Return to Northallerton

After 500 years Tom Fleck went back to Northallerton – in a sense. Well, we took some copies of his story to a new bookshop in that market town.
On the way, there was another return journey – we called at Osmotherly. Here in 1953 a Box Brownie took this picture of me and my cycling mates:

1953 Osmotherley

Osmotherley is an English village and civil parish, situated in the Hambleton hills in North Yorkshire.

It is likely that Osmotherley means the clearing or ‘ley’ (pronounced lee), belonging to a Viking called ‘Asmund’ or a Saxon called ‘Osmund’. There have been a number spellings of the Osmotherley over the centuries: the name appeared in the Domesday Book as Asmundrelac; it has also been known as Osmundeslay and Osmonderlay.

Osmotherley is on the route of the 110 mile Cleveland Way National Trail.

Apart from that you will find my bare legs at the bottom right. Another photo was taken with a tiny digital camera – to mark the fact that I had not sat on that cross for over half a century.

Osmotherley 2011

Where are the others now? Ships that pass in the night – alas.

Thence to Northallerton where Tom Fleck would be lost today.

Northallerton 2011

Tom may have passed this market cross – but what else would he recognise in the high street?
The story tells of his last visit here:

“Spreading clouds, edged with moonlight, filled the sky. Drawn by dim lamps and the sounds of livestock, Tom found his way along High Street. In front of the church, the cobbled road widened; sheep pens full of wether-lambs waiting for next day’s auction, lined both sides. He passed men and women who worked together putting up stalls, and others making ready for sleep beneath the planks of their booths.
A cracked voice yelled, ‘What are you doing in these parts, Fleck? Who’s looking after the cows now you’re here? Does the master know?’
He saw the shadowed face of a shepherd from the Warren estate and went up to him. The whiskered man squatted with a blanket around his shoulders at the side of pen of sheep. Tom caught a whiff of sour beer. His stomach muscles hardened.
‘What’s it got to do with you?’
‘Oh, hark to the raggy-arsed cowman. Crawls out of his byre and comes to town full of airs. Has the stink of cow-clap forced you out into the open for once? And what sort of a dog do you call that little waster?’
Tom glared at the bleary-eyed shepherd for a moment, trying to think of a response . . . ”

A posh shop in Northallerton

No raggy folk in the high street today. Tom would blush.

Tom went looking for the Swan Inn . . .

“The Swan jutted into the street an arrow-shot distant. Yellow light showed in every twisted window of the lopsided building. He tried to gather his thoughts on what he needed to do. The shepherd’s taunts had made his heart pound and stiffened his resolve to break free of Thornaby Manor.
Sounds of raucous singing, backed up by a fiddler, poured through the entrance. He took a deep breath and strode inside, straight up to a row of barrels that lay between chocks on a long table. A stout man, resting his apron-wrapped belly against the table, nodded to him. Meg squeezed among drinkers’ legs, sniffing for scraps of food, until she got into a fight with a lurcher. A jug of beer crashed against the stone-flagged floor and a voice cried out in dismay. Tom cleared his throat and asked for ale. A tankard and a slopping wooden jug thudded onto the table.
‘There you are, young man, a quart of the town’s best, passed by Northallerton’s properly elected ale taster.’ The innkeeper laughed at his own joke and a group of men at a nearby table groaned aloud. ‘You lot can shut up! How long will you cuddle that ale? You spend a farthing and clutter up my inn for the rest of the night! And that’s a farthing to you, me brave boy. Have you come far?'”

But not the Swan

There was a Swan but it had closed 20 years ago – I was told the last landlord kept a swear-box on the counter.
We had to make do with another pub.

Just a half

But the beer was good – I had a glass of ‘Gundog’ bitter. It was nice enough in there, though without the atmosphere of the Swan in 1513:

“The room downstairs still heaved with shepherds and drovers. By the window, a group of men shouted and cursed at dice clattering across a table while two lurchers snarled at each other beneath. The door to the street was wide open and a swaying man with a bloodied face supported himself against the frame. Above the din the fiddler played on, ignored, save for a weedy man who aped every movement of his bow arm. Tom stepped quickly through the beer-soaked sawdust. He tried to squeeze through the doorway at the same time as the innkeeper ejected a troublemaker.
‘Take your turn! Take your turn!’ The innkeeper yelled. ‘Oh it’s you. Tha took long enough!’ He threw the man into the darkness and leaned against the door frame, breathing heavily. ‘Did you get a good price?’
Ignoring the question, Tom pushed past into the cool night. The innkeeper bellowed a curse after him; Tom shrugged and walked on. The moon was lost somewhere in cloud, so he picked his way, by the light of windows, towards the coal merchant’s house. Coming abreast of the last sheep pen he heard the creak of leather-clad feet and spun around. Two men faced him, swinging cudgels. They moved to either side and slapped the heavy sticks into their palms. Meg bared her teeth and snarled . . .’ ”

There was no dog in the ‘Tickle’ and so we came home.

About Harry Nicholson

I once bred Beveren rabbits in all colours. Today, I'm an enameller who works with a kiln, fusing pictures in glass onto copper. On Amazon is my novel, 'Tom Fleck', set in the North of England of 1513 - the year of Flodden. A sequel to 'Tom Fleck' is 'The Black Caravel' published in 2016. My anthology of poems came out in 2015: 'Wandering About.' Recently I published memoirs of my time in the Merchant Navy: 'The Best of Days' and 'You'll See Wonders" I've a blog of poems, stories and art at:
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11 Responses to Return to Northallerton

  1. earlybird says:

    I enjoyed this link back to the book too.

  2. 1sojournal says:

    Enjoyed the movement between then and now, well put together, Harry,


  3. Your blog is really interesting. Love all the yorkshire stuff. A good friend of mine hails from Northallerton and my sister lives in Boston Spa, so all very relevant to me.

  4. Harry, I’m so glad you left a comment on my blog, which led me to yours – I just spent the most delightful 15 minutes perusing your pages and am looking forward to spending many more over here. The American review of your book suggests it is a really good read, and I’m sure the Yanks won’t have any trouble with the language once they get into it. My experience in the States, after 17 years in England, is that whenever I say something British that is strange to the American ear, they love it, adopt it, and often use it incorrectly, which adds a delightful new twist. For example, I once told a friend I was “over the moon” about something really happy-making. Another time when I looked really serious, he asked, Are you feeling under the moon today?” And so a new expression was born… Love your site!

    • How lovely of you to leave such a full message, Brokenpenwriter. I smiled at the curious twist to cliches on transatlantic tongues. When we visited my wife’s cousins in Texas and sat around playing Balderdash – the hilarity over language almost cracked our ribs. It was one of the funniest evenings I can recall.

      I had a look around your site and think you can tell your grand-child that the bearskin hat is now synthetic – perhaps the god Google would know.


      Tis late – but I’ll link your page before I go.

  5. Susannah says:

    I enjoyed this, Harry. I could really feel the atmosphere of long gone times in your novel extracts and enjoyed your ‘up to date’ photos too. It is always nice to read your I Saw Sunday posts. Thanks for sharing them with us. 🙂

  6. Related to your comment on my blog, I find the best way to thank someone for their visit is to pay a return visit. Good luck with both the novel and the blog, Harry. Victoria

  7. vivinfrance says:

    What a great idea to return with Tom and Meg.

  8. Tilly Bud says:

    Lovely comparisons, Harry. I really enjoyed this.

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