Sunday, 24 June 2007

Rosedale Abbey - the village

The village nestles, unsurprisingly enough, in Rosedale, It is one of the many dales of the North York Moors. Rosedale is characterised by areas of deciduous woodland that give it a softer, less rugged appearance than nearby Farndale and is less populated than Eskdale which lies to the north-west.

It lies between bleak moors where hardy sheep crop the tough grass, standing firm on their spindly black legs in the wildest of winds. The most spectacular and magical approach is from Kirkby Moorside via Hutton le Hole. The road climbs up over the bleakest of moorland and then drops precipitously down Rosedale Chimney Bank into the village proper. It is well worth stopping half way down - The White Horse Inn is as good a place as any - and gaze down on the rooftops. At the eastern edge, with the village playing field (and site of the annual Rosedale show) is our chapel.

As you enter the village, the temperature rises several degrees. Unless the wind is from the north, the village is softly sheltered, home to wisteria and honeysuckle. The little river Seven flows through the village where it is joined by the Northdale Beck. At the heart of the village is the green with bench under the sycamore tree and the Abbey Tearooms. This and the new delicatessen are the only shops, but it boasts three pubs. The Millburn Arms, the Couch House Inn and the White Horse. Further exploration reveals a huddle of single story cottages surrounding the tiny church of St Lawrence's with its churchyard, a ruined turret, the junior school, several terraces of Victorian cottages, a duckpond, two converted Methodist chapels. On its outskirts are two campsites, both quiet and well-landscaped.

According to the guidebooks, the first question visitors ask is "where is the abbey?" There are two answers to this question. The first is, there never was an abbey, but a small, undistinguished priory of no more than ten women at any one time. It was founded in twelfth century and stood until the Dissolution of 1535. The only obvious remnant is the turret mentioned above which was apparently a staircase, either to the nuns' dormitory or part of the priory church. Now weeds, moss and lichen sprout from its crevices. But, look around and the second question finds its answer. You will find evidence of the priory scattered about but you have to look carefully. There's a carved inscription over the door of the nineteenth century church, a so-called bishop's chair by the altar (which may actually have been a privy). The Victorian terraces are all built from stone robbed from the ruins. A pair of gateposts on Heygate Lane were clearly once part of a medieval window. A stone face grins up at you from a cottage garden rockery. Dry-stone walls around neighbouring fields have a vaguely ecclesiastical air.

After the ladies left Rosedale, thanks to Henry VIII and his despotism, scattered who knows where and with who knows what misery, the buildings slowly crumbled but were still largely intact, albeit roofless, in the early nineteenth century. That was until something was discovered in the surrounding hills.

Not gold - but iron, a far more useful commodity for the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. Mines were dug; railway lines soon festooned the once peaceful slopes to carry the spoils north to Middlesbrough and the world. And where you have mines, you have miners. And miners needed somewhere to live. And miners had wives, children, brothers, sisters. Miners needed coal, wood, oil and food. Their houses needed beds, cups, tin baths and buckets, Pretty soon, what was once a sleepy ruin became a thriving, noisy and crowded village. Houses, workshops, pubs and shops appeared, all built from the useless rubble of some old ruins left lying around. The church was rebuilt and two Methodist chapels appeared. Schools, meetings rooms, even a reading room for for man cannot live by bread alone.

It was not to last. Although the iron had not been exhausted, it gradually became increasingly uneconomical to shift it from Rosesale into the places where it was needed. More easily mined ore was found elsewhere close to the coalfields and the docks. The General Strike of 1926 was the final nail in the almost completed coffin. The miners followed the industry and Rosedale once more settled back into sleepy obscurity. The ghosts of buildings, like the priory before it, were absorbed into the landscape; the spoil heaps greened, the indistrial buildings became nest sites for moorland birds, shelters for sheep. Even as late as the nineteen seventies, the chimney that topped the steep lane into the village and gave it its name was demolished, although the name will no doubt always endure. The railway tracks now form splendid paths for walkers to skirt the dale and soak up the silence.

And when the day-trippers have licked their last cornet, the walkers packed their rucksacks and returned home and the owls begin to call, Rosedale Abbey is left, as always, to the few who call it home. Before long we shall join them.

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