Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Howden heritage centre

Friday sees the opening of the new Howden Heritage Centre in what was the old HSBC bank in Howden Market Place. Under the enthusiastic leadership of Philip Mepham a small team has worked hard to transform the ground floor interior  from bank into heritage centre.

I have been involved in the production of a set of poster sized display boards and am loaning items from my own small museum collection. Ken Deacon has a display about the airship R100, built at Howden. So we hope to see a good crowd at 12.30 to look at old pictures and other displays about the history of the town.  Once open the centre will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 11am to 3pm.

Last Friday  afternoon I gave a second presentation in the Manor House about the history of The Ashes Playing Fields. It was very well attended - no doubt the lovely free tea and cakes helped draw the crowds -  not everyone who came could actually get in. Some stood along the walls but it was lovely to see so many people interested in Howden's history.

In between history projects we have been working in the garden. The daffodils are just finishing but the turnip seeds in the raised bed have germinated, the potatoes are showing and courgette and tomato seeds in the greenhouse are doing well.

The bees have come safely through the winter and  we are hoping for a good honey crop. But perhaps best of all are our chickens, laying as many eggs as we can eat, sell and give away to friends.  We have noticed that the chickens enjoy pecking around the hives and a bit of internet research suggests that this can be a good thing as they peck up dead bees and other detritus. Not sure yet whether chickens get stung!

A 1970s view of High bridge and the United Carriers depot taken from the church tower.

The Midland Bank, later HSBC and from Friday the home of the town's heritage centre.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Charles Briggs of Howden

Almost a month has passed since I last wrote here and a lot has happened in between. The snowdrops are now dying off and being replaced by daffodils. The bees are flying and seem to be  particularly enjoying the hellebores which apparently provide nectar for them at a time when little else is in bloom. Daffodils, I understand are too highly bred to provide much food for the bees but I have several varieties and will watch to see if the bees go on any of them. Looking forward to lots of honey this year.

 I am looking forward too to spending some time outside in the garden but it has been very busy on the history front. Last week I gave my presentation in Howden Manor House about its history and the history of The Ashes Playing field. It was a lovely evening - it rained but the atmosphere was friendly and the wine and cheese was popular.

 Towards the end of the talk, when I showed pictures of local people playing cricket, tennis and bowls and of Howden show, they stirred lots of memories. Although perhaps the picture which stirred most memories was one of the giant slide which I was assured was 40 feet high. I only went down it once as the climb up was quite frightening.

Here is the slide. Does anyone recognise the boys?

I am pleased to say that The Ashes Trust has asked me to give the talk again as several people have said that they would have liked to have heard it but did not want to come out on a dark, wet evening. So, if you are interested it will be on Friday 7th April in the afternoon. I am not sure of the timing as yet.

While researching the Ashes story I looked into the background of Charles Briggs who was the local benefactor who gave Howden the manor house, the Ashes and the Shire hall. I knew that he was born in Hailgate where his father ran a brewery. I had assumed that this was where he obtained the funds to give his gifts to Howden.

But I was wrong and am still finding out more about him. I think he and his brothers and sisters inherited property but he and one of his brothers were also civil engineers in the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa.

Charles was the last surviving member of the large Briggs family and there were no descendants so  he left his fortune to Howden. He loved his native town and would, I think, be pleased that there is now a street named after him.

Charles Briggs

Sunday, 12 February 2017


It is now February- but one of the coldest weekends of the winter so far. There is a cold wind and it is raining and dark. We have not seen the sun for some days but I suppose this winter has not seen heavy snow and lingering frosts - so we must be grateful.

Our snowdrops in the garden are putting on a brave show this year. I have tried to identify the variety from pictures on the internet but there are too many to choose from!

It is definitely a time to keep the Rayburn going and work on local history.  I have been looking at the histories of two houses in Eastrington and Newport.  I think that the Newport house, known today as Newport Grange, was once the home of  James MacTurk  and then his son in law Thomas Moss.

James MacTurk was one of three Scottish brothers who came to Yorkshire to work on digging the Market Weighton canal in the 1770s. Where the canal crossed the Cave Causeway beds of clay were found and this led to the growth of a brick and tile making settlement. James probably built the Turk's Head inn and was certainly the first landlord. His brother moved to South Cave and it was his son who was the doctor who attended Branwell Bronte.

Thomas Moss married James' daughter and they lived at Newport Grange. It is believed - but not proven - that their son, another Thomas was transported to Australia after stealing a sheep from a field near Hull. He and his accomplice hid the sheep's head, which had identifying marks on it, under a heap of coal where it was easily found by  a policeman!

Other projects I am working on are the family background of William Hamond Bartholomew and a Goole lady who owned a stone quarry.

And of course I am preparing for a talk on 28th February on the history of The Ashes Playing Field in Howden. It will be at 7pm in the Manor House and will launch the Ashes Sharing Heritage Project.

Bowling in The Ashes
I would be pleased to know the names of these gentlemen and also to have any more pictures to use in the talk. If you do have any please contact me through my website [ Images sent through Facebook are a bit blurry for projecting at a large size].

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Howden church history

 It is a grey time of year but at least we were not flooded on Friday 13th. We received a flood warning from the Environment Agency and  went out to check the high tide on Friday evening but the Ouse was firmly where it should be.

I am often asked why half of Howden church is in ruins - was it Cromwell? was it a fire? I recently listened to a local radio discussion on this very subject where various theories were suggested so I thought it was maybe time to try to answer the question - although briefly.

There was a church at Howden in Anglo Saxon times and it is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086. We know little about it although it is said that some of the stones from an earlier building were re-used in the present church.

Howden was given to the Bishops of Durham by William the Conqueror. In 1267 the church became collegiate which meant that many more priests were involved and more money was available. So a new church was begun. One of the priests, John of Howden [the prebendary of Howden and a former adviser to Queen Eleanor], foretold that what he had begun during his life he would complete after his death.

This prophecy came true a few years later when a miracle took place at his funeral Mass - he sat up in his coffin. The nave and chancel were soon completed but so many pilgrims flocked to John's tomb in the church that their offerings enabled the original roof of the church to be heightened only 50 years after it was built. Both rooflines can be seen from Howden market place.
Howden honours John with a street named after him - even though he was never officially a saint he was known as one.

You can see the two rooflines of the choir  on the tower

But in the sixteenth century King Henry the Eighth broke from Rome and in the rearrangements that followed Howden church lost its source of wealth and became an ordinary parish church. The people of Howden who were responsible for, and worshipped in the nave applied in 1609 to close off the choir  as the tithe owners who had been granted the income previously used by the Prior of Durham to maintain it were not doing so. Both nave and choir roofs leaked and so Howden parishioners took lead off the choir to make their bit of the church waterproof.

There is a story that Parliamentarian solders on the way to Selby in 1644 stabled their horses in the nave, destroyed the new organ and carried off the pipes, blowing them as that passed by Wressle castle. This event was dramatised in a nineteenth century work of fiction but the basic story may well be true.

Meanwhile the weather did its work, water poured in and first the choir [1696] and then the chapter house [1750]  roofs collapsed. That is why we have the beautiful ruins today. It was not deliberate, it was not the work of Cromwell, nor the result of a fire.

Little was done to conserve the ruins until Victorian times when iron bars were used to strengthen the stonework. The nave was re- roofed in the 1850s and the tower floors removed.

In retrospect this was unfortunate as in 1929 the tower was set on fire and the flames quickly went straight up like a torch to the top of the tower and destroyed the ringing chamber, bringing the bells crashing to the ground.

Howden church tower on fire

Bostock and Wombwell's visiting circus was parked around the Market Cross and the wagons had to be quickly moved. They including caged lions and keepers walked alongside them carrying guns

The fire was  started by a gullible farmworker who was was persuaded by a disgruntled and recently sacked fair worker to set the church on fire.

The tower was badly damaged and  took three years to repair.

In 1971 the ruined part of the church was taken into the guardianship of English Heritage and the chapter house was reproofed in 1984.

This is a very  short summary but I hope it explains something of our church history.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Howden in the Middle Ages

Tomorrow my WEA history of Howden class restarts after the Christmas break and I am looking forward to seeing everyone again. We are beginning by looking at the history of Howden church.
So it seems appropriate to put here a link to a new website created by a member of the group.

The history of Howden in the Middle ages is both fascinating and upto now not as easy to read about as it might be. This new website, which is a work in progress, seeks to remedy this.

New members who are interested in the history of Howden are welcome to join the group. Send me a message through my website for details.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year's Day meet at Howden

So it's 2017 and almost time to take down the tree.  We enjoyed our turkey and watched fireworks over the river on New Year's Eve. The chickens are still not roosting properly and not laying particularly well but seem happy and are eating all the scraps as we clear the fridge after the holiday.

It's back to local history too as I research the whereabouts and history of Thorntoft[s] near Yokefleet. It was a medieval settlement with possibly its own chapel. Also I am researching the history of The Ashes Playing Field in Howden in preparation for a talk I am giving in February.

But I took time out on Monday to watch the  NewYear's Day meet in Howden Market  Place - not actually on New Year's Day as it was a Sunday. Large crowds gathered and we saw several friends.

[ after several queries I am clarifying that although the York and Ainsty South often did meet at Howden earlier in the twentieth century I believe that  the  New Year's Day meet  that took place on Monday is a more recent tradition - maybe of around 10 years!]

I found this picture from Edwardian times.

Compare the view above with the video I took  of yesterday's event. Some buildings have been demolished and rebuilt - but otherwise the event was very similar.


Friday, 23 December 2016

Christmas preparations

I am writing this post on the day before Christmas Eve - i.e. Friday 23rd December. It is a quiet moment with mince pies in the tin,  turkey bought, Christmas lights up - and working- and just a few presents to wrap. It is unseasonably mild although this afternoon strong winds are forecast and so I shall find the candles just in case.

Not surprisingly history has briefly taken a back seat but I  do continue to buy postcards of the local area. Here are my most recent purchases. One day, eventually, I shall get more of my old pictures onto my website but in the meantime I shall keep putting some on my blog. They are all available to buy.

Hemingbrough in Edwardian times

Newbald - Coronation clock

Snaith - thatched cottages.

And finally I would like to wish all readers of my blog a happy Christmas and a good New Year.

Merry Christmas too from Molly who has featured on the blog since she was a puppy

Friday, 9 December 2016

Howden heritage

Last night I went to the Howden late night shopping event. It was a very pleasant occasion - it did not rain or snow and it was not cold. I remember previous occasions when we had to dodge piles of snow  piled up around the Market Place and the awful evening where the river overtopped its banks and although Howden itself was not flooded many surrounding villages were.

Market Place in the snow -photo by Arthur Henrickson

But last night the fairground organ played, we had a good WI cup of tea in the Shire Hall and ate roasted chestnuts out of a paper bag. We bought a wreath for outside the door from a local stall but above all we stopped and talked to so many friends that we realised how good it was to be part of the local community.

One of the stalls was that of Howden Civic society. The society, under the enthusiastic chairmanship of Philip Mepham, was gathering signatures to gauge interest in setting up a Howden Heritage centre. I think this is a wonderful project and am supporting it wholeheartedly.

Howden has a fascinating history ranging from its medieval importance as part of the property of the Bishop of Durham to its nationally known horse fair and its connections with the airship R100. Lots of people were signing so I am hopeful that the society will be successful.

Here our new chickens have settled in well and are laying a surfeit of eggs which we are selling at the roadside and giving away to friends. They are reluctantly learning to perch after being plonked several times onto the perches while half asleep.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The chicken and the egg

November has in many ways lived unto its reputation as a gloomy month. It has rained; the dykes are full and we have had frosts and fog. But last week we fetched some new chickens from a local farm where 12, 000 birds were offered for re-homing at £1 each.

They are settling in nicely although as yet they have not learned to perch and are a few feathers short. And they are laying well - so much so that I have been able to resume putting surplus eggs out for sale in the front porch.

Below are two pictures I have taken this morning

Which came first?

A bit featherless but happy eating outside

I have now finished my WEA local history classes for this year and we all went for a very pleasant meal after the last one. We may be tutor and students but we are also all good friends.

Now we are looking forward to Christmas events. The first is a concert in Saltmarshe Hall on 9th December. The hall, built in 1825, must have seen many a Christmas concert and party in its time. The hall has been decorated in a traditional style and guests will be able to relax with mulled wine and mince pies while listening to seasonal music.

Tickets are available from 07743448123 or e mail

Simon Hamer, pioneer of Goole

I was recently contacted by an Australian descendant of Simon Hamer who lived in Goole in the early days of the town.
She knew something of her ancestor but was interested in knowing more about his Yorkshire roots. So I  thought I would put together what I  already knew with what more I could find and have been surprised at what I have been able to discover.

 Simon  Hamer, who died aged 69 in 1844 in Goole was one of the men who shaped the town as we now know it.
I am not certain of his origins but he had a brother Thomas. Thomas Hamer appears on the 1851 census at Great Grimsby and is described as the uncle of Ann Maria, Simon's daughter.
Thomas [born in 1773]  says in 1851 he was born at Harfit  in Yorkshire. I cannot find such a place but there is a record of a baptism in 1773 at Harthill near the Chesterfield Canal of a Thomas Amour whose father was called Simon.

I am beginning to think that Thomas and Simon’s father was also called Simon.  There is a record of  a Simon Hamer [quite an unusual name] working on the Cotswold canal  in 1784
There is a lock on the canal called the Griffin Mill Lock which has a wharf above it to unload coal for the mill.   It  was being worked on in 1784 and it is recorded in the records that labourer Simon Hamer received £39 17s 7 ½ d for ‘day work and walling at Mr Griffin’. 
I have also found a tantalising reference in an academic paper to a  ‘Simon Hamer, who absconded from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal owing money but  returned to work on other canals ...’ but as yet have not been able to follow this up. 

The Leeds Liverpool canal was built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
However by 1800 both Thomas and Simon were in Yorkshire. Thomas married Elizabeth Wilkinson of Barmston in 1800. Simon married Dinah Robinson in 1802 at Hutton Buscel near Scarborough.
There had been a lot of drainage work taking place on Barmston Drain and Thomas continued his career in this area in the Holderness and Driffield areas connected with the River Hull.
Simon meanwhile may have been working on the Derwent improvements near Scarborough.

Simon and Dinah had four children. Their son Michael was born in 1803 but not baptised until 1808 at Hutton Buscel. Their son Thomas was baptised at Hackness in 1804 and their daughter Mary Ann in 1806.  Youngest son Simon was born in 1807 but not baptised until 1811. It is Simon jnr who may have eventually settled in Australia. I will write of him in a later post.

Then in 1810 Dinah Hamer aged 27 of Seamer died and was buried at Hutton Buscel  on  June 28th.
Simon remarried, to Margaret Metcalf, early in 1811. Their son,  Metcalf Hamer was baptised at Seamer on the same day as four year old Simon.
Simon and Margaret had a further 10 children although not all survived. Their eldest children were baptised at Seamer - John was the last to be baptised there in 1820.  On the baptism records Simon is shown as a labourer, sometimes at Ayton Forge.

Both Simon and his brother Thomas appear to have been involved not only with drainage and canal projects but also with brickmaking.
In 1819  Thomas Hamer, brick maker of Brompton,  late of Driffield was in a debtor’s prison in  far away Essex while Baines’ trade directory of 1822  shows Simon Hamer  as a brick tile and pot maker in Brompton.  Brompton is near Scarborough.

The Goole connection

In 1821 the contracts were signed for the construction of a new canal from Knottingley to Goole for the Aire and Calder Navigation Company. The main contractor was Mark Faviell who had already built several bridges in North Yorkshire.
His associates were Abraham Pratt who would do the masonry work and Simon Hamer who would be responsible for the earthworks.
Simon and his family moved to the Goole area.

 In 1823 Simon appears in the land tax records for Cowick, occupying a property owned by Widow Fletcher.  He was probably living there as his son Francis who was born - and died - in 1823  was baptised at  nearby Snaith. He is last listed there in 1827 when he presumably moved to the new town of Goole.
In 1826 Whites directory [directories are normally a year behind events] entry for Snaith lists Simon Hamer as contractor and brickmaker.

The new canal was opened in July 1826 and by then 30 houses were built in the new town and 70 were under construction.
Simon was an entrepreneur. In 1827 there is an advertisement for a stagecoach route running from Leeds to Hull. He was one of the proprietors.

Coach route from Leeds to Goole in 1827

Simon was probably a Methodist.  His younger children were baptised in chapel rather than church. He was the first subscriber to Goole's Methodist chapel built in 1829 on North Street, the site of the present chapel. He subscribed the magnificent sum of £50 and also built the chapel.

Goole North Street Methodist chapel

In 1829 Pigot’s trade directory shows him living in  Adam Street next to the Lowther Hotel [then the Banks Arms].

Also in 1829  we find that he was the owner  of a schooner which he named Hamer. The Goole shipping register lists it as being built in Goole in 1826 by George Thwaites who was also the master.

There is evidence that Simon Hamer continued to work with Abraham Pratt.  In 1830 they were joint  contractors for the erection of a bridge over the Trent at Dunham. Tbe bridge was to be of four iron arches, with the abutments.

Then they won a major contract for 18 miles of the Leeds Selby railway which was opened 1834.  Railways were then very new and this was probably their first venture into railway contracting. The contract was worth £83,000.

Next in 1834  they won a contract to build part of The Whitby and Pickering line. The  newspaper report  refers to ‘Hamer and Pratt’, who had just finished work on the Leeds and Selby railway’.

Times were changing and railways were taking over from steam boats. In 1836 the  partnership was dissolved between  Simon Hamer, Abraham Pratt, James Bromley and Robert Pearson. They had been partners in a steam boat called Eclipse, trading between Goole and Hull and two other vessels called Liberal and George the Fourth trading between Goole and Leeds.

Simon’s partner in contracting, Abraham Pratt died in 1838.

I think Simon then spent more time in Goole. There is a suggestion that he built George and Ouse Streets and the Sydney Hotel in the late 1830s and early 1840s. He and his family were living in George Street in 1841.

Simon died in 1844 and was buried at Hook on 22nd March aged 69.  His business was wound up by his wife and daughter.

Few people in Goole today have heard of Simon Hamer. But I hope to spread the word that he was a man who seems to have risen from quite lowly beginnings to become a pioneer canal and rail contractor who also contributed a lot to the early town of Goole.

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