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Malcolm Hanson - Skipton tourist guide

Malcolm Hanson



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Forward by Malcolm Hanson

I have to admit to being something of a confirmed bachelor, but if my love affair with the little town of Skipton continues to grow at it's present rate, then it is likely I will end up marrying her! From its magnificent mediaeval castle - widely acknowledged to be one of the finest examples in the north of England - to the beautiful and enchanting church of The Holy Trinity; and from the attractive canal that in summertime chugs merrily along with gaily painted houseboats to the stately and expansive High Street thronging with market stalls four days a week (not forgetting that on the High Street, Otley Street and Mill Bridge are made the greatest pork pies in the world!) - Skipton offers something for everyone.

In the short time that I have lived here I have uncovered a history that I believe no other town of similar size in England can rival, and if that bold statement arises a certain amount of pessimism within you, then I can guarantee that by the time you have read this booklet all negative thoughts will have been banished from your mind forever. But this booklet contains only a fraction of the history of this quaint little 'barony - set like a jewel in the crown of Yorkshire', and if I am to do justice to my fair bride-to-be then it will take at least a half-dozen more before I can finally rest my pen and say "that's it - that's everything!"

But that is not everything, for Skipton has one further commodity that endears it to 'off cumd'ns' and that is its people. They are happy and warm-hearted and will cheerily greet strangers with a 'grand mornin' eh?' (just call in at any shop or pub to see real service with a smile!) No doubt this experience will be new to many visitors, but although I crossed the great divide - from south to north - to take up the position of Skipton's first full-time Millennium Walk guide, it is not new to me. I am in fact a Yorkshireman born and bred. I'm not an 'off cumd'n'; I'm more a prodigal son - and a very grateful one at that!

So, if you are visiting Skipton for an hour, or a day, or longer, make sure you return in the future, because, just like its people, I love making the re-acquaintance of old friends, and here in Skipton we are all old friends - and good friends.

A little Taster...

There have been some very interesting customs and practices associated with Holy Trinity Church in times past; particularly funerals. Once upon a day, before Victorian-style funerals became the vogue, you might see processions arriving at the porch ‘made up of women and children, dressed in white and holding white ribbons attached to the coffins’ ( Dawson’s History of Skipton 1882) The funerals were nothing like the dirges we recognise today, but ‘were bright with hymns and chants’ with flowers in profusion. In fact, after the deceased had been buried, flowers would be brought in to the church and wherever that person had sat would be made into a bower; and should there be  flowers left over, then the Choir Screen might be similarly adorned. The scents and fragrances emanating from such an abundance of flora must have made the congregation feel, for several days, that they were holding services in heaven.

Still, there were on occasion sad funerals - particularly those for women who had died when giving birth to a child. These funerals traditionally took place at midnight, the procession silent; and lit by torches. (Interestingly, Lady Anne Clifford - in her diaries - describes attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I, stating that: ‘it took place at midnight; my aunts bearing the coffin.’)

Another interesting custom was that of the punishment metered out to those who had  been caught in the act of being unfaithful to their spouses; an ordeal that must have been dreaded by the miscreants. Both male and female might be made to dress in long white gowns and stand in front of the Choir Screen, in full view of the worshippers (a congregation no doubt swelled to capacity by anticipation of the ‘entertainment’) then made to confess, revealing to all and sundry just what they had been up to! What a shame such a custom should be lost in the mists of time; there must be many prominent people in public life who - while preaching to us on faithfulness within the family  - are all ‘at it’, and I’m sure we’d all like to see them in white gowns!

There is plenty of information available on points of interest within the church  (such as the Font, the Lady Chapel and the Anchorite’s Cell, as well as the famous ‘Green Man’ set among the faces on the pillars of roof bosses).  Leaflets and hand-boards festoon the vicinity of the south entrance.

As we leave the church, take a look at the tower, and imagine it festooned in boughs of oak, as for many years on Royal Oak Day - May 29th - towers and steeples throughout the country were decorated with boughs of oak in commemoration of the Restoration, and the hiding of Charles II in an oak tree. The same was done in celebration of the Gunpowder Plot on November 5th, when the festooning was accompanied by bell-ringing and bonfires - yet more examples of traditions and customs that have very sadly disappeared from our own more material world of the 21st century.

We move on now, leaving the churchyard by the west gate, pausing for a second or two to view the ‘loveheart’ set into the headstone laid immediately to the right of the steep steps. From here we move into what is believed to be the oldest parts of Skipton - the Mill Bridge and Chapel Hill areas.

Across the road is a white building known as the Artist’s Cottage, which is thought to be the oldest residence in Skipton. A dwelling  appears here on ancient maps which would seem to date it back to the 14th century. If this should indeed be the original building, then it is almost as old as the church and the castle. Next door is Amy Egan’s, which one can immediately see has a larger than normal entrance. This is because the building once housed Skipton’s first Fire Brigade, back in those days when the engines were horse drawn - in fact, the wooden shutters on either side of the glass doorway are said to be the originals. There was also another brigade beyond Mill Bridge, at the bottom of Chapel Hill, and perhaps the two rivals held races to see who could reach the fire first. The Fire Service has come a long way since then; nevertheless there is a very  comical story that relates to a situation that took place in 1973, when Skipton had opened new headquarters on Broughton Road. Reportedly, on one of the first call-outs the crew wrote off a brand new fire engine when crossing a hump-backed bridge at Threshfield. If this is so, then one wonders if at the time the fire chief might have thought of in future stabling a few horses ‘out back’ - just in case!

If at this point you are feeling ‘peckish’, make sure you call in to Stamford’s ‘celebrated pork-pie shop’ opposite. There are claims they make the best pies in the country - but then, award-winning pies can be found on both the High Street and Otley Street. Please don’t ask me to comment on who I think make the best pies because I haven’t a clue; but as long as they all go on making ‘em, I’ll go on eating ‘em!

We join the canal here, and can do this by ascending steps on either side of the bridge. Whichever, we turn north to follow the path that will take us around the back of Skipton Castle. This is the most scenic part of the Gateway Walk, as the pathway is elevated above and between the canal on the right-hand side, and Eller Beck on the left-hand side.

As we traverse the path we can now see to our right the famous ‘Sceaptone Rock’ of Robert DeRomille reference. It rises from the canal towering to a point 100 feet above us, upon which perches the awesome north-facing battlements of the mostly Clifford-constructed castle of the early 1300’s. Next to this is the longer, and less daunting spectacle of the Tudor wing, built in 1535 for Lady Eleanor Brandon, niece to Henry VIII, by her husband, Henry, 2nd Earl of Cumberland. The contrast is at once prominent, yet  many people will view the two edifices without ever realising the difference!

And finally...

Most people would have turned the horses around and gone back to wherever they had come from, but not Lady Anne Pembroke Clifford. She stood in the shadow of her ruined castle - in the place of her birth - and vowed she would rebuild all of her kingdom, and all of her castles, and if Parliament knocked them down again, she would "....rebuild them again - and shall do so always so long as I have one shilling in my pocket!" It is said that word was sent of this feisty lady' sedition to Cromwell, and he - perhaps knowing something of his opponent's iron will in the matters of her interest, replying, "....Nay, let the Lady Clifford build what she will, she shall have no hindrance from me."

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