Tuesday 23 December 2014


The Snap-dragon fly from Lewis Carol's third chapter of Through The Looking Glass, illustrated by John Tenniel. Its body is made of plum-pudding, its wings of holly-leaves, and its head is a raisin burning in brandy...it lives on frumenty and mince-pie.

'In the matter of the Christmas feasting there is nothing so distinctive of it as in the making of the frumety. He is no Yorkshireman who does not know what furmety or frumety is. It is one of our institutions. As regularly as Christmas comes round preparations are made for the manufacture of this Yorkshire dish.'
Rev. M.C.F. Morris from Yorkshire Folk Talk 1892

A 17th century recipe for frumety
The traditional method of making frumety (or frumenty, furmenty, formtiy, however you spell it, all versions are based on the Latin frumentum meaning grain) was a time consuming labour. If a household had no wheat of their own, the tradition was to beg some from neighbouring farms on St Thomas' Day (December 21st).

The wheat should be soaked in water for a day then put in a bag and beaten to get the hullins, the outer coats of the wheat grains, to seperate. Often this was done by thrashing the bag with a flail. Then the whole lot was put into water. The hullins would float to the surface and the pure wheat could be extracted.
After being put in an oven to cree for two or three hours, milk was added and the pan was put over the fire to boil. Sugar was added together with nutmeg and any other spices and flavourings according to people's tastes and fancies.

The dish was originally eaten on Christmas Eve together with cheese, gingerbread and yule cakes. These were cakes of currants, citron and other tasty ingredients. Each person had one to eat with the frumety.

Easier recipes for frumety can be found without too much trouble on the web that generally don't involve setting about a sack of wheat on the kitchen floor with a flail.

Recipe 1
Recipe 2
Recipe 3

Monday 22 December 2014


In the 1800s Whitby gingerbread was famous throughout the country with a reputation equal to that of York Muffins. Made from a stiff dough flavoured with coriander, peel and black treacle, it was consumed traditionally at Christmas. It was also recommended for new mothers, often together with cheese. In later versions of the recipe golden syrup replaced the treacle. A fruited gingerbread was also available which included raisins, sultanas and currants in the mix.

A confectioner advertising gingerbread
Young estimated the amount sold in Whitby in one year to be around 12 tons. It was said that between September and December alone 5 tons were produced. It was dispatched far and wide in tea chests, often to ship's captains in distant lands whose crews longed for a taste of home.
Ditchburn's, who had a shop on Church Street, made Whitby gingerbread from 1868 until 1952. Beilby and Edwards' shop on St. Ann's Staith was right next door to Foster and Wright's confectioners. Both emporiums produced the spicy treat, so competition must have been fervent. Sometimes this traditional gingerbread is confused with peppercakes. These however were seasoned with Jamaican pepper.

Whilst the plain type was traditionaly made in a hoop and then decorated on top, the fruited variety was pressed into wooden moulds. These had patterns or pictures cut into them, often by skilled jet workers. Fourteen moulds are on display in Whitby Museum. They date from the 17th to the early 18th centuries and show such things as ladies and gentlemen in their finery, Whitby's coat of arms with its three ammonites and other delicately carved motifs.

Gingerbread moulds in Whitby Museum
Ellizabeth Botham's, craft bakers since 1865, still produce the delicacy today. This is their description of the product.

Original Whitby Gingerbread is a block gingerbread peculiar to the town and has been made here for many hundreds of years. It is quite unlike any other Gingerbread available as it is baked to a firm loaf with a texture between a bread and a biscuit. It is not a cake or a biscuit as many people would imagine.

This high quality product is delicious sliced thinly, buttered and eaten with a farmhouse cheese, such as Wensleydale or Coverdale and is also delightful with preserve.

Without doubt, a perfect speciality to be eaten on a crisp winter's day in front of a glowing fire.

Link: Botham's Whitby Gingerbread

Monday 17 November 2014


This bronze age circle of stones on the edge of Harwood Dale forest looks particularly brooding in the gloom of a November afternoon beneath a sky of gathering rain. Of the original 24 stones, 15 remain. They are set in a low earth bank and the circle has a diameter of around 8 metres.

The three centre stones form part of a burial cist. One of the flat stones that originally formed a wall of the cist can be seen behind these three set edgewise into the earth. Four of the stones which formed the lid were marked with cup and ring designs and now reside in the safety of Scarborough Museum.

In his Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology of North-East Yorkshire (1993) D. A. Spratt records six cup and ring stones from this site now in Scarborough Museum, given by Mr John Tissiman in 1852.
The area around the circle was originally dotted with a number of sepulchral cairns, many of which have now been cleared or incorporated into drystone walls. The first OS map of the area shows around 100 of these to the west and south of the monument, making it part of a much larger assemblage of prehistoric remains.

For more information, folklore and much better photographs see Richard Locker's Liminal Whitby article on The Druid Stones.

Saturday 14 June 2014


The Cleveland dyke is an intrusion of dark, hard rock which runs in a more or less straight line from the valley of the Tees near Eaglescliffe station for 31 miles as far as Fylingdales Moor near Robin Hood's Bay. The dyke consists of whinstone, an igneous rocks formed by the solidification of molten material. It supposedly gets its name from the sound it makes when hit by a hammer.

The dyke has been dated to 26 million years old, meaning it was formed in the Miocene period geologically speaking. Whinstone has been mined near Beck Hole since the early 1800s. Its usage was mainly as roadstone, although some was also utilised for building work. The dyke is between 30 to 40 feet wide, extremely deep and bounded by about 3 to 6 feet of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks, in this case sandstone transformed by heat into what the miners called 'China rock' because of its white appearance.

Driving along toward Beck Hole from the Goathland turn off of the A169, the huge scar of the whinstone quarries in the dyke can be seen to the right of the road. Hidden away to the left in the heather is a small, ruined building and beside it is a tunnel. This is the entrance to an adit which leads 1770 feet and meets the dyke deep beneath the moors, at which point the mine workings are around 140 feet below the quarry floor. The mine was known as Sil

The entrance to the adit, dated 1940
When operating, this tunnel was laid with a 42" gauge track on which the mined stone was transported from the workings to a crushing plant above Goathland station. The track was graded so that normally the trucks would run by themselves downhill. The empty trucks were hauled back into the mine by horses. The mechanical crusher at Goathland was powered by a steam engine for most of its working lifetime.

The crushing plant above Goathland station
Under the window of the ruined mine offices the motto 'LEAD THOU ME ON' can be seen carved into the stone. The date 1899 can also be found nearby. However, the entrance to the tunnel is dated 1940. The mystery of the discrepancy between these two dates can be solved by a quick glance around the site. A round bomb crater, now filled with water, shows that damage was caused here. During wartime lights were set on the moors to draw enemy attention away from the large centres of industry at Teesside. This may well be the reason for the bomb crater.

The miner's motto 'LEAD THOU ME ON'
The ruined mine offices and the bomb crater
 The mine had ceased working by 1951, although interest in it from cavers and industrial archaeology enthusiasts has increased. It seems in the early 1990s it was possible to enter the mine, but now it is stoved in about 5m from the entrance. York Caving Club have recently applied to work on the adit to make it accessible once again, indeed a vertical access shaft has already been created and capped off by a locked lid.

The photograph below shows the mine in 1920. You can just pick out three miners and the railway track coming out of the tunnel. It gives some idea of scale.

The source for most of this article was Peter Wainright's excellent booklet The Mines and Miners of Goathland, Beckhole and Greenend. Peter goes into details of mine ownership, the fates of individual miners and anecdotes and newspaper reports concerning Sil Howe. It can be purchased from Whitby Bookshop.