Ravenscar – The dream resort that was an investor’s nightmare.

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Between the famous resort of Scarborough and the ancient port of Whitby lies the little known village of Ravenscar, formerly named Peak. Today this slightly remote headland location is home to a cluster of houses, the National Trust Coastal Centre and the impressive Raven Hall, built C1774, which has fine views over the sea and across the bay to Robin Hood’s Bay.

 

The Hall became the Raven Hall Hotel in 1895 and now also has a frequently windswept golf course. The impressive castellated hanging gardens even have a sheltered cubby hole in the rock, which could be used to shelter from the storms and north easterlies, or even possibly to have been used to signal out to sea.

The existence of Ravenscar is owed to The Peak Estate Company who wanted to create a holiday resort to rival its successful near neighbours. Their ambition was great. The railway line brought prospectors to this healthy resort between moor and sea. Streets named after previous invaders were planned: Roman, Angle, Saxon and Dane.

The main drawback, other than its exposed position, was that the fine sandy beaches, which can be found at Scarborough or north of Whitby, did not exist here. It is situated on a headland with a cliff face over 600 feet high. The way down to the sea level is precarious and the shore rocky. Although you can sometimes see seals, it was hardly going to attract the traveller who wanted to enjoy seaside walks or dips. Drains and water supply were installed, but of the 1200+ plots there were insufficient buyers to make the town viable and so the company ceased in 1913.

Now, the area is a real draw for walkers, ornithologists, painters, and nature lovers. You can explore the deserted workings of the alum works. It is this history that brought me to this beautiful yet wild spot. When researching for ‘To Love, Honour and Obey’ and the region for Abigail Moor I looked into the history of the Yorkshire alum industry and discovered the Peak site. Admittedly my fictional workings were north of Whitby, but the importance of the industry and the links to London was based on facts.

 


Today if you visit the National Trust Visitor Centre you can follow a looped path (2.2 km/1.35 miles) that takes you to a viewpoint across the bay, across the golf course past the fresh water pond, skirting the bluebell wood down to the alum works. Once you’ve circled the remains, double back up the other side of the bluebell woods to the brick works and back along by the railway cutting to the coastal centre.

dsc09461You can join the Cleveland Way from here, and in spring the bluebells are beautiful.

The inclines make the walk slightly more challenging, along with the strong winds that were cutting inland from the sea on the day I visited. It is a wild setting, but well worth a visit for the views alone.

 

Kirkleatham Village, North Yorkshire: A little gem worth exploring

Kirkleatham Village, North Yorkshire, England is definitely a little gem worth exploring.

Three miles from the coastal resort of Redcar, North Yorkshire, lies the beautiful small village of Kirkleatham. Originally known by its Norse name ‘Westlide’. Through time and links to the original ‘Kirk’ (church) lands it evolved from a small village to a prosperous estate with famous links to London.

I often explore such locations when researching the background to my stories, which are set within the region. This beautiful area was once owned by Guisborough Priory, before King William I granted it to The Count of Mortain and Robert de Brus in 1086, down through the centuries, it came into the hands of the Turner family.

Today the main buildings’ features of the almshouses, the church, mausoleum, and the museum in the Queen Anne building where the old school was housed, they all stand as testament to the legacy left by the Turner family. Sir William Turner (1615-1692) became Lord Mayor of London in 1669. His loyalty to King Charles II and his active involvement in rebuilding the city after the Great Fire were greatly rewarded. However, he was a man who seemingly also showed compassion for the less fortunate. He was President for the Bridewell and Bethlehem Hospitals as well as founding the Sir William Turner Hospital in Kirkleatham (now the almshouse building).

The Hospital was built around a quadrangle, with a chapel opposite the ornate gates separating the quarters of the 10 women and 10 men. There was also accommodation for 10 girls and 10 boys. These children were either orphans or from one-parent families. They were taken in, given a basic education and then would leave to serve an apprenticeship or enter service.

The ancient church was added to in 1740 to commemorate Marwood William Turner who died on his Grand Tour in Lyons in 1739. Charles Turner, who was the first Baronet in 1782, improved the roads in the area. He also built the Turner’s Arms in nearby Yearby to replace the alehouses, ‘wretched hovels’, which had harboured smugglers. Charles encouraged tenants to experiment with new crops and techniques. His son, also a Charles (1773-1810), was the last Turner to own the estates. The estates then passed through marriage to the Newcomen family. Schools and buildings in the local towns have carried the names of these families for years.

Eventually the estate was sold in 1948. The contents of Kirkleatham Hall, the Hospital Library and Museum were sold at auction. The once magnificent Hall was then left to decay and in 1956 was demolished.

Kirkleatham today houses the local history museum which, amongst other exhibits, houses the Saxon Princess Exhibition. The local maritime and industrial historical exhibits cover three floors. Access is good as the site is level; ramps and a lift means that it is accessible to all.

The 15 acre grounds cover a woodland, play area and willow walk. It extends past the old stables to open fields. A café serves hot and cold foods and facilities are good throughout.

Admission to the museum is free but touring exhibitions and events held at the site may be charged for.

More information is available from: http://www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/kirkleathammuseum

Crime and Punishment 3: Man-traps

Before moving on from Ripon I would like to mention one exhibit in the Prison & Police Museum that brought home to me the cruelty of the era that my historical stories are set. I found a man-trap displayed on the wall. I have mentioned them in my work, but it is only when you see the ugly things close up that you realise how being caught in such a sprung trap could maim and kill, in what was a slow and excruciatingly painful way.

They were hidden in undergrowth to catch or deter poachers or trespassers. They had a spring mechanism that meant the metal jaws (many had teeth – serrated edges to really lame the culprit). However, the sentences for poachers were also severe and included hanging or transportation. Although they were a fact of life in the early nineteenth century, and had been for some time, fortunately they were banned from England C.1830. Nonetheless some must have stumbled upon them by chance and others by necessity of crossing private land…

Extract from Phoebe’s Challenge

Phoebe's Challenge KEC Thomas closed his eyes fleetingly. “Yes, we will,” he spoke the words after a few moments of silence.

“We’ll what, Didy?”

“Find Levi; he didn’t disclose us – we should help him too.”

His hand, still holding the bottle, dropped down, but his senses awoke as the clang of an iron mantrap snapped viciously shut next to him. His face paled as he looked down horrified at the sight of meshed metal teeth that greeted him. Phoebe had screamed as the great jagged jaws of the mantrap had snapped shut as Thomas lowered his arm, triggering the edge of mechanism, but fortunately his limb had not fallen within its evil grip; instead the bottle was smashed.

Extract from Hannah of Harpham Hall

HannahShe was gamely running along a path ignoring Betsy’s pleas for her to come back to her, when an arm reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her backwards. She landed in a pool of mud and foliage.

“How dare you…you great bully!” Hannah shouted out in indignation at the figure who stood openly laughing at her dishevelled state, whilst boldly standing in front of her. Her ribbon had come loose and her hair started to fall down onto her shoulders. Her anger rose and she was about to vent her opinion at the lad, who must have only been a few years her senior, but he spoke to her first.

“You stupid little spoilt brat! Look what you nearly ran into!” He threw a stick at the ground in front of where she had been heading and, instantly, the metal jaws of a man-trap snapped shut, tearing it in two.

Hannah’s mouth dropped open. She wanted to cry out, but was too scared and confused. Betsy ran up behind her, panting heavily. She slapped the girl hard on her shoulder. Hannah fought hard to hold back her tears. This was not the kind of adventure she had envisaged. The lad looked nervously around him as her father’s voice bellowed to them through the woods, “What is the meaning of this?”

Featured image / RN

Pheobe’s Challenge and Hannah of Harpham Hall are also available to buy on Smashwords!

Crime and Punishment – Part 2

In my exploration around Ripon’s three amazingly well preserved law and order museums I was touched at the ease at which a person’s life, regardless of their age or sex, or the seriousness of the crime, could be devastated by incarceration, transportation or death.

The Police and Prison museum was mentioned in an earlier post.

The Courtroom, however, is based upon a Victorian courtroom and has been well preserved. It presents some shocking facts about how crime was dealt with from before this period too. The ‘Quarter Sessions’ were held at: Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas and trial was by jury. Sentences passed here could send people to be punished in the market square or for more serious crimes to the County Assizes to hang.

From the seventeenth century the court could also sentence a ‘criminal’ to transportation to the colonies for up to 14 years. This could be instead of a death penalty. It was thought that criminal behaviour could spread so by removing it the problem it would literally go away by sending them to…

“His Majesties Colonies over the seas… preventing the communication of the cantagion.”

This was an extremely cruel system as many failed to return. Forgery was a capital offence, but this could be reduced to transportation. We usually link this to sending prisoners to New South Wales, Australia (1788-1868) as dramatised in the TV series Banished, but before this convicts were sent to the Americas from as early as 1610 to 1770’s.

Special gaols (jails) were built to house debtors. These were self-funding as inmates had to pay, if able, which made it difficult for them to clear the actual debts they were imprisoned for.

Suicide was judged as a crime and the bodies of such poor souls would be buried at crossroads rather than in consecrated ground.

Lesser sentences included whipping (for both sexes) pilloried or placed in stocks, was done publicly to humiliate and shame. Fines could be levied, but if the person was poor there was little point to this. When the standard of living improved then fines became more popular and they raised money to build more prisons, which were expensive to build and run.

A person could be bound over to keep the peace. It seemed normal for the harsher sentences to be levied against offenders who had already been before the court.

The last case of a man to be held in the stocks was in 1857. It was interesting to learn hat it was the Methodist and Evangelical Christians, who had previously been behind the banishment of slavery, who helped change public opinion and the law against such public cruelty as a punishment.

Vagrants and the poor had a different fate. If they stayed within the law and did not steal in order to feed their family they could end up in the harsh regime that was the workhouse. Ripon’s Workhouse certainly provides plenty of information about the long days and the harsh life of the individuals and families that were made to work there. Families were split, even mother’s from their children.

From being stripped and bathed at the entrance, to the early rise and long hours picking oakham (the threads were literally unpicked by hand (the phrase ‘money for old rope’ was born) to harder labour of breaking rocks. They did nothing to encourage people to stay willingly, but to make them work in the absence of any social welfare, they were places to avoid if possible.

Sophie's Dream Sophie’s Dream is to find an exciting life away from her strict education in a workhouse. She applies, with references, through an agency for a position as Governess in New South Wales. Along with other young women, she is chaperoned to their new life, beyond the social barriers in England. Abandoned on the quayside of Sydney, Sophie discovers the agency is a sham. Her instincts lead her to Mr Matthias Wells and a very different world opens up to her.

Sophie’s Dream is also available to buy on Smashwords!

More about crime and justice within the era:

Crime and Punishment – Dead to Sin

The early nineteenth century in England was a harsh time of poverty for many. When soldiers and sailors were no longer needed to fight the wars that had dogged England from the end of the previous century, many men returned victorious having fought for their King (or Prince Regent) and country only to face unemployment. With little or no social support they often turned to crime to feed themselves and their families. With the increase in crimes, came new laws and harsher sentences.
Ripon Museum
I recently stopped by one of North Yorkshire’s finest museums in the little city of Ripon. Ripon is an unspoilt cathedral city that has maintained its characteristics of a delightful market town with plenty of historical places of interest to visit. It is also an excellent base for venturing into the Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors!

Ripon Museum comprises of three museums, all to do with the city’s historic law and order buildings that have been lovingly maintained. The photos below were taken in the Prison & Police Museum in St Marygate. It was a prison from 1686-1879 and a police station from 1880-1959.

When I first visited the prison I was writing Dead to Sin. Although the existing building was Victorian, the cells hold exhibits which relate to its earlier history and the development of crime and punishment, cruel and harsh as it was. Nowadays, the museum is clean, whitewashed and immaculately presented. Obviously in the time of Nicholas Penn it would be far from this.

The first chapter of Dead to Sin begins with Nicholas Penn bracing himself as he enters this dark, fettered world.


Nicholas Penn took one last deep breath of fresh air outside the high stone walls of the Gorebeck lock up. He glanced back at the cobbled square of the market town; wagons rattled, farmers haggled, women bartered, children’s laughter melted into the animals’ pitiful cries, the noise of which was in turn drowned out by the banter of the bidders. All was chaotic, all stank, yet there was colour and life here amongst the continuous whirl of people trading their wares.

             A heavy lock was turned in the barrier in front of him. Nicholas breathed deeply, his broad chest glad of what fresh air there was as his mind dreaded the prospect of seeing what he would find within the cold walls – and who. The reinforced wooden door creaked and groaned as the warder pulled it open, grating the edge against the stone.

             He pulled the high collar of his coat close, covering the ends of his shoulder length locks. ‘Trapped sunshine’ his mother had poetically described his wayward curls when he was a cosseted child. Now straighter, they had matured and grown like Nicholas himself. No sunshine would filter through behind this door. The rain started to pour down. Nicholas was silently led inside along a narrow stone corridor; he was taken further into the building’s bowels, down a spiral metal staircase to an airless chasm where six bolted black doors lined the dimly lit passage. Disembodied coughs could be heard even through the iron-wood barriers, which incarcerated their prey. Nicholas intuitively pulled out his kerchief and held it over his mouth. Gaol fever was to be avoided by the wise man who had the option to, but the inmates of this place had little chance to do that. The warder turned another key in the door lock at the end of the narrow corridor.

             “Ten minutes!” he growled back at Nicholas. The man had a curvature of the spine and did not look up at Nicholas’s straight frame. Instead, he shuffled back.

             Nicholas grunted what could have been his agreement or a simple acknowledgement. The turnkey gestured for Nicholas to enter.

             With some reluctance, Nicholas stepped into the small dank cell, ducking slightly so that his round hat did not contact the top of the door’s stone frame. What light and fresh air there was from the open grate that served as a window, was lost to the rain water, which now poured in, bringing with it the filth washed down from the market street above. The cell’s air stank of damp and excrement. Nicholas stood equidistant from the slime covered walls, not wanting his new riding coat to touch anything in the place.

             The cell was putrid. Under his highly polished boots was a stone-flagged floor strewn with soiled hay. Nicholas fought back memories, bleak, barefooted memories, as he glared at the figure in front of him. Like the cell, the man locked within it was unwashed, unshaven and unkempt. His appearance was in stark contrast to the man’s usually immaculate presence. The figure was seated on a small stool, wrapped in a flea-infested woollen blanket, leaning against the edge of the moist wall. Even in such discomfiture he seemed to be calm in manner, resigned perhaps to his fate. Nicholas wondered if this was true. To most people in his circumstance it would have been the case, or a near breakdown of spirits, but not Wilson. Nicholas knew the man too well. He was as hard as the stone walls which held him, to the depth of the heart that beat strong within his chest.

             Ebony eyes looked up at him as the door lock was slammed shut behind Nicholas who was trying hard not to show his inner fear, or his loathing of small airless spaces as much as his abhorrence for the pathetic looking creature in front of him.

             “You came, Nick!” the voice announced, louder than Nicholas had expected it to. That tone was almost as if he was annoyed at his late appearance. This was not the whispered breathy word of a dispirited soul. The confidence, the strength and the defiance were still there in his comments even if he looked to be in a physically weakened state.

Cobles and Contraband

DSC03675My stories are often set around the dramatic coast and countryside of North Yorkshire, where I grew up. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and fascinating social history, especially around the early nineteenth century when England was at war with France and many things were changing at home.

Smuggling was rife along Britain’s shores. The vast expanses of accessible flat, sandy beaches in the area made it an ideal place for smuggled goods to be brought ashore. Despite the busy German Ocean (known today as the North Sea) with it colliers making their way to London with coal and fetching back urine for the alum works along the northeast coast, privateers still operated freely. The custom coble was often outrun by more superior vessels or their men outnumbered on shore.

05022011320The Yorkshire cobles with their flat bottoms were ideal for beaching loads of contraband. Goods such as tea, cards, ankers of brandy, geneva, pepper, ‘sack’ or sherry, sugar loaves, silk and cards, to name a few were taxed heavily, which meant that common folk felt justified by buying them cheaply from the free-traders. The irony was that the coin, which made its way back to France, helped to fund the enemy that British soldiers were fighting.

Work on the land was seasonal and low paid. Fishermen depended upon hauling in a good catch to feed their families. It was no surprise then that many were involved in the lucrative trade. Despite the Riding officers best attempts to stop it the problem was rife.

20082011431The rugged headlands, flat sweeping fine sandy bays, natural woodland and the beautiful expanse of the North Yorkshire Moors inland add both a great variety of scenery and beauty. The settings for my stories are as dramatic as the plots. I have created my own villages and characters and will introduce you to some of them as I look more closely at the actual history of this fascinating region.

In Phoebe’s Challenge, the hunted brother and sister are rescued by a stranger and brought down to a safe cottage, a haven, on the sandy shoreline, sheltered under my fictitious headland of Stangcliffe. Desperate to escape their past life they have no choice but to trust a man they hardly know in an area where nothing is at it seems – but Phoebe likes a challenge!