Yesterday morning, Shirley and I took our permitted exercise in Ecclesall Woods – an area of natural woodland less than half a mile from this house. I made a point of passing by George Yardley’s grave. He was a charcoal burner who tragically burnt to death in his humble woodland cabin on the night of October 11th 1786. Little is known about him so I decided to make up a story…
THE WOOD COLLIER
My name is Tom Smith. I was born in the parish of Ecclesall Brierlow, on the southern edge of Sheffield town in t’ year of our lord seventeen hundred and forty two. My father William were a besom maker afore me and twas he as taught me the business of it all and how to make a penny or two to keep t’wolf from t’door.
We had an hovel in t’woods by t’track as leads to Beauchief Abbey an’ that’s where we worked come rain or shine, winter or summer mekkin us besoms or brooms as some calls ‘em. And they were good besoms too. Stout handle of hazel and dry birch twigs bunched at bottom tied tightly wi willow withies. No better besoms were made in all of Hallamshire.
Them woods were allus misty wi smoke from t’charcoal burners’ mounds. They needed charcoal see for furnaces in t’valley. Charcoal’s hotter than wood. Hot enough t’melt iron ore.
Course we knew some o’them lads – wood colliers I mean – them as made charcoal. On Friday neets me an me old man’d toddle off t’ Rising Sun pub on Abbey Lane afore headin’ home. And over years we got reet friendly wi an old lad called George Yardley. He could tell a story or two and he could sup ale like a ruddy ‘orse he could.
He lived in a cabin int woods, on his own like. Just a short toddle from t’pub. Any money old George got he’d spend on ale or rabbits from gamekeeper Mester Glossop.
Anyway back in 86 , George’d been in Rising Sun till chucking out time. Landlord said he were weavin’ like a sailing boat on t’sea. But that were no different from usual.
It were a chilly autumn neet. Maybe George lit a fire afore retirin’ to his bed. Maybe it were a candle. Nobody knows for sure. But next mornin’ his cabin were burnt to ground. All black an’ smouldering it were.
Me dad and me we were among first at t’ scene. There was nowt you could do. Nowt. George’s body were under t’ burnt roof timbers. Smell were terrible. We left it t’others t’pull the poor devil out.
He were a good lad were George. He allus said that he wanted to be buried where he had lived and worked for nigh on fifty years. So that’s what we did. We buried him there under t’trees - waitin’ for winter snows to cover paths, waitin’ for birdsong to fill t’trees, waitin’ for t’bluebells to come again.
It were Sampson’s notion to get a gravestone for George. We knew a young stone mason from Totley who’d do it cheap like. So that’s what we done and it’s still there to this day. I’d often walk by it when scouring for hazel and think of old George in t’Rising Sun all them years past.
You have a great imagination, YP. I enjoyed the story of George.ReplyDelete
I hope the dialect was not too much of an obstacle.Delete
You're a great storyteller. It was interesting to read of a man that loved his drink maybe just a bit too much. He had good friends though and was put to rest just where he had always wanted to be. It is amazing that his grave is still so well marked.ReplyDelete
As with Jennifer, it is pleasing that you were able to get through the Yorkshire dialect Bonnie. Thank you.Delete
You know you are a gifted writer, Neil. I remember your story of the lad who travelled the packhorse path with his father. You could make a collection of historic short stories set in Yorkshire. I'd definitely buy your new book.ReplyDelete
Too kind my friend. As the years pass my dreams of publication erode still further. In any case my son broke through the barrier with "Bosh!" books. He has done it for me.Delete
A good bedtime story for the grandchildren.ReplyDelete
Drunkenness and burning flesh. Yes, that would go down very well with small children JayCee.Delete
It would make a great book YP. Other characters could include: Daniel Flagstone the Dry Stone Waller, Webster the brewery drayhorse, Billy the bodger and spindle maker and Larry Luddite the factory machinery fixer. Great story YP. Happy Easter.ReplyDelete
...and there'd be David Northsider the grumpy gardener who had a habit of chasing serving wenches into his polytunnel.Delete
They are welcome if they are prepared to weed, water and want to multiply. The plants that is😊.Delete
Multiplacation should only happen when they are enjoying their elevenses. The wenches that is.Delete
Eee bah gum! T'edstooan's too gud fer 1786.ReplyDelete
Ah nivver knowed that tha was n'expert on 'eadstooans young fella-mi-lad. George's stooooan were cleaned up last year. Afore that it were caked in muck.Delete
Storytelling is an art which I much admire (particularly given my complete inability in that field).ReplyDelete
I disagree Graham. You have told some eminently readable real life stories over at "Eagleton Notes".Delete
Well done. The dialect was difficult but just made me slow down a little. I gathered a besom maker was a broom maker but I looked it up to confirm and then I read about charcoal burners. There is so much history I have no idea about, it's fascinating.ReplyDelete
It's snowing here, AGAIN! I'm tired of snow.
The narrator would have been an ordinary man with an ordinary tongue. I felt I had to capture a sense of how he would talk. Thanks for coping with the story Lily. Snow in mid-April? That is very unusual in northern England so I feel some sympathy. Surely springtime cannot be long.Delete
Great story YP, the dialect really makes it sing. There must be several books lurking in your blog posts . Bill Bryson, Gervase Phinn, Miss Read I have enjoyed them all. Have you written much about your classroom days or was it too raw?ReplyDelete
You are lucky to have such interesting walks close at hand. We are not allowed to use our cars unless going to essential work or the supermarket so can only gaze from the flat land at the distant hills and dream of what may eventually be possible again. We take so much for granted in the good times.
Wishing you,your family and all YP followers around the world all the blessings of Easter. I watched my Catholic services beamed from such diverse places as Singapore, Milwaukee, Lake Taupo and Rome. All with the same message of love and kindness and huge gratitude to the frontline health care workers. Staying home to give them a chance to win the battle.
Only 5 dead in New Zealand so far but that is 5 too many. Your country was swift to bring in lockdown measures and maybe you will reap the benefits of that decision. Thanks for calling by again and leaving an encouraging comment and my best wishes to you and your family... Neil (YP)Delete
I like your story, YP, especially how you worked the names on the headstone into the story and used dialect to make it feel real.ReplyDelete
I'm glad you spotted the names Jenny.Delete