Ballads of the dry stone wallers

William Noble has always had one foot in the past.

He comes from a long line of master craftsmen and has spent a lifetime keeping the art of dry stone walling alive.

However, the 73-year-old has recently embarked on a mission to preserve another of the county’s ancient traditions. Along with his son and daughter, Cuthbert and Lydia, who are also dry stone wallers, Mr Noble has recorded an album of Yorkshire folk songs whose roots can be traced back centuries.

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He said: “I grew up in the Holme Valley in the 1950s and back then everyone knew the words to a dozen or more traditional tunes. From quite an early age I would go to folk festivals and I learnt so much just by listening to the various musicians and singers.

“Folk music has a story to tell about the landscape and the people who live there. It tells us about our past and over the last few years it occurred to me that some of the songs I first learnt as a child would be unfamiliar to many youngsters now.

“In another few years there might not be anyone to pass the lyrics and music down the generations and that’s when I had the idea of recording them for posterity. Once I had decided that, I knew I wanted Lydia and Cuthbert to be involved.

“Not only are they blessed with lovely voices, but folk singing is about the family and it felt right that the three of us embark on this project together.”

There are a dozen songs on the CD, including Watter Rattle, The Outlandish Night, Boys of Marsden and The Brown Hare at Whitebrook, and Mr Noble hopes that it will prove to people that there is more to Yorkshire’s folk heritage than On Ilkla Moor Baht’At.

He added: “This county is blessed with a rich heritage of traditional music, some of which dates back to the 1600s. The Brown Hare at Whitebrook is probably my favourite – it has a great story and a great tune which is everything a good folk song should be.

“It’s about a group of huntsmen setting off to catch their prey, but they return empty handed. Like the very best folk songs it tells a great story.

“During the 1970s, I would regularly sing at the hunt suppers of the Holme Valley Beagles, but while I might have been born and bred in the countryside I hate the idea of anything being killed. There is something that appeals about the hare getting away for once.”

The CD, Gritstone For Me, which takes its name from one of the tracks, is now available for both sale and download and if his singing career is as successful as his dry stone walling, Mr Noble could well be heading for the big time.

“People look at a dry stone wall and think, ‘that must be easy to do’, but it isn’t. There are certain techniques you can teach people, but to be really good you just have to have an eye for it.

“When I was younger I won lots of competitions for dry stone walling. It is an art form and it is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. When I was first starting out, the bulk of the work was repairing farm walls, but now it’s much more design-led.

“I still keep my hand in, but it’s nice to have passed the mantel over to my son and daughter. Lydia recently won a top award for shelter she built in the shape of a beehive, so I have no doubt the family craft is in safe hands.”