Pickering

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Pickering is an ancient market town and civil parish in the Ryedale district of the county of North Yorkshire, England, on the border of the North York Moors National Park. It sits at the foot of the Moors, overlooking the Vale of Pickering to the south. According to legend the town was founded by a certain king Peredurus around 270BC; however the town as it exists today is of medieval origin.

The tourist venues of Pickering Castle, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Beck Isle Museum have made Pickering popular with visitors in recent years. Nearby places include Malton, Norton, Scarborough.

Positioned on what would have been the shores of the glacial lake Pickering at the end of the last Ice Age, the settlement was in an ideal place for early settlers to benefit from the multiple natural resources of the moorlands to the north, the wetlands to the south, the running water in the beck and the forests all around. It had wood, stone, wildfowl, game, fish, fresh water and fertile easily worked soils. The east west route from the coast inland ran along the foothills of the North York Moors past the site at a place where the beck could be forded. There is evidence of Celtic and Roman era habitation in the areas surrounding Pickering but very little remains in the town itself. Legendary sources suggest a very early date for the establishment of a town here but traces of earlier settlements have been erased by subsequent development.

The town of Pickering probably existed throughout the Anglo-Saxon period of British history. According to the Domesday Book there was enough arable land to need 27 ploughs, meadows and extensive woodlands. The present town may have grown up to service the Norman castle.

After 1066 when William I became the king of England the town and its neighbourhood was in the personal possession of the king. A castle and the church were built at this time and the medieval kings occasionally used to visit the area. In 1267 the manor, castle and forest of Pickering were given by Henry III to his youngest son, Edmund, First Earl of Lancaster. In times of trouble this estate was first confiscated by the King and then returned. Eventually, it passed to Henry, Duke of Lancaster who later became King Henry IV of England. It has belonged to the monarch ever since.

In 1598 the streets of Pickering were named as:

  • East Gate
  • Hall Garth
  • Hungate
  • Birdgate
  • Borrowgate (the present Burgate)
  • and West Gate.

Many of the older small houses of the town were built at this time, some of stone with thatched roofs. The stocks, the shambles and the market cross stood in the centre of the town in the Market Place. The castle fell into disrepair yet the town flourished. In the English Civil War, Parliamentary soldiers were quartered in the town and did damage to the church and castle and Pickering was the subject of a minor skirmish but it was not the scene of a pitched battle.

In the 1650s George Fox the founder of Society of Friends, or Quakers, visited the town to preach on at least two occasions.

Blessed Nicholas Postgate, the Catholic martyr, lived for a time in Pickering. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in York in 1679.

Pickering continued to prosper as a market town and agricultural centre. It had watermills and several inns and was a centre for coaching travel, Mail coach traffic and trade. At this time the beck served as an open sewer and it remained so until the early part of the 20th century.

The townspeople tended towards the adoption of Non-conformist religious sects and were visited by John Wesley on several occasions, the first being in 1764 and the last in 1790.

The Quakers held meetings in a cottage in the town long before they built their present Meeting House in Castlegate in 1793.

In 1789 the first Congregational Church was built in Hungate and for several years following 1793 a private residence was licensed for Divine Worship by Protestant Dissenters. The Pickering Methodist Circuit was formed in 1812.

Non-conformist religion flourished in Pickering during the 19th century and Meeting Houses and chapels were enlarged. There were both Wesleyan and Anglican schools in the town from the middle of the century.

The Whitby and Pickering Railway was opened in May 1836. At first the carriages and wagons were horse drawn but steam locomotives were used from 1847. The Forge Valley Line ran from 1882 to 1950, connecting Pickering to the Whitby-Scarborough line in an attempt to encourage residents to visit the coast. The local Health Board (the forerunner of the Urban District Council) was formed in 1863. A Gas and Water Company provided gaslight to light the town and piped drinking water. The shop fronts became closed in and glass windows were used to display goods for sale.

At the 1901 census, Pickering had 3491 people and by 1911 this had risen to 3674 people who were living in 784 households. There were in excess of 60 shops. In the early 20th century the growth of non-conformist religious sects, particularly Methodism, generated a political spirit of Liberalism and Pickering built a great Liberal tradition.

In 1901 the Catholic priest Fr Edward Bryan came to the town and established a Catholic school, parish and, in 1911, St Joseph’s Church, the work of the architect Leonard Stokes.

In 1922 an old mill was converted to the Memorial Hall in memory of the Pickering men killed in the First World War. This hall, now much modernised, serves as a community centre for the town. The Castle Cinema was built in 1937 in Burgate. Electricity had arrived a few years earlier.

The years from 1920 to 1950 saw a decline in Pickering’s role as an agricultural market town and the population fell slightly from a peak of 4,193 in 1951 to 4,186 in 1961. The closure of the railway in 1965 under the Beeching axe was a blow to the area.

The economy of the town saw a turn around in the following decades with the greater mobility of the working population and a rise in tourism due to increasing car ownership. Tourism has been a major occupation in the town since the reopening of the North York Moors Railway as a restored steam railway and the filming of the television series “Heartbeat” on the moors. In 1991 the population was 6269.

The parish church is located at the eastern end of the Market Place and dominates views of Pickering from all directions. It is a Grade I Listed building that dates from the 12th century. It is most notable for its mid-15th century wall paintings which are extensive, covering both the north and south walls. To the north of the church at the top of the hill is Pickering Castle which was built in the late 11th century to defend the area against the Scots and Danes. The sloping Market Place between the church and the beck is lined with two and three storey buildings which date from a variety of periods. Most are listed for their historical or architectural interest. This area is the centre of the town’s main Conservation Area.

Until the 2010 general election Pickering was in the Ryedale constituency but due to boundary changes was moved to the new Thirsk and Malton constituency.

The town of Pickering is situated at the junction between the A170, which links Scarborough with Thirsk, and the A169 linking Malton and Whitby. It occupies a broad strip of land between the Ings and Low Carrs to the south of the main road and a ridge of higher, sloping ground which is surmounted by the castle to the north. It is sited where the older limestone and sandstone rocks of the North York Moors meet the glacial deposits of the Vale of Pickering. The limestone rocks form the hill on which the higher parts of the town and the castle are situated. Pickering beck is an attractive natural watercourse that runs north to south through the centre of the town. This beck rises on the moors and drains southwards through Newton Dale before reaching Pickering. It is prone to flooding at times of exceptional rainfall and at these times areas of the town close to the beck become flooded. The town centre lies to the east of the beck though the population is almost equally divided between the east and west wards of the town. Pickering has developed around the old Market Place but the majority of houses are now in the form of residential estates off the main A170 road.

To the north of Pickering lies the high moorland of the North York Moors, rising from 160 feet (49 m) above sea level at its southern edge to over 1,410 feet (430 m) on Urra Moor. It is dissected by a series of south flowing streams which include Pickering Beck. Most of the moorland consists of Jurassic sandstone with occasional cappings of gritstone on the highest hills.

To the south these rocks are overlaid with oolitic limestone which forms flat-topped Tabular Hills with a scarp slope to the north and gentler slopes to the south. Ice action in the last glaciation deepened pre-existing valleys, and determined the line of the present rivers and streams. Newtondale to the north of Pickering was cut by meltwater from the ice in Eskdale gouging a deep channel as it flowed southwards to the extensive lake which then filled the Vale of Pickering. This lake was blocked by ice and glacial deposits near the coast so it drained through the Kirkham Gorge towards the River Ouse. South of Pickering were extensive marshes but these have been drained and exploited as fertile agricultural land.

Pickering Beck has a long history of flooding which occurs on average every 5 years. However, out of bank flows are experienced on some sections of the watercourse annually. These areas include Potter Hill and the grassed area just upstream of Pickering Bridge. The flood in March 1999 caused widespread damage to the town.  Further flooding in 2006 caused extensive damage to properties in the Market Place and other areas.

According to the United Kingdom Census 2001 demographically Pickering had a population of 6,846 people in 3,071 households. There are two main shopping areas which are Market Place, which is by far the larger, and Eastgate Square, which is a mixed housing and retail development. There is a small supermarket off the Market Place.

There are very few large employers within the town. Most people find jobs in retailing, tourism and small industries that are based in the two industrial development areas at Westgate Carr Road and Thornton Road to the west and east of the town respectively.

Pickering is an important tourist centre and there are banking, insurance and legal services in the town as well as an outdoor market each Monday.In 2008, plans were put forward to build a new supermarket in the area of an old coal yard.

There are three theatre venues in the town offering a very wide range of amateur and professional productions. In July the annual Jazz Festival is held in Pickering.

The Beck Isle Museum is housed in a handsome Regency period residence near the centre of Pickering, adjacent to the Pickering Beck, a stream that flows under a four arched road bridge. It was here that William Marshall planned England’s first Agricultural Institute in the early 19th century. This house contains a collection of bygones relating largely to the rural crafts and living style of Ryedale. The collection is not restricted to a particular period of interest, it aims to reflect the local life and customs and to trace many of the developments in social and domestic life during the last 200 years. A selection of photographs from the extensive Sidney Smith collection held in the museum are displayed around the building – particularly the photography and model rooms. Sidney Smith was born in Pickering and his work is appreciated world wide. He is thought of as a successor to Frank Meadow Sutcliffe of Whitby. The museum is owned by the Beck Isle Museum Trust and is staffed and operated completely by volunteers.

Dalby Forest is situated on the southern slopes of the North York Moors National Park. The southern part of the forest is divided by a number of valleys creating a ‘Rigg and Dale’ landscape whilst to the north the forest sits on the upland plateau. Although comprising mostly pines and spruces there are many broadleaf trees such as oak, beech, ash, alder and hazel both in the valleys and on the ‘Riggs’. Clear streams arising in springs run north and south out of the forest. The forest is a home for birds such as the crossbill and that elusive summer visitor the nightjar. Roe deer abound and badgers, the symbol of the forest, are a very common but nocturnal resident. The signs of past residents are all around. Burial mounds, linear earthworks of unknown purpose and the remains of a flourishing rabbit warrening industry can be found throughout the wood. A network of forest roads including the 9-mile (14 km) Dalby Forest Drive provide access to this outstanding landscape. Formed in the Ice Age and shaped by the people from the Bronze Age to the present day

The North Yorkshire Moors National Park Authority works in many ways to promote enjoyment and encourage understanding of the area by the public and to balance this with conservation of what makes the place special. This includes producing information and interpretation, managing public rights of way and access areas, car parks and toilets and having a Ranger Service.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a heritage railway. The 18-mile (29 km) line is the second-longest heritage line in the United Kingdom and runs across the North York Moors from Pickering via Levisham, Newton Dale and Goathland to Grosmont. It is run by the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust but is mostly operated and staffed by volunteers.

Pickering station has been a terminus since 1965 when the Malton-Pickering route connecting to the York to Scarborough main line was closed. Trains only head north from here.

Prior to the station becoming a terminus, the double-track railway took up the space now occupied by The Ropery (a road) and the car park to the east of it. Photographs that show what part of the area looked like when the railway still extended south, can be seen in the book ‘An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway’. This was written by Philip Benham, General Manager of the railway.

Trains run every day from mid-March to early November, plus selected dates through the winter. Trains are mostly steam-hauled; however in some cases heritage diesel engine is used. At the height of the running timetable, trains depart hourly from each station. Recently, during summer months, steam services have extended to the seaside town of Whitby. Passenger numbers have topped 300,000 in recent years. The busy summer days will see trains running through from Pickering and Goathland to Whitby.

Pickering Castle is set in an attractive moors-edge position. It is a classic and well-preserved example of an early earthwork motte and bailey castle refortified in stone during the 13th and 14th centuries, centred upon a shell keep crowning an impressive motte. There is an exhibition in the chapel with family-friendly books and activities.

Pickering church was a Saxon foundation, but the earliest phases of the present building date to the 12th and 13th centuries, with substantial additions of the 14th and 15th. In 1853 restoration work revealed a series of wall paintings on the north and south walls of the nave. Despite a local and national outcry, the paintings were subsequently whitewashed, and only rediscovered and restored in 1876-8. They have been called “the most complete collection of medieval wall paintings in England”.

The nearest mainline railway station is at Malton, 8 miles (13 km) away and the North Yorkshire Moors heritage railway runs seasonal services to Grosmont and Whitby.

Plans to reopen the Pickering-Rillington Junction railway line (connecting to the Scarborough line near Rillington village) have surfaced multiple times but rail reopenings in England as a whole are exceptional, so no funds have been secured to rebuild the line. If rebuilt in the current climate of rail industry fragmentation and inflexibility in the United Kingdom, the line would cost £21 million despite being just six miles long. The track does not follow the same corridor as the A169 road. A monorail has been suggested as a cheaper alternative, but this would completely prevent interoperability of through services from York and Malton to Pickering and Whitby.

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