, and apparently none the worse for his tumble. For a squirrel, when he falls, stretches out his legs to their full extent, and converts himself into a kind of parachute; so that the air buoys him up, just as it buoys up on oyster-shell or a flat stone when we throw it sideways. And consequently the rapidity of his descent is greatly lessened, and he alights on the ground uninjured.
When I was helping to scan the Aysgarth and Upper Wensleydale Parish Magazines for the Friends of the Countryside Museum archives it was very difficult not to be tempted into reading some of the fascinating stories in The Church Monthly annuals in which they were published. Now I’m “locked down” I do have time to go back and read those books more carefully – and to share some of the most fascinating stories and illustrations.
I start with some wonderful illustrations of children at play. The first two pages were published in July 1892:
Those below were published in 1894, probably in February.
From The Church Monthly, 1892 and 1894, published by The “Church Monthly” Office, Ludgate Circus, London. My thanks to Aysgarth Parochial Church Council for allowing me to reproduce these from books owned by St Andrew’s Church.
The carved wooden pulpit at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, has an unusual feature: on the central panel there is an old woman.
I like to think that the man who donated the pulpit to the church, Frank Sayer Graham, had her included in memory of his mother who, in the Victorian era, would have been described as a fallen woman!
In 1851 Frank’s mother, Elizabeth, then 25-years-old, was listed as the house servant of 59-years-old Francis Sayer of Aysgarth. Her son was born in 1859 in West Witton and she returned to Aysgarth as Mr Sayer’s housekeeper. It was not until Mr Sayer died that Frank added Sayer to his name. According to the 1881 census he was an unemployed clerk living with his mother.
He did eventually inherit from his father and ten years later was living in Aysgarth on his own means with his wife Mary.
He used his inheritance to build in Aysgarth a state of the art Edwardian house (Heather Cottage) which embraced the Arts and Crafts movement of the time and a fascinating Edwardian rock garden.
This is now the only remaining Edwardian rock garden in North Yorkshire. It was said that between 1906 and 1913 1,500 tons of native stone were used to build it.
Frank also developed a successful business which included exporting live grouse from Scotland to the German Kaiser and silver grey rabbit furs from the warren at Lady Hill in Wensleydale to pre-revolution Russia.
The love of his life was his first wife, Mary but she died in December 1911, aged just 45. To remember her he commissioned that magnificent pulpit. The architects (Messrs Hicks and Charlewood), the company which dealt with the wood carving (Ralph Hedley and Son) and Robert Beall who did the stonework were all based in Newcastle upon Tyne.
The vicar of Aysgarth, the Rev William K Wyley reported in the Upper Wensleydale ParishMagazine in April 1915 that the Bishop of Richmond would dedicate the pulpit that month. He added: “The service will be choral and the Bishop will preach.”
He continued: “The pulpit is of richly carved Crown Austrian Oak of natural colour. The shape is octagonal and the design is XV (15th) Century Gothic in keeping with the ancient Abbot’s Stall and the Rood Screen from Jervaulx Abbey.
“It stands upon a graceful base of Beerstone (which is similar in appearance to Caen stone [of the reredos] but of a harder nature); this base is richly moulded, with traceries and carving.
“The pulpit has four panels, well set back in niches with groined roofs and Ogee-shaped crocketed canopies above, which are designed to accord with those at the end of the Abbot’s Stall.”
He described how other features of the pulpit were not only in accord with the Abbot’s Stall but also with the Jervaulx Screen.
The subject of the central panel of the pulpit, he said, was based on the hymn “Lead kindly light” and represented Jesus about to heal the man born blind (John 9:5).
He noted: “The artist has included the mother of the blind man without direct Scriptural authority.”
The panel on the south side illustrated the hymn “Fight the good fight” as this was another of Mrs Graham’s favourites. That on the north side was on the theme of Holy Innocents’ Day based on Rev 14:1-5.
On the final panel there is an inscription which reads: “To the Glory of God and in affectionate remembrance of Mary Elizabeth Graham of Aysgarth, who fell asleep on Holy Innocents’ Day 1911… She sweetened the lives of others and in their love survives.”
The story goes that, when Mary was dying, she asked Frank to marry her sister. This he did but there was, it seemed, little love in the marriage. When he died in 1946 he left his widow the following: A house in Wales, £100, some wooden items that Mary had made, and “a Hoover Sweeper Absolute”. (from Will transcribed by Marian Kirby)
Above: The Doctor’s Window at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, which depicts the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).
Before the National Health Service (NHS) was introduced in Britain in 1948 many people could not afford to go and see a doctor, as a retired doctor, Margaret Hoyle explained:
“You didn’t get the ‘walking wounded’ and there was no preventative medicine then or early diagnosis. People would treat themselves with herbal medicines as long as they could – and medical attention would probably be out of the reach of many because they had to pay a fee.”
That would certainly have been the situation that Dr Matthew Willis (left) would have found in the 1860s when he became the first doctor to live in Aysgarth. He was born in Aysgarth as his father had a grocery and drapery shop in the village. He qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh.
Dr Willis became known for being kind to the poor but sadly he died of tuberculosis in February 1871. His patients wanted to ensure he wasn’t forgotten and so paid for the stained glass window at St Andrew’s which has become known as the “Doctor’s Window”.
There are now plaques near that window in memory of three other doctors who had been based at Aysgarth. These include Dr William (Will) Pickles who became famous after the publication in 1939 of his book Epidemiology in a Country Practice.
Mrs Hoyle said: “The causes of infectious diseases were still being discovered. He was in a unique position at that time because the dales folk were then fairly circumscribed. If someone came in (from outside the dale) it was noticed. So if there was an epidemic he could pinpoint when it came in and the incubation period.” His careful statistical studies were written up by his wife Gertrude (Gerty) the daughter of the wealthy Burnley mill owner, Harry Tunstill, who owned Thornton Lodge at Thornton Rust.
Dr Pickles joined the Aysgarth practice in 1913 but was away from April 1914 to January 1919 when he was serving as a surgeon with the Royal Navy. He died in 1969. Doctors Derek and Margaret Hoyle ran the practice from 1979 until they retired in 1995.
I interviewed Mrs Hoyle in 2009 when we were preparing for the Heritage Event at St Andrew’s.