Written in 1892 by the
Rev. M.C.F. Morris B.C.L., M.A.
THE YORKSHIRE CHARACTER.
WHEN it is asserted, as it has been with much truth, that every other Yorkshireman you meet is a character, it must be borne in mind that over and above isolated peculiarities, there are certain characteristics attaching to the people generally who inhabit this part of England; indeed, it may be doubted if there is any county where the country-folk are so much sui generis as they are in Yorkshire. Although, I had almost said because yan on em myself, I feel it no easy matter to do them justice in attempting to delineate a few of the leading traits in their character. Born in the North Riding, living the chief portion of my life in the East, and now for the last twelve years having taken up my abode again in my native Riding, I have spent the main part of my time in the midst of Yorkshire folk. A six-years work as Diocesan Inspector of Schools took me to nearly every parish on this eastern side of the county, and brought me into contact with people of almost every sort and condition; my work, too, as a country clergyman has thrown me not a little into the society of my brother Yorkshiremen, and afforded opportunities which no other calling in life can give so favourably (unless it be the medical profession), of learning something of the ways, habits; modes of thought, customs, virtues, faults, failings, peculiarities, in short the character of the people among whom I have lived. It is inexcusable if by this time one has not learnt something of their ways.
It is allowed that Yorkshiremen are, as we say, good ti challenge: this saying is true more especially of that which presents itself to the eye and the ear; but I think the expression may be in a sense extended to the deeper and more real qualities of their nature, which certainly seem to possess features that mark them out as somewhat different from others. I have repeatedly noticed that when south-country people take up their abode with us in Yorkshire, they do not, as a rule, get on well with our people. The people do not take to them, and they do not like the people. For this, as for everything else, there must be a reason.
It is in the first place instructive to see how the Yorkshire character strikes the south-country man. Now there is a question which I have for years asked of my southern friends residing amongst us; it is this:
'What struck you most in the character of the Yorkshire people on coming to live amongst them?' I need hardly say that the replies have been varied; sometimes pointed, sometimes amusing, and generally more or less instructive. But out of them all there were two or three so oft repeated that I take it they were unmistakeably warranted by the fact of the case, and so make clear to us what some of our main characteristics really are.
To begin with what is unfavourable to us. Nearly all Southerners agree that our manners are not good. We are supposed to be rough and rude. 'Yorkshire people do say such rude things, and then they expect us not to mind it,' said a south-country lady to me one day in some distress of mind. I endeavoured to console her by reminding her that the rudeness could not have been intended, but was merely a straightforward way of putting things, which was after all more to be wished for than mere polish. No doubt the happy combination of fortiter in re and suaviter in modo is the state of things the most to be desired; but I think it must candidly be admitted that the latter is not one of our strong points. William of Wykeham's motto, 'Manners makyth man,' is not the typical Yorkshireman's motto; to say the least of it, he values what are generally deemed good manners very cheaply, though I am certain there is no one more quick to appreciate good breeding, not only in horseflesh, but in human kind, than he. The Yorkshireman has, no doubt, a way of speaking his mind very freely, and telling you what he thinks, even if his opinion be never so contrary to your own; what others would let you know by an innuendo or side-wind, he makes known to you without the slightest reserve or disguise. However unpleasant this habit may be at times, it has its advantages; you at least know where you are with them; you can always tell whether a Yorkshireman likes or dislikes what you do; he as good as tells you. I must add, however, that this bluntness of manner is more marked as between Yorkshiremen and strangers than as between themselves. Very frequently, too, it is aggravated or accentuated by the south-countryman's way of dealing with us: we are independent people, and any kind of interference with the free exercise of that independence is quickly resented. I have not unfrequently seen cases where Southerners, when in positions of authority, have treated our Yorkshire folk in a patronising spirit, and as if incapable of knowing their own minds. Few independent people like such treatment, but to Yorkshiremen this is especially galling: they like to be approached on equal terms of manhood. This in no way interferes with their willingness to treat others with respect; they will always respect any man whom they have proved to be worthy of respect. But prove him they must, before he can win their confidence or esteem ; but having won it, it is a man's own fault if he forfeits it. The Yorkshireman' s independence is of the most healthy kind; it is not only a good thing in itself but it also fits a man for making his way in the world, and struggling with the battles of life. And yet I have very often heard this very quality spoken of as if it were something to be deplored. 'You Yorkshiremen are such an independent lot'; 'I never came across such independent, ill-mannered people'; 'They are so independent, they don't seem to care for anybody' ; - these are the kind of remarks I have had to put up with in speaking with strangers about my fellow Yorkshiremen. This does not hurt us much; they do not understand us, that is all.
But yet it is not quite all; for outsiders have other dreadful things to say in answer to my stereo-typed question. 'Yorkshiremen are such money-lovers'; 'They keep such a tight grip over their purses'; 'It is uncommonly hard to get any money out of them.' Well, I daresay it is true that we, like a great many others, know the value of money fairly well. Perhaps even we attach a greater value to such a small sum as twopence than the Londoner does; still for all that, the Yorkshireman can be, and is, most liberal with his money when the reason for laying it out seems to him clearly to be a strong and a valid one. And this brings me to perhaps his most strongly marked characteristic, I mean his practicality. 'A more practical people do not exist than Yorkshire people. They look at every. thing from a practical point of view. What is best to be done under the circumstances, is a question which they know well how to answer in effect at all times. When a difficulty has arisen and the Yorkshireman says yan mun deea t' best yan can, you feel fairly satisfied that nothing will be left undone that should have been done. Closely connected with this feature is his utilitarianism. These two qualities combined guide him as to the expenditure of money. Sentiment or taste or ornament appeal to him but feebly. Again, most cautious and circumspect is the Yorkshireman in all matters, and especially those that touch his pocket directly or indirectly. This appreciation of the power of the purse makes him shrewd at making a bargain, and economical in all his ways.
I have been told many times that Yorkshire people are 'hard to get at'; that is to say that it is hard at first to know them. I remember once speaking to a young man who had just come from the South of England to enter upon business in Yorkshire, about his impressions of the people he came with excellent recommendations, and his character was in every way a satisfactory one. I put my old question to him in due form. The poor fellow seemed quite disheartened, 'Oh,' he said, 'they don't seem to take to me at all, although I have very good testimonials.' I felt half inclined to say, 'Of course they don't, and your testimonials might as well not have been written for all the good they will do you.' However, 'I encouraged him as best I could, and told him not to be too hasty in forming an opinion of the Yorkshire folk, because they were apt to be a little cold at first, but they were good at heart, and so forth. I met him again a year or so afterwards. His spirits were this time much more buoyant, and I could see that he was in an altogether happier frame of mind. He had won the confidence of those with whom he had to deal, they had treated him with kindness and consideration, and he said that nothing would induce him to go back to the South again. The fact was, the young man was content to do his best and wait patiently, and he found that, after all, the Yorkshiremen were not so unloveable as they at first appeared; he found, in short, that they had not only heads, but hearts also. It is true they are suspicious and shy of strangers, but whenever they admit another to their confidence, they are the truest and most steadfast of friends.
It is difficult to imagine two natures more opposite than those of the Irishman and the Yorkshireman; the quick, impulsive, excitable temperament of the Celtic character is utterly foreign to that of the Clevelander or East-Ridinger. In all his dealings the Yorkshireman is deliberate and calculating. Even under circumstances the least expected this characteristic at times comes out. I remember once being somewhat amused by a friend telling me of a man he knew who was supposed to be courting a cook in the neighbourhood. Mary was a young woman of excellent character, but, as is not unfrequently the way with cooks, her proportions were, to say the least of it, considerable. On being taxed with what was thought to be a tender feeling on his part towards Mary, the young man replied humorously that he 'thowt sha wadn't suit him'; for, he added, 'it 'll tak all mah addlins ti git her a new goon.
I alluded just now to the Yorkshireman's cautiousness: strangers sometimes mistake this quality for timidity; it causes him, moreover, to he misunderstood in other ways. Thus a Yorkshireman, from his excessive caution, will always understate a fact rather than the reverse. If he likes a thing ever so much he will not express himself accordingly, but will merely say that he likes it very well. Southerners invariably misinterpret this expression. Or if he is asked if he would like to do so and so, and he keenly desires to do it, all he says is 'Ah deean't mahnd if ah deea.' Or again, if he says 'Ah 'll mebbe deea so and so,' it is as good as certain that he will.
Without showing it very much, Yorkshiremen will attach themselves most faithfully to those they can look up to and respect, but they are slow in taking in and acting on an abstract principle. They look at the principle through the man who is supposed to represent it, and if that representative disappoints them the principle has to take care of itself. If a Member of Parliament were unpopular with his Yorkshire constituents for some purely personal or private reason, however attentive to his public duties and true to his principles he might be, he would stand but a poor chance of being re-elected.
It is generally supposed that Yorkshire people are musical. This is a statement which requires considerable qualification. Yorkshire is a large area, and there are parts of the county of which it certainly cannot be said that the people are musical. The most musical part of the county is unquestionably the manufacturing district of the West Riding: those who have 'been present at a Leeds Musical Festival, for instance, can never forget the ringing clearness of the voices there. They seem too to possess an unlimited reserve of power which at times fairly carries one away. But of the West Riding I do not speak in these pages. In nearly every village school in East Yorkshire I have had an opportunity of testing the voices of the children. It always seemed to me that the most musical part of East Yorkshire is the Wold country, and the least so, the flat low-lying district round York. It is much more common to hear the farm lads on the Wolds singing at their work in the fields, and singing well, than in the lower country just named ; their voices too are clearer and of altogether better quality. If good air has anything to do with forming a good voice, the East Riding lads and lasses ought to be second to none as vocalists. This is a subject which has been much discussed: I cannot help thinking however that a hilly country is distinctly more favourable to vocal power than a flat country, and good air, of course, than bad air; but perhaps race has more to do with it than either; and if we compare the Celt with the Norseman in this respect the palm must unquestionably be given to the former.
I should give a very incomplete account of the Yorkshireman's character if I did not say that he is hospitable; in this respect at all events he is seldom found wanting. If you enter a Yorkshireman's house, he is ever ready to welcome you to his table and to offer you the best he has; this excellent quality pervades all classes alike.
It is sometimes instructive to know what strangers think of us. I will therefore here quote the words of two correspondents who were good enough to give me a few impressions they had formed of some of our Yorkshire ways. One of these, writing from a remote parish in the East Riding near the sea, speaks thus in a letter I had from him some few years ago, of the farm servants and their work.
'The Yorkshireman of these parts appeared to me, as contrasted with the Southerner, and still more as contrasted with the Irish, rather rough and independent in their manners, but good honest men at heart. The statute hirings at Martinmas are rather injurious to the young men, who are also boarded and lodged with a hind, and thus a good deal cut off from better influences, though when they grow up they appear to improve and settle down into good industrious men. The farm labourers begin their work early in the day and are a hard-working set. As a rule they are better fed (certainly with more butcher's meat) than those in the South, and the cottager manages to have a greater variety of food, living very much on pastry in various forms, which they say "lies longer on the stomach than bread," the latter being very little used. I was struck with the fine agricultural horses generally used here, which seem to be usually of a larger size than those used by farmers in the South, the lads frequently riding as postillions on the waggon horses, which I never saw done in the South.'
I can quite corroborate what my correspondent says with regard to the food of the Yorkshire farm lads as contrasted with that of the labourers in the South. I fear our ploughboys would make a wry face if what used to be the fare of their compeers in Berkshire (say) were offered them. When at school in that county I well remember noticing the food of the husbandman there, and thinking to myself how poor it was by comparison with the workman's fare in the East Riding: bread and cheese was commonly used; instead of which the Yorkshire farm-servant would have feasted on good wholesome beef, or pies, or something equally substantial and sustaining.
Then, as to the second of my two correspondents. One of the Helmsley clergy, himself a Lancashire man, two or three years ago gave me the following' as his experience of the Yorkshire character as compared with that of the people of his own county. His remarks are so much to the point that I will quote his own words. He says:-
'Compared with Lancashire, Yorkshire folk seem money-lovers. Perhaps in the Lancashire manufacturing districts people used to make money easily and so learnt to spend it as easily as they made it.
'Yorkshiremen are very hospitable. The people I visit on the moors are poor, but invite me to tea, and offer me the best in the house; but if I ask for a small subscription for some religious purpose, that is another matter.
'They are very sociable and friendly with one another, but are suspicious of strangers.
'They seem cautious in all their sayings and doings.
'They do not like to make a definite promise or commit themselves. When I ask a moor lad if he will come to Church next Sunday and he says "perhaps I will," I feel it is almost equal to other people's "you may rely upon me."
'Like Lancashire people, they are warmhearted, but it seems to me, much more reserved.
'Having been accustomed to towns all my life, 1 was greatly struck when first I came here by what seemed to me the almost despotic authority of masters and mistresses over their servants. They demand a strict obedience. This is so even in small farms where there is one hired lad who eats at the same table with his master; yet in spite of this familiarity, an obedience is exacted which a Lancashire lad would soon rebel against. This stern discipline does not, however, seem to destroy the self-reliance and independence of those subjected to it.
'I have noticed a strong sense of quiet humour amongst all classes. They are too simple to appreciate sarcasm.
'Their ideas of geography and history are, as one might imagine, amusingly vague; but they know every inch of their own country, and treasure the biographies of their own kin.'
From what has been already said, however briefly and imperfectly, some little idea may be gathered, I trust, of what a few of the leading traits in the character of the Yorkshireman are. The rest of the chapter will be devoted to illustrating that character by side lights as it were, that is to say, by quoting such incidents of a trivial nature as have been recorded and sent to me by friends, and which may perhaps bring out with more or less clearness one or two of our weaknesses or virtues.
The Yorkshireman in London, especially if it happens to he his first visit to the metropolis, and he has not travelled far from his native village before, is always good company; his impressions of the new sights and sounds that meet him are generally told in quaint fashion.
It is recorded of one old Robin Wood, from a remote moorland village, that he once took it into his head to go to London. He had heeard tell on 't and he thowte he mud as weel see for hissen what there was to he seen. What he saw does not matter. His chief delight when he gat ti t' far end was to walk into any shop that seemed specially to interest him, and air his broad Yorkshire speech. In his wanderings through the streets he came upon a certain store of general wares. It struck Robin as an interesting-looking establishment. Accordingly, he walks in, looks about him as if the place belonged to him, and presently says to the shopman, 'What diz ta keep here?' The collection was a truly miscellaneous one, and so the man felt justified in replying 'Oh! everything.' Robin looks at him and adds, 'Ah deean't think thoo diz: hes-ta onny coo-tah nobs?' (the piece of wood that secures the 'tie' for the legs of cows when being milked). The shopman looked bewildered; he had never heard of such things before, and the precise form in which the request was made did not enlighten him much upon the point.
An old sporting character, now departed, who was always en évidence at the big sporting functions of the aristocracy, whether by covert, flood or field, was notorious for his brusque manner and broad Yorkshire dialect.
Once, on the occasion of a grand battue, luncheon was being served at the covert side, when 'Jack' was invited to partake of the unusually good things provided. Amongst delicacies of great variety, paté de fois gras was handed round to the members of the party, and seated on a mossy bank our friend proceeded to attack the dainty morsel with his pocket-knife. One of the sportsmen, a nobleman from the south country, seeing Jack evidently enjoying the French food he bad just been introduced to, asked him what it was he was eating, when he made the following characteristic reply, 'Ah 's seear ah deean't knaw, bud it 's meeast leyke pig liver of owt!'
The same noted character had a terrier; and on one occasion he was relating an episode that took place between this favourite animal and a monkey. In the encounter, it would seem, the monkey got the worst of it, and by way of adding to the glorification of the terrier, Jack described its antagonist by saying 'He wasn't yan o' them bits o' things aboot t' boo'k o' yan's hand, bud yan o' them what di ya call 'ems, them Ryungtangs!' It is needless to say be meant ourang-outangs.
Jack used to be introduced to all the great people that came within reach of him, and made free with them. Among others, one of the royal princes came into the neighbourhood, and on being introduced, Jack seized the royal hand, exclaiming 'Ah 'av shak'd hands wi all t' greeat folks iv England, bud ah nivver thowt ti shak hands wit' Queen's son!'
A correspondent residing in York described some few years ago an amusing scene that occurred at a farmer's 'ordinary' in a certain market town. The occasion was a Christmas rent dinner, and a relation of my informant was to preside at the table. In the earlier part of the day a farmer, who was not averse to a good dinner, came to him and thus addressed him:- ' Mr. W., you 're boun' ti carve to-day, an' seea ye 'll say ti ma, "Mr. I., will ya tak some torrkey?" an' ah s'all say "a lahtle bit if you pleeas, Mr. W." Bud ya maun't mahnd what ah says.' Mr. W., fully taking in this hint, gave him, when the time came and the pre-arranged farce had been duly gone through, a terrific help of turkey, which was followed by a considerable quantity of beef and plum-pudding to the same quarter. The cheese appeared; when, said Mr. W.: 'Let me give you a little cheese, Mr. I.' 'Naw, ah thenk ya, Mr. W., ah 's deean weel.' 'But you must have some cheese.' 'Naw, thenk ya, sir.' 'Now do,' says Mr. W., 'a small piece.' 'Whya, then,' adds the other,' 'a lahtle bit just to fill up t' cracks wi!'
From the same authority I learnt that at a certain village in the North Riding there lived an elderly man who had been married three times, but had been as often bereaved. Subsequently to the death of the third lady, a report was circulated to the effect that he was about to enter wedlock yet once again. One of his friends, interrogating him on this subject, he is said to have replied in the following decisive manner: 'Naay, nut ah; what wi marryin' on 'em an' what wi burryin' on 'em, it 's ower expensive. Ah can't affo'd it nae mair.
This correspondent also informed me' that some few years ago there died at the village of W. a miser who had amassed considerable wealth. He was a blacksmith by trade, and earned about a guinea a week. He had somehow acquired a little capital, which he invested in house property at Middlesbrough when that town was rapidly rising to the height of its prosperity. At the time of his death, previously to which his houses had been sold, he was said to be worth three thousand pounds, but during his life he, after the manner of his kind, denied himself every comfort and almost every necessary as generally so deemed. In his own house he never had a fire, but at night, during the cold part of the year, would go to sit over that of some neighbour. His bread was a black-looking mixture of flour and water baked before the furnace in his smithy, and it was believed that his sole other food, besides what might be given him, consisted of potatoes boiled on the same fire.
After his demise, his wardrobe sold for three shillings and sixpence sterling, and as this included at least one good sack and several other articles not wearable but useful to the villagers, his strictly personal outfit cannot have been accounted of much value. And yet in a hole between the beam across the top of his one sitting-room and the ceiling, a hole perfectly black through continual contact with his dirty hand, there was found a bag containing eight hundred pounds. This, and the other savings, worked no benefit either to himself or his friends; for, as he was born illegitimate and died intestate, his whole property reverted to the Crown.
His cottage, after a good deal of purification and renovation, was taken by a young couple, and was one day visited by the squire's niece. She asked the bride how she liked her new house. 'Aw, ah 's varra comfortable,' she said, 'an' ah isn't freetened.' 'Frightened! why should you be frightened?' asked the lady. 'They say 'at Dick (the miser) walks,' was the reply, 'bud ah 's neean flaay'd, for if he 's gone ti heaven, he weean't want ti cum back; an' if he 's gitten ti t' uther pleeace they weean't let him!'
This village of W. must have been noted for its characters; for in the same 'toon' lived a man whose 'byname' was 'Coffee Jack,' who gloried in his loquacity, or in being, as he termed it, 'raether a blatherin' sooart ov a chap.' Having lost his first wife, and having been deserted by his family as the several members of it grew up and married, he, in middle life, took to himself:, by way of a second venture, a woman called Susan. She was a tall raw-boned creature of masculine aspect, and, like Jack, was middle-aged. In consequence of her neither very numerous nor specially feminine attractions, her husband was subjected to a good deal of chaff about her; but he used to say that 'Susie was a gay au'd lass,' and for a time seemed quite content with his mediaeval happiness. By and by Susie began to fall into ill health, and also into a querulous condition of temper, so that Jack's erewhile bliss was checked. He confided his domestic troubles to his companions in the field, but received not the sympathy he had a right to expect. 'Weel, Jack, hoo 's Susie?' they would cry on his appearance among them; to which he made some such reply as 'Aw, sha gans graanin' an' twinin' on; sha 's gitten a gumbahl iv her back noo.' My informant says: 'The poor woman grew worse, and at length became rather an encumbrance than a helpmate. Jack now confessed that her inability to look after herself or perform her household duties was a sore trouble to him, and gave it as his pious opinion that "it wad be a massy if the Lord wad tak her." His wish was shortly realised. One morning as I sat in the garden, I heard what is locally called the "death-bell." "Who is that for, John?" I asked of the servant working close by; "Ah think it 's for Susan R., sir," he replied; and I felt that Jack was again a free man. Very soon I descried his earth-coloured smockfrock and trousers looming in the distance as he approached, presumably to tell me of his loss; and I at once composed my features to a due solemnity in which I might offer him my condolences. The old man came toiling along, his face down, until he was within thirty yards of me; then stopping short and planting his curled stick on the ground firmly, he looked up and called out, "Aa, Mr. Teddy, He 's takken her at last; ah is sae thankful."
'Jack continued to live on in the old place, but in course of time he grew too old for farm work "laying" hedges, and the like, and took to stone-breaking for a livelihood. Though a Yorkshireman, he was not above giving a bit of "blarney" sometimes. One day I drove past the place where he was working by the road-side, in a high and tolerably new Whitechapel, drawn by a dashing brown mare, and a day or two afterwards in a very old and well-proved phaeton, between the shafts of which shambled a grey pony with a cow-like action. On the latter occasion, I stopped for a moment to speak to him, when he said, "That isn't sikan a grand trap as ah see'd ya in t' uther daay, Mr. Teddy, bud (with great emphasis) it 's a good 'un."
'Again I passed by him when the scene of his labours was another road. The clergyman, with his brand-new light cart and highly-stepping pony had just preceded me. My own steed was the very sorry animal just mentioned. Says Jack, "Aa, Mr. Teddy, that's a grand pawny o' yours !steps weel; ah deean't leyke t' parson's hoss a bit, gans all ower t' pleeace" (imitating with his elbows), "ower mich daayleet undher 't." To my modest representation that I feared my own beast was much inferior to the parson's, he replied, "Naay, it 's a good un."'
Along our Yorkshire coast, from Whitby to Spurn Point, may be found as brave and hardy a race of seamen as any one need wish to behold; but within the breast of the more inland agriculturalist there is implanted a deeply-rooted aversion - I had almost said dread - of going on the water: in this respect they are in strong contrast to their seaboard brethren.
At a certain inland village in the North Riding there dwelt a small farmer, quite the oddest fellow in the place, who told a friend of a visit he had just paid to a cousin at Liverpool, who, it seems, was called Eli. After hearing a good deal of his impressions concerning the great seaport, his friend asked him whether he had crossed the Mersey to Birkenhead. It would appear from his answer that he had intended to do so, but that having been unable to strike while the iron was hot, his courage had oozed away through his doubt as to the capacity of the vessel to carry him. 'Me an' Eli yam'd ti gan,' he said, 'bud when wa gat ti t' pleeace t' booat wasn't in. Wa sat wersens doon a lahl bit, an sha com in efther a whahl, bud ah says tiv Eli, "We 'll neean gan; t' beggar 'll mebbe sink!
It is a well-known fact that in making a bargain the Yorkshireman can generally manage to sail pretty close to the wind. The agent of a landed proprietor in the North Riding gives me an example of this that came under his notice, which I think would not be out of place here.
Once, when at a farmhouse, he observed a good pianoforte by Collard in the parlour, and enquired of the farmer where he got it. He answered:-
'Ah gat that pianna i raether a queerish sooart o' waay. Just sit ya doon, an' ah 'll tell ya t' taal. We 'd a guverness for mi dowtther, an' t' weyfe sha said 'at sha owt ti hey a pianna. Varry weel, ah says, ah knaws nowt aboot sike things, bud ah 's gahin' ti market ti-morn, an' thoo mun gan an' all, an' we 'll see if wa can leet o' yan. Seea t' next daay, when ah 'd gitten mi beeas bowt, wa went ti t' pianna shop, an' ah sez, "Noo Mr. -- , ah wants a pianna, an' sha mun be a good un' an' all, bud ah deean't want ti paay owermich for her thoo knaws." "Varry weel," he sez; an' seea he starts ti plaay on a vast o' piannas whahl he cums ti this here, an he said 'at sha war a varry good un." "Mebbe sha is," sez ah, 'ah knaws nowt aboot sike things, bud what's t' muney?" "Well," he sez, "it had been sixty guineas, bud it had been oot for a piece on hire, an' seea ah 'll tak fifty guineas." "Awl" ah sez, "ah sees thoo 's all i t' guinea lahin; noo, us poor farmers is glad ti git it i punds; seea ah' 11 just tell ya what ah 'll deen wi ya; ah 'll just gie ya tho'tty-fahve pund for t' pianna" "Naay, naay," he sez. Bud ah taks oot seven fahve-pund nooats, an' ah claps 'em doon atop o' t' pianna, an' ah sez "Noo then, theer 's t' brass; thoo can a'e t' muney, an' ah 'll a'e t' pianna, bud ah weean't, gie ya na mair." Well then, he tewed an' he wrowt, an' he maade sike deed as nivver was, bud at last he teeak it. Seea ah sez "if thoo 'll send thy young man wi t' conveyance ti t' frunt deear ah 'll help ya oot wiv her inti t' stthreet." An' seea he did; an' bit' tahm wa gat yam sha wer setten up it' parlour.'
The same gentleman who gave me the foregoing illustration of the way we do business in Yorkshire also sent me an account of another little experience he had. It was this:-
'A few years ago,' he says, 'I had occasion to go into a farmhouse in the North Riding, and I found a small pig, of a day or two old, laid by the kitchen fire. I remarked to the farmer's wife that it was rather an unusual place for a pig; to which she replied, "It wer yan of eleven, an' yester morn ah thowt it wer boun to dee; seea ah browt an' set it bit' fire-sahd, an' when neet-tahm corn, ah teeak it ti bed wi ma, an' ah gat up fahve times thruff t' neet ti sarve it."'
Again he adds: 'Not long after this, on going to another house, I found two little pigs in a hamper in the kitchen, so I told the old woman of the incident just mentioned, and jokingly asked her if she knew of the custom of taking pigs to bed, when she said, "Naw, sir, ah nivver did that, bud ah awlus taks t' geslings ti bed wi ma; an' when mah good man wer alive, it wer t' awnly thing him an' me used ti differ aboot; for he used ti saay when ah went ti bed wiv a basket full o' geslins 'at there wer neea peeace i bed at all'.
My fellow-countrymen, shrewd as they are at making a bargain, are not as a rule in the habit of boasting unduly of their successes in this particular, but generally keep such matters to themselves. It was so, at least, in the following instance. The son of a former Rector of Welbury, long resident in the county, and possessing a thorough knowledge of the Yorkshire character and tongue, has given me, among many other of his notes, a short one which well brings out this characteristic feature, together with a bit of quiet humour not less true to the life. After market days the Rector's sons, being at that time young lads, would discuss the affairs of the day with their father's bailiff. On these occasions all manner of subjects would come up for argument, and not a little quiet chaff was interchanged. One day, which is well remembered, the Rector had sold some wheat, and after the bailiff's return from the market his youthful friends surrounded him, to hear the news, and particularly as to the sale of the wheat.
'Well, Jim,' says one of the lads, 'how did' you sell the wheat?'
'Hoo did ah sell 't?' replied Jim, 'whya, i pooaks ti be seear.'
'No, no, Jim; what did you get for it?'
'What did ah git for 't? Whya brass!' was the old bailiff's stubborn rejoinder.
'Well, but how much brass?' urged the youngster.
'Nay, nay, noo; you want ti knaw ower mitch,' was the unanswerable stopper that was put upon the lad's inquisitiveness. Henceforth further enquiry in that quarter was hopeless.
It is well known what an affection Irishmen have for their pigs, but it must be confessed that in that particular Yorkshiremen are scarcely behind them. I should not like to say that they very often think more of these interesting animals than they do of their children, but particular cases have been known where this would in truth almost seem to be so.
An old friend of ours used to give rather an amusing illustration of this. She was visiting a poor woman one day, and asked her,
'Well, Hannah, how are you to-day?'
'Whya! ah 's just middlin' mysen, ma'am, thank ya, bud poor Jim he 's iv a sad waay.'
'Why, what's the matter with Jim? (her son), said the lady.
'Aw, ma'am, he 's lost two pigs an' two childer! He taks on weeantly aboot t' childer; bud as ah says tiv him, nivver heed aboot t' childer, they 're a deeal betther off 'an ivver thoo can deea for 'em: bud, ma'am, ah is sorry aboot t' pigs! he scratted an' scratted ti git 'em up, an' they wer wo'th two pund a-piece, an' noo they 've beeath on 'em deed.'
The same lady visited old Hannah again, when her husband was dying, when she said, in her quaint, matter-of-fact way:-
'He taks on weeantly ma'am, bud ah says tiv him, deean't tak on seea; wa didn't all on us cum inti t' wo'ld tigither an wa can't all on us leeave it tigither.'
The excuses which some make for non-attendance at church are at times somewhat original, if not altogether valid. A clergyman of my acquaintance was walking one day through the village where he lived, when he met a parishioner who, till a short time previously, had attended church with commendable regularity, but suddenly, from some unexplained cause, gave up attending altogether. The parson pressed the matter home, and gave his friend to understand that it would be more satisfactory if he might be favoured with some explanation of his abrupt change of custom.
'Well,' said the other, 'then ah 's leyke ti tell ya: noo ah s nivver cummin na mair whahl au'd Izak 's theer' (Isaac being the Parish Clerk). 'How so?' replied the Vicar, 'what has Isaac got to do with it?' 'Whya, ya knaw, t' last tahm 'at ah wer at t' chetch ther was neeabody for ti sing bud me an' mah dowtther, an' seea atwixt us wa raised t' tune as neyce as could be, an' wa thowt at wa 'd deean middlin an all an' when t' chetch lowsed wa met au'd Izak agaan t' deear, an' ah thowt for seear at he 'd a'e paad us a bit of a compliment for wer singin.' Bud what ivver deea ya think 'at he said ti ma? He says" Singin'! what, thoo buzzed leyke a bee iv a bottle, an' sha skirled leyke a pig iv a yat." Naw, flaw, naw, Mistther C. ah 's nivver cummin na mair whahl au'd Izak 's theer!'
There is no meal so much thought of in Yorkshire as tea- it is all important, and a good substantial tea is more enjoyed than anything. Sometimes circumstances of the most pressing kind have to give way to the reception of this repast. As an instance of what I mean, let me mention an incident that happened to the wife of the clergyman just alluded to. She one day went to see a woman who was dangerously ill. She arrived at the house, and without delay went upstairs. She found the poor woman much worse even than she expected to find her; in fact, she was dying, and might breathe her last at any moment. To her surprise the husband was 'i t' hoos' below getting his tea ready. Thinking he could not be aware of his wife's critical state, the good lady went downstairs at once to tell him how matters stood. She thought, of course, that he would immediately hasten to the bedside of the evidently dying woman. But it was not so; and the only response she received to the earnest entreaty that he would go to the 'chamber' without delay, was, 'Whya, whya, bud ah mun a'e mi tea!'
Among the many changes that have taken place during the present century, few are greater than those connected with our parish churches, and the manner in which the services are conducted in them. One could hardly credit the stories of neglect and irreverence of which one has heard as having taken place in former times; and yet they were, alas, only too true. I have heard old people say that they thought no more in days gone by of going to the mother church of the district to be confirmed by the Bishop, than they did of going out for a day's pleasure. Happily that is now no more. The preparation for Confirmation in the olden days was too often of the most meagre description. To show the gross ignorance of some of those who offered themselves as candidates for Confirmation, I cannot forbear quoting an instance that was connected with a parish near Stokesley, many years ago. It was in Archbishop Harcourt's time, and an elderly woman from the parish alluded to, whose training in Church principles had been as much neglected as her education generally, expressed herself as desirous of being confirmed. For some unexplained reason she would not consent to be prepared for the rite by her own clergyman, who thereupon reported the case to the Archbishop, and asked him what was to be done. The case being such an exceptional one, the Archbishop said that he himself would examine her when he came to the place. In due course his Grace arrived, and the interview came off. Among other interrogatories, the Archbishop put the very practical question, 'Do you keep the Commandments?' 'Aye,' says the old woman, 'ah keeps Paumston Settherda at Stowsla, an' Trinity Munda at Yatton, an' Pancake Tuesda at heeam.' 'You are a poor weak woman,' remarks his Grace. 'Aye,' replies the catechumen, 'an' seea wad you be weak an' wanklin if you 'd been as badly as ah 've been for t' last three weeks.' For such answers the Archbishop was not prepared, and thus the catechetical examination was brought to a sudden termination.
The country practitioner of olden days sometimes had a rough-and-ready way of dealing with patients of the humbler class. But when we are told of one who 'scraffled' in the eye of a patient whose sight was affected, the operation sounds exceptionally trying, to say the least of it. Let us hear what the patient had to say himself of the treatment he received at the hands of his medical adviser. In this case the sufferer was a besom-maker, who felt his sight failing him, and accordingly sought help from the local doctor. After his visit, he was interrogated by his friends as to how he had 'come on.' The poor fellow was rather indignant, for the manner in which he had been 'handled' was any. thing but comforting. He described it thus:-
'Whya! he scraffled an' wrowt i mi ee, an' then he oppen'd t' deear an' bunched ma oot, an' said ah 'd plenty o' seet for mah tthraade.'
Possibly this doctor was the same as one of whom it used to be said that he had only two kinds of medicine, one or other of which he applied in every case. The test question which he put to all those who sought to him for relief from their maladies was to the effect as to whether the medicine required was a 'binndther' or a 'scoorer.'
Bishop Wilberforce, of Oxford, used to be credited with telling a great many good stories, and his ready wit was well known. It is said that on one occasion, when giving a large dinner-party at Cuddesdon, he had his coachman in to help to carry out dishes, plates, &c. In the middle of the entertainment, as he was carrying a pile of plates, his foot slipped as he was going through the door, and down went all the plates with a fearful crash. The ladies of course were much startled, whereupon the Bishop pulled himself together and quietly observed, 'Ladies, don't be alarmed; it is only my coachman going out with a break.'
It is no doubt rather dangerous work employing outsiders to do inside work to which they are not accustomed; the Cuddesdon catastrophe is an instance of this. But that was a trifle compared with what happened once at a clergyman's house near Yarm. He was about to give an extra grand spread on some great occasion, and determined to do the thing in style. Accordingly, he put his general servant-man into silk stockings, and had him in to help to wait at table. As a final preliminary this same man was told to carry in a pile of hot-water plates, while the parlour-maid went her way to announce that dinner was ready. He certainly did carry his burden in with all safety, but when the guests paired into the dining-room they found, to their consternation and intense amusement, a hot-water, plate carefully put on each chair! He probably never heard the end of this, and on this special occasion he came in also for no small amount of chaff anent his silk stockings; and when asked how he liked wearing them, he would say he 'wasn't sae varry weel suited; it was leyke being up ti yan's knees i cau'd watther!'
A Yorkshire squire, who spent part of the year in London, used sometimes to give one or two of his servants a treat to the opera. One of them, who had a short time before been at a great agricultural show, and had looked with admiration and interest at the prize animals and their owners, real or imaginary, was asked by his master on his return from the opera what had struck him most of all he had seen there. He expected to hear the man loud in praise of some noted voice or scene; instead of which, to his great amusement, his servant said that he really thought that what struck him most was to see among the audience the man who had won the prize for the best bull at the great show.
I end this chapter with what was told me by a correspondent from Kirbymoorside; it well brings out a touch of the Yorkshire character for cuteness. An old gentleman, after the funeral of a relative, was listening with rapt attention to the reading of the will, in which he proved to be interested. First, it recounted how that a certain field was willed to him; then it went on to give the old grey mare in the said field to some one else with whom he was on anything but friendly terms; at which point he suddenly interrupted the proceedings by exclaiming indignantly, 'Then sha 's eeatin ma gess !' (grass).
Transcribed by Colin and Pauline Hinson © 1997