A Gay Day in Yoredale

Wednesday 4 September 2002
Alan and Dorothy Hemsworth

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Twenty-five members met in Leyburn on a cloudless, sunny day for a 7-mile walk with a historical flavour. At one time these conditions would have been described as 'a gay day' in local parlance.

We began the ramble on the limestone ridge known as 'The Shawl', the name deriving from the Norse 'Skali', meaning huts or dwellings. A more fanciful explanation concerns Mary Queen of Scots who, during her imprisonment in Bolton castle in 1568, allegedly lost her shawl there while exercising. In 1841 the Leyburn end of the Shawl was laid out as a promenade with seats and shelters, where visitors enjoyed tea galas, music and dancing, all promoted by the Band of Hope. The high-level footpath continues along a bosky escarpment, and bears evidence of quarrying, both past and present. We found the concrete bases which formerly carried an aerial ropeway from the quarry to the railway far below us.

A Bronze Age Settlement

Descending from the Shawl we saw the fenced off site of a Bronze Age settlement, before arriving at Tullis Cote Farm. Here we paused to admire a long barn with a facade of arched entrances, formerly used for cart storage. The modern roof is ugly, but at least serves to extend the life of the building. A short way down the farm track we reached Keld Head Smelt Mill, an enterprise begun in 1822 to modernise the abstraction and smelting of lead. Hereabouts this industry goes back to the 12th cent., when the land was owned by Jervaulx Abbey. Through the window frames of the ruined engine house, which once contained a massive steam-driven pump, we could see the huge pit which had accommodated a 25 ft diameter waterwheel, and just beyond the building a 70 ft. chimney which served to ventilate the engine-house. Lost in the undergrowth is the beginning of a 2-mile long flue, which ran up to Cobscar chimney, and a 470 ft. vertical shaft from which water was pumped.

A few yards further down the track we saw the dressed-stone entrance (adit) to one of the mines or levels. This penetrated almost a mile into the hillside and would have had rails laid for horse-drawn tubs to bring out the ore. The whole operation was wound up in 1888, but at its zenith 400 men were employed and c. 1300 tons of lead ingots were produced per year.

We then passed the old Preston Corn Mill, now a private house, and soon crossed the Wensleydale branch railway line just yards west of the former Wensley station (also now a private house). This branch connected the North Eastern Railway at Northallerton with the Midland Railway at Garsdale. It was opened in 1877 and closed to passenger traffic in 1954, but sterling efforts to reopen it are currently being made.

Bolton Hall

A short road walk led us to the track leading to the rear of Bolton Hall (created in a cutting so as not to be seen from the Hall!). The original late 17th cent, building was largely destroyed by fire in 1902, so that what exists now is an early 20th cent, rebuild. The family tree of the current owner can be traced to the 14th cent, when Richard le Scrope, Chancellor to King Richard II, was created the first Baron. When the thirteenth Lord Scrope died without male issue his daughter Mary took as her second husband Charles Powlett (or Paulet), the sixth Marquis of Winchester, and through her Charles acquired the considerable Bolton Estate. He built Bolton Hall, completing the task in 1678. A supporter of the installation of William and Mary as joint monarchs, Charles was created first Duke of Bolton in 1689 by the grateful sovereigns. The vexed question of male heirs applied again with the sixth Duke and in 1790 the Dukedom became extinct. However, the right as Marquis of Winchester passed to George Powlett of Amport. His daughter married Thomas Orde of Hackford (in Hampshire) - a Tory politician who assumed the additional surname of his wife, becoming Orde-Powlett in 1795. He was created first Baron of Bolton in 1797, a title and surname carried on to this day by the resident eighth Lord.

The Duke of Bolton and Polly Peacham

In the continuing glorious sunshine we all enjoyed a picnic on the banks of the river Ure at Lord's Bridge, then walked downstream, pausing after a short while to view the distant ruined tower on high ground at Capple Bank (grid ref. 085 882). The story surrounding this building concerns the love affair between the third Duke of Bolton and an actress named Lavinia Fenton. On 29th January 1728 the Duke (who was also Constable of the Tower of London) was in the audience at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre for the premiere of the 'Beggars Opera', by John Gay. Miss Fenton played the part of a prostitute called Polly Peacham and took London by storm with her performance, achieving almost pop-star status. Hogarth made engravings of her likeness, prints from which were sold by the thousand. The Duke was swept off his feet but, as a married man, could only make Lavinia his mistress and together they produced three sons out of wedlock. When the Duke's wife died in 1751 he married his leading lady and Lavinia was installed as Duchess of Bolton. In 1751/2 the Duke built a summer pavilion for his bride, - a two-storey, square, classical tower with which it was said the Duchess was well pleased. To this day that edifice on Capple Bank is known as Polly Peacham's Tower, after the John Gay character portrayed by Lavinia.

Wensley and the Lass of Richmond Hill

In due course we arrived in Wensley Village. This was originally the market-town of the dale, receiving its charter in 1202. An outbreak of plague (probably bubonic?) occurred in 1563, causing the population to flee and a decline began which saw Leyburn and Askrigg overtake Wensley as market centres. We first visited the old mill, which is now a candle factory but was originally a corn mill dating from c.1800 - although there has been milling on this site since the 12th cent. We viewed the overshot waterwheel and the stone pillars which once supported the wooden aqueduct carrying water from the top of the nearby waterfall, on Wensley Beck, to the wheel.

Our penultimate call was to Wensley Parish Church, -the Church of the Holy Trinity. This was built c.1245 on the site of a Saxon Church dating from 745. Happily this church escaped much of the 16th and 17th cent, desecration and later Victorian modernisation, so we were able to view much of interest, including: the pre-reformation pews; the fine oak carved screen, which was saved from Eastby Abbey at the dissolution; the reliquary, which is thought to have contained relics of St Agatha, patron of Eastby Abbey; the choir stalls, made in 1527 by the Ripon school of carvers; the chancel which contains 14th cent, memorial brasses; wall-paintings on the North wall, from 1330; the 18th cent pulpit (originally a triple-decker which cost in total 12.4.10!); the Jacobean font; and a church where the organ is still situated at the west end. This is a wonderful example of an English Parish Church, which is still at the heart of the community (and, more recently, was used in the television series 'All Creatures Great and Small' for the wedding of James Herriot and his bride). As a final musical flourish it is worth recording that a female infant, Frances I'Anson, was baptised here in 1776. In later life she moved to London and married the poet and lawyer Leonard McNally. His poem, set to music by James Hook (organist at Vauxhall Gardens), immortalised Frances as 'The Lass of Richmond Hill' - the Yorkshire Richmond!

Earlier in the day we had left a car parked near Wensley Church in case anyone wanted a lift back to Leyburn, but no-one did, so we all followed the field paths back and our final call of all was to various hostelries, tea-rooms and cafes for some much needed refreshment, thus happily ending a superb walk.

N.B. Another walk has been arranged for this year, to take place on Wednesday, 3rd September, but this was omitted from the programme. It will start from Pateley Bridge (Grid Ref. SE 159 656). Ring Alan Hemsworth (01729 823902) for details.

The start-time will be 10.30 a.m. (not 9.30, as stated on the fliers).

Lawkland to Eldroth -Redundant stone post used as step for the stile
Photo: Jill Sykes