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

Rhubarb!

Rhubarb is a very versatile vegetable, which is often used in desserts. It has a very strong acidic taste and cannot be eaten raw, but when steamed or boiled with sugar to taste it can provide the basis for a lovely crumble, pie or mousse.

This versatile plant was always a feature in my father’s garden when I was a child. Like blackberries and gooseberries, rhubarb grows easily in Yorkshire soil. The leaf is poisonous because of oxalic acid and should never be eaten. However, the root was highly prized and of higher value to the Chinese as a medicine for curing intestinal and liver problems than other well known spices and opiates. In 1777, an apothecary in Banbury, Oxfordshire produced roots at home to develop as a drug for many other ailments. This led to the discovery of how to force an early crop.

We now have what is known as ‘The Rhubarb Triangle’ around Leeds that supplied London’s Spitalfields and Covent Garden markets in the nineteenth century. Forced rhubarb is paler than the later crop, which is sweeter as it is grown outdoors.


When I want some I select the mature stalks that are ready to break off at the base of the plant. I then cut off the leaves and the base of the stalks, wash and cut into inch long chunks ready for the pan. I crush root ginger into the mix with sugar to taste. This is all that is needed to cook the rhubarb through. Always cover and simmer gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes until the lumps still hold their shape, but are soft to the fork.

Rhubarb crumble or pie is delicious, but if you want a lighter alternative, then a sprinkling of organic muesli on top, served with custard, Greek yoghurt or light cream goes down a treat.

 

More recipes:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/rhubarb

An Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick

Welcome to my blog, Elizabeth. From the moment you began writing manuscripts you never gave up on your goal of becoming a published writer. How long did this take?

I decided I wanted to write for a career when I was 16. This was after I had spent a year hand writing my first novel. Prior to that I’d always told myself stories verbally as imaginative fun. It wasn’t until I was 15 I wrote anything down, but having done so, I decided that writing novels was what I wanted to do for a living. It took another 16 years for me to realise that dream. Part of that time was taken up by growing up, entering the world of employment, getting married and having a family. During that period I learned to touch type and as technology advanced, transferred from manual typewriter to computer – in those days the Amstrad green screen. I always hoped to get published, but I figured it didn’t matter if I didn’t because this was my hobby and storytelling had been a part of me since I first had language, so I wasn’t just doing it for the fame and fortune (!), I was doing it for me.

Your big break came when Carole Blake became your agent after reading The Wild Hunt. How quickly did your world change as a result of this?

Not immediately because it takes time for contracts to be arranged and for money to begin flowing through so I didn’t give up the part-time day job immediately. When I was first offered a publishing contract, my children were aged six and three, and I was staying at home looking after them during the day and going out to work the twilight shift in a local supermarket at night while my husband took over the childcare. So although I was offered a publishing contract in the summer of 1989, I didn’t give up the job until late autumn of the same year. While my first contract wasn’t exactly enough to move to Millionaire’s Row, it allowed me to be a stay at home mum and write in the spaces between the children. In those early days it was still very much a part time income, but enough to get by when added to my husband’s full-time wage.

Do you look back at your early work affectionately or critically?

Both. I think any writer worth their salt is always learning and seeking to improve. I know I have moved on since my early days, but my early novels were still strong enough to be published and short-listed for awards in a very competitive market. I have since had the great opportunity to overhaul those early novels in the light of experience gained and it was interesting to go back and look at the learning curve. But I am very fond of my early works because they are the foundation stones on which my career has been built.

I totally agree with you. What advice would you give to an author who is about to make the step into the world of an agent and publishing deals?

Be professional. If you don’t know something and it’s genuinely out of your range, then ask. But do some homework first and make sure that it’s not something you can’t answer for yourself. Talk to other writers and professionals who have knowledge of the publishing industry and get a range of opinions. Go to events and network. The more you know the better you will be able to make decisions. You might even decide to go the route of self publishing, but you need to know all the ins and outs of what this entails and be realistic about expectations.

Your love of the medieval period began when you watched your TV hero on screen in the 70’s adventure series Desert Crusader. Which of your heroes/heroines would you love to see televised to inspire a new generation?

Without a doubt it would have to be the great William Marshal and his family. They win hands down! He was a man who took the helm of the country in a time of great upheaval during the early 13th century. Without his political, military and people skills, the pages of England’s history would probably have looked very different.

I would love to see William on TV.

You are renowned for your detailed research and historical accuracy. How has this deepened or broadened over the years since you started writing?

When I began writing it was at the more romantic end of historical fiction and the research books I was using were often fairly general in their outlook although I did even at that time possess a core number of books from university presses. By the very nature of time I gained experience, adding layer upon layer as each successive novel came out. I bought more books; as my knowledge levels increased so did the complexity of my reading. These days I mostly buy my research books from specialist publishers and university presses and my research has become more academic. I am now sometimes asked to give talks at universities and heritage sites – something I couldn’t have envisaged 20 years ago. My research has also become multi-layered. The Internet is obviously a fabulous resource and primary source documents are now available online that couldn’t be obtained when I first began writing. Even so one has to be careful because there is an awful lot of mediocre rubbish out there and all writers need an inbuilt drivel alarm! As well as research reading, I also re-enact with a living history society called Regia Anglorum. This helps me to get a feel for the period by working with replica artefacts and not just reading about how things were done, but having a go – see the next question. I also visit sites mentioned in my novels where possible, and this helps to give a feel for the lie of the land, although Google Earth is also your friend.

Regia Anglorum has obviously been an important part of understanding life within medieval England. What is your favourite artefact/garment that you have had recreated, through knowing the experts associated with the group?

I have a dress. It’s made from woollen fabric especially commissioned and woven to an 11th century pattern using the same loom width that a person of that period would have used. I’m rubbish at needlework and a bit awkward when it comes to cutting out patterns, so I had someone I know make the dress for me. This particular person has degree level knowledge of textile archaeology and mediaeval costumes and was able to design the dress to an 11th/12th century spec. It was then all handsewn using mediaeval stitch techniques. It’s the nearest I’m ever going to get to fully authentic!

In all the places you have been and the artefacts you have studied during your research, do you have a particular favourite(s) that has inspired you or left a lasting memory?

I absolutely love trawling museums, and the London ones are fabulous if one is in the capital. I would say that one of my favourite places to go is the Museum of London which has some terrific exhibits in the mediaeval gallery many of which are ordinary everyday objects and not just the stuff of high aristocracy. There are things like 14th century spades, fish traps, a wonderful little tinned mirror case, a terrific money box that looks like something out of the 1970s! They have a codpiece too!

For a single one I’d have to say the effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church in London. I always go and see him and honour him when I visit London. He gave me my first New York Times bestseller and he has touched so many people, myself included. He has a life beyond his mortal life, and it always makes my throat tighten with pride when I go to the Temple Church.


What appealed to you most about the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine, inspiring your critically acclaimed trilogy?

I think it’s not so much a case of appealing. It’s more a case of downright curiosity. I had written about her and several novels and at first had followed the usual path of the biographers when I needed to put her in a story. But that came to be not enough. I began to ask questions; I began to see anomalies in her story that didn’t agree with the biographies or what was being accepted as historical veracity. I began to think about Eleanor in a bit more detail. What was she really like? What could she tell me that she hadn’t told anyone else? And the more I researched the more I found out and the more biographical discrepancies came to light. For example you will find her biographers describing her variously as an olive skinned black eyed beauty with a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat in old age, as a saucy blue-eyed blonde, as a humorous redhead with green eyes. And the thing is there is not one single physical description of Eleanor recorded anywhere. Even the supposed mural of her in the chapel of St Radegone in Chinon, is now thought by a leading art historian who has examined the mural in detail, to be a man. A recent academic work on Eleanor titled “inventing Eleanor” by Professor Michael R. Evans, investigates these odd ideas about her appearance, and actually quotes my research into the biographers’ notions about Eleanor’s appearance.

Non-historians also have some strange ideas about Eleanor – that she was a feminist and way ahead of her time, both of which are false assumptions. So I felt I wanted to explore my own version of Eleanor and see if I could discover the 12th century personality behind the detritus of the centuries.

What is next for Elizabeth Chadwick?

First I have to finish and hand in THE AUTUMN THRONE, but when that’s done I strongly suspect that William Marshal is going to be riding again as there are aspects of his story still to be told.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give us an insight into your fascinating career and love of history. Have a lovely Christmas and every good wish for further success in 2015!

A Christmas Gift!

A Christmas Gift by Ruby Jackson has just been released!

A Christmas Gift, Ruby Jackson
Sally Brewer has always wanted to be an actress. When war breaks out and her drama school closes she is sure the dream has ended. She finds a job as general dog’s body at a small theatre but works hard to learn as much as possible. Invited to a London theatre, she buys a beautiful cloak in a second hand shop. Is it the cloak, the valuable ring she finds in the lining, Sebastian, the former child star who rescues her from unpleasantness at the theatre or ‘just Jon’, the enigmatic sailor whose wife had owned the cloak and the ring but Sally’s life changes. As bombs fall on London she works tirelessly to raise the morale of service personnel everywhere but can she herself survive the message that reads, ‘Missing in Action’?

You can find it on Amazon and read about the author here.

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!

An interview with Trisha Ashley

267398_163150827092202_2914025_nI am excited to welcome the lovely Trisha Ashley, an award-winning and best-selling author of humorous romantic fiction. 

How much have your entertaining novels been influenced by your own studies, hobbies and work experience?

There are elements of my interests and experiences woven in all of them, of course, but like most novelists I tend to use turning points and situations in my own life as jumping off points to explore new directions my characters can take – because after all, they’re not me and they would do things very differently.  They constantly surprise me.

      There is, of course, rather a lot about food in my books and all the research has taken its toll on my figure – but then, you have to suffer for your art.   I also love animals and gardens – especially roses – and often, too, my novels reveal the enduring power of good friendships and the supporting love of families, however dysfunctional they may at first appear.

      I’ve had a series of part time jobs over the years to support my writing and I think probably the seasonal work for the National Trust was the most useful.  For a few years I spent six days a week either in the draughty front hall of a large gloomy mansion, or in a little wooden hut at the entrance to the lovely Bodnant Garden in North Wales.  Now, those gardens were really inspiring and I was lucky enough to be there when a new young (and handsome) head gardener, Troy Scott Smith, had just taken over and was slowly revitalising it.  I think you can date my passions for roses, mazes and knot gardens to this time…

      But all of life’s experiences, good or bad, can be composted down and used to grow something fresh and new: nothing need be wasted.

When did the Muse enter your life? I hope he gets on with Dog.

I don’t think I can do better than to quote the update I put at the top of my quarterly newsletters for new subscribers:

      The plot so far: Except when she is occasionally let out to enjoy a couple of days of frenetic partying in London, or to give a talk, Trisha lives in beautiful North Wales, together with the neurotic Border Collie foisted onto her by her student son and an equally neurotic but also vain, bad-tempered and chancy Muse.  Muse, whose first name is Lucifer, slipped into her head and took up residence while she was reading Paradise Lost at school and refuses to leave.  He is male, steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons (so that’s where her blue nail varnish went, then) and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing.  He only eats words, but gets through a lot of Leather Food and Trisha is starting to suspect that he does more with it than just rub it into his wings…

     Lately, Muse has been writing a hiss-and-tell account of his life with Trisha, called The Muse Report, though due to the fact that he eats his words almost as fast as he writes them, it could be quite some time before this appears in print.

      Muse takes little notice of Dog, except to eye the name tag on his collar when hungry…

Meeting your agent, Judith Murdoch, was a major turning point in your career.  What key advice would you offer to, as yet, unpublished authors?

There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

      If you’re lucky enough to be taken on by an agent or publisher, of course, they will tell you what’s wrong with it and being able to accept and work with constructive criticism is something you need to embrace if you’re taking writing seriously.

Are you a very planned and disciplined writer, plotting an outline in advance or do you start with a scene, character or situation and go from there?

I am character driven and, since I write in first person, must get to understand my heroine and her background first. Then I put her into a situation and see where she goes, and the book unrolls before me as I write like a magic carpet.  I don’t know where we’re going until we get there.

You have achieved success as a writer despite having macular degeneration. For those unfamiliar with the condition, would you  please share with us how you have worked around this?

 I have had myopic macular degeneration and very poor eyesight (minus 20) for many years, but the MD has been getting increasingly worse recently.  Macular degeneration means that blind patches increasingly appear on your retina and although I automatically focus around them, when tired that gets harder to do and my vision generally blurs.

      I have little night sight either, so tend to fall off kerbs etc and have been known to try and flag down any dark and vaguely taxi-shaped vehicle in London at night…

      There’s currently no treatment for my kind of MD and I’m supposed to take regular breaks from the computer screen…

      I am exploring new ways of writing at the moment in case I ever get to the point where I can’t see the screen at all, but this isn’t easy since I’ve been touch typing my books since I was fifteen and made the transition to word processors and then computers as soon as they appeared.

      At the moment, I write on screen in large print, but still have lots of room to increase the font size if necessary, so it’s okay.  I print everything out to work on.  But then, I’ve always needed to see my words on paper before they become real.

Please tell us about your new novel?

Wish Upon a Star jacketWish Upon a Star will be released on November 7th and has a Sticklepond setting, the village in West Lancashire where some of my other books are set.  It’s very much about following your star, wherever it may lead you and however hard the going gets.

    Single mum Cally’s life revolves around her little girl, Stella, who has serious health problems and when her condition suddenly worsens, they move in with her mother in the remote village of Sticklepond, while she tries to raise enough money to take Stella to America for a potentially life-saving operation.

      Cally only realises quite how tough it’s been shouldering everything alone when all the villagers – and especially laid-back and charming baker Jago – rally round to help.  All Cally wants for Christmas is a miracle to save Stella and with Jago’s help she may yet discover that all the best presents aren’t always found under the Christmas tree…

What is next for Trisha Ashley?

      I’m very happy to say that next year Avon will be doing a new edition of one of my long out of print novels, Every Woman for Herself.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites among your children, but I have to admit that this book is the closest to my heart.  It’s set in Yorkshire, where the Rhymer family, Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell (the result of a failed attempt by their father to recreate the Bronte family situation) slowly return home, one by one to the haven of Upvale – only to find that things are about to change, forever.

      Every Woman for Herself was voted one of the three best romantic novels of the last fifty years in a reader poll, which was a truly wonderful moment, and I’m constantly being asked by readers where they can buy a copy, so I’m delighted it will soon be out again in paperback and e-book formats.  I’m adding a couple of new recipes to the end, too and it will also, of course, have a lovely new cover.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Valerie, and I wish everyone lots of very happy reading!

Good husband material high resMore by Trisha:

Another warm, wise and witty offering from Sunday Times bestseller Trisha Ashley.

James is everything Tish has ever wanted in a husband – she’s married a man who even her mother approves of. He’s handsome, dependable, and will make an excellent father – unlike Tish’s first love, the disreputable Fergal. Her teenage sweetheart abandoned her for a music career and now lives a typical celebrity lifestyle. Fergal broke her heart – James helped mend it.

Now, they’ve bought a cottage in the country. The next step – kids and a lifetime of domestic bliss. Well, that’s the plan. And even if James has a slight tendency to view the village pub as a second home, their relationship is still in pretty good shape after seven years of marriage. So why is marriage to Mr Right making her long for Mr Wrong?