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:
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.
Where are the others now? Ships that pass in the night – alas.
Thence to Northallerton where Tom Fleck would be lost today.
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 . . . ”
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?'”
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.
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.