Majestic Moors

The North Yorkshire Moors are beautiful at this time of year. The heather is just coming into flower as a carpet of purple spread across the land. Bird lovers can see or hear red grouse, curlew and golden plover.

Meanwhile hikers and dog walkers can enjoy the open expanses as they follow the old paths trodden by the monks of old. However, as sheep roam freely over these vast areas of rare moorland, they must be kept on their leads so that both can live in harmony and mutual respect of farmer and walker.

I refer to Monks’ Trods in many of my stories such as To Love, Honour and ObeyBetrayal of Innocence. After the Norman Conquest the growth of monasteries meant that pathways across country were created to transport goods freely and to keep the monasteries and abbeys in touch. The region has many well preserved ruins: Rievaulx, Fountains, Whitby Abbeys as well as Guisborough and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. These pathways could also be used to take fish directly inland across moor to the dales, which made them excellent routes to be used by locals for the distribution of contraband in the heyday of smuggling in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Many have since become overgrown. But these flagstone paths still exist in some places. The Quaker’s Causeway, where my photos were taken, runs from Guisborough (the setting of my fictitious market town of Gorebeck) to Commondale. Part of these medieval trods can still be used in this wild and beautiful landscape.

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.

Bolton Castle

When I was touring North Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales National Park this summer, researching scenes for the Penn Mysteries, I was lucky enough to discover the medieval gem that is Bolton Castle.

In the heart of Wensleydale Richard II’s Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Richard le Scrope had the castle built between 1379 and 1399. It is in a remarkable state of repair and is still owned by Lord Bolton who is a direct descendant of its founder.

We had a lovely day exploring its battlements, rooms, stores, armoury, dungeon, kitchen and courtyard. Actors provided a medieval play and archers put on a display. Tents surrounded the entrance showing how people lived in medieval England – a joy to the sound, smells and skills of the time.

Before we left the tea rooms provided a truly lovely light meal in ancient surroundings. If you are in the area during the holiday season, I would recommend a visit. The area is absolutely beautiful for hiking or simply touring.

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!