Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Yorkshire Witch: A Tantalising Read

Superstition. Cunning. Manipulation. Murder.

On 20 March 1809, Mary Bateman was executed in York for the murder of Rebecca, wife to William Perigo. Although the last, this was likely not the first murder to Mary's name, 'The Yorkshire Witch' leaving a trail of theft, poisoning and deceit behind her as she took her place at the gallows. 

The tale of Mary Bateman is so sensational that a reader would be forgiven for thinking the details to be a work of crime fiction rather than real life. Despite, or perhaps because of this fact, there has not been a full look at Mary's life and acts since the pamphlet written not long after her execution. Summer Strevens however redresses the balance in The Yorkshire Witch: The Life and Trial of Mary Bateman, giving the fascinating and gruesome events their first full airing for two centuries.

It has been well worth the wait: Strevens has clearly done her research, including in her study of Mary's life such varied and tantalising details as the geographical layout of 19th century Leeds and the history of the storage of poisons, that help to bring the time and context into sharper focus and add a further fascinating layer to the incredible story. She also makes good use of the often underused resource of parish records, adding biographical details to further enhance the fragmentary glimpses into Mary's story. 

Written by a skilled and accurate narrator, The Yorkshire Witch is a compelling blend of historical research and storytelling. Along with giving the known details of Mary's life and the harrowing relation of her murderous schemes, Strevens ventures some interesting speculation regarding Mary's mental and psychological state. Ultimately however she accepts that we just don't know why Mary carried out the acts she did, leaving the case ultimately open. 

The Yorkshire Witch is available from Amazon and Pen and Sword Books.  

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Visit to Outlaw Territory: Exploring the city of Robin Hood

As most readers of this blog know, we had a new addition to the family back in March. It was an eventful occassion in many ways, and along with a long-expected diagnosis of autism for our now middle-child, and the rather less expected discovery that Tiny Baby had a tongue tie that needed snipping, all in all, 2017 has been an eventful, sometimes taxing, and often wonderful, year so far! 

For many reasons it's meant we've had to be a little more creative in meeting everyone's needs and wants. Take plans for the summer for instance. The kids want to go on holiday. Tiny Baby hates the car. Day trips to nearby places invariably end up with something being missed out and there not being enough time to do everything we want to do. 


A mini-break to nearby Nottingham! 

(And of course, being me, it was inevitable that we would find more than one folklore connection along the way.....) 

The only 'original' remaining section of Nottingham Castle

There's a lot to be said for going on holiday somewhere only half an hour away from where you live. I checked into the Premier Inn with the three kids and a huge suitcase on the Sunday afternoon, and then we were off across the road to make the most of our family pass for Nottingham Castle.

The ducal mansion, which now houses the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery

My three favourite small people! 

On our way back to the hotel we made an unexpected discovery; although The Robin Hood Legacy has been running since last year, this was the first time we had passed that route from the castle! Robin Hood and Maid Marian were very friendly and welcoming, and after soaking each other in the stocks outside, the kids had a fabulous time being told of Robin's exploits through a series of talking tableaus, finishing up with some target practice and a look through a fascinating array of Robin Hood memorabilia. 

Check out The Robin Hood Legacy on Twitter at @RobinHoodMuseum

Having a chat with Robin Himself

The perfect excuse to soak your sister! 

Tiny and I kept well out of the way once the swords and arrows came out!

We'll be visiting again soon! 

With the obvious Robin Hood connection, it is hardly surprising that we encountered the famous outlaw in several guises during our trip...

'The' Robin Hood statue, just outside Nottingham Castle

Robin Hood takes on Guy of Gisborne

Robin in Wicker

Can't get enough Robin Hood? Check out the following Robin-themed articles:

And let me know if you have a local Robin Hood statue or image either here or on Twitter! 

Moving away from legendary outlaws, we also went on the Dinosaur trail around the city to hunt down the three dinosaurs said to be lurking....

This one has the best name of the bunch - Ayupmeduckasaurus the Plesiosaurus (It's a local thing...!) Some say the Loch Ness Monster looks rather like this prehistoric sea creature...

Posing with Squawkers The Pterodactyl

No one wanted to be in a picture with this rather terrifying specimen! 

Nottingham Kitty Cafe

The kids have been asking to visit the famed Kitty Cafe every time we've gone past for the last year. They do say the best things come to those that wait! The cafe is home to a wide selection of cats with a variety of tastes and temperaments - we ordered drinks and very soon the visitors started coming to our table, much to the delight of the children! The cafe also operates a rehoming service, but the only cats we took home on this occasion were toy ones as a souvenir. 

To find out more about the Kitty Cafe or to plan a visit, check out their website here: Kitty Cafe

Of course cats feature frequently in folklore, find some examples below:

Getting brave enough to stroke one! 

Enjoying a play with Fred (or is it George?) 

On our last day we  returned to the castle again for a tour through the famous caves that run under the city. Our tour guide filled us in on the fascinating and often gruesome history of the castle and the caves, and I admit to a shiver as we passed deeper and deeper underground...

In the caves...

One of several tunnels with a tale attached...

Holding on tight! 

Down we go...

At the bottom and back in the fresh air at last! 

Close by the exit to the caves lies Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, an inn that promises to support
its claim to being the oldest inn in England

All in all we had a wonderful trip, and only scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. As I write this, the kids are already planning our next visit, and I don't think it will be long before we'll be heading back! 

A chance find of a winged horse had us reaching for our cameras!