Whitby: unique, beautiful and historic

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The historic maritime port of Whitby conjures up a myriad of images that connect people through time to this beautiful ancient town.

 

From the iconic Abbey ruins atop its headland, reminding us of its Christian heritage, to the harbour below where the Esk flows into the sea, a booming whaling industry thrived; now it is a tourist magnet and thriving community.

The existing Whitby Abbey ruins date from the Norman period when Benedictine monks founded a new abbey on the site of the original, which had been destroyed by Viking raiders in 867 AD. The order and abbey was to be destroyed and dissolved by Henry VIII.  However, it is the original abbey that holds its lasting place in history, founded by Oswy, King of Northumberland in 657AD and associated with St Hilda. The Synod of Whitby, which was held in 664AD, was noteworthy as Celtic Christians lost the debate with Roman Christians on how the calculation of Easter would be made, the effect of which we still feel today.

Whitby as a settlement can be traced back to the Bronze Age. Brigantes, Romans, Saxons, Vikings all played their part in the town’s development, but it was the abbey that first made the difference between a settlement and the town it would become, between the mid-C18 and C19, a thriving maritime port.

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The Yorkshire Saga #1

The Alum industry in the C16 century also played an important part in the growth of the importance of the port. Alum was an important fixative used in the dyeing of cloth. The remains of such a works can be explored at Ravenscar further along the coast. In To Love Honour and Obey this is mentioned, as the fires and smells of the process polluted the coastline at the time. Modern methods of production made the century old methods of alum production obsolete, but in the early C19 it thrived.
From the mid C18 to mid C19 the port was an important whaling, fishing, boat-building, rope and sail-making harbour with many associated industries prospering alongside.

One of these ‘trades’ was smuggling and the narrow alleyways and snickets were excellent for moving contraband through the streets unseen to the prying eyes of the customs or revenue men. Another use for them was for young and able men to dodge the pressgang should one dare to come by.

 

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Today Whitby is a bustling town where freshly caught fish are savoured in the many restaurants and inns. Whitby crab is delicious.

The White Horse and Griffin is a restored C18 coaching inn on the east side where Charles Dickens once stayed. The cobbled yard to its side, and the style of small brick out houses further along hidden in one of these yards, inspired the bath house where Willoughby takes Beth in The Yorkshire Saga series Book 1.

The visitor can take a trip out of the harbour and see for themselves the view many a returning sailor would have seen, as the church on the headland welcomed them home.

 

Whitby has many historic sites and buildings to explore, a myriad of gift and crafts shops. It also holds a number of popular festivals including the very lively and colourful Whitby Folk Week, the dramatic costumes of the Whitby Goth Weekend and even a Pirate Festival to name but a few.

The famous cartographer and explorer, James Cook, lived at his master’s house in Grape Lane in 1748 at age 18 as he served a merchant seaman’s apprenticeship.  The house is now the home of The Captain Cook Memorial Museum and is well worth a visit.

Sir William Scoresby is another famous native who invented the ‘crow’s nest’ to protect sailors, and his family’s legacy to the town and whaling industry is also celebrated within the town’s museum.

After the mid C19 the whaling industry and shipbuilding trade died down but a new invention, the railway, arrived and the town on the west side of the Esk developed to accommodate guests in fine hotels. This railway accesses the beauty of North Yorkshire NYMR such as Goathland, Grosmont and Pickering; some of the locations were used in TV’s Heartbeat series and Harry Potter. It is a really beautiful journey to take.

One of the guests who stayed here was Bram Stoker. This gave the town a connection to his famous work ‘Dracula’.

 

The 199 steps lead up from Church Street from the C15 cottages to St Mary’s church at the top and the abbey beyond it. The church inspired another scene within To Love Honour and Obey because of the unique box pews and the gallery above. The setting, building and views from outside this church are well worth a visit.
When Queen Victoria went into a long period of mourning, another of Whitby’s industries thrived; that of Whitby Jet. The Jurassic period’s fossilised remains were mined and skilfully crafted into jewellery. Once the fashion changed, and association to death dulled its popularity in the early C19, demand faded, but not completely as it has regained some popularity today.

 

Whitby also features in For Richer, For Poorer as Jerome and Parthena escape their pursuer in a Yorkshire coble. The harbour would have been busy with many vessels leaving from the steps at all times of day and night to catch the tide.

 

The Yorkshire Saga series is set against the beautiful setting of North Yorkshire weaving fact and fiction, real and imagined towns along the coat and moors.

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Aunty Mary’s Traditional Yorkshire Pudding recipe.

 

 

 

Sunday has always been a family day to me. One traditional dish that I have fond memories of, especially on a wet and windy winter’s day, was a roast dinner with home made Yorkshire Puddings accompanied with a fresh mint sauce.

Although this lovely staple regional food is highly regarded it is very simple to do.

This is the recipe that has been passed on down through time to my Aunty Mary who then gave it to me.

The first recorded reference to this versatile savoury pudding was in the early eighteenth century, when it was described as ‘dripping pudding’ but I suspect it had been used for a long time before that. It started as a way of using up the dripping fat from the roast with a simple batter to make a filling accompaniment to the meal.

Ingredients

4 eggs
200 ml whole milk (you can use semi-skimmed)
200 grams plain flour
pinch of salt
one tablespoon of cold water

Method

Heat up an oven to 200C

 

 

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy in a bowl and then whisk in the milk. A hand whisk is all that is needed for this.

Then spoon in the sieved flour and add the pinch of salt until you have a smooth mixture that just coats the back of a spoon smoothly when poured over it. You can stir in a spoon of cold water or leave the mixture to stand a few hours in a fridge.

Prepare a 12 bun baking tin by coating each bun case with either lard, or a sunflower or vegetable oil that can take high temperatures. Place the tin in the hot oven and leave for 5 minutes until the oil is smoking and hot.

Remove the bun tin from the oven and pour in the batter evenly between the 12 indents. It should instantly begin to fry and bubble.

Replace the tin in the oven quickly and bake for for 15 to 20 minutes at 230C until the Yorkshires rise and are golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Their are all sorts of things written about the height and size of a Yorkshire pudding, but a simple recipe and a wholesome pudding should just be enjoyed as it has for many years.

Yorkshire pudding batter has been used in many variations over the years and I would love to learn of people’s favourite recipes as it is such a feel-good simple part of a meal.

Aunty Mary’s Rhubarb Crumble

 

The humble rhubarb has gone from being known as an ancient cure, to a favourite British dessert, to one that post WWII fell from grace. During the war years the price was controlled so that everyone could afford it and many, like my Aunty Mary learned how to use it in a variety of recipes from tarts to Rhubarb and Ginger Jam.

This article looks at the ever popular Rhubarb Crumble.

So what is it and how did it come to be linked so strongly with Yorkshire?

It is a large leafed herbaceous perennial growing from rhizomes – a vegetable, the stalk of which provides vitamins K and C but lacks sweetness and so is low in calories. However, the leaves are high in oxalic acid which can damage the kidneys.

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Because it is not sweet sugar is used in recipes and this will affect some of the benefits eating the stalk can bring, when cooked properly. It is thought to have been used as far back as 2700 BC as a medicine. Claims that it could treat gut, lung and liver problems kept it popular. In recent years it has come back into fashion and there is still a Wakefield Rhubarb Festival held in February.

Rhubarb was a native crop in Siberia growing on the banks of the Volga.  Marco Polo is attributed with bringing it to Europe. In the seventeenth century it is claimed to have been more valuable than opium.

The Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle began around 1877 when the method of forcing rhubarb was brought to West Yorkshire. Forcing had been discovered by accident in the Chelsea Physic Garden, London, in 1817, but the conditions of the sheltered area  between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford in the shadows of the Pennines provided a perfect growing environment. The rain, cold and the high nitrogen available from ‘Shoddy’ – a by product of the successful woollen mill industry that also thrived in the area – all helped. The Yorkshire coalfields provided an ample supply of fuel to heat the sheds needed to grow the crop in the dark. Then excellent railways in the region linked to London and Covent Garden market as well.

Forced rhubarb was grown in sheds and the first crop early in the year was said to be the best.

The following recipe is for a simple dessert and not a health recommendation for this unique rhubarb crop.

When picking rhubarb go for early and straight, thin colourful stalks. If the stalks are limp they are not fresh. Later in the year you might need to strip off the tougher outer layer before cooking.

Ingredients

6 Stalks of rhubarb
Two teaspoonfuls of ground ginger
1 level tablespoon of Demerara sugar

For the Crumble

7 oz  unsalted butter
7 oz golden caster sugar
14 oz plain flour

Method

Rub butter and the flour together until crumble is fine. You can substitute some flour with oats to make the top crunchier.

Add in the sugar (to taste).

When finely mixed it should clump together when squeezed once and fall apart again a separate time.

Leave in the fridge to chill.

Top and tail the crunchy stalks of rhubarb.

Either soften in a pan with a knob of butter and the ginger and sugar until softer, or bake on a tray in the oven on 170C for ten minutes.

If the pan method is used, drain off some of the fluid. If the oven method is used then transfer to the serving dish once the rhubarb has been tested to make sure it is tender.

I would love to receive any other original recipes for the versatile and unique rhubarb.

Money Matters in Regency England

 

Book 2 http://getbook.at/ForRicher
Join Parthena and Jerome on their exciting adventure!

The first conflict in For Richer, For Poorer occurs when heroine Miss Parthena Munro ‘borrows’ a coin purse from Mr Jerome Fender.

I used the term ‘coin purse’ rather than wallet because, unlike the pre-plastic card society where paper money had been the norm it was not so commonly used in Regency England.

Banknotes outside of London were not guaranteed by the Bank of England until 1826 when its first branch outside the City was opened in Gloucester. Privately owned regional banks in England and Ireland had unique notes that were signed by their own chief cashiers and therefore their continued validity depended on the success of the issuing bank. This meant that banknotes were not as secure as they are today, should a run on such an establishment occur, it could wipe out a person’s assets.

Coins had immediate and standardised values and so, although weighty, were accepted everywhere.

The golden guinea had a value of 1 sovereign and 1 shilling making it the highest denomination.

Next was the sovereign (1 pound) worth 20 shillings.

Then a half sovereign worth 10 shillings

A Crown equalled 5 shillings

1 shilling equalled 12d (old pennies)

1/2 shilling was known as a six pence piece.

A groat was 4d

A farthing was 1/4d

However, not everyone in Regency England was expected to pay their bills immediately. The aristocracy, upper and middle classes lived on credit to a large extent. This seems a strange inequality to us today, but it was the lower classes who were expected to pay coin for their goods and services on demand.

This created a highly unfair society. It also led to a number of Debtors’ prisons such as  York prison, Marshalsea and The Fleet. Charles Dickens’ father was in the former under the Insolvent Debtor’s Act of 1813, when he failed to pay his debts to a trader. It was a hard system to break free from even though there was the chance of day-release to go and work, but debts continued to mount.

This period marks the beginning of change in what had previously been the norm because of the inability of debtors to pay their cumulative debts to their creditors, which could then bring these companies down as they also had creditors too. Therefore, the system had to change and settlement by cash was being favoured, yet the debtors still kept these prisons throughout Dickensian times.

What Parthena did could have cost her liberty, her life or seen her transported to the . It was just as well that it was Jerome she borrowed the coin from!

Book 2

Mount Grace Priory
Now a ruin, but once a thriving community, beautifully set against the forestry with the moorland above.

Aunty Mary’s Yorkshire Parkin

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Nothing felt more homely and welcoming when I was growing up in my home town of Redcar, North Yorkshire, than entering my Aunty Mary’s old terrace house and smelling the delights being created in her kitchen.

Artie, her friendly black spaniel, also shared my enthusiasm for her cheerful personality and her home cooking hospitality.

One such recipe, Parkin, is a traditional cake (not for the health conscious or diabetic) that is basically a ginger cake packed with oats and treacle. It is mentioned in my books, such as: For Richer, For Poorer, as its recipe has been passed down the generations.

It was certainly made during the Industrial Revolution and gained favour as the ideal snack to partake of in November on a cold Bonfire Night on the 5th. The first Sunday of that month is referred to as ‘Parkin Sunday’.

This rich cake, full of flavour, also helped to keep hardworking folk filled and warmed through the cold winter months.

Lancashire also has its own recipes for parkin, but there are differences between the two versions. Yorkshire includes oats and uses more black treacle (molasses) giving a darker distinct flavour. Lancashire Parkin tends to be lighter and sweeter using more golden syrup (not corn syrup, which is different) instead. Opinions on this vary, as much as the recipes because some people leave out the oats all together, but this version hits the mark when you want to feel re-energized on a cold and dreary day.

The recipe I have included here is the one my Aunty Mary used and the one that when I do indulge takes me back to my childhood, a warm and loving home with my aunt and of course dear old Artie.

Ingredients

5 oz      oats
4 oz      SR flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp     ground ginger
1 tsp     mixed spice
1/2 tsp  nutmeg
Pinch of salt
5 oz       black treacle
3 oz       golden syrup
4 oz       soft brown sugar
4 oz       butter
2 large   beaten eggs
1 tbsp    milk

 

Method

  1. Line a 1lb loaf tin with baking paper or a paper loaf case.
  2. Preheat oven to 150C
  3. Assemble dry ingredients in a large bowl
  4. Melt the brown sugar with the treacle, syrup and butter – DO NOT BOIL THEM – remove from heat once the sugar has melted. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. Pour the hot mixture into the dry ingredients and mix.
  6. Add eggs and milk – stir well. You should have a thick liquid batter mix.
  7. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for between 1 to 1 hour and 20 minutes. Or until a skewer comes out clean when tested. The cake should be firm and springy.
  8. Allow to cool in the baking tin.

The resulting cake should be dark, sticky, and spicy and has a flavour that improves if it is left in an airtight tin for 3-5 days after it has been allowed to cool.

Then enjoy a slice with a nice cup of tea – but in moderation!

If you know any other versions of this old favourite or more about the origins of it I would love to see your comments.

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Jacobean Architecture and Kiplin Hall, Richmond, North Yorkshire.

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Leaham Hall in For Richer, For Poorer is a Jacobean style of country house that provides employment for its estate workers and the small nearby village of Leaham. In reality the image of Kiplin Hall inspired its fictitious counterpart.

Jacobean architecture gained popularity during the reign of King James I (1566-1625) with its love of symmetry and the mixture of gable or flat roofs; these brick built buildings were houses of the well-to-do landed gentry.

The era’s love of colour, Palladian columns, woodwork and carvings, along with the use of granite made them quite unique. The central staircase would be a focal point that lead the family or visitors up to the first and second  floors.

The Jacobean period was one that was tumultuous and the use of heraldry could reveal the owner’s loyalty. These houses, like many of the time, could also have been used as safe havens for those who had Jacobite sympathies.

Kiplin is a treasure to be discovered, tucked away in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire near the village of Scorton. It was built by George Calvert who was the Secretary of State to James 1 and founder of Maryland USA.

I borrowed some aspects of this tranquil setting for my plot in For Richer, For Poorer and placed Leaham Hall under threat.  The early nineteenth century was a time of great social, industrial, political and religious change; so I set Parthena and Jerome Fender loose on a quest to save the Hall, the estate and the village.

Here are some pictures of the moorland trods that Parthena and Jerome have to cross. You can find out more about these ancient pathways in my blog post at Sapere Books

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A step back in time!

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In my book Abigail Moor The Cruck Inn was named after the design of the North Yorkshire cruck-built buildings. There are many examples in the region but none as well preserved as the old inn Spout House which served Bilsdale until it closed its doors in 1914.

I visited it when researching the area for my book and found it was literally like taking a step back in time. Spout House can be visited from Easter – 31st October. It is just one of  many historic places hidden away in the beautiful North York Moors National Park.

The amazing time capsule that is Spout House was the inspiration behind the starting point of Abigail’s adventure that takes her on to the beautiful city of York with its gothic cathedral, then to the amazing historical whaling port of Whitby and further to discover the rugged bays of the North Yorkshire coast.

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Historic York.

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The ancient whaling port of Whitby.

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You can follow Abigail on her journey here!

Abigail Moor: The Darkest Dawn is available at Amazon and Smashwords

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