William Wordsworth’s little-known marriage venue
Published as The perfect village? October 2017
Republished here by kind permission of Dalesman magazine
‘I could stand it no longer and threw myself on the bed, neither hearing nor seeing anything…’
On Monday October 4th, two hundred and fifteen years ago, this emotional drama was played out at a farm called Gallow(s) Hill, Brompton-by-Sawdon in North Yorkshire. The words appear in the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth who couldn’t bear to attend the early morning wedding of her brother William to Mary Hutchinson at nearby All Saints’ church. The siblings were unusually close, as were Dorothy and her old friend Mary, and perhaps she saw the marriage as a separation from all that had gone before. Dorothy needn’t have worried because the trio continued their warm relationship until the end of their days.
Immediately after breakfast the newly-weds and Dorothy set off on the two-day journey for Dove Cottage, Grasmere. At Kirkbymoorside the horses were fed whilst the trio browsed the headstones in the cemetery and posted a letter to York Herald announcing the marriage, before pressing on through Helmsley and Thirsk to Leeming Lane for the night. Tuesday’s accommodation was in Hawes in Wensleydale. On the way William wrote a sonnet to Mary Queen of Scots, triggered off by sight of Castle Bolton where she was imprisoned. A six o’clock start on the Wednesday ensured they completed their journey via Sedbergh and Staveley to Grasmere by evening.
Even in Brompton’s neighbouring villages, the Wordsworth connection is largely unknown, but that is not the case with its second claim to fame, which is emphasised on the A170 Brompton road sign announcing that this rural village is the ‘Birthplace of Aviation’.
Local historian Vivian Bairstow is the fourth great-grandson-in-law of Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) of Brompton Hall, who is universally acknowledged as the aeronautical pioneer and founding father of flight. Vivian says “In 1853, fifty years before the Wright brothers carried out the the initial powered flight, Sir George used his coachman to pilot a glider that was heavier than air. Upon landing the gentleman said “Please Sir George, I wish to give notice. I was hired to drive and not to fly”. Sir George’s groom, John Appleby aged eighteen years and born in Pickering, is a contender for the role of pilot.
Cayley’s many other admirable inventions and achievements are too numerous to mention here but several emphasise his philanthropic deeds such as a major local drainage venture and village allotment scheme. “When one of the workers lost his hand in the village saw mill Sir George created the world’s first practical artificial hand for his benefit,” reveals Vivian, and many lives have been saved by his various inventions, like the theatre fire curtain and self-righting lifeboat, inspired by a calamitous fire at Covent Garden Theatre and a tragedy of the Scarborough lifeboat when all hands were lost. In addition he invented the first seat safety belt.” In October 2016 Vivan was interviewed about Sir George’s achievements by Penelope Keith for her programme on North Yorkshire in her Hidden Villages series.
The village’s intimate pub, The Old Post Office Tavern, is run by Neil and Sue who stock a choice of thirty two gins and ten ciders, as well as supplying ever-changing cask beers. There is a popular monthly quiz, and gin and whisky evenings, so no surprise that It became the local CAMRA Rural Runner-up Pub 2016. Handily placed are bus stops for either direction.
Village Community Lunches are held monthly on Wednesdays. Food is prepared and served by the “Village Volunteers” in the attractive Village Hall; Brompton’s hub of social life. Everyone in the local community is welcome, regardless of age. On the menu when I visited were salad, cooked meats and Glaves’s pork pies, followed by a lip-smacking trifle made by Liz Eccles. Conveniently there is a post office service here on Wednesday afternoons and, amongst other functions, the Hall is used by the neighbouring County Primary School for PE lessons and after-school activities.
In 2010, while searching for the ‘ultimate pork pie’, Tom Parker Bowles left King’s Cross for York and Scarborough stations, and thence by car to Glaves butcher’s shop on Cayley Lane, for when the pies left the oven at 11.15 am. He immediately bit into hot succulent pastry that has the habit of squirting a nectarous jelly all over one’s clothing. For the privilege he’d done a trip of almost five hundred miles.
The family business opens at 6am, and is run by brothers James and Antony. Started in 1973 by parents Brian and Doreen Glaves they have a hard-working staff of twenty. Meat is produced on their farm and processed in the family’s abattoir, ensuring maximum freshness. The highest pork pie honour in the county was bestowed on the business in both 2015 and 2016, when theirs was declared Yorkshire’s Finest Pork Pie by Yorkshire Post’s “Yorkshire’s Finest Taste Awards”.
Dr Mary Jones, whose daughter was married in August, organised a three-tier pork pie wedding cake from Glaves. Mary, a retired paediatrician, and husband Don moved into the village thirty four years ago. She is Chairman of both the Church Fun-raising and the Village Hall’s Committees. Her love of Brompton is shared with fellow retirees and committee members, schoolteacher Dianne Ford and Ann Tidd, a Social Services Manager. They help to organise several local activities, spread throughout the year. Their enthusiasm shines through as they tell me “In spring there’s performances by the Village Hall Music and Entertainment Team, egg rolling on Castle Hill and a May Market followed by Open Gardens in June. These are complemented by a Summer Fete with duck race and a local Gardening Club Show. In September a Macmillan Coffee Morning is held and at the end of the year we celebrate with the Christmas Tree Festival.”
The mediaeval Grade I All Saints, manned every day by volunteer key holders, is a handsome place of worship and well supported. There is an intricate quilted sampler depicting the Wordsworth marriage, and a framed copy of their marriage certificate. An outstanding “Bird” window is dedicated to Sir Kenelm Cayley, Bart. On its windowsill is a tapestry kneeler, recording Sir George’s historic feat in 1853. The list goes on, and includes a carved wooden mouse on the lectern by Thompson of Kilburn, plus a massive candelabra installed by Sir Tatton Sykes,.
Nestling between the impressive North Yorkshire Moors and Dalby Forest on the one hand and the rolling Wolds countryside on the other, Brompton is gathered round a picturesque green sward known as the Butts. It’s a delight for children in autumn when the horse chestnut trees sport their conkers. The population of two hundred and fifty residents are blessed with this peaceful and tranquil setting where graceful willows dip their branches into the stunningly-beautiful waters called The Ponds, spread before All Saints. Paths, becks and a mill pond lead to warm-stoned ancient cottages with red pantile roofs. People walk their dogs, which are welcome in the Old Post Office Tavern, stopping to chat with whoever passes by.
There’s an air of sheer contentment in Brompton; one of the friendliest places imaginable and my idea of perfection.