For £1.49 in a charity shop, the slightly battered Readers Union book seemed like a bargain. I only took a cursory glance, the illustrations suggesting it was another bit of local history written by an enthusiast
I put it on the shelf with the other Yorkshire books ready for when I finished whatever I was reading at the time and there The Great Skipton Show by Roger Mason has remained for several years since. Until now.
As I made vague plans for my exploration of Yorkshire this summer, Skipton seemed to offer an interesting day out so I dusted off the book and started to read. What a surprise.
Instead of a worthy reporting of facts and figures, Roger Mason has woven all his knowledge into a narrative that not only gives a vivid impression of what life was like in Skipton at the start of the 20th century but also manages to tell some of the past history and even includes a legend or two. At times he has to use conversations that seem a bit contrived but overall he does that difficult thing – done so well in BBC historical dramas – of informing while entertaining. Best of all, he can move and he can amuse
Here’s a taster: it’s dawn on the day of the Great Skipton Show and Joady, a cattleman uncomfortable around folk, is sitting by the church wall trying to shake off his hangover before preparing his bull for what he hopes will be a prize-winning appearance Along the road comes a man pushing a cart:
“At the top, just below the churchyard wall, the fellow stopped to wipe his brow. Then the long squeaking note of a badly fixed wheel died away and a chorus of squeals rose to a crescendo.
‘Must have a litter o’ pigs in that barrel,’ thought Joady, and wrinkled his brow, for he hadn’t much time for pigs, they were too much like folk, noisy, greedy, pushing, never letting you alone.
The man trundled his hand-cart forward a short way, then halted above the sheep pens. He rested the trolley on its legs and edged the half barrel over. It rocked to and fro for a moment before dropping suddenly to the ground with a thud. The yelps and squeals were redoubled and a circle of small snouts rose above the rim in noisy protest.
Joady chuckled at the sight, thinking how like they were to the upturned faces of the choir-boys in church when the parson clipped an ear or two for whispering.
The man threw the sacking back over his livestock and, after stretching himself, wandered up to the churchyard to take a seat near Joady.
‘Fine morning,’ he grunted
‘Aye,’ replied Joady, ‘it’ll be hot.’
The man made no reply. His social duties were over and he slumped in silence on his bench. Joady looked around for another subject of connversation
‘Not many folk about…’ he said, tentatively.
The man grunted. Joady’s eye rested on an old green tombstone. There were few new headstones in the graveyard and hardly a sign of recently disturbed earth. An air of peace had attracted him, the old yews overhanging and the long restful outline of the old church
‘They don’t die very often here, I reckon.’
‘Nobbut once,’ the pig porter muttered laconically in reply before resuming his slump, chin on knuckles.
Joady gave up. His conversational powers were exhausted. He felt embarrassed by his failure and laid his forehead on the cool stone once more.”
I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve ordered second-hand copies of Roger Mason’s other books, Granny’s Village and Plain Tales from Yorkshire. But I can’t find anything out about him. Anyone able to fill in the details?