Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

From Scugdale to America

Trudging wearily along the rugged landrover track across Whorlton Moor, passing by patches of scorched heather, you could smell the aftermath of yesterday’s burns. At long last, I reached the northern side of the moor. Below me sprawled the peaceful Scugdale valley, and up there, at the head of the dale, lay that broad col they call “Barker’s Ridge.” Crossing that col is a track – road might be too lofty a term – leading into Raisdale. It used to be accessible to vehicles, and off-road enthusiasts loved it, but there were efforts to change its classification. Down the dale a bit, you’d find a splendid view, a real picture postcard scene, filled with woods and dotted with farmhouses.

The head of the dale hosts just one building, High House. I remember it as a dilapidated place, but it seems like it’s undergone some renovation now. No doubt the ubiquous Airbnb. Perhaps I’m being disingenuous. Anyhow, it was here that a young lad named Henry Alexander Cooper, or “Harry,” entered farm service. At the age of 16, he fell prey to a serious fever that kept him bedridden for a staggering 13 weeks. This illness altered the course of his life dramatically. By then, he’d moved to Rosedale, where he toiled away as a mineworker in the booming ironstone industry. During this period of prolonged illness, Harry seems to have gone through an extraordinary growth spurt, growing an astounding 16 inches. He became a giant of a man, said to stand at a towering 8 feet 6 inches, with hands measuring 13 inches long and feet an enormous 17 inches. Harry was now Britain’s tallest man and a veritable Goliath. How he coped in the confines of an ironstone drift is anyone’s guess1Elliot, Albert. [n.d.]. Henry Cooper, the Scugdale Giant -a Tall Tale <https://www.nyma.org.uk/_webedit/uploaded-files/All%20Files/History%20Tree/11%3A%20Henry%20Cooper%2C%20the%20Scugdale%20Giant%20%E2%80%93%20a%20Tall%20Tale.pdf>.

Henry Alexander Cooper c1880
A. Newman, 228 N Ninths Street, Philadelphia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

He made another move, this time to an ironstone mine at North Skelton in East Cleveland. One fine day, a travelling circus owner noticed Harry and offered him a spot in the show. That’s how his journey to fame as the world’s tallest man began. He toured the length and breadth of England, visiting countless cities and towns. While on tour, Harry caught the eye of none other than P. T. Barnum, and he didn’t hesitate to accept Barnum’s offer. He was billed as Henry Cooper, ‘The Yorkshire Giant – Tallest Man in the World,’ and set off on an adventure across America with Barnum’s Traveling Show, touted as the ‘largest show on earth.’ Quite the tale for a humble farm boy from Scugdale. See here for a previous posting about Henry Cooper.

As for the path over the col from Scugdale into Raisdale and beyond, it must be an ancient route, one can imagine. I reckon it was well-travelled back when Whorlton was a bustling market town. In the days of Edward I, Nicholas de Meinell secured a charter for holding a fair here2‘Notes & Queries. | York Herald | Saturday 15 October 1892 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000500/18921015/101/0012> [accessed 16 July 2023]. The town’s now vanished into thin air, with the village of Swainby, a mere quarter-mile away, hosting the largest cluster of houses. The castle, perched atop a commanding natural spur, had a circular layout, enclosing less than two acres, fortified by a deep moat and a drawbridge. In 1323, Edward II stopped by for a hunting excursion, probably to the deer park in Snotterdale. Edward, whom some historians label as a monarch of indolence and ineptitude. Anyway, all that’s left now of Whorlton Castle is the gatehouse.

Above High House, there’s a line of crags just over the 300-metre contour, known as Rand Crags. The glacial Lake Scugdale’s shoreline would’ve lapped at the base of these crags, likely causing their exposure through the erosion of softer shales undermining the harder sandstone strata. But, I must admit, this is mostly speculative pondering on my part.






4 responses to “From Scugdale to America”

  1. Robert MacNamara avatar
    Robert MacNamara

    Next time you visit East Sussex check out ‘Much Ado Bookstore’ . It’s a very nice bookstore and worth the stopover .

    1. Fhithich avatar

      I will but me going south of the Trent is about as likely as finding gold at the end of a rainbow during a lunar eclipse.

  2. John Richardson avatar

    I love the blog, anything to do with bilsdale, chop gate and riasdale where I lived as a child is an interesting and enjoyable treat. Great stuff. ATB, John

    1. Fhithich avatar

      Thank you, I’ve done numerous posts about those places. Utilise the ‘Search‘ function located in the top right corner of the webpage, or, if on a mobile device, access it through the two small lines icon, again top right corner of the screen.

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