Sunday, 2 February 2020

A virtual walk around Richmond (Yorkshire)

Although I haven't lived there for decades, I still have a very strong sense of coming from Richmond in Yorkshire. My family on my mother's side have lived there for at least two hundred years and, before that, they lived in and around the villages of Thoralby and West Burton near Aysgarth, in Wensleydale, up the dales from Richmond. The men seem to have been mostly shoemakers and stonemasons, with a few soldiers thrown in.
My favourite painting of Richmond, by John Aldridge, 1955
I'm currently preparing to do a course in memoir-writing at the Faber Academy in London in a few weeks' time. The tutor will be Julia Blackburn and she's the reason why I have paid to attend the course (being normally unwilling to part with money for such things -- my memorable weekend with Martin Parr was the last time I put my hand in my pocket for such a thing). I've loved Julia's books for years and really admire the way she combines original and fascinating subjects with personal material so beautifully.
I've read and loved all of these books by her. My favourite is The Three of Us, because I'm so interested in families. I want to write a family memoir myself and have been gathering source material for it for a long time. I'm hoping the course is going to galvanise me into choosing one of several directions that I can see it taking and then getting on and writing it.
     There's a great reading list for the course which I'm working my way through -- memoirs characterised by a variety of forms, including Jackie Kay's autobiographical poem, The Adoption Papers and Giles Waterfield's novel about his grandparents, The Long Afternoon. The course is structured around the reading list and, I think, will give us the chance to try out different forms for our own autobiographical writing. I'm really looking forward to it.
If only my first home had been the beautiful Gothic house in the centre of the photo but it was the tiny cottage squeezed in next door
As soon as you start thinking about your family and your past, the memories crowd in. My approach is to try to capture as many as I can, even if they're fragmentary. I have hundreds of notes already which I'm going to have to try to put into some sort of order. Many of my earliest memories are located in the tiny cottage above, the one with the deep porch. It belonged to my maternal grandmother and she rented it to my Mum and Dad when they were first married. Inside the rooms were pretty spacious and it didn't feel cramped. There was a back garden that you could also reach down an alley that started a bit further along the road.

The road, called Newbiggin, was cobbled, and my actual earliest memory is of setting off in a car along Newbiggin and, before we reached the end, the back door beside where I was sitting swinging open. I saw the cobbles rushing along beneath me through the opening. No back-seat seatbelts in those days but I didn't fall out.
Newbiggin was down in one of the older parts of Richmond, but when I was nine we moved up to Maison Dieu (pronounced in a no-nonsense Yorkshire way as 'Mason Dew' -- the name came from an old religious hospital that had been there long before). This was a homecoming for my Mum because she had grown up in the tall house at the far right of the postcard above. The postcard shows a view of Maison Dieu from the River Swale down below (and my junior school is in the bottom left corner too). Here's the view from up on the road itself:
My great-granny was very entrepreneurial and, having run a 'department store' called Mattison's Bazaar down in the market place, when WWII broke out and things weren't so good in retail, she bought the red-brick house and let out some of the many rooms to boarders.
     Now imagine that you're crossing the road from that house, at a slight angle to the right, where the pavement rises above the level of the road. You'll be at the front gate of my new home.
The house with the blue door and the white chair outside was now our house. I lived there very happily until I went to university. Ultimately, my Mum lived there on her own before she moved down south to live near me, at the very end of her life. The house was sold and became a Bed & Breakfast. In October 2019 it 'starred' in an episode of Four in a Bed on Channel 4, which gave me a very creepy opportunity to snoop around my own former home. It had been changed around inside: bedrooms had been converted into en suite bathrooms and everything faced in a different direction from before. It was very therapeutic for me to see inside again because it magically cured me of the sad nostalgia I used to have for it!
This picture (above) is looking down Maison Dieu from the top of the road. The red-brick house is on the right, but you can only see the tiniest bit of it; my old house is down on the left, again not really visible. The two white buildings with the little bed of shrubs in front of them were both shops when I was growing up. The smaller, cream building was Mrs Boddy's shop and my mother would constantly send me along there to get things for our tea -- we never planned ahead, it seemed! And both shops had copious stocks of sweeties. I swear I was hardly ever without a quarter of something in my pocket or a chocolate bar. We just didn't think about sugar being bad for us in those days.
This is the aerial view of Maison Dieu. You can see it coming to a point on the left, where it meets Darlington Road, and you can see the little patch of shrubs and work out where the two sweet shops were. You can also see B&B at 43 marked, which was my old house.
Above is the same pointed bit, from an old map. And I've overlaid them as well:
The little area round the corner from the two shops is known as Anchorage Hill, because in 1274 an Anchorite nun was shut up in an 'anchorhold' or cell next to a tiny chapel and remained there for the rest of her life (food and water could be passed to her through a 'squint' or narrow gap in the wall). There's no sign of her cell any more but the chapel building is still there. It was eventually converted into three tiny almshouses in 1618. On the old map above you can see it labelled as 'Bowes' Hospital'. The patron of the almshouses was Lady Eleanor Bowes.
This is the Hospital from one end (above) and this (below) is it from the other end:
It's right next to a garage and so there's a monstrous sign obliterating it. I'm not sure whether anyone still lives there -- I think they might do -- but in 1871 my four-times great grandmother, Jane Mattison was one of the three tenants.
Her husband Jonas, a stonemason, had died in 1855. In the previous census, in 1861, she was still living at home at the bottom of Richmond, in Bargate, with a granddaughter, also called Jane, living in, and a boarder to bring in a spot of rent. But at some point after that she moved up to the almshouses. She lived until 1879, probably in the same place. I think relatives of ours named Thwaites lived in two of the other houses on Anchorage Hill, so they probably kept an eye on her.
Incidentally, this portrait of Elizabeth I, by an unknown artist, was found in one of the almshouses and is now kept safe in Richmond Town Hall -- I wonder if it was in the one my great granny lived in?
If you're still with me on this virtual tour of Richmond, we're turning round again now and heading back towards the town centre.
This is the war memorial at the top of Frenchgate. The big beast of a house on the right is Oglethorpe House, for many years painted a lurid mustard yellow. My mother lived there when she was very little, with her mum and dad, but not for very long. When I was three I went to kindergarten there, which I loved, even though I always had terrible scabs on my knees from falling over on the gravel paths that were all we had to play on.
We can look down Frenchgate from the war memorial: my grandparents and aunts and uncles have lived in so many of the houses in this street!
We're continuing along Pottergate, past this special scented garden intended to appeal to blind people as well as the sighted. I always insisted on running along the wall of the garden when I was little and once, inevitably, fell off, into the rose bushes. I've still got the scar where a thorn just missed my eye.
You can see the red-brick end of a house, on the left. It's the start of a little row of three Victorian houses.
The second and third houses in the terrace share a porch. I'm not going to give anything away here but I stepped through one of the doors under that porch quite a few times when I was a teenager. Teenage kicks were had in the attic... that's all I'm saying (pretty innocent kicks, actually, but even so). Over the road is another gorgeous Gothic house which was converted into a 'cottage hospital' in 1899. It's now a funeral directors'. The road that opens up between the two houses is Quakers Lane, where my best friend lived in a lovely house, just where you can see the orange barriers and some workmen.
This was the bottom of their drive and she and I spent sooooo much time sitting on that bench, seeing who might be coming along.
I could go on and on, wandering around Richmond, to Billy Banks Woods, round the Castle Walk, up and down Lombards Wynd and into every nook and cranny, but I'll stop there. Even though I haven't lived there for over thirty years, I still feel as though I know every paving stone.


susanhal said...

Well I very much enjoyed that walk around Richmond with you and hearing a few of your family stories. One of my cousins lived there for many years - Pilmoor hill - and moved to Reeth a few years ago and my son in law grew up there living with his Gran, who came from Richmond herself.
I'm very pleased to find your blog and will enjoy reading old posts .
hope you do write the book, ive just bought Split Cow Lane ...
hope you see this my comments often just disappear

Anna @wijzemeisjes said...

Oh no... I had typed a long reply after reading your piece, but I was interrupted and now it's gone! I hope and want to type it again, but I can't promise... Fingers crossed!