The Workhouse

It has been some time since I last posted anything, mainly due to holidays but also because I wanted to gather as much information as possible about this topic.

As with most towns Pickering used to have a workhouse and although there is no evidence of it left today I thought it would be interesting to look into the history. Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover as much as I would have liked but I thought it best to put pen to paper, as it were, and publish something.

Pickering had a workhouse of sorts in the late eighteenth century. Its location is usually given as Undercliff. This area of town still remains and is mostly a row of cottages tucked under the cliff below the castle and opposite the train line heading north to Whitby. I’ve tried searching old maps for clues as to where the workhouse was but I’ve been unsuccessful. I am assuming it may have stood on land to the west of the road which is now occupied by the train station and its associated yards, lines etc. Undercliffe now refers to the stretch of road from the junction of Park Street and Castle Road stretching north out of the town. However, names do change. I have discovered that what we now know as Park Street (no idea why it is called this) was once Bakehouse Lane. Little is known of the inhabitants of this workhouse (or poorhouse) but it was probably quite small.

A Poor Law Union was established in Pickering at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria and a new building was erected to the north-east of the town on Whitby Road. It was officially opened in 1838 and if we look at the census of 1841 we find that Richard (from Pickering) and Ann Spaven were the master and matron of the workhouse and they had an assistant called Elizabeth Lyth. They appeared to have just forty-four residents at that time ranging from infants to a man of 90 years of age. The Spavens remained there for some time but by 1861 George (from Marton) and Sarah Ward had taken their place. There are now only twenty-four ‘inmates’ listed on the census, age range four months to 79 years.

Moving on a further twenty years and Francis (from Birdsall) and Mary Maul are in charge of fifty-two inmates with ages ranging from five months to 83 years. Just ten years later and Robert (from Pickering) and Mary Simpson are ensconced there. Sixty-nine inmates reside there too (one month to 87 years). Our final peek at the census, in 1911, shows Burton (from Osmotherley) and Mary Holmes in charge of sixty-eight inmates with ages ranging from three months to 93 years.

The majority of the inmates throughout this period are from Pickering and its immediate area though there are some from as far away as Scotland. Many of the surnames are familiar and no doubt it is their descendants that still live in the town.

Whilst the workhouses were meant for those that could not afford to support themselves financially it appears they were often used as a convenient place to keep people for a variety of reasons. Most workhouses had an infirmary wing, Pickering included, and these were sometimes used by local doctors in place of a hospital (which would have been few and far between and expensive).  A report in the Whitby Gazette on Saturday, 25th December 1886, gives an example of the workhouse being used in place of a hospital.

Singular Affair.

A man named John Charles, a labourer, of Thornton, is now lying at the Pickering Workhouse in a serious condition, brought about by peculiar and suspicious circumstances. The poor fellow, it seems, was suffering from an infectious skin disease, and he applied to a local chemist and druggist, who sold him box of ointment. The application not proving efficacious, Charles says he went again and was supplied with some medicine. He, however, became so much worse that Dr. Robertson, of Thornton was called in, and recommended the sufferer’s immediate removal to the Pickering Workhouse. Since his reception there his condition has become so serious that his deposition was taken before Major Scoby, and Captain Mitchelson—the Guardians, the Superintendent of Police, and the chemist’s assistant being also present, and the latter cross-examined the expected dying man. Charles was in an extraordinary condition at the time, his skin having peeled off his body, some portions of which were enormously swollen.

A further article in Shields Daily Gazette reports that Mr Charles died on 11th January 1887. The attending doctors told the coroner that they were unaware of any drug or combination of drugs that could cause this effect so he returned a verdict of death by natural causes.

The other use of the workhouse was in place of a prison or place of detention. Another newspaper article, York Herald, Wednesday, 10th February 1892, tells a tale of a young man.

An Incorrigible Pickering Youth Liberated.

The Pickering police have recently had some trouble with a lad named Bointon, aged 11 years, who, after being charged with stealing certain moneys from the shop of a local confectioner, was remanded to the Pickering Workhouse, and while there he proved incorrigible and succeeded in effecting his escape. After recapture he was lodged in the custody of the police. On being brought up on remand the magistrates ordered Bointon’s removal to the York Industrial School for a period of three years. Strange to say, however, before the expiration of a week the lad has been brought back to Pickering with the message that he was incurable, and so James, instead of receiving the punishment ordered by the justices, is once more enjoying the company of his old comrades.

It seems the workhouse could be used for anything the community required.

In the 1930s the workhouse finally closed and became a children’s home.

There were several advertisements for workers in the children’s home, one appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer on Friday 22nd March 1935 and ran as below:


Applications are invited for the following appointments



(c) BOYS’ ATTENDANT (resident or nonresident).

The Committee require two officers for duty at the Pickering Children’s Home, but have not yet determined whether the Male Officer shall be the Superintendent or the Boys’ Attendant. They therefore invite applications from married couples for the positions of (a) Superintendent and Matron. They also invite applications from single persons for the posts of (b) Matron and (c) Boys’ Attendant. It is not yet decided whether the latter officer shall live on the premises.

The salaries attached to the appointments are:

SUPERINTENDENT and MATRON Up to £250 per annum for the Joint appointment, according to qualifications

MATRON Up £125 per annum, according to qualifications

BOYS’ ATTENDANT (resident): £60-£80 per annum.

BOYS’ ATTENDANT (non-resident): £125 per annum.

The resident officers will be allowed board and lodging, and all are superannuable.

Applications, in applicants’ own handwriting, stating age, present and previous occupation and experience, and when able to commence duty, accompanied by copies of not more than three recent testimonials, must be sent to the undersigned not later than 30th March, 1935. Previous Poor Law experience not essential. Application forms are not provided. Applicants will be required to undergo such medical examination as the County Council may direct. HUBERT G. THORNLEY. Clerk of the County Council, County Hall, Northallerton. 6th March.

In the 1939 register the matron is listed as Blanche Parnaby with her assistant Kathleen Broadbent and two childrens’ attendants, Margaret McLoughlan and Dora Teasdale. Due to the privacy laws relating to this register it is impossible to tell how many children were living there at the time.

Later still the workhouse was demolished and in its place there is now an older people’s home.

It is difficult to imagine what it was like living in an institution in those times but we can be assured it was generally grim. If you want to visit a workhouse museum to perhaps get a better idea of life there I can recommend two that I have visited.

Ripon Workhouse Museum

The Workhouse, Southwell (National Trust)

Smugglers’ Repose

untitled_shoot-186A recent trip to Robin Hoods Bay meant me travelling north from Pickering along the Whitby road. About halfway between Pickering and Sleights the road circles the Hole of Horcum before dipping down Saltergate bank, around the Devil’s Elbow, and heading on past RAF Fylingdales. At the bottom of the bank stands a building now known as the Saltersgate Inn, a place I have drank in a number of times and which has several stories attached to it. Unfortunately, on this trip, it was evident that the building was derelict.
The original building was erected in 1648 and converted to an inn in the early eighteenth century. At that time it was called the Waggon and Horses and soon became a popular haunt of travellers along the old salt road between Whitby and Pickering. (I originally thought that at some point along the way it changed its name to the Saltersgate Inn, however, it appears that it has probably been known by both names for many years. The earliest record I can find of it being called the Saltersgate Inn is in 1869 while the latest record I have, at present, of it being called the Waggon and Horses is 1939).

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The inn around 1935

The moors and routes across them were pretty wild at this time and it wasn’t unknown for travellers across the moors to update their wills before setting out. Highwaymen existed to some degree and travellers were not safe unless well escorted. The inn stands upon one of the few roads across the moors at that time, it ran from Whitby to Pickering and was often known as the fish track as catches from the coast were the most often carted items along the road to Pickering. The original road did not follow the current route through Sleights but headed off across the moor (near to where RAF Fylingdales now stands) in a direct line to the coast.  In addition to fish it is not hard to imagine that other commodities such as illicit rum and brandy were also hauled for sale inland. The inn’s position gives it a good view of the road and any approaching customs officers could be seen long before they reached the inn allowing occupants time to hide anything that ought not be seen.

Written records from those early times are scarce and we rely on the tales told by word of mouth. As these are passed down, probably sat around the fire in the inn, they are embellished and exaggerated to sound more appealing. There are many accounts extant of the history of the inn but on further investigation it seems many of them are incorrect, or maybe just plain fabricated. It is said in some records that in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1707) a tax on the sale and use of salt was imposed upon the population (and indeed across much of the empire). As salt was a vital component of life the tax hit everyone hard.  It is easy to understand why smuggling salt became popular. However, the tax was introduced before Queen Anne came to the throne and was in place by 1693 and fishery salt was either exempt or taxed at a much lower level. I suppose, though, any tax is worse than no tax so the fishermen may well have sought to escape it.

The stories say that to avoid paying the salt tax many fishermen would trek their raw catches across the moor to the inn where they would find a supply of illicit salt waiting for them. The fish were duly salted and then dispatched on to their final destinations. It is said that in the cellars of the inn there remained for many years the beams upon which fish were hung and there are some earth mounds, known as sidings, to the rear of the inn still visible to this day that were thought to be used for unloading the fish from ponies.

Legend has it that one day when the fishermen were about their business at the inn a customs man sneaked up on them unawares. Some stories tell that a group of customs men had visited the inn and finding nothing amiss had left but one of their number returned secretly. Whichever is true it seems one of them surprised the smugglers and was hit soundly across the head, killing him instantly. Not wanting to face the gallows it was decided the body must be hidden. The landlord lifted the stone flags that lay under the fire and they buried the unfortunate officer under them. The fire was returned to its place and lit to deter anyone from exploring in that area too closely. Stories surrounding the inn say that this fire was never allowed to go out from that point onwards and it is thought to have burned continuously for over two hundred years. Many of the landlords since that time swore that they never let the fire die in their time. Certainly, on my visits to the inn, the fire was always burning but I can’t vouch for the truth in the tale. There is once again a problem with these accounts. The salt tax was collected by the Excise Office when it was first introduced but it proved unworkable and a Salt Office was established as part of the Treasury in 1702. Under this office the country was divided into sections each with its own collection officers. If it truly were a customs officer that was murdered, and he was investigating salt smuggling, it must have been between 1693 and 1702.


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The fireplace under which the body is said to have been hidden


There is an alternative tale that states the Devil was once seen in the inn and was attacked by a priest and the landlord. He either stepped backwards and was caught in the flames or the smoke enveloped him, but he disappeared never to return. The fire has been kept burning ever since to ensure the Devil does not appear for his revenge.

I think the former tale is a possibility but I’m sure if the fireplace is excavated now it is unlikely any remains of the customs officer will be found.

We can first start to see the history of the inn appearing in records from the late eighteenth century. The first recorded landlord that I have been able to find was Robert Dunn. He was born about 1786 in nearby Lockton and married Jane Moon on 28th September 1812. He is recorded as the publican for the inn on the 1841 census but it seems he had probably been living there for some time with his wife and daughter, Sarah. They took in lodgers, as many places at that time would have done, and one of these was a John Foster. John and Sarah obviously got on well as they married on 20th September 1837 in Lockton. They continued to live at the inn and had had two sons by 1841, William Moon and Marmaduke.

By 1851 the family was extended as John and Sarah had added daughters Anne, Mary and Lizzie. Unfortunately, young Marmaduke did not survive his first year.

Robert Dunn died in 1858 at the age of 73 and John and Sarah took over the inn. In the 1861 census John and Sarah were living there with Anne, Lizzy, new daughter Sarah and a son, John. Sarah senior’s Mum, Jane Dunn, was also living with them. William had moved out and can be found living as a farmer on nearby Whinny Nab and his sister, Mary, was living with him as a servant.

By 1871 the Foster family had moved out of the inn to a nearby cottage. Mary was back living with her parents as was John but Sarah junior had married and moved out, so too had Lizzy who had children of her own. Jane Dunn was still living with them.

The occupant of the inn was now listed as Thomas Hick. Thomas was born and baptised in Lockton in 1824 and in 1868 he married Mary Readman who was born in Pickering in 1822. He was living at the inn with Mary and their daughter-in-law. In 1881 they are living at the inn with a lodger and a couple of servants. They also list a Thomas Redman as living there and identify him as a grandson, four years of age. I think this implies Mary had been married before and this was the son of one of her sons.

It gets a little confusing from then on. In 1891 Thomas is listed as the head of the household but widowed though I can’t find a date for Mary’s death that makes sense. He is living with the Hoggard family, the head of which, David, is listed as Thomas’ son-in-law. It seems that Thomas had a daughter, Mary Ann, in 1857 but her mother’s maiden name is given as Newby, not Readman. There are obviously several marriages involved in this family and I don’t have the desire to delve deeper to find out where the links meet. Anyway, David Hoggard married Mary Ann in 1883. Young Thomas Redman is now listed as a servant. On to 1901 where Thomas is still there with the Hoggard family but he dies in 1906.

In 1911 David Hoggard is still in Saltersgate with his family but it doesn’t say for definite if it is at the inn though I suspect it is. His occupation is listed as a farmer but this is not unusual as several times on census returns the innkeeper has also been listed as such. I’m sure they tended a farm in addition to the inn as custom cannot have been brisk.

From then onwards the public records are limited as the next census is not yet 100 years old. However, in 1939 the register taken at the beginning of the war lists the occupant as Charles Thistle, born 1898, living there with his wife Anne Elizabeth and their son, Thomas. Some indications are that the Thistle family remained as the innkeepers until the 1960s. Interestingly Charles is said to have been a member of the Observer Corps.

The inn appears regularly in newspaper reports but with no great story to relate. The pub closed in 2007 and was bought the following year by a local builder with the intention of bringing it back to life. It seems that with the recession and the scope of work required being more than anticipated it was abandoned. It has been up for auction at least once since then but with no buyer. Now it seems that it is to be razed to the ground and a new hotel and restaurant built on the site. It probably is beyond saving now, I hope any new build acknowledges the history of this old building and becomes a local attraction in its own right.



The inn as it appears in 2018



Painting the church

Pickering_church-03There has been a church on the rise at the top of the market place for a very long time. It was probably first built by the Saxons though little evidence of that still remains – the top part of the font probably comes from that time and a carved cross shaft is also from the same period. Like most churches it was added to, rebuilt, ‘modernised’ and pulled around over the years until we have what we see today. Some of these alterations were needed, for example, when the tower collapsed around 1200 destroying part of the church. Others were, in my opinion, unnecessary tinkering which did nothing to improve the building. I have a particular dislike for most of the ‘improvements’ the Victorians imposed upon our churches.

Around 1450 this fine church commissioned a series of wall paintings, paintings in fine colour decorating the north and south walls of the nave above the arches and around the clerestory. A hundred years or so later, with the coming of the Reformation, these were covered over with plaster. There they remained, forgotten about, until 1852 when they were discovered during restoration work. Despite the wonder the paintings aroused at that time they were again covered as the vicar at the time didn’t like them: out came the whitewash brush. Thankfully, the vicar of 1876 decided to once again uncover them for all to see and since that time they have been on display to anyone entering the church, they have had some restoration over the years.






One of the most dramatic paintings is immediately to view on entering the church by the south door. Here you will see St George, mounted on his horse and wielding a lance, killing the dragon.













Next to St George is St Christopher, carrying the Christ-child on his left shoulder as he wades through serpents and sea monsters towards an Abbot lighting his way.









The beheading of John the Baptist is the subject of the next painting. In fact it is a series of paintings in one as John is seen kneeling, headless, on the left while his head appears on the salver in the centre and on the right he is a very much alive figure talking to King Herod.


The scene above this image is the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.




The martyrdom of St Edmund is next for viewing, he was killed by the Vikings for refusing to renounce his religion.


The scene at the top is the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket.






On the south wall opposite the martyrdom scenes is the story of St Catherine, of the wheel fame. You can make out the wheel just below centre of the photograph.








The next photograph shows the seven Corporal Acts of Mercy.

You can actually only see six on this picture but the seventh (To bury the dead) is on the left of the next photograph.







Here, after the seventh act of mercy, is the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ (up to the crucifixion itself). Below is the descent into hell. The image between the clerestory windows depicts the burial of Mary.






The final picture I have of the paintings shows the descent from the cross and the burial of Jesus above an image of Christs’ resurrection. The upper image is probable Mary’s Assumption.





The church has some fine carvings and monuments too such as this grotesque on a capital and the tomb of Sir William Bruce, below.




A walk around the church will reveal many other pieces of carved stone built into the fabric of the church such as this interesting collection to the west of the south door.


In Pickering we have a church well worth visiting regardless of your religious beliefs.

We have a castle

Our town of Pickering has a castle at its northern end which is probably hidden and unseen by many visitors to the town, though signs do exist to guide the tourist. There is little parking by its walls so a walk up from the market place is required to gain access.

In the 16th century John Leland described the building in his own inimitable way thus:

“The Castelle Stondith in an End of the Town not far from the Paroch Chirch on the Brow of the Hille, under the which the Broke rennith. In the first Court of it be a 4 Toures, of the which one is Caullid Rosamunde’s Toure. In the inner Court be also a 4 Toures, wherof the Kepe is one. The Castelle Waulles and the Toures be meatly welle. The Logginges yn the ynner Court that be of Timbre be in ruine, in this inner Court is a Chappelle and a cantuarie Prest. The Castelle hath of a good continuance with the Towne and Lordship longgid to the Lancaster Bloode: But who made the Castelle or who was the Owner of afore the Lancasters I could not lerne there. The Castelle Waulles now remaining seme to be of no very old Building. As I remembre I hard say that Richard the thirde lay sumtyme at this Castelle, and sumtyme at Scardeburgh Castelle.”



As to who made the castle it is now generally believed to be William the Conqueror who ordered its construction during, or just after, the Harrying of the North, around 1069. The castle is now looked after by English Heritage and they list it as 13th century, referring to the ‘shell keep’ castle, Historic England list it as an 11th century motte and bailey castle too.pickering_castle_03


The castle was added to, rebuilt, remodeled, ignored and looted up until the 17th century, it wasn’t used by either side during the Civil War. Cromwell’s government sold it privately but it returned to the crown in the late 17th century and remained there until 1926.

It’s now a tourist attraction and worth a visit. It is not the best ruined castle in the county but it is peaceful and an interesting few hours can be spent wandering its walls.


Ghostly bedfellow

A recent report in the International Business Times (yes, really) has a photograph supposedly showing a ghost or spirit in bed with a baby. The photo is of a video baby monitor and the baby’s mother says she saw the ‘face’ on the monitor but when she went to investigate there was nothing there. She claims there were no dolls or toys in the cot at the time. Obviously, without being there at the time and investigating it is impossible to say what it actually was but I would suggest it is pareidolia. There have already been the usual comments stating it is definitely a spirit. I would bet it is not.

Let me introduce …

Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983). I discovered Mr Pevsner quite late in life and I wish I had got to know him earlier. Who is he? He was a German born architectural scholar, probably best know for his county guides of England. Each guide covers a county, or part thereof, and lists all the building of interest in each town and village. There were 46 volumes in his Buildings of England series and I am the proud owner of several of them. Although dated the information they contain is still relevant (as long as the building he describes still exists).

I find his writing to be interesting and amusing, he doesn’t pull his punches if he doesn’t like something. Take my town of Pickering, North Yorkshire: he describes the primitive methodist chapel as “In a terrible Italianate style”1. Whether you agree with him or not depends on your views on architecture. The offending building is shown below for your perusal.


Regardless of Mr Pevsner’s views the books are useful for the buildings they list, the descriptions are accurate and his views can easily be ignored if you wish. His entry for Pickering spans over four pages, he describes in detail the church with its fifteenth century wall paintings and then the castle is dealt with in some detail. Several other buildings within the town are given short but detailed entries. However, he ends the section on Pickering with, “Pickering town is not architecturally rewarding.” I have to disagree with him, as I often do, but his books do give much more detail than would normally be found in local guide books for visitors and as such will remain on my bookshelves as reference tools.


1 Pevsner, N., (1966) The Buildings of England BE29 Yorkshire: The North Riding, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

Enriching the list

I’m sure most of you have heard of listed buildings, those structures that have been deemed interesting or important to our heritage and have therefore been offered some measure of protection. Did you know you can view the listed buildings on the web? Historic England maintain the list and web presence and it is free to access. You can search for a particular structure or area or use the map to zoom around and see which buildings are listed wherever you wish.

A lot of the listings are quite old and may be a little out of date. Most of those in my area were listed in 1975 and the information has been transferred from the old manual listing system into the current accessible database. What makes it more interesting is that you can add to it. Yes, you can request listing for a building but I mean here that you can add to an existing listing. They call it ‘Enrich the List’, by registering on their site you can add information or photographs to any of the currently listed structures.

Many of the shops and other buildings in my town centre are listed and I have started to add photographs to the list as part of a photographic project I set myself some time ago.


The listing gives a good description of each building and shows its location on a map. I find it interesting to read about the architectural features of each building, my knowledge is increasing with each new building I view. For example, in the image above the white blocks of bricks down the edge of the building are referred to as ‘brick rusticated quoins’. The vertical posts either side of the ground floor window are ‘pilasters’, this used to be a shop window. The bay window is referred to as ‘canted’ because the sides are at an angle.


In this photograph the upper left bay is called a ‘rectangular modern oriel semi-dormer of 4 lights’.

I find it all fascinating and look forward to adding more to the list in the coming months. Take a look at the web site yourself and see what you might discover about the area where you live. Who knows, you too may feel the urge to Enrich the List.

Date with a Dove

Richard Baines – North York Moors National Park Turtle Dove Officer Was Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, a birdwatcher? As she sat about looking pretty with doves fluttering around her feet maybe she wondered when Turtle Doves would arrive back in Yorkshire from Africa that year! Valentine’s Day has long been associated with doves, […]

via A Date with a Dove — The official blog for the North York Moors National Park

This year I intend to see at least one Turtle Dove. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time but never got around to it, this year will be different. I am lucky enough to have them frequent this area each year and I may even have seen one without realising it, but I’m going to make a special effort to see them and, hopefully, to photograph them.

The blog post above is from the North Yorks Moors National Park and they have a Lottery funded project looking at these birds. I am going to try to attend one of their lectures and then head out to some of the well-known spots for sighting them. If I am successful I hope to report back here. Sorry, that should be WHEN I am successful.

Bring your own stone

Catching up on my magazine reading today I came across an article in Current Archaeology about neolithic Britain and mentioning the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney. This is a large stone circle (see photo) which is part of a prehistoric landscape and thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes or other gatherings by the indigenous communities over 5000 years ago.


At the end of the article there is reference to a piece in Antiquity1 that intrigued me. They suggest that as each of the individual stones in the ring are different and from different areas of the island it is possible that each stone was brought by an individual village or community. The idea of a village turning up with their stone as a contribution to the ring appeals to me. They also believe that after the breakdown of the communities people moved out of the area, even to the mainland, but still returned to the ceremonial sites on a regular basis for celebrations and possibly to meet a partner. This was described in some newspapers as a “neolithic nightclub”. My mind is boggling.

1 Bayliss, A., Marshall, P., Richards, C., Whittle, A., (2017) Islands of history: the Late Neolithic timescape of Orkney, Antiquity, Vol 91, 359, pp 1171-1188