The photo above, from August 1964, shows our family picnic at Kirkham Priory, Yorkshire, during one pleasant weekend afternoon. I’m on the far right, with my mother behind me.
I mentioned in a previous post that the area in which I grew up is scattered with the ruins of many huge medieval (or older) buildings. Some are castles and other fortifications, but there are also a large number of ruined abbeys and other religious buildings. These were all forcibly closed down and partially demolished during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538-40. The lands seized by the King during that process were then given or sold to personal favorites, so these sites were in private hands for many centuries thereafter.
In the early years of the twentieth century, concerns increased regarding the continuing collapse of the remains of these buildings, which were coming to be regarded as national heritage sites. The Office of Works was pressured to take the properties into public ownership, and it induced the owners to sell, primarily by demanding that they maintain the ruins, and threatening them with huge repair bills if further deterioration occurred!
The Setting of Kirkham Priory
Although Kirkham Priory is by no means the largest or most impressive of the ruins, it enjoys a particularly pretty setting, by the banks of the River Derwent, which was navigable until about 1940. On the opposite bank of the river is the York-Scarborough railway line, and, during the 1920s, the enterprising Station Master of Kirkham Abbey started running a tea room and renting out boats to tourists, further popularizing the spot.
The man on the far left in the photo above is my grandfather, Allen E Martin, and my grandmother is to his right. I described in a previous post how my grandfather spent most of his career working for Leeds City Corporation, then in the 1950s he retired and moved to Scarborough to live with my parents. At that time, my father was the only member of the family who could drive, so he would often take all of us out for a “run”.
We picnicked at Kirkham Priory quite frequently, but the occasion shown in the photo was memorable because of the thoughtfulness of the attendant at the ruins that day. We were going to sit down on a blanket on the ground, but the grass was wet (not unusually in Britain). The attendant saw what we were trying to do, and brought out from a shed the table and chairs shown, especially for our use.