SAMUEL Hieronymus Grimm was a late 18th century Swiss artist whose patron sent him out around Britain with the instructions to record “everything curious”.
He passed through Northallerton in 1773 and what was the most curious thing that he set eyes on in the town? It was, of course, the vine growing across Vine House – later known as the Rutson hospital – at the north end of the High Street.
As Memories 314 told a fortnight ago, this was once one of the finest vines in the country. Its roots went back to before 1600 and its limbs stretched out at least 100ft.
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And so Samuel sketched it. His picture is among the 2,662 drawings of his curiosities in the British library – he also had a look at the font in Northallerton’s church before moving up the A167 to Croft and Aycliffe, detouring to Gainford and Bishop Auckland, and finally arriving in Durham City. We are extremely grateful to Phoebe Newton of Northallerton Local History Society for drawing out attention to Grimm and providing further information about the vine.
Grimm may have seen the vine at its finest, because two years later, it suffered an injury to its trunk. The poor plant – which may have been planted by the Carmelite friars who owned this corner of town until Henry VIII dissolved them in 1539 – is said to have “bled copiously”.
But, fortunately, travelling along the Great North Road to his home at Alnwick Castle was Sir Hugh Smithson, the Duke of Northumberland. Sir Hugh had been born in Northallerton and obviously had a soft spot for the plant, which once bore “great quantities” of grapes, and so, when he got home, despatched his head gardener to stem the flow.
The head gardener would have identified the variety of the vine straightaway: it is a Black Hambro, also known as the Black Muscat of Hamburg, which is nicknamed “the Bleeding Vine” because of its propensity to weep.
The vine pulled through, and in 1790, Grimm’s drawing appeared as the frontispiece illustration to William Speechly’s Treatise on the Culture of the Vine. Speechly was an eminent horticulturist – the Alan Titchmarsh of his day – who had spent part of his career at Castle Howard and who specialised in the “pine apple” and the grape.
His four volume treatise is the most important book on viticulture of the 18th Century, and he wrote: “At Northallerton, in Yorkshire, there is a Vine now (1789) growing, that once covered a space containing 137 square yards; and it is judged, that, if it had been permitted, when in its greatest vigour, to extend itself, it might have covered three or four times that area. The circumference of the trunk, or stem, a little above the surface of the ground, is three feet eleven inches. It is supposed to have been planted 150 years ago, but from its great age, and from injudicious management, it is now, and has long been, in a very declining state.”
Speechly concluded: “There are many other Vines growing at Northallerton, which are remarkable for their size and vigour. The soil is light and rich, of a dark colour, and inclining to sand.”
Speechly, for all his expertise, talked the vine down, because it thrived well in to the 20th Century – our picture a fortnight ago from 1931 showed it in fine fettle.
It did all but disappear in the 1970s, but there do now appear to be a collection of vine-like twigs creeping hopefully up it, and former mayor John Coulson is, quite rightly, trying to get a Tree Preservation Order placed on them before the Rutson is redeveloped.
SOME people were marvelling at our pictures of this extraordinary vine in Memories 314; other people were admiring the load on the back of the Sunter Bros lorry, pictured above, that was so large that it appears to have gone around the High Street roundabout the wrong way on June 5, 1963.
However, Trevor Griffiths’ eyes were drawn elsewhere.
“In the background of the Sunters picture I spotted a light coloured Ford Popular 100E, with what appeared to be registration YAJ 822,” says Trevor. “I said to my wife: ‘I think that's my first car.’
“Having confirmed it was registration YAJ 822 with a magnifying glass, I went to the garage where I had a box of my old number plates, and sure enough there it was.
The numberplate from the Ford Popular YAJ 822 in our 1963 picture
“I bought the car when I was a student in 1968 from my uncle's garage, St Paul's Motors in North Road, about five years after the photo was taken. I’m pretty sure I paid less than £100 for it, possibly £60.
“The car was a primrose yellow and I ran it for a couple a years before changing to a Triumph Spitfire.”
“AJ” was for cars registered in North Yorkshire.