Category Archives: Growing up in the 1950s

Staycation 2020 – a Washout in Staithes

We had arrived on a glorious sunny day which had made me rather optimistic for the remainder of the week.  But the forecast wasn’t at all promising. I don’t always take much notice of the weather forecast but this time the Met Office had got it spot on and when we woke in the morning there was heavy rain and a storm and it looked disappointingly permanent.

So we spent the morning in the cottage, the children didn’t seem to mind, they had their phones and devices to keep them occupied but by afternoon I was beginning to get bored so pulled on my rain coat and ventured out into the wet streets.

It was a different place completely today, empty pavement tables abandoned and dripping, the occasional visitor soaked and unhappy, a deserted beach and empty tourist shops.

Even in the rain however Staithes is lovely, a muddle of whitewashed cottages squeezed between towering cliffs on the North Yorkshire coast, it sits on either side of ‘the Beck’ which is a meandering creek which cuts through a dramatic cleft in the rocky landscape and emerges into the sea between soaring cliffs. A footbridge crosses the beck, the south side is in Scarborough Borough Council and the north is in Cleveland and Redcar. At one time it was the largest fishing port in the north-east with a side-line in minerals and mining and there is still a potash mine nearby.

Boulby Mine is a large site located close to the village which at four thousand six hundred feet deep it is the deepest mine of any kind in Europe and has a network of underground roads extending under the sea totalling over six hundred miles in length. It mines for potash and polyhalite both used as fertilisers and this is the only place in the World where polyhalite is mined in a seam three and a half thousand feet below the North Sea.

In its heyday Staithes had around fifty sea captains, most famously of course, Captain James Cook who came here as a boy to work in a chandler’s shop, but then caught sea fever and abruptly left. The shop is long gone but the cottage is still lived in, unlike many others which have become holiday lets but its place at the heart of ‘Captain Cook Country’ now underpins Staithes’ busy tourist season.

I visited the local museum which has three main themes, Captain Cook of course, the long gone railway line which once served the coastal fishing and mining industries and tales of smugglers. This section of the North Yorkshire is almost as famous as Cornwall as a location for smugglers. I used to like tales about smugglers when I was a boy, this is a booklet that I bought in with my pocket money in Cornwall in about 1966…

The Yorkshire coast is just two hundred miles from Europe across the North Sea. Ships taking sixteenth and seventeenth century exports to the mainland continent often returned loaded with contraband and other items that was destined to avoid the revenue duty. 

It was the most unlikely of contraband that drove the trade – tea. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Yorkshire folk loved a cuppa no less than now, but tea was one of the most expensive commodities because of punitive levels of taxation, which at one point reached nearly one hundred and twenty per cent.

Just look what happened in the American colonies as a consequence of a tax on tea!

It cost up to thirty-five shillings a pound – but in the Netherlands it was only seven old pence. Smugglers seized the opportunity to buy it for next to nothing and sell for many times more than what they paid and a trade sprang to life that operated from 1700 until about 1850.

Yorkshire’s coastline was ideal for smuggling, with miles of deserted beaches where contraband could be landed and caves for its storage. Villagers were insular and wary of customs men from the outside, so they kept their mouths shut and took the smugglers’ backhanders. Ships would lay off the coast, their cargoes being run in by smaller boats. The trade flourished, with Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Landing and Runswick Bay the favoured landing places, the contraband being moved inland by pack-horses or on carts with their wheels muffled by rags.

And so I soaked up the history and later I soaked up more rain as I walked the steep hill to the car park to buy more time and to visit the local store to buy more provisions for the lock-down evening: nothing to do with Covid, just the abysmal weather.

Staycation 2020 – North Yorkshire

As for everyone else, the Covid pandemic made rather a mess of travel plans for this year.

We made it to Cyprus in March just ahead of the crisis but then had flights cancelled to Spain in April and to Lisbon in June. Only recently Easyjet cancelled our September flights to Sicily but I have to say that I was not desperately disappointed by that.

Once a year I like to go away with my grandchildren and we have got into the habit of finding somewhere in England. Encouraged by our previous good fortune with the weather in Suffolk in 2018, Cornwall and Yorkshire in 2019 and with some easing of the lockdown restrictions, I found a cottage in North Yorkshire in the coastal village of Staithes, a place that I have wanted to visit for some time.

So, in the last week of August we crossed the Humber Bridge and made our way north and whether they wanted one or not a planned an itinerary that included some history lessons.

Half way through the journey we stopped at the village of Stamford Bridge close to the city of York where there was an important battle in September 1066.

The death of King Edward the Confessor of England in January 1066 had triggered a succession struggle in which a variety of contenders from across north-western Europe fought for the English throne. These claimants included the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada who launched an invasion fleet of three hundred ships and an estimated nine thousand soldiers.

The invaders sailed up the Ouse before advancing on York and things went well at first and they defeated a northern English army at the Battle of Fulford close to York.

At this time the English King Harold was in Southern England, anticipating an invasion from France by William, Duke of Normandy. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he headed north at great speed and completed the journey from London to Yorkshire, a distance of nearly two hundred miles in only four days, enabling him to take the Norwegians completely by surprise who until the English army came into view the invaders remained unaware of the presence of a hostile army anywhere in the vicinity.

Harold’s victory was emphatic and as terms of the surrender the Vikings promised never to bother England again so the Kingdom seemed safe. A fortnight later Harold was dead at the Battle of Hastings and William was pronounced King. Harold’s victory at Stamford Bridge was important to William as it meant the north was secured and William could get on with organising the Norman Conquest.

There is another famous Stamford Bridge in England, in London, the home of Chelsea Football club. It is close to a river, a tributary of the Thames and the name means “the bridge at the sandy ford” and has nothing to do with the village in Yorkshire.

The first history lesson over we continued our journey north-east towards our destination.

The drive across the North Yorkshire Moors is rather tedious it has to be said and patience was running out in the back seat of the car and there was a chorus of complaints “How many more miles?” “When will we get there?” “How many more minutes?” but there was little point rushing, it was a nice day and we couldn’t get into the cottage until four o’clock which was a couple of hours away. I tried my dad’s favourite tactic – a challenge to see the sea first but that didn’t work.

We stopped for a short while at a place called Sandsend which was so busy with staycationers and it was difficult to find a parking place. Once we had managed it we strolled for a while along the front and let the sea air and the fierce wind refresh us after three hours in the car, queued forever for an ice cream and then carried on.

The children would have liked to go onto the beach but I am a bit of a spoilsport in this regard and didn’t relish the prospect of clearing a tonne of sand out of the car which they would have been sure to deposit. In a moment of madness I promised them a visit to the beach later when we had reached our destination and settled in.

We arrived safely in Staithes and it was everything that I was expecting it to be. A charming tangle of narrow winding streets leading down to a walled harbour and pastel painted cottages in a labyrinth of narrow passages and built vertically into the sides of the cliffs. It is quite possibly one of the most photogenic seaside towns in the whole of the country. It was once one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast and famous for herring, so much herring that special trains had to be laid on to transport it away, the cottages all belonged to the fishermen but they are mostly holiday lets now.

I was happy to sit for a while on the terrace and enjoy a beer in the sunshine and Kim a glass of wine but the children hadn’t forgotten my earlier rash bribery/promise and in the late afternoon we were at the muddy beach down by the harbour.

My Lead Soldier Collection – The WW2 Submarine Captain

Submarine Captain

During the Second World War, the Royal Navy lost two hundred and fifty-four major warships in addition to over a thousand minor vessels and auxiliary vessels due to enemy action and to counter these losses a huge shipbuilding programme was undertaken.

The enormous expense involved forced the Government to appeal to the British people to assist in meeting the bill and weeks were set aside during which local communities were encouraged to save to adopt locally a warship.

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My Lead Soldier Collection – RAF Battle of Britain

RAF WW2

I have never actually written a post about the Battle of Britain but there is one about the two planes the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

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Memory Posts – Religion

Benedictine Monk Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” – Voltaire

I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it. It never came. I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

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On This Day – Aldeburgh in Suffolk

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Just a couple of years ago on 7th August 2018 I was in East Anglia in the UK visiting the town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk…

Aldeburgh Family

After a visit to the seaside resorts of Southwold and Lowestoft we travelled a little further south today to the town of Aldeburgh pronounced Awl borough, famous most of all for being the home town of the English composer Benjamin Britten.  Place names are like this in East Anglia – Mundeslea is Munslea and Happisburgh is Haze-brrr.

I wondered if my grandchildren would like it because Aldeburgh is an old fashioned genteel sort of place where people of a certain age (mostly my age, I confess) visit to amble along the pebble beach.  The objective for most is to pass judgment on the scallop sculpture which seems to be the most controversial thing about the place (half the town love it, the other half hate it) and later find a tea shop for a cucumber sandwich and a slice of Victoria Sponge cake.

Aldeburgh Suffolk Beach Scallop Sculpture

Aldeburgh is that sort of a place, a bit upmarket, a bit fond of itself, snobby really.  In 2012 the residents fought an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to prevent working class Tesco from opening a supermarket in the town because they didn’t consider it appropriate, they probably would have preferred middle class Waitrose.  Tesco got its approval and is still there but in nearby Southwold the town objected to Costa Coffee, it opened in 2013 but closed down in 2019 citing local opposition.

I confess that I like the sculpture (I also like Tesco) and it seems that a lot of other visitors do also because they are drawn to it like moths to a flame.  I would welcome something like it in my nearby seaside town of Cleethorpes for sure. Local people  claim that it spoils the beach and regularly petition to have it removed.

When I say local people I wonder just who they are because according to official statistics second homes make up about a third of the town’s residential property.  This is an attractive and sought after location for people with lots of money that work in London.  A sort of Chelsea by the Sea.  This is the sort of thing that local people should be campaigning against.

Aldeburgh Beach Walk

So we visited the sculpture and the children climbed on it and used it as an alternative playground and then we walked with some difficulty along the blue flag beach with pebbles crunching under our feet and occasionally leaking into the space between our feet and our sandals requiring several stops to remove the offending sharp articles before we could comfortably continue.

Along the way we passed the fishing boats drawn up onto the shingle, rugged craft with peeling paint, rusted rigging and knotted nets, their work done now for the day and undergoing basic maintenance and essential repairs and the overnight catch being sold in the simple wooden huts with chalk board signs along the side of the road.  I bought some overpriced smoked fish filo pastry parcels and looked forward to them later with my tea.

Aldeburgh Boat and Beach

Eventually we reached the town, the children had ice cream and we stopped for tea and cake at the Cragg Sisters Tea Room which served a mighty fine cup of tea and some excellent cake and scones.  As I anticipated the children were tired of Aldeburgh now and anxious to get back to the swimming pool at the Kessingland holiday park so while they went back without us I found myself in a street of expensive shops with Kim and my Mother, both determined to return with an unnecessary purchase.

I left them to it and wandered the High Street until I came across a long line of people all patiently queuing for something, rather like a line of Russian housewives lining up for bread in a time of shortage.

It was a fish and chip shop, a famous seaside fish and chip shop as it turned out that is regularly voted the best in England and clearly a lot of people agreed with this judgment.  I would have liked some fish and chips but I am not very patient in a queue and I had just had a cheese scone and tomato pickle at the tea room so I declined to join the end of the line and went instead to the beach to photograph the boats.

But I couldn’t get the desire for batter and grease and salt and vinegar out of my head so later I had fish and chips in nearby Lowestoft because few things capture the spirit of the English seaside quite like the furious sizzle of a fillet of haddock in a deep fat fryer.

Chips, Crisps or Fries – How Do You Eat Yours?

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Memory Posts – Television

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When I was a boy in the 1960s television sets were rather basic and only received two channels BBC and ITV and the signal was received via a large ‘H’ shaped metal aerial, usually bolted on to the chimney. Just turning them on was quite a long process because instead of today’s micro chips, televisions had an antiquated system of valves, wires and resisters and these took some time to ‘warm up’.

In the picture my sister Lindsay can’t understand why the 1959 X-BOX won’t connect.

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Believe it or Not Tales – Spooks

Earlier today my blogging pal John in Australia posted a ‘Believe it or Not’ story.  Shamelessly copying his idea here is one of my own about a séance…

Ouija Board

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On This Day – The Disappearing Coast of Yorkshire

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 26th July 2019 I was in Skipsea in Yorkshire just a few miles north of where I live…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

The advance of the sea is relentless.

Every year along the Holderness coast nearly two metres of coastline is swept away, an estimated average of two million tonnes which is moved south on the tides towards the Humber estuary and builds land there where they don’t want it whilst it takes it away from here where they do.

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Arizona, Phoenix Nights and The Rustler’s Rooste

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Rustler’s Rooste served cowboy food and a sign on the door said ‘Better come hungry’; so it was a good job that we had Dave and his reliable appetite with us!  There was a fabulous menu with an extensive choice of food including rattlesnake as a starter.

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