Monday, 31 December 2012

Tolkien's Middle-Earth



This sketch called 'Ruins At The West End Of Whitby Abbey' was drawn by the 18 year old student JRR Tolkien when 
he visited the town in 1910.



























Friday, 28 December 2012

Danby Beacon


The T/X Aerials with Danby Signal Beacon in the foreground.


The backbone of the radar provision surrounding the UK in the Second World War was the Chain Home System. Two main types of Chain Home System were built - AMES Type 1 (Air Ministry Experimental Station) and AMES Type 2 or the Chain Low System. Royal Air Force Danby Beacon Chain Home Station (AMES Type 1) was located high up on the North Yorkshire moors and was one of twenty built along the eastern coastline. The system was based on the pattern of the experimental establishment set up at Bawdsey in 1936, and in its final form it consisted of equipment housed in protected buildings with transmitter aerials suspended from 107 metre steel towers and receiver aerials mounted on 73 metre timber towers. The system at Danby Beacon was provided with buried reserve equipment which consisted of underground transmitter and receiver block, now only the buried reserves of the transmitter and receiver survive. The station was technically restored in the early 1950s as part of the Rotor programme. In all it comprised three components: the technical site, a domestic site for personnel equipment, and a stand-by set house. 
English Heritage.


CO's house (far left), army billets and one of the R/X Aerials



Now covered over by years of moorland vegetation the remains of the defunct Chain Home System Radar Station on Danby Low Moor seems to sit comfortable within the moor's Neolithic surroundings. The three low mounds - R/X Block, Standby Power House and T/X Block - which stretch across the open land have long since taken on the appearance of the many tumuli and howes that litter the immediate area.


R/X Block - Mound No1


Standby Power House - Mound No2


T/X Block - Mound No3


Concrete Drive

On closer inspection of the site it becomes evident the it’s decommissioning in 1957 may well have been completed with very little ceremony, the smashed up shards of concrete and the twists re-enforcement bars bare witness to the station's seemingly abrupt demise. 


Entrance to Mound No1


Entrance to Mound No2


Interior - Mound No1


Interior - Mound No2


It is interesting to note that the radar station is situated almost on top of the Danby Beacon a much more ancient early warning system.This earlier beacon was just one part of a system of beacon lights that were situated at specific points along the whole coastline. Throughout the centuries they would have been used to quickly alert the entire region of any impending invasions from the numerous enemies England had accumulated over ages. The modern beacon - seen in the photographs below - was erected in 2008, but it is thought that a beacon may have existed on this site since at least the 1600's - although it has to be said that when you stand surrounded by this ancient man made landscape it is easy to believe that the place has possibly been a site of  major importance throughout history.






Aerial view of Radar Station and Beacon

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Ford


Found in Whitby's upper harbour this ancient ford traverses the river Esk from the east side of town at Spital Bridge to the west at Bog Hall. Believed to date back to at least the Roman period the ford is by far the oldest surviving means of crossing the river. Although now in a state of disrepair it would still be possible, with an extremely low tide and steady footing, to cross from one side of the town to the other.



In this detail of the Upper Harbour (taken from a map by Francis Pickernell dated 1841) the ford can be seen stretching from one side of the town to the other.


This modern image of the upper harbour shows quite clearly the ford as it appears today. 


The ford from the West (Bog Hall)


The ford from the East (Spital Bridge)


This view is from the high level bridge looking down into the harbour, the ford can be seen in the middle distance.


Follow the link below to Chris Whitehead's Taphonomy Blog and his field recordings of the ford.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Waller's Wall



This large red brick wall that is situated on the outskirts of town is all that remains of one of the many market 
gardens that were found in and around the district. Once owned by a couple called Waller it was eventually sold off and built 
on by a local housing association. 


Approximate location of Waller's house

As youngsters my friends and I would run wild through the disused gardens and derelict house that stood in the 
middle of the land, in - what seemed at the time - to be a terrifying game of cat and mouse with the imagined 
spectre of  'Waller' the garden‘s owner.

Wall interior.



Wall interior 


Wall exterior facing onto the Council Estate

It wasn’t until recently when I decided to explore the area surrounding the wall that I found out about it's secret history. Talking to a local resident of forty years I was told that a couple called Waller (I always thought the name had been a our own childhood design - ‘lets play in Waller’s wall’ was our call to arms), had run the market garden for the large, private estate in the vicinity called Lady Harrowings, (as a point of interest  it appears that there never was a Lady Harrowing and the name was just a product  of the local population’s caustic sense of humour). The couple had lived in the house within the garden walls evidently without gas, electric or running water and I was told that the old lady would have to leave the seclusion of the garden to visit a friend in a near by council house to bathe.




In the above picture you can see what was the entrance to the garden as used by the couple,
blocked up for over twenty years the footpath amazingly is still evident - in fact it had just been
re-seeded that very morning, as it had on a number of occasions with no apparent effect.

View from the council estate looking into Dundas Gardens

After the estate was eventually sold the garden became ever more neglected by the elderly couple and following
the death of his wife the husband (who lived into his nineties) was forced to leave the house and garden through an
extortionate rent increase by the local council.



Having freed up the land the council went on to sell it for a considerable profit to a housing association, who then
built a small housing estate Dundas Gardens on it in the early 1990’s.


Google map image of existing wall and housing estate



Saturday, 11 August 2012

Mystery On The Moor








Additional photograph - Two of my kids (7 and 3) sat on the rock to help get a better judgement of the scale. 

I have absolutely no idea if this stone that I stumbled upon on a recent wander across the moor top is naturally occurring, 
or has been manufactured by human hands. But it’s position - laying flat and level -  and the fact that it seems to 
have distinctive edges, angles and planes, seems to suggest that it has been placed there.

Comments welcome.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Deserted Medieval Village

Wharram Percy is perhaps the best-known Deserted Medieval Village in the whole of England, although there are several others which are in a similarly good state of preservation. The reason for its celebrity is that it was researched each summer by combined teams of archaeologists, historians and even botanists, from circa 1950 to 1990 following its identification in 1948 by Professor Maurice Beresford of the University of Leeds It is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as Warran or Warron.


Although the site has apparently been settled since pre-historic times, the village seems to have been most active from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The Black Death of 1348–49 does not seem to have played a significant part in the desertion of Wharram Percy although the large fall in population in the country as a whole at that time must have made relocation to a less remote spot more likely. The villagers of Wharram Percy seem to have suffered instead from changes in prices and wages in the 15th century, which gave pastoral farming (particularly of sheep) an advantage over traditional cereal farming. The village was finally abandoned in the early 16th century when the lord of the Manor turned out the last few families and knocked down their homes to make room for extra sheep pasturage.



Nearly 700 well-preserved medieval skeletons, excavated in the church and the northern part of the churchyard, have been studied by scientists and have provided detailed information about the lives of the villagers. For example, nitrogen isotope analysis has indicated that children were commonly breast-fed for up to two years, probably contributing to the relatively low incidence of infant mortality. DNA tests on skeletons showing signs of tuberculosis indicated that infection had come from other humans, perhaps in towns, rather than from the cattle with whom the medieval peasants shared their houses.

There was also evidence that medieval surgery could be unexpectedly advanced. An 11th-century male skeleton showed a heavy blow to the head with a blunt instrument. The wound was treated by 'trepanation', the delicate cutting away of bone to relieve pressure on the brain, after which the patient evidently lived for several years.
English Heritage 


The de Percy Family, Whitby & Wharram Percy

In 1070 William de Percy was engaged on works connected with the rebuilding of York Castle after its destruction by the Danes and in 1072 he took part in the Conquerors expedition to Scotland. At the Domesday survey he was tenant in chief in the three ridings of Yorkshire, in Lindsey, with a small holding in Nottingham and of Humbledon Hants which he had received with his wife (Emma de Port). He was also an under tenant of the Earl of Chester in Whitby and in Catton and in the city of York and of the Bishop of Durham in Scarborough and Lund.

He built the castle at Topcliffe and before 1086 he refounded the monastery at Whitby. He was among the Barons present when the Conqueror heard a plea relating to property of the Abbey of Fecamp and he witnessed charters of William II in the period before 1095. In 1096 he set out on the first crusade and died and was buried at Mount Joy near Jerusalem. (This was also the ancient burial site of Samuel of the Old Testament and the hill today is called Nebi Samwel) just 10 km's NW of Jerusalem. Following Williams dying wishes Sir Ralph Eversly a Knight carried his heart back to England and it was buried at Whitby Abbey.

 William had sons Alan, Walter, William, Richard and Arnolde. William became the 2nd Abbot of Whitby in 1102. From Richard sprang the Percies of Dunsley. Arnolde de Percy witnessed his father William de Percy's charter to Whitby and from him came the Percies of Kildale and Kilnwick Percy.William de Percy had 2 brothers. Serlo de Percy became prior of Whitby Abbey and Picot de Percy was a tenant of William at Bolton upon Dearne and Sutton upon Derwent. Picot de Percy donated the church at Bolton Percy to Nostell priory. His son Robert de Percy gave the church at Sutton upon Derwent to Whitby Abbey witnessed by his son William. There was further issue from this branch of the family for in 1266 Piers de Percy held Wharram Percy in Chief and had other lands in Sutton upon Derwent, Carnaby and Bolton Percy which all came under the Percy fee. Piers de Percy was of the direct male Percy lineage, which apparently became extinct in 1168.






Map of the Wharram Percy site



Yet meet we shall, and part, and meet again, Where dead men meet, on lips of living men. - Samuel Butler