Whitby #3

[ Photo Gallery # 77 ]

A further (last – for the time being anyway) selection of my photographs of Whitby taken on my frequent visits there  in the past . . .

Whitby (1)

Whitby – as the River Esk enters the North Sea – view from East Cliff

Whitby (2)

Harbour Entrance   1

Whitby (3)

Harbour Entrance 2

Whitby (4)

Harbour Entrance 3

Whitby (5)

The ruins of Whitby Abbey atop East Cliff

Whitby (6)

Whitby Town – view from the top of the 199 Steps

Whitby (7)

Caedmon’s Cross and Whitby Town – View from the Churchyard of St.Mary’s 

Whitby (8)

Old gravestones in the churchyard – a prominent setting for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ story.

Whitby (9)

A Weathered Gravestone

Whitby (10)

By the entrance to the church – Memorial to John Storr, the Coxwain of the Whitby lifeboat, and eleven others who lost their lives on the lifeboat in 1861.

Whitby (11)

A modern day street puppeteer with organ grinder on the Whitby harbour-side

Whitby (12)



Caedmon’s Hymn


Caedmon remained, throughout his life, unable to record his own verse in writing.  This many others did for him and these were collected and published for others to read, sing and recite. However, it is not possible to be certain of how authentic many of these are, chiefly because Caedmon’s original poems may well have suffered in their many translations, some being from the Latin, which were themselves translations of Caedmon’s Old English.

In fact only one short nine-line verse remains which, because it is given to us by Bede, we can be certain was Caedmon’s creation.  This is the hymn which he first wrote, and which came to him in his inspirational dream.  I give this below, both in its original Old English and in its translation into modern English . . .


Caedmon’s Hymn in Old English and its modern translation (excerpt from The Earliest English Poems, Third Edition, Penguin Books, 1991):

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder; swa he wundra gehwæs
ece Drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend:
þa middangeard moncynnes Weard,
ece Drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, Frea ælmihtig.

Praise now to the keeper of the kingdom of heaven,

the power of the Creator, the profound mind

of the glorious Father, who fashioned the beginning

of every wonder, the eternal Lord.

For the children of men he made first

heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.

Then the Lord of mankind, the everlasting Shepherd,

ordained in the midst as a dwelling place,

Almighty Lord, the earth for men.

Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest recorded poem in Old English, and illustrates, though so not clearly in translation, an example of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse.  Seventeen manuscripts still exist with copies of this hymn, with minor variations, some in a variety of different Old English dialects, others in Caedmon’s own Northumbrian dialect.   These verses in fact established the methodology for most poets who followed him and powerfully exemplify the whole art of Anglo-Saxon poetry.bar152

This final passage I quote from:  http://www.encyclopedia.com/

‘All of his poetry was on sacred themes, and its unvarying aim was to turn men from sin to righteousness. In spite of all the poetic renderings that Caedmon supposedly made, however, it is only the original dream hymn of nine historically precious, but poetically uninspired, lines that can be attributed to him with confidence.’



Caedmon’s Story: PartsVI, VII



After my examination
Which, I was told,
My divine gift,
In humility
I accepted this new role
No longer a toiler in God’s farmyard
But now become a monk novitiate
Tutored in biblical tradition
In the classic stories
God had bestowed
In His scriptures
Encouraged to
Make music with words
And voice,
To reflect the stories
From Genesis
To The Last Judgement.

My chief desire
Through all my words
Was to redirect my fellow man
From love of sin
To love of good deeds,
To altruism
To tolerance
And righteousness.

The new found confidence
Granted to me by God’s
Gave me the will
To sing
To follow the harp,
My trembling words
Colouring the air
Gripping my listeners,
Binding them to the message
Within the spell of my songs.


In Old English
In the vernacular of my calling
And under the tutelage
In matters of the scriptures
Of Hild’s scholars
I continued to compose
To recite
To sing to the harp.

In time
I took my vows
And became a monk
Enriched by recognition
Of my gifts by my fellows
I led a devout life
Given to God
And to his servants on earth
Expressing my joy
In my heart-felt words
All coloured
Through my imagination
With images of the life
And landscape
Which I knew
From my own surroundings
These, transcribed by my brothers,
And spread through them
To other foundations across the land.


As I now know
My end approaches
I have fallen ill
And during my fever
Unusual as it was
I had a premonition of my death
This allows me
I am told
As a revered follower of God
To receive my last Eucharist.

This I now
My pillowed head
In full knowledge of
Promised Peace
Hoping I have been true
Throughout my life
To my calling
As Herdsman
And Poet.
And that
In due time
This will deliver me
Into God’s presence.


Whitby Abbey Ruins in Silhouette . . . Watercolour Wash … WHB – 1991

Tomorrow . . . ‘ Caedmon’s Hymn’ – the only extant poem known to be by Caedmon


Caedmon’Story: Parts IV, V



When I woke
From my broken slumber
The words
I knew
Were still with me
Those same words
I had uttered at his bidding.

Charged with joy
I felt compelled to repeat
These hitherto unfamiliar
Expressions of my faith
To sing of creation
To all who would hear.

I straight away went
Revealed my verses
To my steward.
Astounded with my
Unfamiliar fluency
He sought for answers
For how
When and why
But I had no explanation
I merely repeated my joy
In the expression
Of such images
Such revelations
Of the worth of creation
And the works of God


‘We must attend the abbess
To present her with your new-found gift.’

And he straightway led me
Into her presence.
Hild listened with an intensity
Beyond the norm
As affected as I myself
By the scenes
Painted by my words
By the conviction in their truths
By the clarity of their vision.

Perhaps to test my resolve
The substance
Of my newly discovered powers
Hild asked that I render into verse
Another portion of sacred history
Explained to me
By one of her monks.

This task,
After labouring all night
I was able to comply with,
Whereon Hild,
Without further hesitation,
Pronounced on my future.

‘It is clear’, she finally said,
‘You have pondered well
During your silences
My dear Caedmon.
You have listened
And absorbed
All that has swirled around you
And God has considered
Has chosen the time
And granted you His blessing
Directing you
To spread his word
His deeds and challenges
To all Christendom
To this end
You must take the tonsure of a monk
You will be admitted to our order
Where your reverend brothers
Will expound the scriptures further

Myself, I only ask
That you continue to demonstrate
Your powers of poesy and sacred song,
For the benefit of all’.


Whitby Abbey . . . Photograph:  WHB – 2005

. . .  Concludes tomorrow with Parts VI & VII . . . 


Caedmon’s Story: Parts I, II, III


Cowherd at Whitby Abbey … Photograph by Frank Meadows Sutcliffe – c.1880



While the wind whispers words to me
On the cold cliff-top meadow
I gaze out to the cold sea of the north
Its waves ceaselessly gnawing
Chewing on the feet
Of these towering cliffs
Atop which sits
Streonaeshalch monastery
My home
Raised skywards
Its beseeching arches
Piercing the clouds
Their pinnacles breaching
The gates of heaven
Forever seeking
Connection with
God’s presence

Amongst the buttercups
In the pasture
On my lips

The salt tang of the sea
With staff in hand
I pause
Musing on my masters
Cloistered inside the abbey precincts
Cultivating their chants
Tending their herbs
Brewing their healing potions
While I exist
To care for their cattle
But wedded to my lowly calling
A lay brother
But a needed
Part of the whole

And my Abbess
Of such gentle demeanour
Finding the time to speak to me
Her lowly cowherd
Intent only on doing her bidding
On following her lead
Attempting to mirror her devotion
Her calling understood
And honoured
Even echoed
By her lowly servant.


Evening came
And with it

Mists drifting from the sea
In the refectory

A feast of sorts was spread
As is usual
We were all there
From abbess to monk
Minstrels, mummers
Swineherds, sheep herds
Farm hands, helpmates
Expected to play a part

I edged myself closer
To the fire’s flames
As before
Wanting no part in their story-telling
Fearing their disdain
To seek the ember’s warmth

The harp
From one to another
Each offering their words
To its accompaniment
Soon it would be
Handed to me
But I had no words to offer
No desire to demonstrate
My unschooled presence
No thoughts that I could
Or dare

As always
I sidled to the doorway
Stepped out
Into the cold evening air
Against the biting wind
The sea mist

I hastened to my mattress
To the warmth
Of my animals
My uncritical companions.


The weariness of work
Soon brought respite
To my tired limbs
And sleep came
Straw-cosseted sleep
Without warning
A blaze of light and
Intrusive whispered words 

‘Caedmon …
Sing a Song’
‘Sing to me’
‘Sing now’

I felt myself shudder
A half-discerned image
A presence
Beyond my ken
On the edge of vision
I knew I could not do as asked

‘… But I cannot
I know of no songs’

 ‘… Yes, Caedmon
… You can.
Sing to me
Of the beginning of all things
Just open your mouth
And let out the sound’

Knowing how futile
Was what I was being asked
Fear made me open my mouth


Unbid by me
I uttered words,
Recognisable words
Not just words
But beautiful words
Even I knew that
Words I had not heard before
Words I had not thought before
Words of hope
Of strength
Of compassion
Words of Our Creation
In praise
And Blessing
Words of Heaven
And of the Creator Himself.


…  Continues tomorrow with Parts 4 and 5 …

CAEDMON: The First English Poet


Caedmon Memorial, St.Mary’s Churchyard, Whitby. N.Yorkshire

Inscription … “To the glory of God and in memory of Cædmon the father of English Sacred Song. Fell asleep hard by, 680.

 Caedmon is credited with being the first English poet.

He lived in the 7th Century A.D.  His actual date of birth is unknown. What we do  know of him is chiefly found in The Venerable Bede’s, ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ written in 731 A.D.,  50 years after Caedmon’s death. In fact the language Caedmon recited and sang in was Old English.  His works were recorded by others and passed on to subsequent generations.  As Bede reports, Caedmon began as a lowly herdsman working mainly in the fields and grounds of the Northumbrian Benedictine monastery of Streonæshalch (later to become Whitby Abbey) on the coast of North Yorkshire during the time when the renowned St Hilda, or Hild, was Abbess between 657 and 680 AD.

The Abbey occupies a dramatic position, exposed as it is at the edge of the cliffs above the town of Whitby, and facing directly out to the North Sea.  It was disestablished and fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early 16th Century.

Caedmon’s story is a fascinating one, with few sources for verification of its authenticity.

  Over the 3 days, starting tomorrow, I hope to present, translated by me from the original Old English, Caedmon’s own version of his life story. 

Whitby Abbey


Talking Tyke & ‘Auld Ap’


The White Rose Of Yorkshire

As an ex-patriot Tyke, now of advanced years, I value my Yorkshire upbringing and family history dearly. Although I have, apart perhaps from some extreme moments of stress, lost virtually all my North Yorkshire accent, I have retained pleasurable memories of the vernacular speech of my parents and many of my Northern relatives and friends.

The dialect has its roots in Old English and Old Norse, There is a  Yorkshire Dialect Society  (click on the link for accesswhose purpose is to promote the use of the dialect in both humour and in serious linguistic studies.  On the site you will find sound files giving examples of many of the dialects spoken in different parts of this, the largest of all English counties.

Caedmon, writing in the 7th Century whilst a monk working under the Abbess Hild at Whitby Abbey, was the first Yorkshireman  (perhaps even the first Englishman) to write verse.  [ See my blog of 29th of July on ‘Whitby’ ].  Caedmon was said to have been an illiterate herdsman who had a vision one night and heard a voice commanding him to sing of “the beginning of created things”.



Since that time countless other poets have sung about the life and events of North Yorkshire (see the  The Lyke Wake Dirge ).   In more recent times, verses have been published attempting to represent the Yorkshire dialect in written form.  This certainly involves liberal use of the apostrophe!

One such dalesman published several collections of entertaining and expressive dialect verse under the pen-name of ‘Erimus’ (Latin: ‘We Shall Be’).   The poem of his which I reproduce below has a particular connection with my own family history, as the Auld Ap referred to in the opening verse, was the father of my Uncle (by marriage) Edwin.   A.P. Richardson was, in the early part of the 20th Century, a renowned auctioneer at agricultural auctions throughout the North Riding of Yorkshire, and, according to Erimus, “his dry pungent wit would loosen the purse-strings of the most inveterate miser”.  


Midnight Farm . . .  WHB 1991

The story of ‘Auld Ap’s’ visit to auction off the goods and livestock at  ‘Midnight Farm’ is told in Erimus’s poem reproduced below.  It is from Erimus’s collection of verse entitled ‘ Wi’ t’ accent on Yorkshire’.   The farm does actually exist in a fold of the Cleveland Hills, above the typical North Yorkshire village of Ingleby Greenhow.   It gets its name from its position in the landscape which denies it sunshine for most of the year.


Ah went tiv a seeal yance at 'Midnight'.
Auld 'Ap' started preeachin' at ten;
He ranted on t' breedin' an' t' birthright
0' t' Maister an' t' poor daytal men:
He'd got bargains bi t' score for us buyers,
All t' stock was weel wintered, he said,
All t' hosses was soond an' good triers
An' t' beeasts had been varry weel fed.

He was sellin' some yows an' some wethers,
Sike a brokken moothed lot nivver stirred!
Some pooaks all stuffed full wi' feathers -
There was beastlins an' bowls o' white curd:
A wall-eyed auld gallower called 'Rastus'
Was tied up in t' stall next ti t' bull;
A razor-backed sow galloped past us
Leeatin summat ti git t' belly full.

A Westerdale youth wi' a tub-trap
Bowt a coo wi' its bag trailin' t' ground,
She 'ad a hingrowin' hoorn an' a blinnd pap-
But hotherwise - perfectly sound:
He bowt t' Missis some mair bits an' pieces -
A 'lye' an' tweea garden speeads,
Some bales o' Teeswatter fleeces,
All clinkered an' liftin' wi' caids.

Some farm lads was there playing marbles,
Near a mangy auld dog an' some cats,
There was stirks wi' their backs blebbed wi' waarbles
An' t' granary was swaarmin' wi' rats:
T' farmer's wife was a raucous auld creeatur,
Sike a skinflint, she'd skin ivvery louse:
She'd tak' drinks frea all 'at would treeat her,
Then skip smartly back inti t' hoose!

T' wasn't long afoor t' lads got their glimmers
On t' greeat sarvant lass 'at was there,
They forgot aboot biddin' for t' gimmers,
As she eyed 'em frea t' auld rockin' chair:
A reet useful soort ti' git wedded -
An' a bargain at seventeen steean two,
It would just need anuther yan like her
An' ye could yoke 'em beeath inti t' plew!

She said she'd feed all 'at was buyin',
We gat fat rascals an' green mowldy cheese,
An' mair than that - withoot tryin',
We foond we were covered in fleas;
They crowled oot of a greasy flock mattress
We’d sat on ti’ watch two auld stegs
That were chasin’ a loppy-lugged fuzzock
Ti’ stop ‘im frae eatin’ t’ pot eggs!

Noo ye nivver saw fleas that could beat ‘em!
We all ceeam oot i’ great lumps,
We hardlins knew which way ti’ treeat ‘em,
As we scratted oor bellies an’rumps!
Auld Jim said. 'By Gum, but Ah’ll cap ‘em!’
They’d driven ‘im just aboot fond;
He’d gi'en ower trying ti’slap ‘em,
Sae he dived heead fost inti’ t’pond!

Ah had ti git t’Missus ti shift mine,
She threw all mi cleeas on ti t’ wall;
Ah stood in a barril o’ quick lime,
Then ah dived inti t’ nearest coo stall;
She finished ‘em off wi’ a blow lamp -
Ye could hear ‘em sizzlin’ all t’ tahm
Ah was pleased as Punch when they flooated,
But she varry nigh did me some ‘arm!

They say t’sun nivver shines there at’Midnight’.
Except for an odd tahm in t’year,
Maist o’ t’ work’s deean there bi moonlight,
Wi neea tahm ti’ drink onny beer:
Ah was nivver seea glad ti git scamperin’
Wi t’ hoss’s head pointed for heeam,
Ah Ah’d tak’ a fair bit o’ pamperin’
Ti got ‘ticed back ti Midnight ageean!!