Review: Yorkshire Oddities by Sabine Baring-Gould

Yorkshire Oddities - Sabine Baring-Gould
Read from August 24 to October 26, 2012 — I own a copy


I was sure I found this over at Google Books, but now I can't seem to find the link - so here it is at Internet Archive:



The book consists of all sorts of stories about people who were considered oddities (eccentrics) - the man who pretended to be a prophet but who wasn't, the man who was disappointed in love and spent 40+ years in bed, the man who trained a bull to accept a rider and rode it in fox hunts, etc. All of the tales have the "collected in the neighborhood" folklore feel, yet here and there they are less folklore and more really good storytelling. For example at the end of The White House:

p. 204 "...On this hill a gibbet had been erected, and there the three bodies were hung, with their faces towards the dismal flat and the gurgling stream where the murdered man had been drowned. There they hung, blown about by the autumn storms, screeched over by the ravens and magpies, baked by the summer sun, their bare scalps capped with cakes of snow in the cold winter, til they dropped upon the ground, and then the bones were buried and the gallows cut down."

And that's the part of the story that's come after the ghost. If you can't imagine those caps of snow, well, then your imagine isn't running amuck like mine is.


Having said that there are some that really drag on slowly with the amount of details, so don't expect this to be a book full of exciting stories. Some are only mildly interesting. But it's almost better that way, when you've been lulled into a false sense of security by the other more quiet tales of people and suddenly there you are - bodies hunt on the gibbet. (That's not where they were hung by the way - leaving a body up to rot was a very old concept of law enforcement - 'here rot those who did evil, thus you should listen to their lesson.')


I enjoyed this one particular footnote, and wished that Baring-Gould had added more such notes, as I like this sort of information. Plus it also gives you an idea of the kind of research he was doing:


p. 274, footnote: "Greenwood is probably the most prevalent name in the neighborhood. Out of 755 entries in a public register in the neighborhood, the name Greenwood occurs 48 times, Helliwell 34, Sutcliffe 33, Cockcroft 18, Smith 18, Akroyd 15, Crabtree 15, Mitchell 14, Stanisfield 13, Uttley 13,....


We may here remark on the prevalence of patronymic names, which sometimes are really useful, however inelegant, in a district where the same names recur so frequently. Thus "John o' Abbie's" and "Joan o' Jim's" were the ordinary names of two individuals who were each legally designated John Stansfield. By how many useful variations is the name John Sutcliffe represented! To strangers this practice is the more puzzling from the frequent use of abbreviations, such as Eam, Than, Lol, Abbie, Jooas, Kit (or Katie), Joan, Tim, and Tum; For Edmund, Nathaniel, Lawrence, Abraham, Joseph, Catherine, John, Timothy, Thomas. There was formerly a "Jimmie o' Jamie, o' James, o' the Jumps." "George o' my Gronny's" and "Will o' Nobody's" are bold specimens of what may be done by the principle in question carried out with a little licence. Not unfrequently, also, people are named for their residences, as "John up th' steps," and "Old Ann o' th' Hinging Royd." Bye-names also become sometimes attached as if they were real family surnames. If it were not personal, many singular instances might be given. Persons are frequently unable, without some consideration, to recognize the legal names of their neighbors. Upon the hillside at Jumps, near Todmorden, I once asked a little girl who was her father. "Will o' th' Jumps," she replied. "And who's Will o' th' Jumps?" I again inquired. "He's Ailse o' th' Jumps, fellie," replied the girl; and I doubt whether she had any idea whatever of her legal surname.


This note came after a point in the chapter (The One Pound Note) where I'd had to turn back and reread to make sure that the Joan in the text - who kept being referred to as "he" - was indeed spelled Joan. (There are multiple John's in the story.) After reading the footnote it made a lot more sense. The footnote was probably placed where it was because that was the part of the story where legal names came in.