FROM PICKERING TO RIEVAULX ABBEY
The broad Vale of Pickering, watered by the Derwent, the Rye, and their many tributaries, is a wonderful contrast to the country we have been exploring. The level pastures, where cattle graze and cornfields abound, seem to suggest that we are separated from the heather by many leagues; but we have only to look beyond the hedgerows to see that the horizon to the north is formed by lofty moors only a few miles distant.
Just where the low meadows are beginning to rise steadily from the vale stands the town of Pickering, dominated by the lofty stone spire of its parish church and by the broken towers of the castle. There is a wide street, bordered by dark stone buildings, that leads steeply from the river to the church. The houses are as a rule quite featureless, but we have learnt to expect this in a county where stone is abundant, for only the extremely old and the palpably new buildings stand Christ. Then comes Herod's feast, with the King labelled Herodi. The guests are shown with their arms on the table in the most curious positions, and all the royal folk are wearing ermine. The coronation of the Virgin, the martyrdom of St. Thomas a Becket, and the martyrdom of St. Edmund, who is perforated with arrows, complete the series on the north side. Along the south wall the paintings show the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria and the seven Corporal Acts of Mercy. Further on come scenes from the life of our Lord. There seems little doubt that all the paintings, including a number of others in the transepts and elsewhere that are now destroyed, were whitewashed over at the time of the Reformation, and it was during some restoration work carried out in 1851 that indications of the paintings were accidentally laid bare. When the whole of the walls had been cleaned, careful coloured drawings were made, then colour wash was applied again, and the priceless paintings disappeared for a generation. The objections to what had been considered improper wall decoration for a parish church in the nineteenth century having been reasoned away, the pictures once more appeared, but in a very different condition to their first resurrection. However, the drawings were in existence, so that a careful restoration was possible, and as we see them to-day the subdued tones closely follow the original colours.
The simple Norman arcade on the north side of the nave has plain round columns and semicircular arches, but the south side belongs to later Norman times, and has ornate columns and capitals. At least one member of the great Bruce family, who had a house at Pickering called Bruce's Hall, and whose ascendency at Guisborough has already been mentioned, was buried here, for the figure of a knight in chain-mail by the lectern probably represents Sir William Bruce. In the chapel there is a sumptuous monument bearing the effigies of Sir David and Dame Margery Roucliffe. The knight wears the collar of S.S., and his arms are on his surcoat.
When John Leland, the 'Royal Antiquary' employed by Henry VIII., came to Pickering, he described the castle, which was in a more perfect state than it is to-day. He says: 'In the first Court of it be a 4 Toures, of the which one is Caullid Rosamunde's Toure.' Also of the inner court he writes of '4 Toures, wherof the Kepe is one.' This keep and Rosamund's Tower, as well as the ruins of some of the others, are still to be seen on the outer walls, so that from some points of view the ruins are dignified and picturesque. The area enclosed was large, and in early times the castle must have been almost impregnable. But during the Civil War it was much damaged by the soldiers quartered there, and Sir Hugh Cholmley took lead, wood, and iron from it for the defence of Scarborough. The wide view from the castle walls shows better than any description the importance of the position it occupied, and we feel, as we gaze over the vale or northwards to the moors, that this was the dominant power over the whole countryside.
Although Lastingham is not on the road to Helmsley, the few additional miles will scarcely be counted when we are on our way to a church which, besides being architecturally one of the most interesting in the county, is perhaps unique in having at one time had a curate whose wife kept a public house adjoining the church. Although this will scarcely be believed, we have a detailed account of the matter in a little book published in 1806.
The clergyman, whose name was Carter, had to subsist on the slender salary of £20 a year and a few surplice fees. This would not have allowed any margin for luxuries in the case of a bachelor; but this poor man was married, and he had thirteen children. He was a keen fisherman, and his angling in the moorland streams produced a plentiful supply of fish—in fact, more than his family could consume. But this, even though he often exchanged part of his catches with neighbours, was not sufficient to keep the wolf from the door, and drastic measures had to be taken. The parish was large, and, as many of the people were obliged to come 'from ten to fifteen miles' to church, it seemed possible that some profit might be made by serving refreshments to the parishioners. Mrs. Carter superintended this department, and it seems that the meals between the services soon became popular. But the story of 'a parson-publican' was soon conveyed to the Archdeacon of the diocese, who at the next visitation endeavoured to find out the truth of the matter. Mr. Carter explained the circumstances, and showed that, far from being a source of disorder, his wife's public-house was an influence for good. 'I take down my violin,' he continued, 'and play them a few tunes, which gives me an opportunity of seeing that they get no more liquor than necessary for refreshment; and if the young people propose a dance, I seldom answer in the negative; nevertheless, when I announce time for return, they are ever ready to obey my commands.' The Archdeacon appears to have been a broad-minded man, for he did not reprimand Mr. Carter at all; and as there seems to have been no mention of an increased stipend, the parson-publican must have continued this strange anomaly.
It is difficult to say whether the public-house was conducted in the crypt beneath the church or not. I am inclined to think that Mrs. Carter's inn was the present 'Blacksmith's Arms,' but there is distinct evidence for stating that cock-fighting used to take place secretly in the crypt. The writings of the Venerable Bede give a special interest to Lastingham, for he tells us how King Oidilward requested Bishop Cedd to build a monastery there. The Saxon buildings that appeared at that time have gone, so that the present church cannot be associated with the seventh century. No doubt the destruction was the work of the Danes, who plundered the whole of this part of Yorkshire. The church that exists to-day is of Transitional Norman date, and the beautiful little crypt, which has an apse, nave and aisles, is coeval with the superstructure.
The situation of Lastingham in a deep and picturesque valley surrounded by moors and overhung by woods is extremely rich.
Further to the west there are a series of beautiful dales, watered by becks whose sources are among the Cleveland Hills. On our way to Ryedale, the loveliest of these, we pass through Kirby Moorside, a little town which has gained a place in history as the scene of the death of the notorious George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, on April 17, 1687. The house in which he died is on the south side of the King's Head, and in one of the parish registers there is the entry under the date of April 19th, 'Gorges viluas, Lord dooke of Bookingam, etc.' Further down the street stands an inn with a curious porch, supported by turned wooden pillars, bearing the inscription:
'Anno: Dom 1632 October xi William Wood'
Kirkdale, with its world-renowned cave, to which we have already referred, lies about two miles to the west. The quaint little Saxon church there is one of the few bearing evidences of its own date, ascertained by the discovery in 1771 of a Saxon sundial, which had survived under a layer of plaster, and was also protected by the porch. A translation of the inscription reads: 'Orm, the son of Gamal, bought St. Gregory's Minster when it was all broken and fallen, and he caused it to be made anew from the ground, for Christ and St. Gregory, in the days of King Edward and in the days of Earl Tosti, and Hawarth wrought me and Brand the prior (priest or priests).' By this we are plainly told that a church was built there in the reign of Edward the Confessor.
A pleasant road leads through Nawton to the beautiful little town of Helmsley. A bend of the broad, swift-flowing Rye forms one boundary of the place, and is fed by a gushing brook that finds its way from Rievaulx Moor, and forms a pretty feature of the main street. The cottages in many cases have preserved their thatched roofs, and have seldom more than one story; but they invariably appear well preserved and carefully painted, although these stone-built houses, with leaded casements, give little scope for ornament. But the Helmsley folk have realized the importance of white paint, and the window-frames, and even the strips of lead that hold the glass together, are picked out in this cheerful fashion. In the broad market-square the houses are large, but their gray respectability is broken by creepers and some pleasant spots of colour. The corner nearest to the church is particularly noticeable on account of a most picturesque gabled house, with a timber-framed upper floor—a style of construction exceedingly rare in these parts of Yorkshire. The old stone cross, raised above its worn steps, stands in the open space close to the modern market hall, and humbly allows the central position to be occupied by a Gothic cross recently erected to the memory of the late Lord Feversham, of Duncombe Park.
A narrow turning by the market-house shows the torn and dishevelled fragment of the keep of Helmsley Castle towering above the thatched roofs in the foreground. The ruin is surrounded by tall elms, and from this point of view, when backed by a cloudy sunset, makes a wonderful picture. Like Scarborough, this stronghold was held for the King during the Civil War. After the Battle of Marston Moor and the fall of York, Fairfax came to Helmsley and invested the castle. He received a wound in the shoulder during the siege; but the garrison having surrendered on honourable terms, the Parliament ordered that the castle should be dismantled, and the thoroughness with which the instructions were carried out remind one of Knaresborough, for one side of the keep was blown to pieces by a terrific explosion and nearly everything else was destroyed.
All the beauty and charm of this lovely district is accentuated in Ryedale, and when we have accomplished the three long uphill miles to Rievaulx, and come out upon the broad grassy terrace above the abbey, we seem to have entered a Land of Beulah. We see a peaceful valley overlooked on all sides by lofty hills, whose steep sides are clothed with luxuriant woods; we see the Rye flowing past broad green meadows; and beneath the tree-covered precipice below our feet appear the solemn, roofless remains of one of the first Cistercian monasteries established in this country. There is nothing to disturb the peace that broods here, for the village consists of a mere handful of old and picturesque cottages, and we might stay on the terrace for hours, and, beyond the distant shouts of a few children at play and the crowing of some cocks, hear nothing but the hum of insects and the singing of birds. We take a steep path through the wood which leads us down to the abbey ruins.
The magnificent Early English choir and the Norman transepts stand astonishingly complete in their splendid decay, and the lower portions of the nave, which, until 1922, lay buried beneath masses of grass-grown débris, are now exposed to view. The richly-draped hill-sides appear as a succession of beautiful pictures framed by the columns and arches on each side of the choir. As they stand exposed to the weather, the perfectly proportioned mouldings, the clustered pillars in a wonderfully good state of preservation, and the almost uninjured celestory are more impressive than in an elaborately-restored cathedral.