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.
Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow.
T.S. Eliot (The Journey of the Magi)
I wrote this poem, as I did several of my recently blogged poems, many years ago. In ‘A Death I Die’ below the sober thoughts reflect a dark mood, the reason for which I now have no recollection. For me, at the time of writing, they obviously represented the Shadow, that halfway house between knowing and not-knowing, between what is and what might be, between Eliot’s ‘the motion and the act’.
A DEATH I DIE
I have no heart for selfish love that starts and ends with flesh. It leads along an endless path, it binds, compels afresh.
There is a sort of death I die; Am killed and kill myself. I am alone in this. I am a willing suicide. I go on a journey bearing my own end.
This death is a habit, a nasty selfish habit I know and hate it. I both give and receive. The giving is good – but also a habit.
Receiving – an infinite regression. We plan the means and the end is all. Purgatory is the cemetery, time the resurrection. And All is planned that This should be so.