Another story from the works of Richard Blakeborough set in Canny Yatton, the local name for Great Ayton1Blakeborough, Richard. ‘Andrew Carter. A Story of Canny Yatton 150 Years Ago’. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 19 April 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19020419/122/0012> [accessed 23 October 2022].
Blakeborough wrote this account in 1902, stating that the event took place approximately 150 years prior, in 1752. At that time, James Cook, the most well-known resident of Great Ayton, was just 24 years old and had already left the village to work on trading ships in the Baltic Sea. He had not yet joined the Royal Navy.
The photo above shows the River Leven as it flows through Great Ayton. The Low Green can be seen in the background, just beyond the footbridge. The Buck Inn is located on the right-hand side of the image, towards the center. Although not visible in the photo, All Saints Church is situated off to the right. These locations are mentioned in the story, and while The Buck and the footbridge are newer than 18th-century constructions, it’s easy to imagine them occupying the same spots as their predecessors.
I struggled with the vernacular and toyed with the idea of a translation but in the end decided to leave it as written by Blakeborough.
A Story of Canny Yatton 150 Years Ago.
BY RICHARD BLAKEBOROUGH.
About a mile from the bridge (Canny Yatton) along the road leading to Tanton, there stood, a little over a hundred ago, perhaps later, a well-built, well-thatched cottage. It was for many years inhabited by an old fellow called George Humphrey, brother of the grandfather of Tommy Humphrey, of Canny Yatton, who died about 1850, when nearly ninety years of age.
Tommy was told the following story by his father, who had listened to old George many a time when telling it. Except when definitely stated, all dates and ages are to be considered as approximate only, as they were given from memory.
(As told by George Humphrey.)
Before I came to live here — that was in the year 1724, as you mebbe remember —there were two cottages altered for me, and made into one long cottage, or, as some of my friends when In a joking mood say, “It is a two-storey cottage lengthways.” Now, what happened, happened when it was not one, but two cottages. In the end cottage there lived an old body called Mary Breckon, and she had living with her a niece, whose name was Matty Jordan, at time I speak of not past her eighteenth birthday. This lass, so I have heard — for I never saw the wench — was as viewly a lass as anybody need wish to set their een on. She had a bonny face, ay, far beyond what bonny is generally thow’t for to be. She had little hands, plump white arms, and the shapliness of her bodice was such as none could gainsay. I am not a good hand at setting off a maiden’s charms, but she was, as I have said, summat wo’th looking at.
In this end where my kitchen is, there came to live an old chap called Simon Carter, and with him came his son, Andrew, a young spark, not over twenty years of age. Andrew Carter fell head ower ears in love with Matty, but he got very little encouragement, at least not for some time. Then he began to feel that she was softening a bit, like. There’s little doubt but she would have awned she cared for him long afore she did, had she not known that old Simon was set again his son and herself keeping company. Indeed, he told her so more than once, saying to her “Not a penny o’ my brass shall he have if be doesn’t wed brass.” So matters stood, Matty refusing to listen to Andrew’s promises unless he could win his father’s consent to their lovemaking. Her mother, wiser in such matters, saw how it would end, for she saw that her daughter was softening towards the young fellow day by day.
“Mother,” said Matty one day, on coming in from her evening’s walk, “I am despert feared summat wae (dreadful) is a-brewing. Ya ken hoo, yestere’en, ‘at wa seed seven fire-bars shut athwart the sky, an’ it’s bud three neets sen gone, that thoo an’ me, while stan’ning by the gate, heeard t’ratchets ower-head. And this verra neet, mother, as I stood by the stile, wheea should I see aiming straight for where I was stan’ning but Andrew Carter, and me well knowing that he was not at home, but gone with his father to No’thallerton hoss fair sen yestermorn; but I seed him, seed him, mother, makking straight for me, an’ while I watched him there limped fra the hedge bottom a white rabbit — a rabbit ez white as new-laid snaw — an’ it ran athwart his path, reet i’ front on him. An’, mother, an’ he seed it not, kenn’d not what had happened; but I seed it, mother, an bud three strides did he take when the ground rave apart, so that there gaped i’ front of him a rift as wide as a new-dug grave. Its depth I ken not, an’ nowther did Andrew Carter, for on he cam’, bud tweea strides hed he ti tak when he mun a’e tumm’ld in. I meant for to call tiv him, bud my lips war dry, an’ my tongue wadn’t tak the wo’ds fra ma. An’ I was wakken, mother,” said Matty, dropping her voice, for in the excitement of telling her story she had come to speak high, as one does, you know, when much moved. She said a second time, “I was, mother, I was wakken’d, ay, as wide awake as I be now, when, just when all seemed like for to be owered with Andrew, summat lapp’d it all up — ivverything was ta’en away, an’ nowght war left o’ what had been. Ther’ war neea rabbit, neea gaping hole, an’ neea Andrew Carter — all, ivverything ‘at I’d been leeaking at nobbut a minute afore, war gone as clean as nowght ; bud, mother, I was wakken’d an’ I seed it.”
The old dame looked very apprehensive of evil, but for the moment she spake not a word. Her daughter saw that there war all manner o’ doubtful thoughts filling an’ flitting through her mind. So Matty supplemented what she had said already by the addition of a further question.
“An’, mother, a’en’t I heard you say that at Bedale, where my Aunt Mary lived, a white rabbit used to show itsel nigh hand the church? An’ that when it was seen it foretell’d ill-deed, an’ ‘at death war dogging at somebody’s heels? Diz it ho’d ill for Andrew ?”
“Ay, ay,” murmured the dame, more to herself than to her frightened daughter; “so they said, an’ so once I knew it to be. It leeaks bad when t’ grund yawns. Andrew Carter mun noo tak’ heed tiv his deeds, lest it hap’ that a spell should a’e been warked upon him by some ill-minded person.”
Noo, ya knaw, it war a queerish thing — one o’ them things like ‘at deea happen noos and again by chance — Simon Carter left No’thallerton with a friend, leaving his son to enjoy hissel a bit langer at the stirrings wiv a few mair young folk. Mebbe nowther Simon, ner him he war wi’, war free fra liquor. Onny road, Simon gat thrawn oot, and within an hour fra starting war hugged back into Allerton Toon ez deead ez a mile post. An’ so, when Andrew came back to the cottage, he came as its master.
Up to that time, his actions had been held in check by the old father, but now that the father was dead and all restraint gone, he began to show himself in his true colours. He fairly worried the life oot o’ poor Matty, while in the end she awned “at she liked him a bit.”
About this time, owther just afore au’d Carter war killed, or very shortly efterwards, there came a lass with a bairn at her breast, to lodge with an old dame whose cottage was near to the Low Green. No one knew where she came from, or who she was, neither could they succeed in gaining any information. Not even after plying her with their best form of inquisitive questions were they any the wiser. There she was, and with that they had to be satisfied.
Then all Yatton were thrown into quite a state of excitement, sike ez edn’t been knawn for monny a lang year. This young body war found murdered, laid dead in the Holly-garth. She had been brayed on t’head with a stake which war lying hard by, an’ not a soul ed onny suspicion of onnybody. There was nowght she had ever let drop, not a word she had ever said, that pointed to anyone likely to harbour any ill-feeling towards her. She had never been seen in company with or speaking to anyone. It was one of those dark mysteries over which an impenetrable veil seemed to have been drawn, and which no man’s hand was to be allowed to lift. Of course many and various reports were soon afloat. One spoke of a dark man who had been seen by some one hovering about the neighbourhood, and who had been seen holding converse with her. Another tale, was, that a fine lady had been seen, not far from coach and four, passionately declaiming against her, and had been seen to strike her. Lastly, it was whispered that, she had left her child asleep saying she would be back presently. This was quite true; the report then went on to say that she had been seen sitting by the Leven side, with a young man lying at her, feet, and she was sobbing as if her heart would break. But this and all the other tales proved to have no sound foundation when carefully looked into.
“It’s a queer thing,” said one of a group of gossips, “that Matty Breckon su’d claim yon bairn.”
“Ay, they say ‘at she just went ti dame Sayers, an said, I’ll take care of that poor girl’s baby; give it to me, you are too old to undertake such a burden now. An’ she took it yam wiv her,” said the second.
“Thoo’s tells a true tale, Jane, for I heard what thoo ez just said frev au’d Mary hersel,” declared another of the group.
“Ez Matty been ill, eh summat? fer Ah seed her tother neet, an’ she leeaked ommaist ez pale ez deeath?” questioned one.
“Neea. Ah deeant knaw,” answered a young mother, “bud I knaw what Matty seed summat. What! Ah deeant reetlings knaw, bud Ah deea knaw this, ‘at sha’s gi’en Andrew Carter t’cau’d shoulder. He didn’t want her ti tak t’bairn, bud she tell’d him plain oot, that its mother ‘ed com’d tiv her a neet er tweea afore sha war fun deead, and begged of her, if owght happened tiv her, ti’ tak’ her bairn, an’ tak it sha ‘ed, an’ sha meant fer ti keep it; an’ sha tell’d him plain ‘at sha aimed fer ti stick tult.”
“An’ pray wheea’s tell’d tha all that labberment2“A splashing, a washing of linen on a small scale.” I assume in this context it means gossip.?” questioned a neighbour.
“It’s not labberment, but God’s truth, fer if ya want ti knaw, I ower heard ivvery wo’d on’t pass atween ‘ern.”
“Diz ta knaw what, thoo’s saying, lass? Thoo’d better ho’d thi whist, or thoo’ll mebbins a’e ti upho’d what thoo’s just said,” cautiously advised a listener.
“What Ah’ve just said, Ah’s riddy ti upho’d when many body axes ma,” boldly declared the speaker.
These few words were very soon widely whispered. They wore openly spoken and discussed, and very soon led to Matty herself being questioned; but little information did they gain from her. “What passed between the bairn’s mother and myself, what has passed between Andrew Carter and myself, I do not intend to repeat to any one. If Andrew has a mind to tell you what he knows he is free to do so.” That was all Matty had to say, and she served one and all alike.
“Ah aim it wad be better Andra, if thoo oots wi’ what thee knaws, be it lahl or mich, for thoo mud ez weel knaw ‘at ther’s some despert queer talk aboot tha,” said one of a nightly gathering then congregated in the village bar of the village hostel.
“Oh! an’ what are folk saying about me?”
“Why, tha’re hinting like, ‘at thee knaws summat aboot yon bairn ‘at Matty’s gitten. An’ warse ‘an that.”
“Oh’a an’ pray what warse?”
“Whya ‘at thoo kenn’d its mudhar, if thee wants ti knaw.”
“Noo leeak here chaps,” said Andrew, striking the table with his doubled fist, so heavily, that the crushers3“A glass or metal rod, with a button-like end, for crushing the sugar in toddy.” chinked in their glasses, “ther’ll a’e ti be an end ti’ this clack an’ clash4“idle discourse bandied about, uninterrupted loquacity.”. D’ye ken, that amang ya, wi’ yer thowghtless clacking, that ya’re gahin ti tak’ mah cract’er away? Is ther neean amang ya at’s gitten a lahl bit o’ gumption an’ mense aboot ya? Is ther’ neeabody gitten a wo’d ti say i’ mah favour?” looking slowly roond upon the company as he put the question so deliberately, that his glance rested upon each one separately for an instant. He added with great force, indeed almost angrily —
“Upon my wo’d Ah deean’t knaw what ya jillous ma on. Ah weean’t believe ‘at onny on ya aim ‘at Ah ken owght aboot yon poor lass’s deeath; for it’s ez true ez gospel, Ah nivver spak a wo’d tiv her i’ mah life, an’ neeabody can say ‘at ivver Ah did.”
“Yes Ah can,” said one, without removing the pipe from his lips.
“Thoo can!” exclaimed Carter, turning sharply upon the speaker, and it was observed that he turned very pale, and had to moisten his lips with his tongue before speaking.
“Aye, Ah can,” was the laconic, and unmoved reply.
“An’ where did thoo see ma speaking tiv her?”
“Thoo owght ti be yabble ti’ call t’place ti’ mind thisen, if thoo’s ‘ed that lahl clack wiv her, ‘at thoo’s fergettin t’time ‘at Ah’s telling on.”
“Whya wheear was ‘t ?” asked Carter, in a very subdued tone.
“Ah did, thoo’s reet, bud Ah’d clean fergitten ‘t if thoo seed uz, ablins thoo heeard what wa war evving ower, an’ Ah hopes ‘at thoo did, that’ll sattle t’job. Did ta?”
“Neea, Ah can’t say that I did, but Ah aimed ‘at ya war scrapping ta’en with tither.”
“To tell the truth,” began Carter, wiping his brow, and blowing as if uncomfortably hot, “Ah really ‘ed fergitten ‘at Ah ‘ed a wo’d wiv her. It war i’ this road, Ah met her, an’ sha axed ma if Ah knaw’d wheear Matty lived, an’ Ah tell’d her. An’ then, nobbut i’ fun, ya knaw, I dropped a wo’d aboot t’bairn sha war hugging, an’ Ah ablins said summat a lahl piece ower bad. Onny road sha flited sairly, an’ rapped ma mah knuckles soondly fer ma.” With this explanation, Andrew drained his tankard, paid his score, and left the company.
“What’s ta genning at Tom?” enquired one of the company, who had listened with open mouth to all that had been said.
“Nay nowght mich,” said he who had so upset Carter with his remark. “Nobbut he said what he’d nivver spokken ti t’lass, and then he awned ti evving a bit ov a scrap i’ Newton lonnin; bud it war i’ Stowsla6Stokesley lonnin wheear Ah seed ’em. Seea he mun a’e seen her mair ‘an yance, maunt he?”
Dating from that night, Carter noticed that his friends and acquaintances began to look with suspicion upon him. He swore with great force and hardihood that he would bring them to boot for their evil gossip. There began to be stories whispered that the murdered girl’s spirit had come again. Someone when walking down the Holly-garth, had seen her standing upon the very spot where her blood had been spilt. Others coming by the common path leading across the old churchyard saw a “wailing white figure” moving to and fro as if in great distress. The climax came when the sexton, a worthy man and of good repute solemnly declared that he had seen the figure of the murdered girl. Said he:
“Ah war coming fra Tanton and i’ neea ways thinking owght about the moddered lass, when Ah seed stan’ning reet ewer anenst Willie Wallran’s yat7‘gate’, the figure o’ the deead lass stan’ning reet i’ t’middle o’ the road. The minute Ah seed it, Ah cried alood “the Lord a’e marcy on mah wicked soul; Ah pray forgiveness for all mah wrang deeds.” Alt deean’t knaw what Ah held mah peace for want o’ breath, the spirit o’ you lass wheea Ah weel knew in the flesh by sight, held up her hand and pointed in the direction o’ Andrew Carter’s hoos, an’ ya, may tak mah wo’d for ‘t he ez summat ti answer for.”
For the benefit of a stranger, who had begged the company fill their glasses at his expense, this story was told to a spell-bound audience one night in the hostel aforementioned, and a fitting night it was for such a story. Several times before this eventful night had the old sexton recounted what he had seen; but on this night he more than once had to wait in the recital of it whilst a fearful crash of thunder, or the awesome effect of a blinding flash of lightning had passed away. It had been a dreadful day, and although the storm was really passing away, still now and again the telling of the story had to wait until nature’s voice was hushed. Unnoticed by anyone except the stranger mentioned, Andrew Carter had crept into the room at the very commencement of the story. Not a word did he speak as he listened to its weird recital, but pale, haggard, and worn, he sat the stillest of that little company, shrinking into the smallest space in a dark corner which, for the time, hid him from their sight. At its conclusion a smoking oil-lamp having been placed upon the mantelshelf, his presence amongst them could no longer be hidden. The moment he was seen, the stranger sprang to his feet and, pointing towards him, was about to speak when Carter, having his eyes turned towards the sexton, and not noticing the stranger, said :
“Now look here, good folk, just let me once for all show you on what poor, on what wicked grounds you are making me out to be a murderer, for as true as gospel you are doing so. You have heard the sexton’s story. He has told you that he saw you lass’s sperrit. Mebbe he did; mebbe he wasn’t sober, Ah can’t say; but let’s say he did see her pointing. Noo, ez fair men, isn’t it likely sha was pointing, not in anger, but in joy, to where her bairn is being so kindly tended? Did sha say she was pointing to mah hoos? Did she say or do owght to prove which cottage she war pointing at? Noo come, be fair.”
Those gathered together for the first time in a long while admitted that they had judged him harshly and unfairly.
“When ya come for to judge yan fairly, yare boun’ for ti awn ‘at ther’s nut a thing again ma, nut a stain upon mah cract’er. Noo is ther?”
“Yes there is,” fell from the lips of the stranger.
“An’, pray, what stain deea you ken on?”
“There is the worst stain of all upon your character — a stain which has sunk into your very soul — the red stain of blood.”
It was, as those gathered together afterwards said, an awful moment. The speaker was an old man, tall and white-haired. Though past middle-age, he was yet hale and strong, with compressed lips, and eyes shining with long supressed anger. The concluding part of his declamation, “the red stain of blood,” seemed so awful because it sounded so true.
“And what may you want here?” asked Carter. It was a senseless question, but it fell from the lips of one from whom sense was fleeing.
“I want,” said the stranger slowly, “to put you to the test. You sir, are Andrew Carter. No man has mentioned your name or pointed you out. I never set eyes upon you until a few minutes ago, when you crept into this room because you dare not stay alone in the storm lest the judgment of God should strike you dead. I have sat here in this room, Andrew Carter, for some hours, waiting until the seventh man should enter. I was told to wait for that seventh man. I was told that he would be Andrew Carter, and I was told that he would be stained with the blood which he had spilt with his own hand. You say, you have already said, that you did not murder the girl you had already ruined, she whose name, in this company, ay, and in this village, too, is only known to you and and me. She is dead, and let her name remain unknown. And now, Andrew Carter, I am here to put you to the test. This night, near the hour of midnight, I will lay upon that girl’s grave a certain article — never mind what; it is something easily found and light to carry. I dare you Andrew Carter, to hour, and bring that article here to go thither this evening, at midnight’s me, in the presence of these good people now listening to my voice. Refuse to do this act, and, as there is a just Creator, I will accuse you of that girl’s murder, and I will never leave you until your lifeless body swings as dead carrion in the night wind. Bring that article and lay it upon this table, and I swear to leave you and this place at sunrise to-morrow, and never in this life will I trouble you again.”
Andrew Carter stood for a moment speechless. What he felt none knew. But it was only for a brief moment. Without almost a tremour in his voice, he said:
“Look you here, sir, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. If such a silly proceeding as you suggest will satisfy my friends — l have no need to trouble myself about you — but if it will satisfy them, and prove my innocence to them, I dare fetch from yon poor lass’s grave owght that you lig on it. So let’s ‘ev a pack o’ cards in, and a bowl o’ t’devil’s punch steaming hot, an’ wall ‘ev a neet on ‘t. Will ya join uz, sir?”
The stranger declined, moodily sitting in his corner, never once taking his eyes off his victim. Hour after hour sped by, until near the hour of midnight, when he arose and called for a lanthorn8archaic spelling of lantern..
“I shall be back inside of five minutes, when I shall hand the lanthorn to you, and we will wait your return.” So saying, he took the light and a parcel from his great-coat pocket, and left the house.
“Thoo’s drukken mair this neet ‘an Ah ivver seed tha tak, Andrey. Bud Ah nivver seed tha sa lahl t’ warse fer drink at onny time,” said one, as Carter lifted the punch bowl to his lips and drained it to the last drop.
It was not long, less than the five minutes mentioned, ere the stranger joined the expectant and trembling company.
“Here’s the lanthorn, and we will wait your return.” Not a word did Carter speak; he just seized hold of the light, and in spite of an effort to seem careless, they noticed it shake in his hand an if carried by one stricken with the palsy9“an attack or fit of paralysis.”. Not a word did any of those present utter. Silent they sat, looking at one another.
How long they thus sat listening for his returning footsteps they could never say. So silent were they that the rush of the now swollen beck could be heard as it lashed itself into an angry foam against the wooden piles of the footbridge hard by.
“Lord save our souls,” exclaimed the sexton whilst the rest groaned, too terrified to speak, as there broke upon the stillness of the night a wail torn from a soul stricken with a deadly and terrible fear. It came to them from the churchyard. It was not a cry for help. It was a wail of agony and despair. Not one of the company moved; not one dared to speak. For nearly a quarter of an hour they thus remained, waiting and wondering why he did not return. Afterwards, when talking the matter over, it seems that every one of them had just decided they would go home, when without any warning footstep upon the gravel, there stood within doorway the pale haggard figure of Andrew Carter. In his hand he held a knife red with blood, whilst his garments were dripping with wet. It was evident that he had been in the beck; perhaps (they thought) he had missed the bridge. No doubt that accounted for the wail they had heard. He had been calling for help, but even at the time something told them that it was not the true meaning of that dreadful cry; and all these thoughts passed through their minds in an instant, and whilst they thus looked upon the figure it vanished as smoke from the bowl of a pipe — not suddenly, but faded away before their wondering, terrified gaze. As it did so they knew — every one of them knew — that it was the spirt of Andrew Carter they had seen, and not his bodily form.
The lanthorn was found lying where it had dropped from his trembling hand not far from the grave; but of the man himself no trace could be found or a word could be heard. For some weeks his disappearance remained a mystery. It might have remained for ever, had not some children been frightened by seeing a foot sticking out of the sand in the beck. He had been drowned and carried away by the flood and buried in the sand.
Thus ends one of the old-time stories which in its day has blanched many a maiden’s cheek, and made her brave lover gallop his hardest home.
- 1Blakeborough, Richard. ‘Andrew Carter. A Story of Canny Yatton 150 Years Ago’. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 19 April 1902 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19020419/122/0012> [accessed 23 October 2022]
- 2“A splashing, a washing of linen on a small scale.” I assume in this context it means gossip.
- 3“A glass or metal rod, with a button-like end, for crushing the sugar in toddy.”
- 4“idle discourse bandied about, uninterrupted loquacity.”
- 8archaic spelling of lantern.
- 9“an attack or fit of paralysis.”