A1-The Great North Road

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About three miles north of Wetherby, Walshford claims to be half way between London and Edinburgh.  There used to be an inn called The Old Fox, a drovers' pub rather than a coaching inn and long gone, replaced by the Bridge Hotel.

Leaving Wetherby northwards, if, instead of rejoining the A1, one takes the Knaresborough road, the B6164, one comes to Little Ribston.  Across the River Nidd, Ribston Hall was a Knights Templar Preceptory from 1217 to 1307. Not much is known about the original building save that it "lay on the road to Scotland."  There is only a little of it remaining, the chapel forming part of the hall, rebuilt in 1674.  Ribston Hall was also the home of the Ribston Pippin apple, raised from a seed brought from Normandy in 1709 and grown in part of the 170 hectares of gardens and parkland, established in the 17th century and developed in the late 18th century by the architect, John Carr.  The Ribston Pippin, a seed of which gave rise to the Cox's Orange Pippin in 1830, is no longer so common in England but is still popular in Sweden

Talking of trees, on the other side of the A1 on the south bank of the Nidd is the village of Cowthorpe, famous for its oak.

This account from Langdale's Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire, 1822, thanks to Genuki"Cowthorpe is remarkable on account of an enormous Tree, called the Cowthorpe Oak; the circumference of which, close by the ground, is 60 feet, and its principal limb (which is propped) extends 48 feet from the bole. This venerable oak is decaying fast, the trunk and several of the branches appearing to be completely rotten, except the bark; tradition speaks of its being in decay for many generations. The intermixture of foliage amongst the dead branches, show how sternly this giant struggles for life, and how reluctantly it surrenders to all conquering time. "Compared with this," says Dr. Hunter, in Evelyn's Silva, "all other trees are children of the Forest." The leading branch fell, by a storm, in the year 1718; which, being measured with accuracy, was found to contain five tons and two feet of wood. Before this accidental mutilation, its branches are said to have extended their shade over half an acre of ground; thus constituting, in a single tree, almost a wood itself. --Hist. Knaresborough."  Brewer's Dictionary of Phase and Fable from, 1894, says that 70 people could fit in its hollow and in 1900 Fletcher described it thus: "...the Cowthorpe Oak is said to be the oldest and largest oak in England, and, according to competent authorities, is at least sixteen hundred years old.  One only feels one regret in viewing its enormous proportions (it is now in its extreme old age a thing of gigantic bulk), and that is that one did not see it a few centuries ago, when, say the arborists, it was at least twice the size it is at present."  The Cowthorpe Oak is no more but its genes live on.  An acorn from the Cowthorpe Oak was planted the at Drury, New Zealand in the 1870s.  This 'Runciman Oak' has, in turn, be used to propagate a whole avenue of little oaks.  And back in the village of Cowthorpe there's an Oak Tree House in Oak Road.

Location may be everything but somewhere has to be between locations.  Here is Bradley again: "

"Exactly midway between London and Edinburgh, and a mile out of Wetherby on the road to the north, there still stands the Old Fox Inn, a house that was well known in the old coaching days, although it had no immediate connection with coaching.  This old half-wow house is but little altered although the straw-thatched roof has given place to red tiles and the old tree from which the swing sign used to hang has long ago disappeared.  The mile-post which marked the same distance each way to London and Edinburgh stood at the foot of this tree, and the drovers who came periodically from the north with their great herds of cattle made a point of never passing the Old Fox without having a pint or a drop of something short.  At certain seasons of the year numbers of cattle that came south along the Great North Road were something prodigious.  Many a time from sunrise to sunset have the streets of Wetherby never for one minute been free from cattle, as drove after drove passed through the town, and some idea of the magnitude of these droves may be gathered from the fact that individual herds have been known to pack the road for fully a mile of its length.  Of course these droves used to greatly impede the regular traffic of the road, but their appearance was chiefly at ‘fog’ time and only extended over a few weeks.

"Although the Old Fox was the best known he road to the drovers, yet it could not be called a drover’s house, as it had neither land nor sleeping accommodation, such as was usually to be found at the inns patronised by this class of gentry.  In the old days this inn was kept by Mr. John Cullingworth, and afterwards by his widow, whose time at the Old Fox expired just about the same time that the coaches went off the road. She was a good old soul, kind and generous to all, and no one went thirsty away from her house who had not the wherewithal to purchase the necessary pint.  Good-natured hospitality seldom escapes without abuse, and the kind-hearted landlady of the Old Fox was no exception to the rule.  In those days of unlimited "chalk," regular customers were allowed the exercise of its full privileges.  The ledger accounts kept on the back of the huge old-fashioned long-settle that still graces the kitchen, and the hieroglyphics that crowded over its broad surface could testify how deeply its customers were involved.  The trusting widow even allowed them to post the ledger themselves, and it is said of some of them that where they chalked one mark on the rubbed ten off."


Fletcher, writing at the end of the 19th century, recalls the old road: "At a little distance from Hunsingore, there is an interesting place in Walshford Bridge, over which the Great North Road passes on its way from Wetherby to Boroughbridge.  There are records of a bridge existing at this point six centuries ago, and from various stray historical data and memoranda, it would appear that the highway at this particular point has always been distinguished for its bustle and activity.  There was a weekly market at Walshford in the thirteenth century, and an annual fair which lasted four days.  Here, too, was a chapel in mediaeval times, which probably stood on, or closely adjacent to, the bridge.  At the time of the Dissolution of Religious Houses, this chapel became the property of the Duke of Suffolk, who subsequently sold it to the Goodrickes, on William Thyckpenny being the tenant at the time, though for what purpose he made use of it is not clear.  Probably the busiest days of Walshford were those in which all the principal traffic of the kingdom was on the great highroads, and the wayside villages were for ever re-echoing to the clatter and rattle of coaches, post-chaises, and drovers' carts.  The stretch of the Great North Road which runs to the northward from Walshford Bridge is particularly interesting, running straight on through a luxuriant and fertile district, enclosed by the parks of Ribston and Goldsborough on one side and that of Allerton on the other.  There are various features of this stretch of the road which recall the old days.  the traveller will observe that the highway is usually much wider where it approaches a village, and that on each side of it there are considerable expanses of turf which in these days seem to answer no useful purpose.  The reason of this apparent waste of land is that in the old days vast droves of live stock were brought along the roads and picketed at night in the neighbourhood of a village.  The Great North Road was used a great deal by cattle-drovers, and there was scarcely a day which did not witness vast bodies of cattle and sheep being driven along its wide stretches.  Naturally there was at this time much need of the wayside inns, and where there is now one roadside hostelry there used to be several.  There was a noted house at this stretch of the road, called Nineveh, where the drovers invariably halted, but it is now no longer in existence, and there was another at a point close to the present railway station of Allerton Mauleverer, which was famous for the the opportunities it afforded its customers to witness an exhibition of cock-fighting."

But the Great North Road is set for change in this area.  The A1 from just north of Wetherby will take a new, straighter line, to the east of the present road, when it is brought up to motorway standard.  The new road will be a little closer to Cowthorpe as it crosses the River Nidd on a new bridge to the south-east of Walshford. Details from the Highway Agency.



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