Sunday, 29 December 2013


Boxing Day was beautiful in North Yorkshire - cold and bright, with a picturesque mist over the fields - perfect for a relaxed post-Christmas wander, nothing much for us to do for a change.
I'd spent the morning looking through an old book, picked up recently in the local Oxfam shop;
"Victorian Ouseburn - George Whitehead's Journal"
George must have been a plain-speaking chap - intent on recording facts as he found them, with little emotion or detail, he notes;
"Mr. Henry Thompson's men dug a skeleton up which was supposed to be that of a man. The same day found one of a boy as well, March 28th 1844."
"William Kendrew hanged at York  for shooting Mr Inchbald at Low Dunsforth."
"Our black mare (Darling) laid in of a foal."
"Jane and me went to Monkton feast."
"Mrs Abbey lost her farm and Thomas Abbey got it."
I read on...
"Robinsons set off for Scarboro' Friday July 4th 1845."
"Robinsons came back from Scarboro' Friday Aug 8th 1845,"
"Miss Lydia Robinson made her exit with Henry Roxby (a play actor) Monday morning, Oct 20th. They went to Gretna Green and got married that night. She was a fortnight turned 20 years that day. A bad job 1845."
("Finished shearing beans and peas, Oct 20th 1845.")
Then the penny dropped and I remembered who the Robinsons were!
A clergyman's family living at Thorpe Green House, near Little Ouseburn, the Robinsons had employed Anne Bronte as a governess between 1840 and 1845, and also Branwell Bronte, as a tutor to their son, from 1843.
Though nothing but an old brick wall remains of their house, we were able to follow Bronte footsteps down Thorpe Green Lane, a route regularly taken by Anne on her way to Little Ouseburn Church...

 ...past fields and a gatehouse, a remnant of another grand house, Kirby Hall. Most of Kirby Hall was demolished in the 1920s, but when Anne Bronte walked past, it was still a fine Palladian-style mansion. It inspired Ashby Hall in her novel "Agnes Grey."

Little Ouseburn Church drawn by Anne Bronte.
Anne took a while to settle into her position with the Robinsons, though by 1843 she was so well loved by her young pupils that they gave her a spaniel which she named Flossy.

 Flossy painted by Charlotte Bronte.
George Whitehead's diary does not mention Anne the governess, nor her brother Branwell, though he records Robinson family trips to Scarborough which it is known that Anne enjoyed, and he mentions some of the emotional turmoil that took place in the family during 1845, when the oldest Robinson daughter, Lydia, eloped with an actor. I wonder if George also knew about the rumours of Branwell's affair at this time with Mrs Robinson, later referred to by Charlotte Bronte's friend and biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, as "that bad woman who corrupted Branwell Bronte". Branwell confided to a friend that Mrs Robinson's personal maid had seen him "do enough (with her) to hang me."
Little wonder that he was dismissed from his position by the Reverend Edmund Robinson in 1845, the year in which Anne also left Thorpe Green, almost certainly because of her brother's misdemeanours. I was unsurprised that, after this year of high emotion, I read this in George's diary;
"Rev. E Robinson was interred, June 5th. There was about 60 Odd Fellows followed him. His Mrs and Misses Elizabeth and Mary and the young master followed him to the church 1846."
Rumour has it that Branwell hoped that the newly widowed Mrs Robinson would marry him, but this was not to be...


"Mrs Robinsons labouring men, 4 in number, namely John Abbey, Thos. Brigg, Richard Bowser Jr. and Geo. Kaye paid off Aug 1st."
"Mrs Robinson's land let about July 25th 1846."
"Mrs Robinson's sale at Thorpe Green. Farming stock and implements. Feb 12th 1847"
"Mrs Robinson had a sale of oak wood at the Black Swan York March 2nd 1847"
"All Robinsons left Thorpe Green March 3rd. Mrs went among her relations that day and the young master and the young ladies were at Lodgings at York until March 10th and they went southward to their Mamma. It will be a bad job for many people them leaving Thorpe Green 1847."

Branwell Bronte died in 1848, Anne in 1849.
Flossy the spaniel died in 1854.
Edmund Robinson, Branwell Bronte's pupil, died in a drowning accident at Newby Hall, near Boroughbridge, in 1869. Six men drowned in the Nidd Ferry Disaster when out hunting, a horse having panicked, capsizing the ferry in the storm-swollen River Nidd.


Thursday, 19 December 2013


Christmas in Harrogate is a bit posh!
OK, these windows do belong to OKA and, OK, I did recently acquire a lovely wrought iron fire screen like the one just visible in this photo, but, needs must, our latest grandchild is very adventurous and this screen is very sturdy as well as pretty. Actually we try to follow William Morris's maxim "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful," not at all an excuse for needless extravagance...

...but Harrogate is proud of its money. Pictured above is Ogden of Harrogate, a long-established purveyor of fine jewellery and precious knick-knackery. It is located on James Street and once upon a time the hoi polloi were not allowed to walk along its pavements. Mr N's father remembered being chased from James Street when he was a boy in the 1930s. It was an oik-free zone.
So, we were surprised to be given this...

                                                      a Harrogate town centre supermarket (Waitrose, naturally.) We were happy to donate, but it was a sobering reminder that superficial prosperity can hide as great a divide in society these days as it did a hundred years ago.
We also called in at the town's art gallery, The Mercer, to look for a few late Christmas cards and were surprised to find a moving and timely exhibition had opened since we last visited - Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows.
Holl, 1845 - 1888, was notable for his tragic social realism and strong empathy with the hardships suffered by poor women and children.



Peeling Potatoes

The Song of the Shirt

Newgate - Committed for Trial

Faces in the Fire




Thursday, 12 December 2013


...even in December. After early morning treasure-hunting at the lovely Caygill Antiques and Vintage Fair in Hartlepool, County Durham, last Sunday, we motored down the coast a few miles to Seaton Carew for a walk along the sands. I don't suppose many have heard of this little place - originally a fishing village, in the 18th and 19th centuries it grew into a holiday resort for wealthy Quaker families from Darlington. In the 20th Century it was a popular place for a day-trip, a bit of sea air for coal miners and their families.

Here it is today.

Artist Margaret Green (see here) painted Bus Trip from the Pits in 1956.


It still has a strange beauty, don't you think?


Wednesday, 4 December 2013


I bought this pretty cotton top at a car boot sale in the summer. My plan was to dye it and wear it under a pinafore, but then I had a good look. It was so fine - all hand stitched with delicate frills and Dorset buttons. It has tightly buttoned sleeves and a single tie at the neck, which makes the frill stand up fetchingly. Is it a night shirt? A bed jacket? I didn't know so I put it on that towering pile of "things to be thought about later."

I got it out again the other day - I'd thought it might be Victorian, but it has an earlier look... this - a bed gown or bedgown. These thigh-length lightweight loose dresses, allowing free movement, were popular at-home attire over petticoats and skirts in the 18th century. They were soon adopted as working clothes by poorer women. No need to get changed in the morning - how very useful!

Jimjams in the supermarket?

Busy girls have done it all before!


Tuesday, 26 November 2013


Ebay - love it or hate it - broadens one's horizons as well as one's posterior. Over the past couple of weeks I have sold and sent curios to Germany, China, Italy, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the American states of Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, as well as to places nearer home.

This antique watercolour painting of a girl knitting woollen stockings is now 
winging its way to Boreray, a small island in the Outer Hebrides with a single croft and a population of one...

Photos by Alasdair Watson.

...if you don't count the flock of feral Hebridean sheep, whose wool is sent down to Makepiece of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire to be knitted into fairy tale dresses.


This pretty Georgian flame-stitch reticule recently found a new home in a place I'd love to visit sometime - Dennis Severs' House in Spitalfields in the East End of London. 

Inside, the rooms have been arranged in an "historical imagination" of what life might have been like for a family of Huguenot silk weavers, as if they are still in use and the occupants have only just left. Each room is a "still life drama". 

Photo James Brittain.

I wonder what drama my little woollen purse will be part of? Will it hold a lover's billet-doux, a stolen jewel, a widow's last few pence?
Folk Art and its associated traditions are another passion of mine so I was thrilled the other day when Simon Costin of The Museum of British Folklore fame decided to give a home to this 1930s jig doll or limberjack. (I'm sure he's Fred Astaire!)

These traditional wooden jointed dolls are puppets who dance on the operator's knee, accompanied by a jolly folk tune. We met Mr Costin with his travelling museum a couple of years ago. Will Fred accompany him in his retro caravan, around the British Isles - to quote from the museum's manifesto - promoting, celebrating and revitalising the folk heritage of Britain?


I do my best to ensure that our Ebay offerings have a safe journey wherever they travel.

I hope this Chinese bowl has arrived home safely,

and that Catharine Susan is dancing around her new home in California...

...and that this Victorian cushion cover will soon be plumped up and gracing someone's office chair in Australia.