Sunday, 31 March 2013


Here's a curious thing we found at Ripley church, near Harrogate, this weekend. The sign says it's the base of a medieval Weeping Cross, the indentations being just large enough fit the knees into whilst praying. Others suggest that the stone once stood higher and that they are for the bowed heads of those begging for forgiveness.

"Kneel there and look penitent!" shouted Mr N.
Hope you are enjoying the Easter sunshine too.


Sunday, 24 March 2013


Strictly speaking Middlesbrough is in North Yorkshire but it never was genteel. It has no green hills punctuated by picturesque farms and ruined abbeys. It's in gritty Teesside and was once a clanging, puddling, flaming, smoking Ironopolis. Now it awaits its re-birth.

This is where we parked for today's antiques fair! It's a brave new world where  spectacular old technology blends well with new art and stark wastelands, willing regeneration to hurry up and happen.

The Tees Transporter Bridge, opened in 1911.

The venue is Middlesbrough College and the fair is an exciting new Colin Caygill Event

It is held in a long corridor, recreating the atmosphere of a street market.

The stands fill up...'s Julie from The Cloth Shed blog.


And here's news of more vintage fun in the North East.

This event is held at nearby Saltburn by the Sea - pictures can be found here. So please come up sometime - I promise we don't bite (except when we're hungry).

(Saltburn also has fantastic Yarn Bombers!)


Saturday, 16 March 2013


I think it's supposed to be Spring, but, up here in The North, there are very few signs - just a few sickly snowdrops and crocuses (croci?) Barely a green shoot has appeared on the hawthorn, though I'm frequently fooled by the  Dayglo lichen that abounds in our persistently damp climate.

And where are the lambs? The disturbing lack of cuddly, wee things in our area reminded me of a shocking incident that occurred some twenty years ago, when we were dining at G's. Our nephew stood up and announced "I am going to cannon lambs!" He was an Oxford undergraduate at the time and we knew he was partial to a bit of beagling, but still we shrieked in shocked unison, "How cruel!!!!"
" No," he said, with solemn superiority, "I'm going to Canon Lamb's - he lives nearby and enjoys a bit of elevated conversation."

So far this year we've heard hardly a bleat from the fields around us so the other day, during a brief respite from the wind and rain, I suggested to Mr N that we might walk around some local bridleways in search of reassurance that we aren't stuck in eternal British Winter Time - and that a secret lamb cull hasn't taken place.

This doesn't look promising...

...but here's a farm!


Don't be afraid, we won't harm you. 

Though we have been known to Canon lambs occasionally!
(All stories from Nilly Hall are true, even the silly bits.)


Monday, 11 March 2013


Our recent trip to Devon brought back memories of my first sight of the West Country, when I was very young. My father decided it would be fun to visit his sister and my cousins in Yealmpton (near Plymouth) by train, taking the coastal route for much of the journey.

Plymouth Hoe 1953

One vivid memory I have is of the railway line beyond Exeter, right next to the sea! Miraculously, we didn't tumble off the rails and into the salty waves. A month ago I rediscovered the thrilling setting.

This is Starcross, near Dawlish. The red brick tower is a Victorian pumping station, built for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Atmospheric Railway which ran between Exeter and Plymouth for barely a year - 1847 to 1848. 

This means of rail transport was an expensive experiment built by Brunel and others in various locations, and involved, to put it simply, the propulsion of the train by suction. The salty spray on this seaside route meant that leather seals on vital vacuum pipes were difficult to keep in good condition and, when greased and oiled with tallow, became tasty treats for rats. The experiment was a failure...

...but trains still run along the track.

Railways are written into my family's history. They enjoyed the romance of the journey. They travelled to the hills above Darjeeling on the Himalayan Railway, as well as around Britain and Europe - on trains.

And they worked on the railways - navvies in the Welsh Marches, plate-layers and station masters in Buckinghamshire, signalmen and train drivers on the Southern Region. It's in our blood.

Selfridges 1963
(If you are old enough to know the name of the passenger, I promise I won't tell!)

Clickety clack. Clickety clack. Wooooo Wooooo!


Monday, 4 March 2013


Just once a year, at the beginning of March, a prestigious and respected school in Wakefield lets its hair down and hosts an Antiques & Vintage Fair. The sellers are a mixture of professional dealers, ladies who dabble and mums having fun. A couple of years ago, at this fair, Mr N bought me a book of school sewing samplers, worked by a Quaker girl in the early 19th century.

Inside the hand-marbled covers are fine examples of plain sewing.

The seller parted with this wonderful book, made by her Quaker ancestor, because her own offspring had no interest in their family history.

Last year she sold me this handsome carpet bag, embroidered with coloured wools, but I was not very sure about its connection to the previous year's purchase...

...though this note, tucked inside, was written in language befitting a Friend.

"My Darling, 
This is the last piece of wool work our precious Walter did ere he left our happy home at Kingston. I have treasured it more than 24 years! I feel sure thou wilt value it for his sake as well as mine. Accept it with Mother's love."

It was dated 1898. I did not know that the bag was connected to the family story and, foolishly, I sold this precious memento. Last Saturday, the annual antiques event took place again. This time our friendly seller remembered me and brought the next chapter of her tale...

...tucked inside this simple wooden hat box.

Here is a faded photograph of her great grandmother, Patience, possibly taken on her wedding day. Along with this I found names and dates - enough to work out that the embroidered bag was sewn by her long dead brother and given to her by their mother. Patience married Alexander, a successful businessman whose distant ancestor, Jacob Hagen, was a merchant from the Netherlands, born in 1685. Throughout the family's history the children, girls and boys, were sent to Quaker schools; Stramongate in Cumberland, Earls Colne in Essex and Ackworth in Yorkshire (where my sampler book was probably made), pictured
here, below.

Ackworth School

Tissue paper layers hid more treasures - a tattered brown envelope with an exotic Brooklyn postmark...

...contained pink and white knitted silk bootees "For the Baby Girl."

The last layer revealed a wonderful silk Quaker bonnet and collar, probably the very garments that Patience wears in the faded portrait, along with a fine piece of printed muslin - from her wedding dress? I wonder if I shall be lucky enough to be entrusted with another chapter next year (do I deserve this honour after parting with the bag?) If not, I shall treasure the glimpse I've had into another family's story. That has always been a large part of the excitement of antiques for me.