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“Honestly, your writing’s terrible!”

Grandfather looks up from the fly he’s tying – a March Brown, he told me as he settled at a table covered in small boxes of silks and feathers. “What are you reading, lass?”

“It’s this” I waggle his Army Field Message book in his direction. Army Book 153.

“I had been shot in the shoulder when I was captured.” he reminds me, exasperated.

I sigh. “I know, Grandfather, forgive me. It’s just… well, I really want to be able to read it”. He looks at me – carefully excluding from his glance the book in which he’d scribbled bits of his life in 1916 . “I’d like to find out more about your time in PoW camp.”

“Well, lass.” His hands fall from his work. “I came back. It should rest there.”

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Charles Clark Frank essays

Cloud wraiths of Douthwaite haunt the black Dove, and drift in mist to the moors…

“That you, lass?”

“Oh!You made me jump! Yes, it’s me, Grandfather. I was just tinkering with some ideas…”

“Hmm. Very atmospheric.”

An awkward silence settles briefly between us.

“Where have you been?”

“Erm, well… away, Grandfather.”

“What do you mean ‘away’? Away where?”

“I, well… er…  we had a couple of week’s holiday in North Yorkshire a little while back!” I offer.

Frowning, he regards me.

Was the lure was bright enough?

“Did you go to Kirkbymoorside again?” he asks, his eyes lighting up for an instant. Then he frowns. “But you’ve been away a lot longer than…”

“Mmm, we stayed in the same place as last year – a farm just outside Kirkby” I interrupt hastily. “Oh, Grandfather, it is so beautiful there. And we had lovely weather!” At this he harrumphs and looks at me “Lovely weather? In the Autumn? In Yorkshire?!” he says with a wry smile. I think he’s swallowed the bait.

“Yes, we were really lucky – it only rained on one day, I think. Unfortunately, it was the day we walked along Douthwaite Dale, although it actually created a wonderful atmosphere – as we walked, wisps of cloud drifted past us like wraiths.” He begins to smile, all thoughts of my absence forgotten. “You were right, Grandfather, it is a marvellous, ‘primeval’ place, and I really felt it hasn’t changed since you learnt to swim by the footbridge over the Dove near the ford at Yoadwath, when you were a boy. Although it’s more overgrown, I guess”

“Ah, lass” he sighs wistfully “Douthwaite Dale.”

“We took up your invitation in ‘A Corner of England’- do you remember it?”

Chrales Clark Frank essay

“As Renfrew says in the Criticisms at the end of the essay – your description makes ‘one wish to go in person and enjoy the beauty of this unspoilt Corner of England’ – and we did!”

“Did you?! Well I’m d——d!” His smile broadens into a grin. ”Ah yes, I seem to recall my fellow SES members were quite complimentary.”

“Well, it is a beautiful description, Grandfather! In fact, we took a copy of the essay with us, and walked as much of the route as we could. Sadly though, we couldn’t access part of the walk, and a lot of the river was hidden by huge trees.”

“That’s a shame, lass.” He pauses. A shadow seems to fall across his face and his smile becomes wistful. I recall the lines from his essay where he begins to reminisce about fishing with friends at the Leg of Mutton Pool:

…with the gathering shadows memories come thronging of all the good fellows who have sat here in the gloaming with me.

“It is a shame, but it was still so lovely. I was really disappointed not to see the Leg of Mutton Pool, though. I think the trees have grown so big they hide it. Anyway – here, let me show you some photos of how it looks now.”

Looking down over the (now extended?) churchyard of All Saints Church in Kirkbymoorside, from Vivers Hill

Looking down over the (now extended?) churchyard of All Saints Church in Kirkbymoorside, from Vivers Hill

Charles Clark Frank essay

View over Kirkby with Ryedale beyond from the top of Vivers Hill. Centre: a grey bay window shows the side of The Petch House (formerly Meadow Way or Bank?) in which CCF’s brother William Parkin (father to CCF’s niece Catherine) lived in one half, and ‘Old Tom’ Parrington lived in the other half.

Charles Clark Frank essays

7  A Corner of England - the overgrown path from the footbridge

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 3

6  A Corner of England - the footbridge

4  A Corner of England - Yoadwath Ford

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 5

8  A Corner of England - view back over the dam and ford towards the Mill House and cottages

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 6

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 7

10  A Corner of England - 'a solemn place'

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 8

Douthwaite Dale b&w postcard

Douthwaite Dale - Extract from A Corner of England 10

Charles Clark Frank essays

A page in the essay ‘A Corner of England’ written in 1928, showing postcards of the Dale at the time, annotated by CCF

Charles Clark Frank essays

Charles Clark frank essays

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Miss Villiers used to trill tunelessly when she wasn’t talking, and seemed to walk on her toes swinging her hands around as she went along. She was my form teacher when I was 13. One of the many random questions she frequently asked out of the blue and apropos of nothing at all spooked me slightly at the time, enough for it to be the only thing I remember her saying (so much for the expensive education!)

Miss Villiers asked us how we knew we were real. Hands flapping, she excitedly warmed to her theme, asking us each to imagine going alone into an empty sound-proofed room and closing the door. How did we know that anyone left outside really existed? Could it be that we didn’t really exist and they did? Maybe we didn’t really exist unless we were in someone else’s presence? What if we sang a song in the empty room – was the activity somehow invalidated because no-one had witnessed it?

I wonder what Miss Villiers would have made of mobile phones. They’ve melted the metaphorical walls of her horrible hollow room, and we can all be ‘validated’ 24/7 these days (even in company 😉 ).

Such musing arose from re-reading the essay ‘Back Again’ after half an hour’s stumbling guitar practice – I fell to wondering about ‘valid’ activities. For no good reason I can think of (except perhaps, that my Dad bought it for me – which is a very good reason now I think of it!), I have kept my guitar since my vain attempts to master the scale of C major when I had a few guitar lessons at school. I’m not particularly musical, and not in the least bit talented, but I’ve always loved the sound of classical guitar. A number of decades and strange quirks of fate later, I found myself at lessons again a few months ago, and have now almost mastered – I use the term very loosely – the lovely ‘Spanish Ballad’ (Anon, 17th Century). I find I relish the absorption in practice – the ‘walk’ up and down the strings to strengthen my fingers, and the sound of the tune emerging in spite of my clumsy beginner’s mistakes. But in the shadows lurks a sense that I should be doing something else, something useful, something productive – something valid.

I doubt whether my countryman grandfather had such nonsense in his head when he set off for a day’s fishing at the Shallow of the Chestnut Stream in Sinnington on a fine September day in 1922. In ‘Back Again’ he paints beautiful vignettes of nature (and even of the activity of fishing itself!) and is rewarded by his critics with heartily appreciative remarks – rightly so, I feel. Take his recollection of a close encounter with kingfishers some years before on a similar trip, for example:

Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p3 Extract from 'Back Again' 1922 p4

…I never fish the Shallow now without remembering that moment of intense life and beauty – It was such a breathless affair! – as thrilling in its way as the stoop of a Falcon –

(Punctuationistas, please note – I probably agree with you, but that’s what he wrote a hundred years ago!  😉   )

TMP marvels at the fact that, apart from three years during the War, he fished at Sinnington  “…every season for thirty eight years past, and it is rather singular that the Chestnut Tree Stream has altered so little in that time.”

When we visited Sinnington in September last year a hundred years after ‘Back Again’ was written, it still seemed barely changed – a time-capsule village around a green, along a stream, nestling against a slope of heather-dark moorland. I don’t know how many more seasons grandfather was able to go to fish in this idyllic spot. Change was coming. He travelled to Sinnington by train on the Thirsk & Malton Railway. This line had opened three years after his birth, but by the 1930s, passenger numbers had dwindled to about 35 a week, and the line slowly died – finally closing in 1953, three years after grandfather’s death. Five years’ after he wrote ‘Back Again’, he would become a father for the first time, at the age of fifty-six.

But let us return to ‘Back Again’ and revel in an enchanting description of the autumn foliage over the stream:

To-day the roof was golden in decay and flecked with spaces of blue. …Once I knocked one of the hanging boughs with my rod and a shower of leaves rustled down around and upon me – floating down the water like little fire-ships.

The day’s activity resulted in a catch “…nearly two spans in length; a most noble fish for those waters.” In fact, TMP was so proud of his trophy, he was tempted to leave a record of his triumph, as he and his school fellows had done in years gone by:

extract from Back Again, 1922, trout

I wonder if two marks were cut into a rail near a stream in Yorkshire a hundred years ago – by a tall, slim man with a ruddy face, in his middle years, burdened with canvas bags bulging with fishing gear, and carrying a prize trout. If so, perhaps those marks remained for decades, slowly succumbing to lichen and moss, and the smoothing of hands, while the stream nearby flowed unchanging.

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge cros...

English: Sinnington Footbridge Footbridge crossing the River Seven at the lower end of Sinnington Main Street. The busy A170 runs close by. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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As I read CCF’s later essays, I’m getting a sense of strain and pressure. I’ve just read scanned and logged two more, dated 1931. The first is shorter than usual, ‘King Cups and Brown Water’- written very quickly and up against submission deadline, and ‘Remembrance’, which he actually wrote and submitted to the SES in 1923.
In 1931 CCF was 60 and struggling with the daily grind – including all the joys and difficulties of having a four-year-old son. He probably didn’t know it at the time (although I wonder if he was already wrestling with the notion) but he was to resign from the SES in 1933, as he felt he just could not continue to commit the time or energy to his writing. I think there are only three more essays left for me to read. However – I’m hoping the next session of sorting through the remaining miscellaneous papers might yield more…
‘Anticipations’ which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, was written in the spring of 1931, and delightfully captures its theme:

essays

He is, of course, anticipating a weekend’s fishing – what else! This city-dwelling countryman is joyfully looking forward to revelling in the restorative powers of his natural habitat.

essays

And who can blame him – he reveals that he is currently presiding as temporary Chairman of the Court of Referees in Hull “which is the only tribunal to allow or disallow claims, under the Unemployment Insurance Acts, to the out-of-work benefit, commonly called by the recipients (but not by the Court) ‘the Dole’.” On the day of writing the essay, he had heard – and taken all the notes for – 50 claims, and says his is an “an honourable as well as difficult position” in which he feels like “…a cat walking along a wall newly guarded with broken glass!” He is a solicitor, and is working alongside two barristers.
According to one of the many articles about the inter-war years on the internet, unemployment peaked at around 3 million in 1933 – while England was in the grip of the Great Depression – which was about approximately 20% of the working population. Many of those who had fought for their country were unable to find work.
CCF seems to have been a very altruistic and sensitive person, and being in such a position where “…it must always be borne in mind that every claimant is out of work, and that every decision of the Court is of very grave importance to him or her.” must have been a huge strain – indeed, he mentions his “tired brain and soul”.
No wonder he was looking forward to “getting away into the open air for some days, [and] to feel and hear the water rippling past my waders once more!”

River Dove, Ryedale Yorkshire

Not fishing but eating – a pause in our walk along the River Dove

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Off masks; and let me applaud a brother, [and] a fellow countryman…’ enthuses  ‘Paul Pry’, and ‘Sigma’ concurs, although with more restraint ‘… it is longer than T.M.P.’s average, but not long enough’ while ‘Agricola’ keeps it simple, stating ‘A beautiful corner of England beautifully described.’ All twelve critics were delighted by TMP’s 15-page submission of July 1928, ‘A Corner of England – Douthwaite Dale’.
CCF’s fellow SES members are right to praise him so wholeheartedly (although ineveitably, one or two can’t resist a niggle – this is an essay society, after all!). This essay is serene and evocative and is from the heart of a countryman who truly understands the land and the seasons. A countryman ‘in exile’ living in Leeds – and perhaps that is what lends the writing such gentle power. He welcomes us to share his delight in his beloved Yorkshire landscape, but it’s a wistful reminiscence, written in a city terrace.
‘” Let us stroll over to Yoadwath bridge and watch the fish rise” This has been the standing summer evening invitation and custom of our house for two generations past…’ So grandfather accomapnies us on a walk along the River Dove – evoking rich pictures of the scenery, and remembering companions over the years.  The narrative detours to take in Douthwaite Hall, and he tells us that the estate belonged to the Shepherd family for centuries, until sadly the last Squire of Douthwaite, William Shepherd, became a reclusive eccentric and let the Hall – and it’s unusual ornaments – fall into ‘ruin and decay’ (‘them’ in the first line refers to rabbits, hundreds of them!):

Quote from A Corner of England 1

Tired and ready to return we head home, grandfather lingering a little behind us:

Quote from A Corner of England 2

His little son, my father, did ‘grow up to be a … fisherman’. However, he didn’t fish as much as he would have liked, I think. In the early days of my engagement, dad taught my fiancé (now my husband) about fly-fishing and how to cast. Oddly, lessons took place in the garden – not a drop of water, never mind any fish, in sight. 😉

I couldn’t resist inserting a bonus pic:

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

Surprise View at Gillamoor, North Yorkshire

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There was a hint of Autumn this morning.
I imagined grandfather standing in the doorway, sniffing the air and scanning the skies for his beloved swifts or snipe, then leaving Atora suet out in his city garden (which I believe was a small shared area at the front of the house) for his favourite robin.
Got a bit sidetracked today, by Tom Parrington, grandfather’s uncle by marriage. Quite a character, it seems – born and brought up on a farm which later became Middlesborough, was MFH of the renowned Sinnington Hunt, and celebrated a golden wedding anniversary with his first wife followed by a silver wedding anniversary with his second wife (Miss Hugill, my grandmother’s aunt)! Old Tom is much written about, and fondly remembered by my grandfather in his essay ‘A Halcyon Day’ (1911). The essay is a touching and amusing account of a visit to TP’s for lunch, and to see (and be roundly teased by!) Dorothy, my grandmother, but there is also a beautiful description of ‘The Old Gentleman’. And I’ve finally found out how to insert extracts from the essays, so here it is:

     

…and here is the Old Gentleman himself:

Tom Parrington

The Old Gentleman – Tom Parrington, and the crop he’s holding in the portrait

 

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20120717-195257.jpg

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