Alternative A-Z of Yorkshire: The great, the good and the growlers

Gaping Gill Are you ready for the drop?

A steel bar locks into place across the lap and a retaining rope is threaded between the legs. There's a twinge of anxiety as your steel seat hanging from a cable on a scaffold wobbles slightly. The cable unwinds at 420 feet a minute from the winch and, as daylight rapidly disappears, there's a sense of dropping into limitless space.

The trip in the steel seat is brief and wet. A minute later, unclipped and peering up from the bottom, you are staring wondrously at a place big enough to accommodate the nave of York Minster. Welcome to Gaping Gill. A slender opaque plume of water vapour arcs elegantly through the one shaft of light from above. To the left, two cataracts crash thunderously down into the gloom past deeply fissured walls. This isn't exactly a journey to the centre of the earth, but first time round, Gaping Gill seems one of the wonders of the world. About an hour's signposted walk from Clapham near Settle brings you here. In 1842, farm labourers lowered John Birkbeck, a landowner and banker from Settle, on a rope to a ledge 190 feet down.

By 1895 Birkbeck's Ledge was still as far as anyone had descended Gaping Gill. As Yorkshiremen debated how to get down the remainder of the main shaft, a Frenchman called Edouard Martel came along and did it. The cavers' kit has changed since the thick tweed jackets of the Martel era and so have the techniques. Jumble sale woolies followed tweed clothing, then wetsuits and today the preferred option is a French-made neoprene garment under a waterproof, one-piece suit.

They switched from those first lengths of hemp rope to ladders made with ash rungs and canal-hauling rope, then to aluminium ladders. Now they use hi-spec ropes for SRT – single rope technique – where the caver abseils to the bottom, then inches up the rope again like a frog. Halfway up to Gaping Gill you pass Ingleborough Cave, where the water from Fell Beck finally emerges into the daylight again. Discovered in 1837, Victorian ladies came to gaze at its stalagmites and other marvels, all now floodlit. Cavers do get a bit hot under the collar over criticism that they are all idiots who get themselves stuck and then require the emergency services to come and extract them. They point out that when things do occasionally go wrong underground, it's cavers who rescue cavers. Michael Hickling


Ben Kingsley – born Krishna Bhanji – became Sir Ben in the New Year Honours of 2001 after his first big screen role, Gandhi, put his name permanently in lights. It won him the Oscar for best actor in 1983 and you could say he earned it by the sweat of his brow. The actor prepared by losing several stone and reading the 23 volumes of Gandhi's collected works. He comes from Snainton, although he grew up in Salford, where his Ugandan Asian father was a doctor and his mother, Anna, was an actress. It was seeing Ian Holm play Richard III that spurred his ambition, and his father advised that if he wanted to make it big, he would be better with an English name. It's a career that could have taken a different path. Brian Epstein once tried to add him to his Beatles portfolio after he had rocked the audience in a London musical. Trivia fans might cast their minds back to distant episodes of Coronation Street. Remember Ron Jenkins, who tangled with Ken Barlow's first wife Val? Sir Ben Kingsley, no less. MH


The word dates from the 13th century, a time when the people who ran the country spoke French, or a version of it. Ginnel comes from "venele" meaning alley (also derived from French). The Anglo-Normans had no knowledge of back-to-backs, but when these closely packed terraces of houses mushroomed in the 19th century in industrial Yorkshire and elsewhere, the ginnel got a new lease of life to describe the entry between properties to a shared yard at the rear. In a long terrace of houses, a ginnel was required to get you to the communal lavatory in time. In the West Midlands, they prefer "jennel", not quite the equivalent of twitchel – the name for a little path in the Nottingham area. MH

Glider: sir george cayley

The magnificent man in the flying machine is Sir Richard Branson. He was only up for a few seconds in a replica of a Cayley Flyer on the 150th anniversary of the first manned flight. The "father of aviation" Sir George Cayley had annoyed his wife by testing his first gliders on the staircase of their home at Brompton Hall. It tested marital harmony, but also helped him work out the basics of aerodynamics – weight, lift, drag and thrust – and to reach for the sky 50 years before Wilbur and Orville Wright. John Appleby was the world's first pilot in 1853, which must have made a change from his day job as Sir George's coachman. He had been "volunteered" by his boss and after farm workers on the end of ropes ran down a slope to get the contraption into the air, John Appleby flew it for 200 yards before crash landing. It was not a career he fancied, however. John is reputed to have said, "I was hired to drive, not to fly," and promptly quit. MH

The Good Old Days: Leeds City Varieties

Let's do the time warp again. The good old days are not yours, or even your parents', but your great, great grandparents'. Why would you want to go there? Well, there's the building for a start and an auditorium which hasn't changed much since 1865 when it opened as Thornton's New Music Hall and Fashionable Lounge. In the late 1890s, it changed to City Palace Varieties and in its heyday, 2,000 people elbowed their way in to watch the likes of Marie Lloyd, Houdini and Charlie Chaplin in his pre-Hollywood years as one of the Lancashire Lads clog dancing troupe. They must have been pungent, raucous nights where no quarter was given for acts who failed to please. When the Second World War was over, the City Varieties looked round and discovered it was the oldest

music hall in Britain still standing. Its performers, unfortunately, were all dead. Variety, on the other hand was very much alive and, in 1953, a BBC producer in Yeadon, Bernard (Barney) Colehan, spotted that the City Varieties' failure to adapt to the times was actually an asset. Colehan thought television needed brightening up (even if it was all black and white) and reckoned a bit of Edwardian effervescence and colour was just the ticket. So The Good Old Days was born and rollicked along for 30 years. The audience hammed it up under the chairmanship of Leonard Sachs, the archly grandiloquent chairman. The likes of Morecambe and Wise (fee 25 guineas) were happy to overlook the absence of star treatment back stage. None of the tiny, spartan dressing rooms had a shower and the washbasins weren't too clever either. The stage is smaller than many amateurs would think acceptable, there's only one way off and practically no wings. The stars put up with it for the huge television exposure. Colehan lured Eartha Kitt into The Good Old Days in 1972 with the promise that she could have Chaplin's dressing room. Later, a technician asked Colehan how he knew which one was Chaplin's? "I don't," said Colehan. "And neither will she." Danny La Rue closed the final TV show on Christmas Eve 1983 with We'll Meet Again – not a music hall number but it fitted the mood. After a five year gap, they re-started The Good Old Days without the telly. They have had to adapt to reduced circumstances, but if they could bottle the atmosphere they generate at one of these evenings they'd have a supermarket winner. The Heritage Lottery Fund is expected to say this autumn if it's going to release the purse strings on the 9.2m needed to safeguard the old place's future. MH

Great Yorkshire Show

My first experience of the Great Yorkshire Show was fairly recent, 1991. Like many other East Riding born and bred lads, to travel across to Harrogate in the 1960s, '70s and '80s seemed a mighty long way, especially when we already had the fantastic Driffield Show (the largest one-day agricultural show) on our doorstep. I am also a Hull lad and the Hull Show, years ago, was one of the highlights of the year, along with Hull Fair week, when the country came to the city. But since 1991 I have never missed a Great Yorkshire and I feel very much a part of the family. I even came up with an event that has now become a regular part of the programme where we get housewives to choose their favourite cattle breed. For me, the cattle sheds, hives of activity as they prepare stock for show, and the bonhomie that exists around all of the livestock areas is what the show is all about. Turning up at the showground on the weekend prior to the show, as well as the night before, is a time to renew friendships. For me, it is that which means more than anything. The show lasts for three days. Tuesday is the big day for livestock when most farmers attend, but Wednesday is strong, too. Thursday is usually when those who are showing stock can relax and take time out to see all of the other wonderful sights including excellent show jumping and masses of other demonstrations. Chris Berry

Green belt and Gallimore

In 1924, Ethel Gallimore helped start Sheffield Association for the Protection of Local Scenery because at the rate it was disappearing under the march of the Steel City's ribbon development there soon wouldn't be much left. She was smart enough to see that to create green lungs for the city she had to get on board the people whose activities were wrecking ordinary lungs, the industrialists and businessmen. Step forward Alderman Graves who bought Blacka Moor for Ethel and then added Eccleshall Woods from her shopping list. Ethel's campaigning meant Sheffield became the first city in the country to conceive the idea of the "green belt" to preserve the rural landscape surrounding its industrial heart. When the Government appointed the first National Parks Committee in 1945, Ethel was on it and the Peak District south of Sheffield became our first National Park. MH

GReen howards

What's in a name? Well, a long and rather convoluted history when it comes to the Green Howards, one of the proudest regiments in the British Army, and holder of one of its most distinctive monikers. It took from 1688 until 1920 before this quintessentially Yorkshire regiment finally got official recognition for the unique name it had carried through battles in Flanders, the Crimea, the North-West Frontier, the Boer War and the First World War. And just to add another twist to the tale, it took 56 years from the regiment being raised before anybody thought to call it the Green Howards. The roots of the regiment that has long called Richmond its home lie far outside the Broad Acres, in Somerset, where it was raised in November 1688 to fight for William, Prince of Orange. It was in 1744 that it got the name that stuck with it, when it came under the command of the Hon Charles Howard. It was customary for regiments then to take their commander's name, so it was known as "Howard's Regiment". Inconveniently, there was another Howard with a regiment under his command, so to avoid confusion both identified themselves from the colours on their uniforms, one green, the other buff.

So, the Green Howards were born, and were to march through incarnations as the 19th (First Yorkshire North Riding Regiment) of Foot and The Princess of Wales's Own before finally becoming The Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire Regiment) in 1920. And so it remained for the next 86 years, when this much-travelled regiment had what may be its final change of name. From June 2006, army amalgamations made it The 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards). So the name lives on, as does the regiment's association with Yorkshire, which dates from its affiliation to the North Riding in 1782. What also lives on is its record of bravery – 18 Victoria Crosses and three George Crosses, as distinguished a roll-call of valour as any to be found in British military history. Andrew Vine

Griffith wright

The Old King's Arms in Briggate was the centre of world news when jobbing printer Griffith Wright fancied turning his hand to journalism and started the Leedes Intelligencer in 1754. The pub's landlord, Richard Cooke, knew what was going on since his place was where the town's official business was often conducted. And the Old King's Arms was where mail coaches, bringing news from distant shores, would rattle to a halt. There would be no time for a chat in the bar. Griffith Wright had to get the London despatches back to his office round the corner in the Lower Headrow swiftly and set them in type. His first issue hit the streets on July 2 to compete with the Leeds Mercury, which had been going since 1718. Griffith Wright and his family ran the newspaper for 64 years but by 1866 it had run out of steam. The Conservatives in town were rattled as a General Election approached. They were irritated that their message was not getting through to people because the Conservative-supporting weekly Intelligencer was being eclipsed by the radical and livelier Leeds Mercury which had just become a daily newspaper. So they started the Yorkshire Conservative Newspaper Company, bought the Intelligencer and chose the date of July 2 to launch a new title, the daily Yorkshire Post. MH


According to the concise gentlemen of Oxford, a growler is a small iceberg or a four-wheeled cab. They do not know what they have missed. Anyone from these parts devoid of vegetarian tendencies would tell those who write our dictionaries that a real growler is a thing of beauty, rare personality and infinite variety. It is a pork pie. Only those faced with the daily task of mixing the meat, fat, gristle and seasoning (always the secret bit of the recipe) and forcing it into cold-water pastry know exactly what goes into our beloved pies and perhaps that is the best way for it to stay. Discovering the detail might end a lifetime of devotion. Pies were a childhood treat – the bigger version, the stand pie, was an essential part of Christmas, complete with home-made piccalilli – but the first to make an impact by name came in the middle Sixties when a butcher by the name of Tommy Dykes, whose shop was across the street from the office, would take delivery of trays of steaming pies at 9.15 every morning. "Two, Tommy, please" was a standing order for breakfast. Since then there have been so many pies, Midgeley's, Price's, Hoffman's, Stables', Todd's, Weegman's even, in dire emergency, Ginster's. Some have been taken with mushy peas and mint sauce (memorably at the lamented Pie Herbert's on Carlisle Road in Bradford), some with brown sauce, most naked, still warm from the oven. The growl, in all cases, came from a stomach welcoming an old friend, even one which, on occasion, could have been past its digest-by date and caused minor eruptions. The Yorkshire Post once celebrated the growler by asking journalists to take into the office their favourite pie, the offerings to be judged for listing in an article by those well-used to the liquefied jelly running down their chin as their teeth sank into pink filling. The result was unanimous; the winner was a small shop on Kirkstall Road in Leeds. Weeks later the self-same shop was closed down by public health inspectors. Bill Bridge

Our alternative A-Z of Yorkshire this week reaches the lettter G. Readers are invited to submit their own suggestions for the online version