Emily Casson’s Goathland Staycation

By Jo Faulkner, Record Assistant

The collections held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office include a number of diaries and journals. These documents were made by a variety of individuals, either as a personal record of events, or for official or professional purposes. These diaries include everything from grand tour travel journals, to diaries of soldiers at war and schoolboys in rural villages. Diaries are a valuable resource and personal diaries in particular can provide a very intimate viewpoint. Crucially, unlike many historic records, many reveal personality, humour and a true sense of the human beings who wrote them.

One such diary (reference Z.1079) was written by Mrs Emily Casson during the summer of 1871, when she and her family spent a holiday in Goathland. Emily was the wife of John Casson, a tea dealer of York, who was acquainted with several other prominent, Quaker families in the city. The couple and their three children were a typical middle-class family, living comfortably in Bootham. Unlike some diaries, which describe significant world events or remarkable adventures, this account is very domestic in scale. It is a journal of a family holiday, in simpler times and yet relaying situations, which many modern day readers can surely relate to. 

Z.1079 Emily Casson’s sketch of the property, which they stayed in, and the cottage opposite

The Casson’s chose Goathland as their holiday destination in July 1871. The wild beauty of the moors appealing to their typically Victorian love of the rugged outdoors and the picturesque. Emily is quite eloquent in her poetic descriptions of the landscape:

We went a lovely walk to see a waterfall called the Thomasine Foss. The mountain stream rushed wildly along amongst great grey rocks & then dashed down a considerable height – it was a beautiful sight. On one bank the lovely moors which are so beautiful in their light and shadows, – the other bank clothed with woods in their beautiful young green foliage. We found some wild foxgloves and other flowers.’

Weather plays a prominent role throughout the narrative. The opening line sets the scene: ‘We came here yesterday afternoon, the weather is not at all favourable’. Rain and thunder seem to have been persistent on the moors, though it rarely seems to have dampened the spirits of the family on their frequent rambles. The diary describes excursions to all of the local natural landmarks, the many waterfalls, bridges, ancient stones, old industrial sites and villages that remain today.

Z.1079 ‘Bivouacking under the umbrella and rain cloak. The boys become invisible!’

The family immersed themselves in the local community. Through Emily’s eyes we are introduced to local characters and given access inside their houses.

Emily’s writing frequently describes in detail some of the ‘curious’ features of rural domestic life, such as peat hearths:

such a curious hearth – just a square sheet of thick iron on 4 knobs & then the turf is burned on it. Mrs Rooke initiated us into the mystery of turf cakes a peculiar short cake baked in a covered pot in the turf which is heaped round & over the pot’.

The hospitality of the local people is often described and food is a common theme. We learn from Emily’s writing, of the simple but hearty food, which is readily offered to her and her family during her visits to people in the community. This is frequently cheesecake (made from curds) and includes the famous Yorkshire fat rascal, now the signature bake of a famous Yorkshire tearoom. Census records show that the family employed a cook at home, but we learn that during the holiday Emily had become accustomed to cooking herself and twice a week ‘put on a large apron’ and baked.

 Z.1079 ‘Thomasin Foss’ & ‘Going to the sheep shearing near the moors on a wet day’

The family found entertainment in significant rural events such as the shearings. The family attend a grand shearing or ‘flipping’ held by farmer Mr Pearson, known as ‘The King of Goathland’. The scene is described:

there are 1000 sheep & 100 men are employed in the shearing, washing & marking. It was a very busy scene. The clipping the wool off & the boys catching & holding the struggling sheep’. We learn that the granary where the shearers dined was made a banqueting hall ‘grandly decorated with ferns and wild flowers’

A native of Norfolk, it is evident that the vernacular accent provided some confusion and amusement for Emily. Her record of such incidents provides a rare first-hand account of dialect and pronunciations, which may not be recorded elsewhere. On visiting a neighbour she is at first confused by an account of his injured leg:

the woman told me her eldest boy had been hurt at the quarry five weeks since by a large mass of stone falling on his leg. I asked if he were getting better – yes she replied but the doctor said his leg would ‘parn’ away. So I could not for a long time imagine what she meant – at last it came to me, she meant pine away. I went into the cottage and found the boy spinning fishing lines of horse hair and of course I had to see the poor ‘parned’ leg’.

This photograph of Emily shows a formal, posed, studio photograph of a Victorian lady, which gives little indication of the joyful woman revealed through her holiday diary.

Emily appears to delight in many situations, whether that be using the primitive cart, (named by the family ‘The Ancient British Chariot’) which provided their transport, or the frequency with which they had to scramble for shelter.

The holiday clearly provided a period of relaxation:

‘We live in very free & easy style & really have a great deal of fun’.

Z.1079/2 Carte-de-Visite photograph of Emily Casson

Particular items, which Emily picked out for attention, such as an interesting sampler hanging on the wall of her host, build a very detailed picture of the interior of a farmhouse during the period:

It had a representation of Adam & Eve being tempted. The figures were dressed in the Dutch style of costume. There was also the expulsion from paradise, when poor Adam & Eve hand in hand walking out. The rest of the canvas was covered with miscellaneous butterflies, birds & flowers’.

Perhaps Emily chose this description as one of her final notes in the diary, as the holiday ended and the family finally had to leave their own paradise.

EF 51/32 Postcard showing Goathland Moors

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