Forget that damned potter chap..

...and buy a local book by local people.

The Mid Wharfedale History Group (ie May Pickles and Moira Long) have finally released the third book in the series generated by their researches into Ilkley history. Moira Long's Ilkley in 1847 follows on rather nicely from May Pickles' Pre-Victorian Ilkley, published two years ago. It's a good-ish sized pamphlet (a definite step up in production values from its predecessor), well illustrated, 48 pages long.

Why 1847? Because that was the year the tithe assessors produced the first detailed map of the whole of Ilkley township. The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act imposed a countrywide settlement and regularisation of the payment of tithes, converting tithes in kind (on milk, new born calves, whatever) into a fixed rent. This required detailed mapping of the ownership and use of fields across the whole country. Hence the 1847 map. It's especially interesting in Ilkley, because it marks a period when the Heather Spaw was starting to turn into a venue for mass-tourism. The Ben Rhydding Hydro had opened in 1843, and many of the houses in the centre of town were providing lodging for an increasing number of visitors. So 1847 represented a turning point for the town. And this pamphlet takes the opportunity to look in detail at the use of land in Ilkey just before it became totally dedicated to tourism.

Now, we' ve become used over the past five years to the 'history is the new gardening' theme, especially when it comes to TV History. What this means, of course, is the betrayal of social history and mass-Starkeyisation, a gossipy version of the 'great man/woman' theory that takes us back to Suetonius. There's no room for social and economic forces, no room for the ordinary person, for local history, only for the big stories. It's bitchy gossip as the history of the nation. And it's about as far from this sort of work as it's possible to get.

For this is classic historical research, like its predecessors. It's bringing together material that would be hard for the public otherwise to find. It lacks narrative, or drive, but that's not the point. It's not always easy to read, but as a collection of source material it's invaluable. In this, it's descended from the school of Turner (and Collyer) rather than the elegant and witty Harry Speight, if we compare Victorian writers on the town. It's more David Carpenter (whose book on the Middletons is almost unreadable, but represents a useful transcription of source material) than Tim Binding. Better writers will probably use this material (as Mike Dixon did with Turner/Collyer), but this is what they need to work from.

A few minor and interesting tidbits:

1) the footpath coming up from town along Parish Ghyll Road, then past St Margaret's Woods, and on to the west of Wells House to the edge of the moor is the old droving path of cattle from the town to the moor (and back), which dates back to at least the 13th century. Next time you're climbing that hill, a bit out of puff, think of the thousands of hooves that have done the job before you.

2) The old medieval fields of Ilkley can still be made out on either side of the town centre. The East field spanned from the current Leeds Road up to Bolling Road with what is now Little Lane as the access road to the variously owned strips. Above Bolling Road was the cowpasture. The Western field spanned from Skipton Road to roughly where Grove Road currently is, with the path of Kings Road as the access, up till around Victoria Avenue. The streets running off Kings Road to left and right represent some of the field boundaries.

3) The old stone wall at the southern end of Heber's Ghyll is a medieval boundary between cultivated land and the moor (or 'waste'). It might have been replaced many times, but if York can claim Roman walls on the basis of a Victorian re-build, I'm gonna claim early medieval for this one.

So, if interested, wander down to The Grove Bookshop and buy a copy. £6 and a lot easier to carry than young Potter.

Panorama Stoned

Someone went through the railings next to the Panorama Stones on Thursday night.

Presumably they were trying to emulate the Scantlebury scenario.

Only without sitting on someone's knee in a two-seater without a seatbelt on and wondering why you're flying through the windscreen.


Hey, at least she gets the memorial of dead flowers around the tree. More than I'll get.

Wave power

A recent column of the 'Times Past' column in the Gusset had a news story from 100 years ago, when a particularly forward-thinking entrepeneur was suggesting setting up two artificial weirs in the Wharfe at Ilkley in order to provide the power to run the town. Was this the first attempt at eco-friendly power generation? Why wasn't it taken up? What happened to the inventor?

Anyone who knows is requested to get in touch.

Fiver for a plaque mate?

Off-election topics, but an interesting story came my way last night. Apparently our local Civic Society has been writing to the occupants of 'houses of significance' offering them a blue plaque. Not a proper English Heritage Blue Plaque (which are actually for places where famous people lived), but the more cheesy local variety which copies the idea and devalues it at the same time.

All well and good, but this offer is predicated on payment of £400 'sponsorship'. So, you can buy a sign that your house/office is worthy of recognition by the payment of 400 notes to your local Civic Society offices. Which strikes me as a good little scam. How many offers have been sent out? How much does a blue plaque actually cost to make? Where's Helen Kidman going on holiday this year?

Puir wee souls

From the number of hits I'm getting from searches for 'Ilkley Local History' and the like, I'm assuming that IGS pupils have been set an Easter project. Just to let you know that nothing you read on here is true. Sorry. Move along.

Verbeia(l) diarrohea

(soryy, I know that's probably the worst pun I've ever used). I wanted to write some more about the Verbeia Altar. Especially having read the excellent mythopoetic article on Verbeia as the Goddess of the Wharfe by the wonderfully named Gyrus. He's also done a booklet, which can be purchased here. For those who can't be bothered to read the whole thing, Gyrus develops a long and rather wonderful theory working with the notion that Verbeia was the name of a local goddess of the Wharfe. He uses this to describe his own 'spiritual' journey, admitting that the facts he has are limited, but drawing connections, pulling together ideas, and attempting to describe a living, breathing, conection between prehistorical artifacts and the 'present'. Those of us who spent a lot of our youth hanging out with thee Temple and various Chaos magicians will appreciate his skill at this not simply for nostalgic reasons! But, anyway, the two artifacts Gyrus uses for his references to Verbeia are the Roman altar stone currently in the Parish Church and the famed Verbeia altar. The former stone (See Gyrus's article for an image), somewhat bizarrely labelled as Demeter in the Church, Gyrus suggests is an image of Verbeia herself, with the twin 'snakes' actually the two rivers flanking the fort. Now, while this is an interesting idea, there are lots of other possibilities. This seems terribly specific to be honest. It would mean a Goddess for a very narrow part of the river. But, does the identification of this altar with Verbeia hold good? And who was Verbeia herself? Gyrus has lots of suggestions but, being a boring (a)rationalist, I wanted to get to the bottom of the evidence. Where do we know about Verbeia from? Well, it turns out to be only one source. An awfully narrow base for such heavy ideas to be built upon (not to mention the idea that Ilkley would actually have been called Verbeia after 'its' Goddess). That one source is the Verbeia altar. THis altar was found under the steps of a house (according to Collyer/TUrner, quoting William Camden, who visited the town in 1582), and was inscribed... Verbiae Sacrum Clodius Fronto D Praef. Coh II Lingon Usually translated as 'To Sacred Verbeia. Clodius Fronto, Prefect of Cohort, Second Lingones. A copy can be seen in the Manor House Museum However, and this is worth stressing, the original no longer exists. It was believed to have been transferred to Low Hall and then to Myddelton Lodge, where it was set up, but the inscription wore away. According to Collyer/Turner, a copy used to stand near the Old Bridge--but I'm not sure whether this copy is the one in the Museum (I would rather doubt it). Now, we know that this altar existed. We have corroborating evidence through Fairfax who remembered it standing in water. However, our evidence as to the precise wording relies purely on Camden. Which is rather surprising given the number of theories that have been built upon it. Camden himself imagined this as a votive altar, Whitaker invented a story about Fronto being saved from drowning and paying for the altar in gratitude. From this we have the notion that Verbeia was the actual name of the Brigantian town and the Roman Fort, that this was the name of the Romano-British Goddess of the river. Which is certainly a little odd as we know that a variety of names such as Guerf, GUer, Hwerver and Hwerf were actually used by Britons and Saxons, none of which sound like Verbeia in any way (actually, the Guerf and Guer are only surmises), whatever Speight might have said. Verbeia seems to be Roman, not British--the British had their OWN names for the river. So, we have one piece of evidence. But could Camden have mis-transcribed? Well, he was notoriously reliable in his history, so it seems unlikely. Yet, as a good ripperologist, I can't help thinking of all the energy expended building theories based on one of Jack's letters which supposedly said, in condemning the efforts of the Polis, "all your lees", quickly taken to refer to spiritualist Robert Lees. ONly last year, with new analysis by Evans and Skinner, the original letter didn't say 'Lees' at all, but ''tecs' as in detectives. A problem with building theories on secondary sources. THough, in this case, we only have secondary sources... Hmm, okay, it's less likely when we're talking about a stone inscription, yet, we don;t know how faded it was. And, if it said something else, how much of this energy would have been wasted? Well, and how much would have been wasted if you just read Camden's transcription in a different way? For, according to Collyer/Turner as shown above, the altar didn't mention 'Verbeia', but Verbiae. Now, Camden and everyone else must be a better reader of Latin than I am, but I can't help noting that verb/verbi was the Latin for 'word' as in 'The Word'. A common Latin gravestone inscription of the xian era was verbi dei minister, minister of the word of God. OKay, this is idle speculation, but if Camden got this inscription wrong by even a letter, and the original was 'verbae' or indeed most variations on something to do with 'verb' or 'verbi' what we're actually talking about is something to do with 'word'. The sacred Word (of) Claudius Fronto, etc... Or 'The Holy Word'. Perhaps a sensible thing to mention on an altar? Okay, like I say, I'm not promoting this as a solution, but just suggesting that its a massive house of cards built on a second (or third or fourth) hand account of an inscription that no longer exists, and might, just might, have said something slightly different. None of this is to take away from Gyrus's (wonder if he had a daughter?) wonderful article, which spins off in so many directions, it would take a bigger brain than mine to keep track. It's just, in its own way, idle speculation on the nature of sources--both riparine and literary.

A rose by any other name

Looking through things on the Panorama Stone(s), I found some excellent other essays, one of which in particular I'll be returning to over the next few days. I also found this, and did one of those double-takes as in, 'I can't really be that stupid that I'd never made the connection'. But, dear readers, as I'm sure you know by now, I can. The simple connection which everyone else reading this has probably already made is that we appear to know that soldiers from the Lingones tribe made up part of the Roman garrison of the fort at *Ilkley. We also know that the Swastika motif of the stone over-looking the Wharfe valley is of the same design as the Camunian Rose, to be found in Northern Italy. Now, the Lingones were meant to be based in northern Italy, on the Adriatic Coast. SO, the connection is obvious. Some lonely soldier, on point duty over-looking the valley in the early third century, carves a design similar to the ones he knows from home (or perhaps even carved at home). Simple, elegant, obvious. Only (you just knew there'd be a 'but' dind't you?) there are also of course similar designs elsewhere--not least in Scandanavia. The design is also extremely close to the design of the fylfot used as the standard of the Isle of Man--though Manx believe it derives from the Vikings. So, maybe it was carved in Ilkley to mark one of the boundaries of the danelaw? Not that that affects the point--the Vikings could have found it and liked it during their conquests across Europe--the Roman connection for Ilkley works better than a Viking one. But, again, there's some dispute about the Lingones. For this elegant solution to work, it would require them coming from Valcamonica, in the Italian Alps near Brescia. And, while, some say they did, others (notably BR Hartley in his work on Roman Ilkley) point out that their capital was at Langres in Eastern France. Just to confuse, the evidence is that both are correct and that some of the tribe migrated to cisalpine Gaul, which would be just about right. BUt we don;t know that the soldiers in Ilkley came from that migrated portion of the tribe some six hundred years later. They might have come from the older French branch. Or they ight just have been passing through Ilkley rather than staying here. Or...Hmm, perhaps it's not so simple and elegant after all... Another solution sent back to the breaker's yard. There's another problem too. And that's with the only piece of evidence we have for all this, the Verbeia Altar. But that's a whole different post.

Stoner philosophy

Hope everyone who can has been to see Not Set in Stone at the Manor House Museum. Basically consists of art inspired by the cup and ring marked rocks on the moor. Includes some very nice images of the moor, and, of course, some complete tat (the photo-collage artists charging £200+ for her/his 'pieces' was taking the piss). It also raises once again the story that the important ladder symbol on the Panorama Stones was inscribed during Victorian times. The full story can be read here. What is suggested by Gavin Edwards is that a Victorian workman, Ambrose Collins, was responsible for adding the ladder pattern. The evidence is a lecture given by TC Gill describing Collins' activities and a pair of drawings of the stones--one in 1863 that doesn't show the pattern, and one in 1896 which does. However, though both these pieces are interesting, neither is anything like conclusive. Gill's lecture was given in 1913 (and reported in the Gusset of the day). He is referring to activities allegedly taking place in 1872-73, some forty years before. In 1913, Gill is Bailiff of Ilkley Moor, and is 63. While he would have been alive during the alleged events, it is as likely that his information came from his predecessors, relatives or simply a rumour doing the rounds. Unfortunately, such hearsay evidence is no evidence at all. The drawings might be more important. We know that the drawing from J Rommilly Allen (1879) does show the ladders, and this had previously been thought to be the earliest image. But the alleged activity took place prior to this date, and Edwards seems to have a found a 'new' drawing. However, this new drawing is only 'thought' to date from the 1860s, so we have no real provenance. Te absence of particular markings on a particular drawing is not definitive proof--we have no knowledge of the skills of the artist in question. We can use such evidence when we look at the legend of the 'Bull stone'=if this supposedly massive stone is on none of the drawings of the Cow and Calf from the Victorian era, we can draw the conclusion it did not exist. But we can't do the same with some small rock markings. One would expect, if the markings had been put on later, that they would fade faster (or, at least, at a different rate) than the originals. Yet this has not been the case--they have faded at the same rate (given the shameful treatment of the site by IPC). If, as is alleged, Collins was really marking stones all over the moor and hit upon this ladder design, why is it not repeated--or at least in anywhere such detail? It's a good design, yet this is the only place it occurs. Much more likely that its a more ancient marking serving a particular purpose. We are also expected to believe that no rumour of such Victorian fradulent markings reached the ears of Allen, who spent a considerable time on the moor to put together his 1879 article (only six years after the 'markings') or of Turner, writing 'with' Collyer during the early 1880s--who describes the ladder motif as occuring nowhere else but Ilkley. Surely something would have reached one of them, or been pointed out in the reviews of their various works? Then, of course, there's Dr Little. In all his work to relocate the stones wouldn't someone have said 'oh, but they're not really prehistoric, old Ambrose did those'? It was pretty hard to keep secrets in a Victorian town. Yet, we hear nothing. I'm aware this is not a full and satisfactory refutation, but the weight of evidence is definitely against this new theory. Now, what's really important is that someone does something to save the bally things!

History, history, they've all got it...uhhr...

Another pearl from t'Gazette this week... "Officals rocked as moor is daubed with graffiti... "Mindless vandals have scrawled graffiti over one of Yorkshire's best loved beauty spots...ancient rocks have been defaced by louts." Yes, damn those evil Victorians and their chisels. But what took the councilors so long to notice? Just goes to show...old graffiti is art, new graffiti is loutish behaviour. Wonder if all those cave painters were strung up by their wossits?


I wanted to continue the post of a couple of days ago on the future of the town. Given the development of The Crescent into a strange mixture between a country house hotel and something designed by Ian Schrager, it strikes me that there's an obvious gap in the market for any business-person willing to take the risk. Ickley is a spa town. It's also full of the modern version of spas, beauty salons. It's also already a successful holiday resort. But the last proper spa closed down decades ago, and the symbol of the town's wealth, Ben Rhydding Hydro (by then a 'golf hotel'), was pulled down in the 50s. What Ilkley needs is a new spa. Something like Champneys, or, more impressively, Seaham. Somewhere for the middle classes and the idle rich to escape to, somewhere to be pampered rather than subjected to the Robinson couch (which has always looked like the prototype for the Le Corbusier chaise-longue I've got in my front room). But somewhere with steam rooms (and even compressed air chambers), and relaxation and all the mind-blowing guff of new age-ism. It'd make a bomb. It just takes a Hamer Stansfield to organise the cash side. Only I'm not sure stuff merchants still exist.