"Of all the beautiful places in the world that one could choose to live, the most picturesque in all seasons is Yorkshire. It is enchanting to behold and adventurous to travel, be it spring, autumn, winter or summer; and its moorlands, dales, hills, lakes, valleys, narrow country lanes and dry-stoned walls cannot be surpassed.
Indeed, the Book of Genesis should read: God made the earth, then He made heaven on earth and called it Yorkshire!
Although I was born in Ireland, I have lived in Yorkshire since the age of five years. Its landscape, its views, its history, its culture and the traits of its folk have always enthralled me. I have been particularly fascinated by their dry humour, their thrift and their economy of effort that is exemplified by the common belief, 'If it aint broke, don't fix it!'
The women of Yorkshire have never been shy at coming forwards. It is not unusual for a Yorkshire lass to say to a strange chap she has just met in the pub and fancies, 'Get your coat on, lad. You've pulled!'
I once heard of two old-aged Yorkshire spinsters who used to visit a nudist beach in Brighton every year because they liked the sights. One of the spinsters had a bad leg and couldn't walk far, the other had a permanently bent hand that wouldn't straighten. Each year when they returned from holiday, the one with the bad leg said she'd loved the holiday, whereas the one with the bent arm, always seemed a bit disappointed. It eventually transpired why each had different experiences. Every time a man in the nude went by as they sunbathed, one spinster would yawn, stretch and have an accidental cheeky stroke, whilst the other one couldn't reach.
Another Yorkshire saying is that, 'There's nowt stranger than truth!' How true that happens to be, as the following story I was once told by a woman whom I greatly respected will reveal.
There is a stone bridge near Pontefract in South Yorkshire that to any outsider remains unnamed, but to locals is called 'Ha'penny Bridge.' The bridge was built during the early 19th century and stood twenty-seven feet above the fast flowing river and boulders below. The only sign to the bridge's entrance is a a weather-beaten post. Carved ever so faintly towards the top of the sign post, one can only just make out the letters of the word, 'bridge.'
As the story goes, since the bridge's construction almost two hundred years ago, many unhappy and emotionally deranged people decided to end their troubles by jumping off it from this life into the next. The height of their fall would certainly kill them; if not by smashing their bones on the huge boulders in the river bed below, then, by drowning.
I was told that the bridge derived its name from an unfortunate incident that occurred during 1851 in the local tavern, 'The Wheatsheaf.' On the night in question, a simpleton called Jade Summers was drowning his sorrows in a flagon of ale and got himself very drunk.
One week earlier, Jade had been jilted at the altar after his bride to be had run away with a local pig farmer who'd beguiled her with stories of his wealth and other porkies he told her. As she was the only girlfriend that Jade had ever had or was ever likely to get, Jade became so melancholic that he publicly threatened to commit suicide. 'For a ha'penny piece' Jade told the other pub patrons, 'I'll... I'll jump off the bridge and end it all!'
Eager to see if the simpleton would carry out his threat, another drunk delved into his pocket and extracted a halfpenny piece. Placing the coin in Jade's hand, the drunk said, 'Here's thee ha'penny. Go jump then!' Being a man of his word, Jade jumped from the top of the bridge to the river below and instantly killed himself on the boulders below. His body was carried downstream and was never seen again and poor Jade had to make do with a watery grave. Ever since that day, the locals called the bridge, 'Ha'penny Bridge.'
And there you might think the tale ends, but it doesn't. During the year of 1887, as Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee approached, notices went out to every town, village and parish in the land to mark the occasion with a street party. It was also suggested that every parish should make some improvement to their parish, in celebration of this great event.
Being a thrifty and parsimonious parish in Pontefract, a penny was never spent where a halfpenny would do. In celebration of the Golden Jubilee, the parish council decide to put up a sign post at the entrance to the bridge for the purpose of strangers. With wood being the cheapest material, the village joiner was commissioned to make a wooden sign and carve the bridge's name on it. He was also instructed to do the best job he could for the least cost.
A week later, the joiner returned with his design and proposal for the work. He said, 'Being wary of cost, I propose that I carve 'Ha'penny Bridge' on the sign post instead of 'Halfpenny Bridge.' That will enable me to do the work cheaper by carving two fewer letters.' When the parish council heard this proposal, they were so pleased that they supplied the joiner with fresh instructions. 'Tell thee what, joiner,' they said, 'As every villager knows the bridge's name, and we aint bothered if travelling outsiders crossing it don't, why waste the expense of carving two words when one will do! Just make the sign say 'bridge', and make the 'B' a 'b'; that's plenty enough information for passing trade.'
And that's the story of 'Ha'penny Bridge', somewhere in the Pontefract area..........or so my mother told me!' William Forde: September 6th, 2016.