Wednesday, 4 December 2013


A concrete managerie


A curious menagerie garden to be seen in the small village of Branxton in Northumberland was the work of joiner John Fairington. In 1961 at the age of 80, John began to make life sized concrete and cement animals to amuse his handicapped son Edwin. When he died 20 years later, John had acquired a vast menagerie of some 300 animals and other figures which completely took over his back garden. Inscriptions and verses abound in this ‘jardin imaginaire’ which is freely open to the public.


The Mouse


The tiny village of Kilburn nestles at the foot of the Hambleton Hills near Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire and is the home of a very famous animal, a mouse! Which is the trademark of a local wood carver.   The ‘Mouseman’, Robert Thompson, was born in Kilburn in 1886 and followed his father into the trade of wheelwright.   Robert was very fond of carving wood and loved English oak – ‘ No other wood has the same character as oak, and this is the medium with which I can express my feelings,’ he is quoted as saying to a monk at nearby Ampleforth Abbey who had recognised the young man’s skill.    Robert was commissioned for work at the Abbey and soon developed an interest in carving church furniture, although it was not such lucrative work at that time.   One day he thought of the expression ‘poor as a church mouse’ and had the idea to carve a mouse on his work.

Since that time the little mouse has appeared on all Thompson furniture and carvings and is renowned in churches and home throughout the country.    Many examples can be seen in churches everywhere, notably in York Minster and in Westminster Abbey.   Just look for the little mouse.   Robert Thompson died in 1955 aged 79 years and his half timbered cottage still stands in Kilburn close to the modern workshops where the Thompson family tradition is carried on by his family.   A visit to the workshops and showrooms is an enlightening experience and the mouse can be seen in action on most of the furniture in Kilburn church.

The mouse in Kilburn Church

The mouse at The Star Inn, Harome

The Canongate stag

A fine stag's head on the wall inside Jennie Ha's pub in Edinburgh's Canongate came from a stag which was killed in nearby Holyrood Park by a man called Eck as he walked to work one morning at the pub. The stag was running amok amongst tourists in the park and at great personal risk Eck ‘nutted’ the stag twice knocking it insensible and then wrested it to the ground finally finishing it off with his knife.
This also reminds us that Canongate’s emblem is a stag’s head deriving from a story that King David 1 was hunting in the park in 1128 when a stag charged and knocked him off his horse and wounded him. To fend it off the King reached out and clutched a cross he saw in its antlers. The cross came away in his hand and the stag turned away and left him alone. Thankful to be alive, the King asked the Augustinian Canons to build the Abbey of Holyrood on the spot – the ‘Church of the Holy Cross’.

Wild boar
Ripley near Harrogate in North Yorkshire is a small estate village connected to Ripley Castle.
This estate has belonged to the Ingilby family since the 14th century.  Thomas Ingilby  (1290-1369), who descended from a noble line dating back to the Norman Conquest, held high office in the judiciary during the reign of King Edward 111.  In 1355, while hunting wild boar with the King in the Forest of Knaresborough, Ingilby prevented the King from suffering serious injury or even death by killing a wounded boar that was about to attack the King. The King knighted him and granted him a Charter for a weekly market and annual fair at Ripley.
Sir Thomas adopted a boar’s head into his coat of arms.
Ripley wild boar
Boar's head door knocker at Ripley Castle

Killed   by  a ‘tyger fierce’


A poignant gravestone in the Abbey graveyard at Malmsbury in Wiltshire is a stark reminder of the days when the Circus came to town, in this case as far back as 1703.  33 years old Hannah Twynnoy was a maid at the White Lion Hotel in Malmsbury.  She died on October 23rd, 1703, after being savaged by a lion.   The epitaph on her gravestone reads :

In the bloom of life

She’s snatchd from hence

She had not room

To make defence

For Tyger fierce

Took her life away

And here she lies

In a bed of clay

Until the Resurrection Day.

Hannah's gravestone



Charlie the elephant


Soon after the Second World War, Billy Butlin opened one of his largest holiday camps on the outskirts of Filey on the Yorkshire coast.  The camp was serviced by its own railway station and had absolutely everything for the complete holiday for 11,000 people, with 1,000 staff.
In 1961 a tragedy occurred at Butlins – the keeper of Charlie the elephant – died.  Charlie, a firm favourite with young and old, then became quite violent and bad tempered and was totally inconsolable.  The problem was so great that eventually Charlie had to be put down.   His stall was sealed off and he was gassed by the fumes from a lorry.  He was buried at the side of the elephant house.
The camp closed down in 1983 and in 1989 the buildings were demolished when the site became derelict.   At the turn of the century permission was granted for the site to be re-developed.   What a shock for somebody should they uncover Charlie’s remains!

Deriliction at Butlin's

The Hartlepool Monkey


A cast iron monkey which can be seen alongside the lock which gives access to the inner harbour at Hartlepool in the North East of England is used to collect coins for charity.  It reminds us of the story that a French ship was wrecked off the headland during the Napoleonic Wars. Apparently the only survivor was a monkey which was dressed in a French Sailors’ uniform, probably the ships mascot.  The simple fishermen who found the monkey had never seen a monkey before, nor had they seen a Frenchman, and they assumed that it was a French spy.  They put the monkey on trial and it was sentenced to death. The ceremony was duly carried out on the beach when the monkey was hanged as a spy.
The Hartlepool monkey


Whalebone arch


The port of Whitby in North Yorkshire reached its hey day in the 18th century when it was the centre of the whaling industry.    The only reminder of those times is the fine ‘whalebone arch’, a curiosity which is preserved on the West Cliff.

Another ‘whalebone arch’ can be seen at the entrance to a private house drive in the village of Threekington in Lincolnshire.   The local squire had business interests in the whaling industry in the 19th century.



Kirkdale Cave


In 1821 quarry men, working in a quarry alongside Hodge Beck in Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire, uncovered a cave in which they found a large amount of bones.   Dr Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford, explored the 100 yards long cave  and found the remains of no less than 200 hyenas, as well as the bones from a huge variety  of wild animals and tools and weapons of Stone Age man.   The animals included woolly and slender nosed rhinoceros, lion, mammoth, hippopotamus, European bison, reindeer, wolves, bears, straight tusked elephants, wild ox and deer.   This find rocked the scientific thinking world and put new ideas about what had in fact happened in the far distant past.   Dr Buckland concluded that the cave had been a hyena lair and that the other remains were of animals dragged there by the hyena’s for food.
It seems that Kirkdale Cave was originally a river cave which was left well above the river level after the retreat of the ice during the last phase of the ice-age.  There were times of warmth between the glaciated periods and it was during the last of these which spanned something like 50,000 years, that the hyena’s came to Kirkdale and left the remains, proving that Britain had once been the home of animals which up to that time had been thought to be far removed from these shores.   A truly remarkable discovery.

Kirkdale cave

The Three Wise Monkeys

A troop of monkeys to be seen at The Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland are Japanese snow monkeys and are the origin of the 'Three Wise Monkeys'. Shinto priests at Kyoto have thought of these monkeys as messengers to the gods for some 1500 years.
The Japanese character for monkey is pronounced as 'saru' ('zaru; means not). A play on words led to the monkey being used with phrases : Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru = 
see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Snow monkeys


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