Thursday, 26 March 2015

Billy Watson' Lonning

Billy Watson' Lonnin, Harrington, Cumbria

THIS ballad was written by dialect poet Alexander Craig Gibson and was first published in 1874 – the year that Gibson died. Amazingly, the lonning still exists in Harrington, Cumbria (Gibson's place of birth). It’s a delightful poem about the lonning and how it was the author’s favourite spot to take a young lady. It’s made all the more atmospheric by Gibson’s inclusion of many other local place names: Hempgarth Brow, Clay-Dubs, Lowca Lonning and so forth. A huge debt is owed to Harrington History Group for identifying where many of these locations are (see Harrington Through The Years Book Six). They also did some fine detective work on who Billy Watson might have been. At the end of the day, we can only be sure his name was Billy Watson and he lived near the lonning that now bears his name. Surely, it’s not such an awful legacy that the only proof of your existence on earth is the name of a beautiful country lane near to where you lived.

* A word on that apostrophe. The grammar geeks will be querying the apostrophe on “Billy Watson’ Lonning”. Surely, it must be Billy Watson’s Lonning? Perhaps it should but that was how the title of the ballad appeared when it was first published so I’ve left it in its dialect form.

O for Billy Watson’ lonnin of a lownd summer neeght!
When t’ stars come few and flaytely, efter weerin’ oot day-leeght
When t’ black-kite blossom shews itsel’ i’ hafe-seen gliffs o’grey
An’ t’ honey-suckle’s scentit mair nor iver it is i’ t’ day.
An’ nut a shadow, shap, or soond, or seeght, or sign at’ tells
‘At owte ‘at’s wick comes santerin’ theer but you, yer oan two sel’s.
Ther’ cannot be annuder spot so private an’ so sweet,
As Billy Watson’ lonnin’ of a lownd summer neeght!

T’ Hempgarth Broo’s a cheersome pleace when t’ whins bloom full o’ flooar –
Green Hecklebank turns greener when it’s watter’t wid a shooar – 
There’s bonnie neuks aboot Beckside, Stocks-hill, an’ Greystone Green –
High Woker Broo gi’es sec a view as isn’t offen seen – 
It’s glorious doon ont’ Sandy-beds when t’ sunn’s just gan to set –
An t’ Clay-Dubs isn’t far aslew when t’ wedder isn’t wet;
But nin was mead o’ purpose theer a bonny lass to meet
Like Billy Watson’ lonnin of a still summer neeght.

Yan likes to trail ow’r t’ Sealand-fields an’ watch for t’ commin’ tide,
Or slare whoar t’Green hes t’ Ropery an’ t’ Shore of ayder side – 
T’ Weddriggs road’s a lal-used road, an’ reeght for coortin toke –
An’ Lowca’ lonnin’s reeght for them ‘at like a langsome woke -
Yan’s reeght aneuf up t’ Lime-road, or t’ Waggon way, or t’Ghyll,
An’ reeght for ram’lin’s Cunning-wood or Scatter-mascot hill.
Ther’s many spots ‘at’s reeght aneuf, but nin o’ ways so reeght
As Billy Watson’ lonnin’ of a lownd summer neeght.

Sec thowtes as thur com’ thick lang sen to yan, a lonterin’ lad,
Wid varra lal to brag on but a sperrit niver sad,
When he went strowlin’ far an’ free aboot his sea-side heam,
An’ stamp’t a mark upon his heart of ivery frind-like neam;–
A mark ‘at seems as time drees on to deepen mair an’ mair –
A mark ‘at ola’s breeghten meast i’ t’ gloom o’ comin’ care;
But nowte upon his heart has left a mark at hods so breeght
As Billy Watson’ lonnin’ of a lownd summer neeght!

Oor young days may’d be wastet sair, but dar their mem’ry’s dear!
And what wad yan not part wid noo agean to hev them here?
Whativer trubles fash’t us than, though nayder leet nor few,
They niver fash’t us have so lang as less an’s fash us noo;
If want o’ thowte brong bodderment, it pass’t for want o’ luck,
An’ what cared we for Fortun’s bats, hooiver feurce she struck?
It mud be t’ time o’ life ‘at mead oor happiness complete
I’ Billy Watson’ lonnin’ of a lownd summer neeght!

Some help with the dialect 
Lownd, calm. 
flaytely, timidly.
black-kites, blackberries
gliffs, brief looks, glimpses
la'al, little
wick, busy, lively
toke, your bethrothed (your ‘taken’)
aslew, amiss
slare, walk slowly
langsome, lonesome
woke, walk
lonterin’ lad, loitering lad
sair, very much
fash’d, bothered
brong bodderment, brought anxiety

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Return to St Catherine's holy well

St Catherine's Well, Eskdale
THE restoration of St Catherine's holy well in Eskdale has encouraged me to revisit the various notes on this delightful spot in Cumbria. Much of the work on the well was done in the early 20th century by Eskdale archaeologist Mary Fair. She re-found the well and arranged for it to be 'dug up' and investigated. Curiously by 1942 it had all been forgotten and people were again asking where the well was. A letter (written in 1942) in Whitehaven Archive & Local Studies Centre from Mary said:

"The well is known not only by tradition but by continuity of actual knowledge. Aaron Marshall regularly got water from it and up to about 1870 it was regularly cleared out and kept in running order. After that occasionally cleared to keep the site known."

She tells how she excavated the site in the late 1920s...

"We went under the great blocks of stone forming the basin of the well firmly then set in clay and there were as well structural remains in the form of a solidly constructed framework of mainly oak, set in clay with the boulders forming the basin upon it. There were rude steps leading down to the basin at one side and at one time there had been a roughly built stone conduit in the direction of the church."

Mary speculated in 1927 that the hill near to the well may have housed a home for a hermit. She bases this, rather unconvincingly on the two summits being called Cross Howe and Harmot Howe. She adds: "(They were) also spelt  Harmitt and Harmoth, associated with a place called Arment House, all of which words may indicate that a hermit may have once occupied a small cell at the place." As far as I can tell this is the origin of the 'legend' that a hermit did live there - a story now widely repeated on the net and in folklore books.

There is more evidence for the 'Catty fair' held in a field beside St Catherine's Church. Its first written record is in the church accounts for 1766. The fair was held close to the saint's day of November 25th. According to notes at the archives office, the fair allowed for the sale of corn, drapery, woollen yarn, sheep and pigs.

The restoration of the well in 2014
The fair is again mentioned in a government report of 1889 and around 1900, the vicar of Eskdale Rev W Sykes, wrote "Kitty Fair and Bellhill bonfires remain in memory". Historian Park in his classic work on Gosforth (1926) says the fair was Dodgskin Fair but he gives no source for this.

In the Whitehaven archives there is an undated letter (it looks as if it was written in the early 20th century) from CA Calverly:

"Old Mr Porter of Low Holme told me as a child he remembered the fair held at the church. They had a service first. Catty Fair it was called and gingerbread were made in the shape of a human being, arms outstretched, I suppose to represent St Catherine  on the wheel."

The fair was held in the field between the church and Parson's Passage (what was previously a gated path - Belle Hill Gate; the name - according to a note at the archives - originating from the fact the church bells were hung in a tree beside the gate).

There also appears to have been an annual sports event held beside the church but this died out in 1924.