This bridge, in a traditional Pack Horse shape, has remained intact straddling the River Esk near the moorland village of Glaisdale, in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, for 400 years. The village is about ten miles inland from Whitby, where the River Esk flows into the North Sea. It is known as Beggar’s Bridge, and was built in 1619, by Tom Ferris, a local man, son of a poor moorland sheep farmer. Having been turned down as a suitable suitor for his love, Agnes, by her wealthy land-owning father, Tom vowed to seek his fortune and to one day return to claim Agnes’ for his wife. After many adventures at sea, Tom returned, now a rich man, married Agnes, and prospered, to such an extent that he eventually became the Lord Mayor of Hull. The bridge, it is said, was erected by Tom as a memorial to his wife, and as a means for future lovers to cross the river without having to brave its often flooded waters. The story, as it has been passed down, is a mix of fact and fiction. The basic facts are essentially true, but the story, has become a local legend and has, no doubt been embellished over the course of time.
I have tried my hand at re-telling this story in a simple and traditional ballad style, the results of which efforts I give below . . .
THE BALLAD OF BEGGAR’S BRIDGE
He lived beside the river Esk In a fair delightful dale His story I must tell you now A truly stirring tale.
Tom loved a lass of high estate It was not meant to be For she was of the Manor born A lowly lad was he.
Her father disapproved the match Tom was of lowly birth No land, no money, no position, Of very little worth.
But their shared love was sound and solid So secretly they met. They shared their passions willingly But always under threat.
Poor Tom was restless and intent To run away to sea; He held fast to the thoughts that stirred Inside him to be free.
He knew one day he’d win his bride, He would not be gainsaid; Beyond this dale there was a world Where fortunes could be made.
So one dark night he set off late To wish Agnes farewell To promise to return for her To ever with her dwell.
She lived beside the river too But on the other side. He therefore had to swim across He would not be denied.
The Esk just then was in full spate It swirled along the dale. It almost took Tom’s life that night He knew he must prevail.
With strength of ten he forged a path Across the raging stream; He dragged his aching body out As if within a dream.
With his goodbyes Tom gave his word That some day he’d return; And Agnes gave her solemn oath She’d wait for him in turn.
Tom took himself to Whitby town And soon with Drake joined battle; Against that Spanish fleet he fought Saw off the invading rabble.
A rover in West Indies then And piracy his game. Plunder and pillage gave him wealth And brought a kind of fame.
He felt that now he could return To claim his promised bride; Confront her father without fear, With new found hope and pride.
And so to Glaisdale Tom returned His roving days now past. True to her word Agnes rejoiced, Her hopes fulfilled at last.
They married soon and lived in bliss, Or so the story goes. Tom grew in wealth, in fame, in power, Commanding all he chose.
Throughout the north he garnered fame His name grew ever bigger. Lord Mayor of Hull he then became, Now a respected figure.
And when his Agnes died at last Their story he declared, Would with a bridge over the Esk With all the world be shared.
A bridge to join the river’s banks To help new lovers’ trysts; A bridge secure from spate and flood Which to this day exists.
The reason it’s called Beggar’s Bridge No one is very sure. ‘Tis thought was done to prompt us all That Tom was once so poor.
In the verses below, I attempt to express Clytie’s plight when she finds her love for the Son God, Helios, rejected, and she is committed to watch his daily flight across the heavens in his winged chariot . Eventually she is transformed into a sunflower or heliotrope , condemned for ever to follow the sun’s movements across the sky.
C L Y T I E
As dusk takes over from the day I stand on Helios’ shore and weep. Light for my soul, Lust for my life; These no more can I strive to keep.
Yet there is hope because the night Is followed by expectant day. The sun will rise With hope intact, And I’ll revive my destined way.
The languid sun will lift at dawn Over the shimmering tranquil sea. It is my dreams, My Holy Grail, And promises new hopes to me.
The sun renews its daily task. As Clytie, I still strive to meld Lovers’ aubade, Their serenade. With this till dusk my life is held.
Time’s chariot, its path I trace; Helios arcs across the sky. Till evening ends In blood red gore, And once again I die.
But then again the cycle breaks When dawn extends to dusk its kiss. It’s carmine clinch, Crimson caress, Herald again life’s feud with bliss.
Photograph of Spencer at work inCookham Village … by WHB . . . 1957
Stanley Spencer, CBE RA (1891 – 1959)was an English painter. Shortly after leaving the Slade School of Art, Spencer became well known for his paintings depicting Biblical scenes occurring as if in Cookham, the small village beside the River Thames where he was born and spent much of his life. Wikipedia
The sleepers awake from an imagined death A teasing adventure in insubstantial earth
Pram pusher extraordinaire in the Village that lit up his life inspired his vision Trundled easel hearse put to work in progress To see, to feel, to breathe destiny on the village green The past become the present resurrected in tranquillity Life-lite under the churchyard yew this moulded flesh – full featured bringing joy from the stern grave Life’s resurrection imagined in hope and the churchyard in his eyes and his pigment Drawn and deified Death and Resurrection as Spring As buttercups in the greenest of fields.
The sleepers awake from an imagined death A pleasing adventure in insubstantial earth
Stanley Spencer: ‘The Resurrection, Cobham … 1924-27. Tate Gallery
Continuing my own experimentations with a variety of different verse forms, here is attempt at a SENRYU . . .
Senryū is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae (syllables). Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Wikipedia
Longing for release Knowing how Bonivar felt I await freedom
N. B. Bonivar was the ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’. ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ is a 392-line narrative poem by Lord Byron. Written in 1816, it chronicles the imprisonment of a Genevois monk, François Bonivard, from 1532 to 1536. Wikipedia
I remember the 1/- that slash-dash sign a favourite of mine time gone every shop had one but time passed I know it breathed its last 50 years ago
Yes the shilling that was two tanners or a bob to me and those as money comes and goes 5p to you now twelve copper coppers hence one dozen pence twenty to the sixties pound But then deemed unsound and all became continent bound until sad sight they turned out the tills overnight onto and into counters joined the farthings and the thrupenny bits and called it quits the death of old-time dough sad to see them go Gone to memory’s locker to tomorrow’s antiques roadshow
Take me back to those distant days When time stood boldly still; The burbling beck flowed green and clean Beside the bellowing forge; When each day brought new hope And the healing world invited me in.
With that street gang I fearlessly fought, Braved the imminent threats. Regrets nor desire for retribution Clouded no horizon And danger held no thrall.
Little I knew or even thought Of what new years might hold. Each day brought its gratitude, Each birthday took no toll… No future promise was worth a penny Beyond tomorrow’s stretch.
But now, even in my clouded vision, I see with unblinkered sight, The past held all my future Up to its proffered light, And could I but have known it then I nothing would now overwrite.