A Breath of Fresh Air

Community Highlights Europe A Breath of Fresh Air

large_P1110613.jpg
Swaledale

The Yorkshire Dales are one of the loveliest parts of England, and Swaledale one of the loveliest dales, though less well known than its neighbour to the south, Wensleydale. Near the head of Swaledale is the quiet village of Grinton. It isn’t particularly on the tourist trail, though connoisseurs of the English countryside may find their way here, as may fans of the James Herriot books which were set near this part of Yorkshire.

We know it however as the village where my father-in-law, John, spent several happy years as a boy, having been evacuated here to escape the war-time bombing of Tyneside. Although a city boy by birth, he fell in love with the beautiful countryside and the rural way of life, and continued to visit here regularly for the rest of his life, bringing us with him on many occasions. When he died in 2009 we followed his wishes and scattered his ashes on the moor above Grinton. Thus the place that had meant so much to him became his final resting place.

large_40266b90-57ce-11e9-89ef-57573ef164df.JPG
Grinton Moor

The house where John lived as a boy was home to a gamekeeper, Billy Holland, and his wife. Nowadays it has become part of the pub next door to form the Bridge Inn, and we visit annually to meet up with the Hollands’ two daughters and their husbands, bringing John’s two sisters, May (who was also evacuated here) and Gloria (just a baby during the war and considered too young to leave her mother). It’s a chance for that generation to reminisce about the old days and for us to enjoy their stories.

large_4699059-The_Bridge_Inn_Grinton_Grinton.jpg
The Bridge Inn

P1000236.jpg
May, Chris and Gloria outside the Bridge Inn

Some years ago my mother-in-law Teresa captured John’s stories as part of the BBC’s ‘People’s War’ project in a piece they called ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’, and I’ve included some extracts here. I hope you enjoy them as much as we have done and will come to understand just why this place meant so much to John, and why his memory will live on here for all of us.

St. Andrew's Church

large_4699047-St_Andrews_Church_Grinton_Grinton.jpg
St. Andrew's Church

I have seen this church referred to as “the Cathedral of the Dale”, which sounds very grand for what is simply a rather peaceful old parish church. The oldest part of the Church is Norman, showing that there has been a church here for over 900 years, and it is thought that there may even have been a Saxon Church here prior to that.

Most of the present-day building though dates from the fourteen to sixteenth centuries. Although I have been there several times, it is only now, researching for this page, that I have found out much about it.

The original Norman church was only the nave to the Chancel steps of the current church with the aisles being added in the 16th Century. The font, a small window in the west wall and the chancel arch are all that now remain of the original Norman church.

The wood screen in the chancel was carved in the 14th century. The Lepers’ squint, a small window in the screen, was designed to allow those who suffered from leprosy and were not allowed in to the church to see what was happening and take part in the service.

The church floor is 3 to 4 feet lower than the churchyard level. It is the original level of the church. The height difference is apparently due to all the burials over the last 900 years which have raised the churchyard by this amount.

The 1718 inscription over the pulpit is the date when the pews were installed. Until then there were no seats, the parishioners sat or knelt on the floor. It was only during the Reformation period that pews were installed in churches. The tower was also a 16th century addition.

P81900351.jpg

4699053-John_in_the_village_church_Grinton.jpg
John in St Andrews Church

My father-in-law had many happy memories of this church. In ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ he said:
‘Mrs. Holland played the organ in the local church so we found ourselves at services three times on a Sunday. Sometimes I was allowed to pump up the organ for her. I was also in the choir and sang solo until my voice broke. I never thought then that one day I would return to Grinton with my family, visit the church, see the organ and sit in a pew reminiscing.’

Grinton Moor

P1110617.jpg
Swaledale

Swaledale’s scenery is characterised by its green valley dotted with trees; fields above dotted with white sheep and separated by the traditional drystone walls; and windswept heather moorland beyond these. This landscape may look in places like nature at its wildest but in truth was created by a combination of traditional farming practices and lead mining.

While sheep farmers gradually enclosed the lower slopes to create this characteristic mosaic of dry-stone walled compartments and stone field barns, the spoil heaps and scars of the lead mining industry are responsible for much of the barren and bleaker parts of the dale especially on the moorland. You will also see occasional ruined stone mine buildings up on these moors.

Swaledale is part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the moors are therefore protected. There are many footpaths crisscrossing the moors, and a walk up here will certainly blow the city cobwebs away!

My photo below shows the special spot above Grinton where Chris scattered his father’s ashes last August. The purple heather makes a fitting resting place for a man who loved this landscape and who came to feel so at home here as a young boy.

large_4699049-Grinton_Moor_Grinton.jpg
Grinton Moor

Here are some more extracts from ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’

‘We arrived in Grinton, Swaledale, ten miles west of Richmond, Yorkshire, into the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. I knew nothing about the countryside at that time. George and I were billeted with a young, newly married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Holland....

The house where I lived is now part of the Bridge Hotel. The first memory of the village was the silence and the lack of noise from trams, trains, ships’ hooters and the like. Also the sound of unfamiliar birds each morning. We had no timepiece in the bedroom and consequently always being hungry I found I was first up each morning! The house was a big, two-storied building adjoining the Bridge Hotel at the side and the back so there was no back entrance. … It fronted the main road to Reeth, a village about a mile away. It had three steps down leading to a sunken patio. The door led to a cosy living room with a coal fire. Here we took our meals and relaxed in the evenings listening to the battery-operated wireless, or, in the case of Mr. Holland, dozing by the fire. Sometimes he would be nursing George and the two of them would be fast asleep in the wooden slatted rocking chair!

IMG_0229a.jpg
Chris and May at the Bridge Inn

P1110610.jpg
In the Bridge Inn
- I believe this is the
former Sunday Parlour

Paraffin lamps provided the lighting (there being no gas or electricity) and the cooking was done on two primus stoves or on the grill above the coal fire. There was a highly polished fender surrounding the fire.

A door to the left led to the Sunday Parlour. It was rarely used at any other time. On a rack in the corner were Mr. Holland’s two 12 bore shot guns, (he was employed as shepherd/acting gamekeeper) and later a 303 calibre Enfield rifle, which was supplied when he joined the LDV (later to become the Home Guard). Also in the rack was a selection of walking sticks and umbrellas.

To the right leading off the living room was the kitchen. This had a sink (cold water only). The two primus stoves stood on a bench. Off the kitchen was a walk-in pantry. The shelves held a number of the previous year’s storage jars of home-made jams and chutneys. It also had a stone slab for “perishables”. The milk was delivered in a churn from where the milkman used a dipper to measure the required amount into Mrs. Holland’s large enamel milk jug. The milk float had rubber tyres and was pulled by a horse.

A staircase led to the three bedrooms upstairs. At one time the third bedroom was occupied by an elderly lady from London. She was kind to me but didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mr. and Mrs. Holland and returned to London soon afterwards. We all went to bed by the light of a candle. My household chores commenced early each morning when I primed the two stoves and lit the fire, which I set with cowlings (a form of dried heather) and coal…

The nearest school, Fremington, was located about one mile to the north but only catered for children up to the age of eleven, so they had no facilities for a couple of us. One of the Government slogans at that time was ‘Dig for Victory’ so the schoolteacher put us to work growing vegetables in the school garden. Mr. Holland and I dug up the Vicar’s tennis court and we planted more vegetables. The fresh air gave us quite an appetite and we were very well fed. We developed muscles and in the summer sported healthy suntans….

At first George was homesick and set off to walk to Gateshead regularly but his legs didn’t carry him very far and I was able to bring him back. I remember Mr. Holland sitting some evenings with George, teaching him to read and write. George was a great favourite in the village. When not at school he would sit with his legs dangling over the bridge which spanned the river singing some of the bawdy songs the cattle drovers had taught him in Gateshead. This greatly amused the villagers although I suspect they couldn’t understand his Geordie accent.…

large_P1110616.jpg
On Grinton Moor

There were no buses at all but our entertainments included an occasional silent film show given by the Vicar — usually featuring Charlie Chaplin — a great favourite. We listened avidly to the battery radio as we had no gas or electricity. Once Gateshead Council arranged for us to be taken to the Zetland Cinema in Richmond — another treat! The film was ‘Pinnochio’.

They also arranged for my mother, two younger members of the family and my cousin to visit us twice. Each week we wrote letters home and each week we received a postal order for 6d [2.5p in today’s decimal currency]. Of this, I got 2d, George and May also 2d. Mr. Holland cut a slot in an empty Fynnon Salts tin and this was for my savings. Other outings included trips with Mrs. Holland to the Women’s Institute. They had a small library on the premises so I spent the time reading. I remember on one occasion Mrs. Holland discovered me reading a book she considered unsuitable so she removed it.

She bottled all sorts of jams and preserves, some of which were donated to the local Fayres. The recipes were taken from Mr. Woolton’s radio programme. He was the Minister of Food. Sometimes I was allowed to go on her bike for the shopping in Reeth. Another treat was to ride pillion when Mr. Holland and I mended the fencing. Other times I was allowed to visit his four gun dogs which were kennelled away from the house….

The Vicar had an orchard from where we were allowed to pick up and eat the windfall fruit. What we couldn’t eat my pal and I squirreled away in the hollow of an old tree. We also tickled trout in the beck. The Vicar was the only person in the village (apart from the Post Office) who owned a telephone. He was also the A.R.P. warden and one occasion he went around the village with a hand-bell to announce that a land-mine had been dropped on Grinton Moor leaving a huge crater but not doing any damage. The following day I went up and picked up a piece of shrapnel and a length of multi-coloured parachute cord. I was fascinated.

large_P1110614.jpg
On Grinton Moor

Life in 1941 carried on as usual but the outstanding memory of it was the winter. This was particularly severe. Mr. Holland’s sheep were kept up on the moors and during the winter they would take shelter in the lee of the dry-stone walls and fences. Unfortunately this was where the snow drifted and a considerable time was spent digging them out. Mr. Holland and the dogs knew exactly where to look for them and consequently we managed to save the majority. But as the winter dragged on we were digging out dead sheep. These we attached to the spade with rope and dragged by the horns to a nearby bog where they immediately sank. This I found very upsetting and exhausting but Mrs. Holland had a meal ready for us with home-made stout to wash it down with! Sheer heaven.

By 1942 I was well and truly a Yorkshireman and delighted in it. I even spoke their dialect. ... Unfortunately Gateshead Council decided I was now old enough to be bombed so they instructed me to return home. I was nearing school-leaving age (14) and was required to collect my School-leaving Certificate and find a job. My brother and sister were too young to remain on their own so they returned home with me. I don’t remember much of the parting except that it happened very quickly and my elder brother came to collect us, but I did not feel I had said a proper “goodbye” to Mr. and Mrs. Holland and my friends....’

large_3e5e55c0-57ce-11e9-89ef-57573ef164df.JPG
On Grinton Moor

I hope some of you will have enjoyed reading these first-hand reminiscences about the war years and what it was like for a city boy to find himself living in such a very different environment. Although of course things have changed since then in Grinton, life still moves at a slower pace in this corner of England and the village that John knew is still very recognisable – and well worth a visit.

IMG_0749.JPG
Grinton Lodge with sheep

P1110608.jpg
Swaledale sheep and dry walls

And if you do come, have a meal or a drink in the Bridge Inn and raise a glass to John and the family which welcomed him and George into their home, just as so many other families welcomed the children of strangers during those years.

P81800341.jpg
Sunday dinner at the Bridge Inn
- when my in-laws were still with us

This featured blog entry was written by ToonSarah from the blog Near and (not very) far.
Read comments or Subscribe

By ToonSarah

Posted Tue, Apr 09, 2019 | England | Comments