WINTERSGILL, CLIFF ROAD, HESSLE
COTTAGE BY THE HUMBER
Written by Mrs Dixon, who lived at Wintersgill, 1949
It is eleven months now since we came down here to live. The laburnums in the old garden and in the fields adjoining were in a blaze of pale gold and the cottage stood bathed in June sunshine.
Since then we have lived through the winter days of which our friends spoke in gloomy foreboding – days when the wild south-westerly gales lashed the Humber into fury before us, and the rain beat madly on our windows. There were times too of incredible beauty when the river sparkled in the morning sun, and the trees and woods were etched black against a pale clear sky. Those were the days when the sun setting in the south west left a blazing path of light across the water to our door, and the sky was amber, turquoise and gold. Then as dusk fell the lights from the light buoys and light floats showed twinkling on the river, and if the tide were full cargo ships passed, mysterious with lights on mast and stern.
In the winter too the gulls were still with us. The black headed, the lesser black headed, and the beautiful herring gulls kept company with us through wild weather and calm, and the turnstone waders, winter visitors to our coasts, were lovely to watch. On days when the country behind us was in the grip of frost green plovers in glossy iridescent plumage and fine long crests came down to feed on the mud at low tide.
Now May is here, and most of the gulls have gone back to the coast to breed, and the turnstones to Europe and Siberia, but the cuckoo is with us and we have seen the first swallow. The gnarled apple trees in the garden which have been left to grow unchecked for so many years are a glory of blossom, and the cowslips are out in the fields. The young corn shows green on the sloping Lincolnshire Wolds a mile away across the river.
It was early in the 17th century that the old cottage was built. It was an inn then, known as the Three Crowns, and no doubt did a roaring roistering trade when the ferry came across from Lincolnshire. Tradition says that Charles the First stayed the night here during the siege of Hull, but alas there are no records to prove that story. It is true indeed that the Royalists had a fort down here, so who knows? One likes to think of that debonair figure stepping up from the foreshore to the grassy bank which separates the river from the house.
About the middle of the 19th century the landlord of the Three Crowns lost his licence, for he smuggled tobacco up the Humber and buried it in his celery beds. The story goes that suspicious Customs men raided his inn and found nothing. They caught him, however, with the time old ruse, for they went away and came back again quickly, and found him guilelessly digging it up. We wonder if he had a better cache than that, for weeding vigorously one day we discovered a brick floor where once a cattle shed stood. Underneath some loose bricks was a deep earthenware vessel, like a bread crock, sunk into the ground, but still intact and filled with fine dust.
Often at duskfall when I go down the four worn stone steps to our larder, where once the landlord kept his beer, I pause before flooding the shadowy corners with light. I should like to surprise him bent over his barrels and casks. When at night we sit by the fire in his parlour, and stretch out a hand for a book from the narrow shelves on the walls, we think of the empty mugs and tankards placed on those shelves by many another hand.
The land down here by the Humber has detailed documentary evidenced as far back as 1327 when John de Bilton leased to John le Moigne, of Hessell, Avicia his wife and William their son, “Capital messuage in Hessell, herbage in and around the wood, and the fourth part of the lands and tenements which I have in the territories of Hessell and Traneby, except working of the quarry on the Humbre, the fishery, and three acres of arable land”. These lands he had “ by the gift and grant of John de Brompton and Beatrice, my mother”. For this there was a yearly rent of 44/9d “paying yearly also to me and my heirs a rose on the Feast of St John the Baptist if it shall be demanded”.
Perhaps the river itself is little changed since John de Bilton had his quarry and fishery by the Humber over 600 years ago. He too would have known it in all its changing moods and many facets. Those days when the tide comes racing up from the North Sea with the whip of an east wind behind it, and white horses on the crest of the waves. Those days when the river lies calm and placid like any inland pool reflecting the blue of the sky; and days too of sullen mood, heavy and grey.
But what would he make of the ships sailing from London, from Copenhagen, from Antwerp, Ghent and the Lubeck, which go up with the tide to Goole, and come back, laden with coal and coke and with slurry? We like to think that the barges from Hull would interest him more, for they pass close to the bank and Yorkshire voices ring out over the water. Further along the river too there is still endless chalk being quarried, and its products go all over the world.
But we in our walks by the Humber and in the old quarry now covered with trees, have met no ghost of John de Bilton, but should he ever demand his rose on the Feast of St John the Baptist we would gladly pay.
With thanks to Margaret Farrow for locating this article.
HLHS Newsletter February 2008