The Legend of the Penny Hedge

We are very proud that the legend of the Penny Hedge can be traced back to our land. If you follow the public footpath down the West Side of the farm buildings and the Cottages and follow it down the concrete road, you will pass two farm buildings one on the right and then one on the left. Behind the building on the left are the ruins of the Chapel and Hermitage where the wounded boar took refuge on the sixteenth of October 1159. The poem entitled "The Penny Hedge" printed below was written by my Grandmother (Dr Brenda Harks English), a renowned local writer of many books, mainly based on local history.

The Penny Hedge

By Brenda H English

TWAS sixteenth of October, eleven fifty nine,
When Gentry met at crack of dawn. For it was their design
To hunt the wild boar with their hounds in Wood of Eskdaleside,
Where game was plentiful, and boar had lately been descried.
The Lord of Ugglebarnby, the Lord of Sneaton too,
The Allatson of Fylingdale, set off with wild 'Halloo'!
Then, throwing hounds into Wood, the boar was quickly seen,
And the hounds gave tongue at once, because the scent was very keen.
Pursued and sorely wounded, the boar ran down the Dale
With hounds full cry behind him, and hot upon the trail.
But, reaching Eskdale Hermitage, he turned to flee inside
And, falling on the Chapel floor, he breathed his last and died.

THE Hermit, kneeling at his prayers, rose up and shut the door
Lest the hounds might desecrate the place where lay the wounded boar
The Gentlemen now followed on and finding the hounds at bay,
Knocked furiously on the door which kept them from their prey.
The Hermit came forth fearlessly, for he was very brave;
But all the Gentry ran at him and, each one with a stave,
Most violently and cruelly did wound him nigh to death;
Then stood a moment silently, to look with bated breath.
For now 'twas clear the Holy Man was very like to die;
And so they fled to sanctuary, where they might safely lie.

MEANTIME the Hermit had desired the Abbot that he call
The Gentlemen to come to him so he might speak at all.
The Gentry, ordered from their lair, came duly as he willed,
To stand before the dying man, while knowing they'd be killed.
"By the wounds I am sure to die" the Holy Hermit saith
"And, when thou dost" the Abbot vowed, "The law is death for death".
"Not so", replied the Holy Man, "for, if these men shall be
Enjoined to penance for their souls, then forgive them free".
The Genltemen implored him to enjoin them what he cared,
And they would do it faithfully, if so their lives were spared.

"THEN hie to Stray Head Wood", he saith, "that there you may recieve
Strut stowers, stakes and yethers, all upon Ascension Eve;
And cut by Abbot's Officer himself, and not in haste
But carefully with penny knife, lest there be any waste.
Then carry them upon your backs to Whitby Harbourside,
And set them up to make a hedge to stand three turns of tide.
And then the Abbot's Officer shall blow his horn
And thrice cry out, so that his words upon the wind are borne:


The Legend of the Horngarth or the Penny Hedge

The Horngath, or Penny Hedge,
A tale ot the Tewelf Century,
Illustrating the
And the Penances enjoyed on his Slayers.

In the fifth year of [the reign of King] Henry the Second, after the Conquest of England, by William, Duke of Normandy, the Lord of Ugglebarnby, then called William De Bruce, the Lord of Sneaton, called Ralph De Piercie, with a Gentleman and Freeholder [of Fylingdales], called Allatson, did, in the Month of October, the 16th Day of the same Month, appoint to meet and hunt the Wild Boar, in a certain Wood or Desart, called Eskdale-Side. The Wood or place did belong to the Abbot of the Monastery of Whitby, called Sedman. Then the aforesaid Gentlemen did meet with their Boar-Staves and Hounds, in the place aforenamed, and there found a great Wild Boar, and the Hounds did ruin him very well, near about the Chapel and Hermitage of Eskdale-Side, where there was a Monk of Whitby, who was an Hermit. The Boar being sore [wounded and hotly] pursed, and dead-run, took in at the Chapel-Door, and their laid him down and presently Died. The Hermit shut the Hounds forth of the Chapel, and kept himself within at his Meditation and Prayers, the Hounds standing at Bay without. The Gentlemen in the Thick of the Wood, put behind their Game, following the cry of their Hounds, came to the Hermitage and found the Hounds round about the Chapel. Then came the Gentlemen to the Door of the Chapel, and called the Hermit, who did open the Door, and come forth, and within lay the boar dead; for the which the Gentlemen in a fury, because the Hounds were put from their Game, did [most violently and cruelly] run at the Hermit with their Boar-Staves, whereof Died. Then the Gentlemen, knowing and perceiving he was in peril of Death, took sanctuary at Scarborough; but at that time the Abbot, in great favour with the King, did remove them out of the sanctuary, whereby they came in danger of the Law, and could not be privileged, but like to have the severity of the Law, which was Death for Death. But the Hermit being a holy Man, and being very sick, and at the point of Death, sent for the abbot, and desired him to send for the Gentlemen who had wounded him to Death. The Abbot so doing, the Gentlemen came and the hermit being sore sick, said, I am sure to die of these Wounds. The Abbot answered, They shall die for thee. But the Hermit said, Not so, for I freely forgive them my Death, if they be content to be enjoyned to this Penance, for the safeguard of their Souls.

The Gentlemen being there present [and terrified with the fear of Death], bid him enjoin what he would, so he saved their Lives. Then said to the hermit: ‘You and yours shall hold your Lands of the abbot of Whitby, and his Successors in this manner: That upon Ascension-eve, you, or some of you, shall come to the Wood of the Stray-head, which is in Eskdale-Side, the same day at sun-rising and there shall the officer of the Abbot blow his horn, to the intent that you may know how to find him, and he shall deliver unto you William De Bruce, ten stakes, ten Strout-Stowers, and ten Yedders, to be cut by you, or those that come for you, with a Knife of a Penny price; and you Ralph De Piercie, shall take one and twenty of each Sort, to be cut in the same manner; and you Allatson, shall take nine of each Sort, to be cut as aforesaid; and to be taken on your backs and carried to the town of Whitby, and so to be there before nine of the Clock of the same day aforementioned. And at the out of nine of the Clock (if it be full sea, to cease Service) as long as it is low water, at nine of the Clock, the same Hour each of you shall set your Stakes at the brim of the water, each Stake a Yard from another, and so Yedder them, as with your Yedders, and so Stake on each Side with your Strout-Stowers, that they stand three tides without removing by the Force of the water. Each of you shall make them in several Places at the Hour above-named, (except it be full sea at that Hour, which when it shall happen to pass, that Service shall cease) and you shall do this Service in remembrance that you did [most cruelly] slay me. And that you may the better call to God for Repentance, and find Mercy, and do good works, the officer of Eskdale-Side shall blow his horn, Out on you, Out on you, Out on you, for the hernous Crime of you. And if you and your Successors do refuse this Service, so long as it shall not be full sea, at that Hour aforesaid, you and yours shall forfeit all your lands to the Abbot [of Whitby], or his Successors. Thus I do entreat the Abbot that you may have your Lives and Goods for this Service, and you to promise by your Parts in Heaven, that it shall be done by you and you Successors, as it is aforesaid’ And the Abbot said, I grant all that you have said, and will confirm it by the Faith of an honest Man, then the Hermit, My soul longeth for the Lord, and I do as freely forgive these Gentlemen my Death as Christ forgave the Thief upon the Cross: And in the Presence of the Abbot and the rest he said, In manus tuas Domine commendo spiritum meum: [a vinculis enim mortis] redemistime, Domine veritatus.* Amen.

And so he yielded up the Ghost, the 18th day of December, upon whose soul God have Mercy. Amen. Anno Domini 1160. (1159.)

There is something so romantic in this monkish story, that one is tempted to wish it were true; Grose pleads strongly for its authenticity: but we must not please the imagination at the expense of truth; and I have no hesitation in saying, that the arguments which demonstrate the story to be fictionous are altogether incontrovertible. There never was an abbot of Whitby called Sedman; the name in the tale is borrowed from that of Caedmon the poet: but the Abbot’s name in the year 1159 was Richard. There was no Ralph De Percy nor any other Percy, at that time Lord of Sneaton; no Bruce was Lord of Ugglebarnby; nor as far as can be discovered, any Allatson then in Fylingdales. Sneaton was then held by the family of Arundel, and Ugglebarnby by that of Everly; and in the Time if the abbot Roger, the family of Burrigan made up the Horn Garth for Fylingdales. Above all, we are sure, from the documents above quoted, that the Horngarth was performed my the homage’s of Dunsley, Sleights, and other Parts, as well as by those of Sneaton, Ugglebarnby and Fyling and, that it was performed long before the time of this supposed hermit. Nor can there be a doubt that this supposed Penance is a relic of the ancient Service of the Horngarth, as it was performed on the same day, and as the following memorandum, written on an imperfect leaf at the beginning of a Register, but in a much more modern hand that the contents of the books, clearly proves their identity.

“Everie yeer the Horngarth Service ys to be donne upon Hollie Thursday evne.”
“Tho. Cockrill being Bayliff to the Abbot, did meete by sonn-rise the Rymeres, the Strangwayes, the Eldringtenes, and Allettsons, (who were bound to do this service) in the Strye Head End by Littel-Beck. And the said Cock’l did see every one cutt downe with a Knyfe (he appoynting the Wood) so muche as should serve. From thence they cam into the way. So Comminge to the water at the towne. Aud there maid the hedg, which should stand three tydes; and then the officer did blow, Oute upon them”

From this document we learn, that the Horngarth Service of the Penny Hedge, and the Story of the Hermit, did exist in some shape prior to the dissolution; only the Service was then performed by four families, whereas in our tale there are but three. All the homage’s have long ago purchased their exemption from this Service, except one family, Viz.: that which posses the property of the Allatsons in Fylingdales; which continued in the family of Allatson till the year 1775, and has now for many years belonged to a family called Herbert. Mr. Robert Herbert duly performed the Service on ascension eve (May 22nd) in this present year, 1816. It cannot be expected that a Penny, in the present day, can purchase a Knife sufficient to be used on the occasion, nor is it necessary to fetch the wood from Strayhead, or to have it delivered by the bayliff; but the bailiff still attends to see the hedge planted, and the Horn continues to blow Out on them. This part of the farce was for years acted by Nathaniel Wright, a well known eccentric character in Whitby. The Penny Hedge is always planted on the south Side of the Esk, within high-water mark, a little below Mr.Smale’s mast-yard, situate in Church Street, where the ancient Horngarth was probably made.

Why the hermit fixed on Ascension-day, at nine in the morning, for the carrying out of this Penance was, doubtlessly, because that the tide should never interfere with its due performance. Hence the request that they should repair to the Wood on Ascension-eve to prepare their stakes, their Stowers, and their Yedders, and bring them on their backs to the place fixed upon for their planting by nine in the morning.

As the time of ascension-day is determined by that of Easter, which is regulated by the moon, and the mood regulates the tides, it is more than probable,(says Dr. Young) that this day was chosen for the making of the Horngarth, because it was most convenient to make it up when the tide was low.

Dr. Young traced the performance of this Service annually up to the time of his Death. In his last public notice of it he says, “It was exercised on Ascension-eve, (may 8th) 1839, by a family of the name of Herbert, in respect of the Allatson property.”

The very performance of this Penance, by the Successors of the Allatson’s property, up to this day, seems to impress it on our minds more as a reality than a fable, and we incline more to Grose than to Young on this point.

This story, whether authentic or not, did not escape the notice of Sir Walter Scott, for in his “Marmion” he says: (Canto II. 13)

"Then Whitby’s nuns exulting told,
How to their house three barons bold
Must menial Service do;
While horns blow out a note of shame,
And monks cry “Fye upon your name!
In Wrath, for sylvan Game,
St. Hilda’s priest ye slew.”
“This on ascension-day each year,
While labouring on our harbour-pier
Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear."

We are much in the dark (says the Dr.) respecting the Hermitage of Eskdaleside; being unable to tell when, or by whom it was founded, or what time it ceased to be used as a Hermitage, but it appears to have been converted into an ordinary Chapel in 1226, and in the bull of Pope Honorius III. Issued in that year, it is named among the chapels belonging to Whitby church. The Chapel, which was called Saint John’s, is now in ruins; but to fill its place an elegant Chapel was built at Sleights, a village close by, in or about 1762.

Charlton, however, seems to throw some light on the subject, for he tells us, in his History of Whitby, that the Chapel was built by the Abbot Roger, that it was a Cell or Hermitage in the days of Lady Hilda, and that Caedmon the poet lived in it. It is likewise asserted that the abbot, Peter De Hartlepool had a chamber in Eskdaleside, which must be about the year 1393.

It would appear that this Hermitage, in its pristine days, had no pretensions to anything beyond what the Abbot Roger, who was its founder, designed-a humble place of prayer and devotion. Its length, we are told, was only about thirty-five feet, and its breadth, seventeen feet. It seems to have been remarkably plain and had only an earthen floor.

The Hermitage of Eskdaleside was originally situate in a very secluded yet very picturesque part of the vale of the Esk, distant about four miles from Whitby, and was fast falling into decay when it came into possession of the late Thomas Appleby, Esq. That Gentleman, with a spirit worthy the undertaking, had the venerable old ruin enclosed within posts and rails, to prevent its further destruction but the cattle that made it their shelter in winter and their protection in summer; he also repaired the walls, and planted them round with neat shrubs, which gives the old ruin a warm and imposing appearance. It can be seen very distinctly by the passengers on the railway, and will no doubt be gazed upon with intense interest by the Historian and Antiquarian.

Several reliques of Antiquity have been found at this place, which are fully described in the histories before alluded to.

It would also appear, that alum works were established in Eskdale-Side, in the year 1764, by John Yeoman, Esq., and Mr R. Jackson, but from the want of skill in working, and other causes, these works have been long laid down.

Hedge tradition still strong

(Article in the Whitby Gazette 25/05/07):

More than 40 people turned out to watch one of the oldest traditions in the area with the planting of the penny hedge.The custom takes place every year on the eve of Ascension Day and dates back to 1159 when three noblemen were hunting a wild boar.The boar is reputed to have sought refuge with a hermit on Eskdaleside but the three hunters attacked the hermit and killed him.As penance for their crime the noblemen were told they must build a hedge, cut with a penny knife, at low tide. If they refused or if the hedge was too weak to withstand three tides and gave way then they would forfeit their lands. Tradition dictates that when the hedge is built a horn is sounded three times and the bailiff of the Manor of Fyling, shouts “Out on ye” three times. The custom continues to this day but had to be cancelled in 1982 due to high tides on Ascension’s eve, thus bringing an end to the penance, this was the first time since 1159, that the hedge was unable to be laid. Although the planting has continued each year since as part of Whitby’s longest tradition.

Tim Osbourne of Staintondale, left, and Lol Hodgson, the bailiff of the Manor Of Fyling put the finishing touches to this year’s (2007) hedge: