Historian and author JPG “Sam” Taylor was a teacher for almost half a century. Educated at Cambridge and now nearly 90, he is currently researching material for a new book, based on family diaries.
What’s your first Yorkshire memory?
Coming here as a young man, not long out of university, to take up a full-time post at Woodleigh School, near Malton. I felt rather important as I drove through the gates at the end of the drive, because there were two stone pillars on either side, and on top of each of them was a greyhound, part of the crest of the Norcliffe family, who leased the Hall to the school. Much later on, as a prank with another master, we shinned up the post, and put bowler hats on the dogs.
What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?
I’m going to ask you to imagine a big rectangular box, with Thirsk at the top left corner, Pickering at the top right, Malton on the bottom right and Easingwold bottom left. In other words, the 20 square miles or so which make up Ryedale.
What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?
It would definitely start at Lastingham, near Kirkbymoorside, with a visit to the church there – there’s been a place of worship there since 650 AD or thereabouts. Then I’d have lunch at the Lastingham Grange Hotel. Then, the Ryedale Folk Museum at Hutton le Hole.
Do you have a favourite walk – or view?
Anywhere along Rievaulx Terrace, with the lovely serpentine walk, where (very cunningly) neither of the two temples is actually visible from the other. You have to get about half-way to see them both.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?
None of them. Today most of them are vastly over-paid and far too full of themselves. In fact, I am a collector of rude remarks about sport and sportsmen. How about: “The English are not a spiritual nation. Cricket was devised solely to give them some sense of eternity”. Lord Mancroft said that, and I couldn’t agree more.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner?
The consummate actress that is Dame Judi Dench, a mistress of conveying suppressed emotions. Even in completely naff stuff like the Bond films, she can elevate her lines to something very special. And, of course, she is well-known for being a terrible giggler, chuckling at life, and enjoying herself.
If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?
All Saints, on North Street, in York, which is unfortunately next to one of the ugliest modern buildings in the city An expert once said that the spire of the church, which is slightly crooked, is “bending away, as if in disgust”. He was right. But inside, there is some of the very best medieval glass in the whole of Britain.
If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? My wife’s family used to own Bell Hall at Naburn, which is today Grade I listed. I can remember chopping sticks to light the fires, and to heat the water – you had tin baths in front of the fire back then – and I’d love to go back and reminisce a little.
Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?
This has to be The Gold Cup at Low Catton, just a few miles outside York, near Stamford Bridge. Itt is family run, lovely log fires in winter, the staff are so friendly and your food is served on proper tableware, not slates.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
I’m rather suspicious of national and regional stereotypes, but maybe there’s a straightforward manner about some Yorkshire folk, a sort of plain-speaking that sometimes topples over into rudeness.
Do you have a favourite food shop?
Any convenient supermarket for me these days, but I do have a very soft spot for Hunter’s in Helmsley, which is probably one of the best delicatessens you will ever discover. I have never ever seen a better selection of jams and marmalades.
How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse?
There’s certainly been an improvement in pub food. When I first came here 40 years ago, a bag of plain crisps and maybe some salted nuts were the best you could hope for. Food aside, I do think that people are building things in all the wrong places. I miss the green spaces we used to have.
If you had to change one thing in what would that be?
Fewer rude people trying to be “outspoken” on TV and in the media. Fewer people swearing. And fewer houses in inappropriate places.
Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?
The genius that was Captain Cook. To me, he is easily the best English explorer, and you have to marvel at the sheer quantity of land that he discovered. He was also a brilliant cartographer, and his map of New Zealand is stunning in its detail – and accurate to this day.
Has Yorkshire influenced your work?
Since I’ve written eight books about the place, and I am contemplating writing another, the answer has to be a very firm ‘yes’.
Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer?
Herbert Read, son of a North Yorkshire farmer, who grew to be one of the country’s most distinguished art historians, critics and writers of verse. I love his poems which dwell on his experiences in the First World War. He died in 1968, and he is buried in Kirkdale. His epitaph reads: “Knight, poet, anarchist”, which is a lovely summing-up.
If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?
Fountains Abbey. You can go from a medieval foundation to the gardens and magnificence of Studley Royal, striding across the centuries, all in an afternoon’s walk.
Among Sam Taylor’s recent books are A Fair Gate to Oblivion, A Celebration of the English Epitaph, and Riccall, a Village History. Both are published by Oblong Creative in Wetherby, and are available on Amazon.