Penshurst Acorn Stone

John, one of my regular readers, put me onto this. It’s a dressed sandstone stone at the corner of Sunny Bank Plantation at the foot of Clay Bank. The inscription says “NOV 1906 PENSHURST ACORN”. The wording occupied my thoughts on my cycle home. A boundary stone? But sandstone boundary stones are more usual on the high moors and a few generations earlier. I can not think of any 20th century boundary stones on the moors. Back home Google came up with some clues.

In Penshurst Place, in Kent there is, or was, a very famous oak tree called the Sidney Oak after Sir Philip Sidney, a prominent Elizabethan soldier, poet and courtier. I say was because it finally succumbed to old age only last year, reputed to be 1,000 years old. Does the stone mark the spot where an acorn from the Penshurst Sidney Oak was planted? There is no oak tree now growing underneath the shade of an overgrown spruce.

But is there a connection between this odd corner of Ingleby Greenhow and Penshurst Place. Well yes, in the mid 19th century, Lady Mary Foulis, only child and heiress of the last Foulis baronet, Lord of the Manor of Ingleby Greenhow, married the 2nd Lord de Lisle & Dudley of Penshurst Castle, who was a descendant of the said Sir Philip Sydney. So the two estates came to belong to the same family.

Apparently there are another 4 or 5 similar stones in the neighbourhood. I wonder if those acorns have had more success.

For those who like a scenic posting, there is a fine view of Roseberry from the stone looking almost due north, unfortunately that spruce tree prevented me from getting it as a backdrop, so a bonus today:

From Sunny Bank Plantation

Penshurst Acorn Stone map



A local name for this ancient oak surviving in a split rock. The Woodland Trust records its girth as 6 metres. A trees girth is usually used as an estimate of a tree’s age. However when competing with other trees around a tree is likely to be taller with a narrower trunk. It is not know what the surrounding vegetation was like when the tree was in its prime but Medusa has been estimated to be at least 240 years old although I have read one report which gives a figure twice that. Nevertheless we can be sure that in 1777 this tree was at least a sapling, and George III was on the throne and Captain James Cook was on his third and final voyage.

Medusa map

Lawns Hill

An overcast Summer Solstice with heavy rain this morning but the sun finally dropped below the clouds on setting. View from Greenhow Avenue.

Lawns Hill map

Venerable Oak

Seemingly three wizened and gnarled old oak trees growing close together. Actually these are the same tree, the trunk of which has hollowed and rotted away. This makes the girth of the trunk almost 11m indicating a very old tree, well over 600 years.

The British have a special fondness for the oak. The pedunculate variety is the national tree of the United Kingdom. It is generally thought that the oak was the dominant tree of the wildwood which covered the whole of lowland Britain before Neolithic man began the process of clearances. But nobody really knows, as there are no surviving examples of that original wildwood. However modern pollen analyses have shown that the dominant tree was the lime. Oak was present of course along with hazel and elm.

Oak has been known as the crooked wood or compass timber because it naturally formed the best shapes for the cruck framework of ships and buildings. An Elizabethan ship would require 2,000 oak trees, felled from a wood covering 50 acres and only maturing after 50 years.  Oak was also coppiced with the poles being used for charcoal, pit props or the extraction of tannin from the bark.

But this tree has somehow managed to avoid being felled and The Woodland Trust say it is a “maiden” tree and so has not been coppiced. 600 years on it is still going strong. Regular readers will recognise that it has been featured in this blog before, two years ago.

Ancient Oak Tree map

Turkey Nab

I parked at Bank Foot, below Turkey Nab, said to derive from the local name for the grouse: wild turkeys. Or else it may come from Thurkilsti, the name of the ancient drovers’ road from Kildale to Kirbymoorside. From Bank Foot the track winds up Ingleby Bank, circling past the nab. The last time I actually climbed to the nab there was no cairn. Since them someone has gone to a lot of effort to re-build it. A rather precarious construction, on a sloping overhanging ledge.

I thought about William Parkinson, hung and gibbeted on this spot in 1729 for the murder of a Scottish drover at Great Broughton. He was tried at York assizes and brought back for the sentence to be carried out. All within fifteen days. Swift justice.

Later on my route I visited various sandstone outcrops and stones on Ingleby Moor and came across some verses on a piece of paper secreted away. These strangely resonated with my earlier thoughts of William Parkinson:

They hauled him to the crossroads
As day was at its close;
They hung him to the gallows
And left him for the crows.

His hands in life were bloody,
His ghost will not be still
He haunts the naked moorlands
About the gibbet hill.

And oft a lonely traveler
Is found upon the fen
Whose dead eyes hold a horror
Beyond the world of men.

The villagers then whisper,
With accents grim and dour:
“This man has met at midnight
The phantom of the moor.”

No title, no author. But back home Google came up trumps. They’re from The Moor Ghost by Robert E. Howard, an American poet who as far as I can tell never visited England yet alone the North York Moors. Still, a weird coincidence. I wonder if whoever left the paper knew about William Parkinson.

Greenhow Botton

Most of the steep banks guarding the western edge of the North York Moors take their name from the community or parish at their foot so we have Ingleby Bank and Greenhow Bank. Jackson’s Bank, overlooking the flat valley of Greenhow Botton is an exception although I’ve no idea who Jackson was. Botton is old Scandanavian word for a flat bottomed valley.

Known locally as Midnight Corner supposedly because in winter the sun doesn’t reach the north facing valley. But this observation must have been around for sometime, a Midnight House is shown on the 1857 Ordnance Survey map below a Midnight Wood.

Across the valley the Ingleby Incline can be seen diagonally climbing Greenhow Bank, opened in 1861 to carry ironstone from Rosedale to the furnaces at Ferryhill. Below the incline, in the centre of the photo is Old Sheepfold Farm, to give it its modern name, and to its right the buildings of an outdoor centre can just be made out. This was built on the site of another farm called Siberia, at the foot of an earlier incline climbing up to the Ingleby Ironstone Mine, a short lived venture lasting just four years from 1856 to 1860. The navvies who built the original branch railway and incline lived in a temporary camp in the fields around the centre. This scheme must have been only just complete before the navvies went on to upgrade the railway and build the new incline to Rosedale.

On the steep slopes much of the forestry, planted after World War I to provide a strategic timber resource for the country, is being felled. Hopefully native trees, alder, rowan, willow, oak and birch, will be planted in their place creating varying habitats for wildlife and plants.


Cleveland Hills

One of the delights of supervising Duke of Edinburgh groups on expedition is the unfamiliar views of familiar hills. Cringle Moor still has a covering of overnight mist which blanketed the area this morning. Ten minutes later there was blue skies all around.

But the rapeseed hides the Public Footpath that the group was intending to use. Crops are not supposed to be grown on a public right of way. If a Public Footpath is ploughed, the farmer is supposed to restore it to a minimum width of 1 metre within 14 days of ploughing. This presents a particular difficulty for young Duke of Edinburgh participants who are generally unconfident of their navigational skills and rights. Confusion inevitably follows.

Ingleby murder most foul

Good Friday 1753 and Thomas Harper, a farmer, was at home at Ingleby Manor and ready to receive his neighbouring farmers as guests for dinner as was the custom at Easter. Amongst the guests was to be his son-in-law, William Smith who had a farm in Great Broughton, a few miles south. It was also the custom for one of the guests to bring the cake. William offered. It may have been a Simnel Cake, a cake traditionally eaten to break Lent but which is since more attributed to Easter but the local superstition was the Good Friday cake brought luck and anyone who had a slice should never want money or “victuals” all the year round.

It so happened that only William and one other guest, the local butcher, came to dinner, for one reason or other the other farmers could not make it so only Thomas Harper and his two children, William and Anne, had a share of the cake. The maid servant was also invited to a piece but she did not like the taste and Thomas laughed at her for saying so.

Soon Thomas and both the children became severely ill. Thomas died at six o’clock, Annie three hors later and young William lingered until six o’clock in the morning. A Coroner’s Jury was held later that day and recorded a verdict of “Wilful murder by persons unknown”. William Smith was not a suspect until he disappeared on Easter Day and a orders was sent out for him to be apprehended.

Smith was 22 years old and had a wife (Harper’s other daughter) and a child. He had intended to flee to Ireland but got as far as Liverpool before his conscience got the better of him He returned to North Yorkshire where he confessed. The motive was money, he wanted the inheritance of Harper’s estate. He therefore devised his plan to mix arsenic with the flour used in the cake; at that time the poison could be brought opening over the counter for use in killing rats.

At York assizes that Autumn, Smith was found guilty of poisoning Thomas Harper and his two children, William and Anne Harper, and received the death sentence. He was subsequently hanged at York on 14th August, 1753. Before he died he left a final letter to his wife:

“My Dear Betty, I am an undone man; I have brought shame on myself, and on you, and my dear infant. But do not think any more of such an unworthy person as I am. It is well I am dead, for who knows I might have poisoned you and my child. Think no more of me. Look on me as quite lost, and as though there never had been such a person. But let me recommend to you farmer Alcock’s son, who courted you before I did. Marry him and carry on the farm, and as my son grows up, pray do not let him know there ever was such an unhappy person as I am. Farewell! Walk in the paths of virtue and sobriety; go to church, and mind what is good. You know I did not love to go to Church, and you see now what is come of it.”

In the photo, taken from Turkey Nab, Ingleby Manor is hidden away left of centre in the trees. More than likely parts of it date from the 16th century but substantially modifications have been undertaken in intervening centuries. According British History Online in the 18th Century it was the residence of the Foullis family. It likely that Harper did not actually live in the manor house but on one of the farms on the estate.


Poultry Crossing, Bank Foot

In his classic book Round and About the North Yorkshire Moors, Tom Scott Burns writes:

“One could never imagine an evil deed ever being committed within the quiet hamlet of Bank Foot, yet under the sheltering gaze of Turkey Nab a callous deed was committed on the night of Friday the 3rd October 1924. In the modest railway cottage at the incline foot, Hannah Ward and her younger brother waited long and patiently for their father’s return from the Dudley Arms pub at Ingleby Greenhow. Fearing something may have happened to her father, Hannah called at their neighbour’s, Medd Carpenter. With candle-lantern in hand, Medd stepped out into the blackness to appease Hannah’s fears. A brief search, and then a trail of blood was followed to a haystack near Bank Foot where the partially-concealed body of Frank Ward lay dead. The police called the following morning at Poultry House Crossing, the home of Jerry Dalton, near Bank Foot Farm. His wife said he had left the house to check some rabbit snares. In the process of scouring hedgerows and fields in the immediate area, police discovered Dalton with a self-inflicted wound slumped in a culvert. Dalton was convicted for the brutal murder and robbery of his best friend Frank Ward, and subsequently hanged for his crime.”

Frank Ward had worked as a banksman on the Rosedale mineral railway for 40 years. He lived in one of the cottages at the foot of the incline and was due to go on a holiday to Whitby the following day. His work colleague and so called friend,  Hubert (Jerry) Dalton ,was a platelayer on the same line. He lived a mile and a half or so from Ward at Poultry House Crossing.

In the photo the course of the old railway is on the left. The lady who lives at the cottage confirms it was previously known as Poultry House Cottage and was where Dalton lived. Incidentally Roseberry Topping can be seen just poking above the horizon on the right.

But I digress. At the bottom of the incline the men received their weekly pay packets and parted company at Ward’s cottage while Dalton walked along the railway to Poultry House Cottage.

That evening Ward set off on the three mile walk in the dark to Ingleby Greenhow. His intention was to pay his debts to village tradesmen, then later to call in at The Dudley Arms for a well deserved pint of beer.  He mistrusted banks and always carried with him his savings which amounted to about £100. His route would have taken him past Dalton’s cottage. It seems that Ward never arrived and his body was found in the early hours of the morning. Dalton was arrested for his murder for which  he was convicted at the Yorkshire Assizes in Leeds, and subsequently hanged.

For an excellent, more detailed account see the online edition of Now & Then magazine (June 2000) which is a freebie magazine delivered locally.

Lady Mary’s Seat

Located near a muddy forest track in Battersby Plantation this seat has been carved out of a large boulder. It is inscribed “LADY MARY ROSS 1837”. The area must have changed considerably since the seat was carved. In 1837 there would have been no forestry plantation. Instead a wood called Park Plantation with views overlooking Ingleby Manor. Lady Mary Ross was the mother of Mary Foulis of Ingleby Manor and the wife of Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross 7th Baronet and although their family estate was at Balnagowan in Ross-shire, she must have been a frequent visitor to Ingleby. This was said to be her favourite walk. Lady Mary Ross died in 1842.