Coast and country literature links

Poet and novelist Simon Armitage. Picture by Chris Lawton
Poet and novelist Simon Armitage. Picture by Chris Lawton
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POET and novelist Simon Armitage appeared at the second Scarborough Literature Festival.

Yorkshire born and bred he has celebrated the region, its characteristics and characters in all genres.

“Nothing has changed. That’s the great beauty of English seaside resorts.

Nothing ever does,” he wrote in his first novel Little Green Man.

It is the story of a father, Barney, who establishes contact with old school pals to search for the treasure of the title.

Barney is a troubled soul, estranged from his wife and struggling to come to terms with the disability of his only son Travis.

For a treat Barney takes Travis on a day trip to Scarborough.

Armitage writes of the North Bay miniature railway: “... it’s a strange contraption, more like a garden shed on a tow rope”.

In his collection of essays in All Points North he again writes about a trip to Scarborough by a dramatic society.

Holbeck is summed up thus: “A few years ago a man in a hotel in Scarborough looked out of his bedroom window and found the sea view he’d requested to be almost en suite. A week later, the gardens and building slipped into the eaves with residents standing around at the top of the drive complaining that they’d been asked to settle their bills before leaving.”

And of Bridlington he writes: “Bridlington’s gone the way of most seaside towns during the last 20 years, it still has its self-respect. It might be one of England’s deteriorating coastal resorts, but it also has the feel of a place where people live and work, even if it isn’t clear what they do. To pass the time we walk along the cliff path to Sewerby, the better end of Bridlington.”

Armitage also writes about Helmsley and Robin Hood’s Bay.

YORK-born Kate Atkinson is the first patron of Scarborough Literature Festival and the first author to feature in a breakfast event.

Now based in Scotland she returns to the north in her novels, including

Behind the Scenes at the Museum and her series of novels featuring private detective Jackson Brodie.

In the first Case Histories there are fleeting references to Heartbeat,

Goathland and its steam train. One of the items precious to Jackson Brodie is a “cheap pottery wishing well that had ‘Wishing YouWell from Scarborough’ written on the side. In that one item she embodies a life-time of loss.

SIR Alan Ayckbourn is synonymous with Scarborough and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

He has launched a play here almost every year since 1959. He stepped down as artistic director three years ago but continues to write for the theatre in Northway.

Many of Sir Alan’s plays have enjoyed West End and Broadway success. In 1985 he captured every major award for his National Theatre production of A Chorus of Disapproval, premiered in Scarborough in 1984, and filmed here with a starry cast, including Jeremy Irons, Anthony Hopkins, Patsy Kensit and Prunella Scales under the directorship of MichaelWinner.

THE East Coast and its strong smuggling traditions inspired Lorna Doone author Richard Doddridge Blackmore. In particular Flamborough is the setting for Mary Anerley: A Yorkshire Tale and the book is worth reading for its description of life in an 18th century Flamborough fishing village alone – for one of Blackmore’s strengths was his personification of the countryside.

Although caravans and holiday bungalows have changed part of Flamborough’s appearance, it is still possible to visit many settings mentioned in the book.

The hero is Robin, an adventurous smuggler, and his haunts are still remembered in the name Robin Lyth Cave.

Blackmore tells read ers: “... his liking was for the quiet caves, near Scarborough, and even to the north ofWhitby when wind and tide were suitable”.

The heroine, Mary Anerley, is Robin’s romantic interest. Mary is sent to live for a time with her aunt at Filey, then a small fishing village. Mary’s home, Anerley Farm, is situated “in the clump of the space of theWolds which hunks down at last into Flamborough Head.”

THE rugged Yorkshire coast and its ports of the 19th century form the backdrop to most of the novels of romance, mystery and adventure by North Yorkshire author Jessica Blair, the pen name of Bill Spence who lives in Ampleforth.

There have been more than 16 Jessica Blair novels published to date. Bill is also a member of, among other organisations, the Scarborough Writers Circle.

DONCASTER-born Edward Charles Booth lived for many years with his brothers Bromley and George at 3 The Park, Scalby. He died at the family home in 1954 aged 81.

His novels including The Cliff End (1908), Fondie (1916), The Tree of the Garden (1922) and The Treble Clef (1924) were compared with those by Thomas Hardy and Dickens.

SCARBOROUGH writer Louise Brindley was also a member of the town’s writers’ circle and started writing for the Evening News and Mercury. She has written several books set in and around Scarborough and Whitby.

THE Bronte sisters loved the East Coast. They stayed in Bridlington, Filey and Scarborough.

Anne, above, the youngest of the Brontes, set the ending of her novel Agnes Grey at Scarborough, where she had enjoyed holidays while governess to the Robinson family between 1841 and 1845.

Anne first holidayed in Scarborough with them.

They took furnished rooms in “the best part of town”, St Nicholas Cliff.Anne was delighted with the sea and the castle.

She wrote: “Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings on my feet, and could go at least 40 miles without fatigue, and experiencing a sense of invigoration to which I had been an entire stranger since the days of early youth ... the sea was my delight.”

The RevWilliam Weightman, her father’s curate, who died of cholera and the love of her life, provided the model for the Rev E Weston in Agnes Grey. Just as in Anne’s life, Agnes’ romance did not go smoothly: MrWes ton left his curacy; Agnes and her mother set up a school at Scarborough – the author’s idea of an earthly paradise – but she could not forget him.

Agnes, then, unexpectedly meets MrWeston walking across the Scarborough sands at lowtide and up through the town.

He proposes near St Mary’s Church to Agnes’ mind “a high and noble setting.” Agnes agrees to marry him and towards the end of the novel she records: “I shall ... always remember with delight that steep hill, and the edge of the precipice where we stood together, watching the splendid sunset mirrored in the restless world of water at our feet.”

By 1849 Anne was in poor health but she was determined to visit Scarborough again.

She was accompanied by her sister Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey. They stayed at Wood’s Lodgings, 2 The Cliff, now part of the Grand Hotel site.

Charlotte wrote: “Our lodgings are pleasant. As Anne sits by the window she can look at the sea, which this morning is as calm as glass.”

Anne died on May 28. There were plans to take the body back to Haworth, but Charlotte decided ‘to lay the flower in the place where it had fallen’.

Because St Mary’s Church near the castle was undergoing restoration fromOctober 1848 until July 1850, Anne’s funeral service was held at Christ’s Church, Vernon Road, though she was buried in St Mary’s churchyard.

Her age is wrongly inscribed on the head-stone – it reads 28 when it should be 29. This was the reason for Charlotte’s subsequent visit to Scarborough in 1852 when, as she wrote on June 23 of that year: “I have visited the church-yard, seen the stone, there were five errors, conse-quently I had to give direc-tions for its being re-faced and re-lettered.”

She then went on to stay at Cliff House, Filey.

Although it is easy to trace where she stayed, it is not so easy to follow her to the neglected little church, which may have been at Muston, she attended one Sunday.

Charlotte’s first visit to the region was in 1821 when she was invited tocome and stay at the coast by her school friend Ellen Nussey.

They stayed first at Easton House Farm, near Burton Agnes, before moving to Bridlington where they took lodgings on what is now the esplanade.

Charlotte was so moved by the sea that on her return home she wrote: “... the glories of the sea, the sound of its restless waves, formed a subject for much contemplation that never wearied either the eye, the ear or mind.”

CHARLES Lutwidge Dodgson, who is best known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an author, mathematician, logician, clergyman and photographer. It is his literary ability that links him to Whitby.

During his writing career, Carroll wrote poetry and shortstories,sending them to various magazines and enjoying moderate success. Between 1854 and 1856, his work appeared in national publications and smaller newspapers including the WhitbyGazette.

His most famous works are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Whitby celebrates Carrollian links with its White Rabbit Trail. There are a few griffins in the town’s decorative sculpture, on a coat of armsand in the name of a pub.

The trail points out: Lewis Carroll wrote to his sisters about a school feast in the Abbey grounds. A heavy shower of rain soaked everyone so the children ran races to dry out. Did this give him the idea for the Caucus race in Alice’sAdventures in Wonderland?

Carroll first visited Whitby in the summer of 1854 with aparty of students to study mathematics.

Whitby has had many famous visitors over the years. Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Gaskell among them as was Wilkie Collins who visited the town in 1861 two yearsafter Mrs Gaskell.

Credited with writing the first detective story in The Moonstone – and famous for TheWoman in White – Collins was writing during his Whitby visit.

In fact he did set much of his novel The Moonstone on the lonelycoastline between Whitby and Scarborough.

The storyis told by seven charactersand one of the most interesting narrators isthe old Yorkshire house steward, Gabriel Betteredge.

The steward said: “Our house is right up on the Yorkshire coast by the sea.We have got beautiful walks all round in everydirection but one. That I acknowledge to be a horrid walk. It leads for a quarter of a mile through a melancholy plantation of firs; and brings you out between low cliffs on the loneliest little bay on all our coast.

“The same hills run down to the sea and end in twospits of rocks – jutting out opposite.”

SCARBOROUGH-basednovelist Annabel Dore’s The Greath North Road is partially set in the resort as well as in her native Newcastle.

“Scarborough, the seaside town built on dinosaur bones, settled by Vikings and much celebrated by Victorian spa bathers,was thronged today with jolly holidaymakers,all enjoying the rare sunnyweekend. A row of shops went down, down, down towards the sea,” writes Dore, whowas a vocalist for 27years, studied art and design and has adegree in contemporary theatre.

BRENDA English, during the 1960s and 1970s, wrote 12 short novels set in the Whitby, Esk Valley and Newtondale areas.

DIARIST John Evelyn wrote about the East Riding during the 17th century Civil War. One of the most eminent gentlemen of the time,he was amember of the Royal Society and its secretary in 1673. He visited Beverley on the 16th August 1654 and wrote of it: ‘Wewent to Beverley,a large town with two stately churches, St John’s (the Minster) and St Mary’s, not much inferior to the best of our cathedrals.”

IT was the coast that drew Elizabeth Gaskell to the area. She and her two daughters, Julia and Meta, went toWhitby for a week or 10 days at 1 Abbey Terrace, West Cliff.

From here she set out to research the background of the old press gangs who used to swoop down on the fishing village and ports, and carryoff any strong men they could find to serve in the RoyalNavy.

Out of her researches MrsGaskell, whose North and South was turned into a BBC drama series last year, created Sylvia’s Lovers, one of her finest novels, published in 1863. Her knowledgeof whaling and its dangers was mainly derived from Dr William Scoresby.

Like his father, who had invented the crow’s nest as alook-out point on ships, the younger William had been captain of a whaler before being ordained and becoming Vicar of Bradford Parish Church (now the cathedral).

Set during the Napoleonic wars, the author gives a vivid picture of apress gang attacking home coming sailors in Monkshaven (Whitby) who have landed from Greenland.

SUSAN Hill was born inScarborough and later referred to the town in her novel A Changefor the Better and some short stories especially Cockles and Mussels.She attended Scarborough Convent School, where she became interested in the theatre and literature.

Her family left Scarborough in 1958 and moved to the city of Coventry where her father worked in the car and aircraft factories.She took A-levels in English, French, History and Latin and then she went to Kings College, London University, to read English.

By this time she had alreadywritten her firstnovel whichwas published by Hutchinson in her first year at university.

Her first serious novelGentlemen and Ladies was published in 1968. In 1975 she married Shakespearescholar Stanley Wells and they moved to Stratford upon Avon. Their first daughter ,Jessica, was born in 1977. Hill has founded her ownpublishing company, Long BarnBooks.

Susan Hill has remained a popular and consistent writer throughout her career. Her novels are usuallywritten in a descriptive and emotive gothic style whichher fans sometimes refer to as hypnotic.

Hill expressed an interest in the traditional English ghost story and her Woman In Black is now a best-seller.

The novel, with its electric atmosphere of the ghostlymoors with the mysterious woman in blackwas turned into a play in 1987 and it quickly became a sensation. The play, adapted by the late Stephen Mallatratt and staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, is still running in the West End.

The film version starring Daniel Radcliffe was released earlier this year and is the most successful British horror movie to date. Hill is now working on a sequel.