Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

Fishlake History Society

Recording historical information before it disappears

What the travel writer found of Fishlake 120 years ago.

(Fishlake at the very end of the nineteenth century).

A Village Among The Windmills.

By Harwood Brierley.

A transcript taken from The Newcastle  Courant. July 1 1899.

Some background information about the author.

Arthur Harwood Brierley, was a travel writer, who had been described as not shy of using hyperbole.

Harwood Brierley, was born in Beeston, Leeds, in 1866, later lived in Bradford, and during the first decade or so of the 1900s he lived in York, first at Elm Crescent, Heworth, and then on Stockton Lane. In the census returns of 1901 and 1911 he described his occupation as litterateur.

This unashamedly romantic and often poetic essay describes the village and people of Fishlake at the very end of the 19 th century. However, despite these shortcomings, the detail it contains is fascinating much of which would be hard to find elsewhere. For example, his detailed descriptions of people and places are very compelling.

"On the north side of the River Don, 10 miles north east from Doncaster, and stands the red brick village of Fishlake, at one time more prosperous than we find it at the latter end of this 19th century -that is, if it's parish eke-name of "Poor Fishlake" is strictly applicable. The quartet of neighbouring places has thus been sung in rhyme from time immemorial:

Hatfield's as proud as a cock,

Stainforth is rich through it dock,

Fishlake as poor as church mice,

And Thorne is lousy with lice.

The artist-eye is entertained by a group of imbricated red roofs, windmills in full sail, a few graceful abeles and Lombardy poplars, orchards to be soon hanging down with fruit, silvery willows and mutilated pollards, cows enclosed meadows between the houses, and narrowly paved walks between hedges, lilacs and laburnums that never fail to blossom in the spring, while on the warm south side, just where converge the two roads that shape the village into a pointed oval, stands the old collegiate-like church of St. Cuthbert, serving as a landmark for all the Holland of Yorkshire around.

The ferry house lies round the corner past the church, and there we find the Don looking so muddy and sluggish that no doubt the fishing is preserved by those who fish with patience and expect no reward! Trumfleet, yonder, with its fine white fun tailed windmill, it's scattered pan tiled houses, it's dykes and drains beautified by the flashing yellow blossoms of the marsh marigold, it's quaint bridge, and Dutch- like scenery generally, presents an opportunity for the amateur to develop into practical art his theoretical views, the outline on the objects herein concerned being for the most part as simple and sweet as Mozart in music.

All the way alongside the road into Fishlake are the marketable willows or pollard's -old, squab, knotted, carbuncular, lance-sprouting things, flourishing a like in the lush meadows in front of every farmstead, and in the steep bank of every drain. It is easy for fancy to trace grotesque forms and faces in their knobbed and knotted barks, while the practical farmer sees in the boughs such forthcoming commodities as hedge-stakes, thatch pegs, and pea-sticks. Wherever one goes there are the open drains of pellucid water, entirely innocent of sewage, and all wild, floating, flower-gardens gay with the various colours put forth by the marsh-marigold, forget-me-not, and brooklime.

The abele-tree of Fishlake have been mostly hacked to death, but it is Lombardy populars, like tall chimneys in the gloaming, or like minarets of vegetable growth, still aspire skywards as worship-chambers for the birds of the air. Hedge-bottoms are brilliant with white and red dead-nettles intertwined with blue ground-ivied and out yonder are velvety alder-beds with thin fringes of silvery yellow, and river reaches reflecting the fire-flashed purple clouds or patches a bright blue sky. Pearly sheep he in the enclosure fenced with golden gorse, a herd of mares and colts feed with a parcel of cattle and geese in an open grass-fen; time was when the unreclaimed meres were dotted with fowl, and the cattle waded along their edges in search of the lush sedge-grass.

There are still the windmills graced with appendages more for utility than ornament, their white criss-cross sails going methodically round and round after the manner of their Flemish parents, which saw timber and cut tobacco, but around Fishlake except the humbler and duty of preparing pig and poultry foods. Silver-leaved willows, blue tufted vetches, and wild roses conspire to invest the most commonplace "tuffil" with a charm that would become Celia's arbour, and really tend to disguise the meaning of such an extraordinary term, which may or may not be synonymous with "Ellum", "Linhay", or old teazle shed.

For one, I love it all, and I see in its inspiration for pen and pencil, from quiet lanes where Sam Robinson, the rural postman, steers his antique tricycle with the spade-handles and pilot-wheel at the rear! The whole dressed in a garb of electric blue paint, and decorated with a cock's feather stuck in the oil hole of the little wheel - to that very muddy riverside where a flat bottomed little boat like a little pram, less ornamental than a Dutch trekschuit, is pushed by a thin woman across the ferry.

There is no Antwerp, no Ghent, no Bruges in this Flemish multum in parvo, but one gets an in dissolving view of river, canal, irrigation cut, Sir Cornelius Vermuyden's drain, locks where waters are always been churned, barges with their Argosy- sails, old stone bow bridges, busy windmills, embankments overgrown with coltsfoot flowers, while the very green and brown flat stretches away, illumitable, to an horizon where, from the roundness of the earth, the trees are hulled down like ships far out to sea. The canals, with their steep green banks and still waters that reflect every tree, barn, and quaint building, may be called the counterparts of those that stretch away from the gates of Bruges or of Ypres, from which latter place sprang the local historian, Abraham de la Pryme, once curate at the neighbouring country town of Thorne.

A pity, was it not, that Cuyp, or Hobbema, or Wouvermanus, or Vandervelde, or Ruysdael, or Bercham never spent a holiday in the Holland of Yorkshire! It seems strange to me that the least diversified country in the world, and one of the smallest countries too, should have produced such a long list of artists whose names are almost household words. Some of the descendants may, indeed, have got into this part of Yorkshire, as such Flemish names as Van Garth, Le Plas, Egar, Pryme, and Bruynne still occur. Sometime ago the incumbent of Thorne was Dutchman, Cornelius Vermuyden, who made the new arm of the River Don, was a Dutchman.

There is a tradition that the Dutch workmen under Vermuyden called Giles Bruynne, married one Arthura Hearne, the daughter of a well-to-do Fishlake farmer - but only after the girl's father had attempted to take his life. The murderous blows were struck at Fishlake, in Raymond Hearn's parlour, where Bruynne had wooed Arthura. This serves to show what animosity existed between the English folk and the Dutch when they came over to drain and colonise a third part of Hatfield Chase. It was a huge scheme, and it is quite probable that many of the Dutchman, who are employed by the peat moss litter firms at Goole to-day are descendants of Vermuyden's workmen.

Let me see. Has any change taken place since last was at Fishlake? The church clock is still standing -7.30 am or p.m. which? - And it has gone only for about three weeks during the last three years. But, alas! old George Downing, the shoemaker and Sexton has gone to his long rest, and so has his wife. Unlocking the west door, under the canopy containing the stone figure of St. Cuthbert, "oad George" used to usher visitors in to the ringing chamber, which lies on the ground floor, and recite the following lines from a peal-board nailed high up on the dark wall--

" Orders to be Observed".

All are you that are ringers these words will remark:

If the bells are thrown over by light or by dark,

Four pence you do forfeit, or your hat, to the clerk.

If any with hats on, or spurs, they do ring,

Four pence, without grudging, must pay into him.

Also, all new ringers on the entering day

Twelve pence each man to the old ringers must pay.

James Pitman, Clark, 1733.

Octogenarian George, Sexton of fifty years standing, was a tall, bending, civil old fellow, though alas! deafish, and requiring shouting to, when he answered low, quiveringly, smilingly, with a ruttle in his throat, using strange "wurruds". He told many parish memories, and was (like all the rest of the village) high in praise of the late vicar, the Rev George Ornsby, to whom the county at large owes a debt for his contribution to published folk-fore.

It was hay-time. In every field I had seen something of mowing, or tedding out, or raking into windrows or cocks, or loadening of waggons, and here, again, at Fishlake, the children from school were busy about it romping, laughing, some with their toy- shovels, others with their shirt -sleeves rolled up, officiously "helping" the men and masters to load or unload it. It is pitch-forked about from waggon-tops to chamber lofts, and clings like burs to wall-sides, telegraph-posts, hedges, and hay- chamber doorways. All the house-doors and windows are open, everybody seems to be busy and throng, bees are booming through the air and butterflies are flitting, through, honeysuckles and tempering the scent of the hay and it's pollen, and – and many are unwittingly contracting in "hay fever", which will soon set them off sneezing.

Fishlake is an ecclesiastical farm belonging to Durham. The Rev Eleazar Flecker (vicar) boasts not only nectarines, peaches, and apricots of prize value, but in "over the garden wall" he has a field of the very best yellow charlocks!

The garden of Mr Downing is all glorious with rows of hollyhocks and tall, wax-like, white lilies: a narrow aisle separating them from tall raspberry- canes laden with red, ripe, luscious fruit, to which I was told to help myself. There are cattle grazing near unrippled pools, beneath umbrageous apple-orchards, where the "dog-noses" are rapidly ripening, to the satisfaction of the fear-nought village boys as they pass on their way to school, daily eyeing the store and wishing that Farmer Hodge were as mystic as the guardians of the golden Hesperidean apples. Seemingly, all is peace and plenty at Fishlake".

Rob Downing January 2019.