Notes taken from a Tape Recording by Mr. Billy Harrison now living at Millington, Aged 88 years 'young'
Mr. Billy Harrison was born at Nunburnholme, the son of Harry Harrison, who owned a threshing machine and was always called Black Harry by the neighbouring folk who said he was a 'rum bloke'. However, his son Billy worked as a gardener in the famous gardens of Warter Priory, and can tell many anecdotes of these times.
He also worked as a gardener at Lyndhurst in Pocklington which was then the home of Mr. Tom English. He was married in 1939 and thereafter lived in Pocklington.
Before getting married, and while still courting the girl who became his wife, he had, one Friday night, promised to take her to the pictures. Before they set off, she said to him, "We are going to look at a house which is to let." He retorted, "Oh yes, who's going to marry you?" "Well, you are," she replied. "Well," Billy said, "I have never even mentioned it!" He said "All- right", and they went off to look at No.39, Union Street, where they eventually lived after their wedding. -
Mr. Harrison's wage as Head Gardener was £2 per week and in his own words he was, "My own gaffer."
He remembers when Gartry and Stathers were Drapers in Pocklington and Fosters the shoemakers, also Huthams the butchers. Most of all Mr. Harrison recalls his years as a member of the Pocklington Brass Band. He has a very fine natural talent for music and his principle musical instrument, on which he plays very expertly by ear, is the 'cello, seconded by the violin. When he was forty years old he joined the Brass Band, being able to read music he was taught by the bandmaster to play the three valve trombone. Following this, he played the tenor horn and then the euphonium, also the E flat tuba. His favourite sound is that of bass. It was the custom of the Pocklington Brass Band to play round the town at Christmas, to all members great delight.
At the age of 88 Billy can still play the violin and entertained the company at a pub in Millington when the Morris Dancers gave a display there in 1985. He has composed tunes for six hymns, and is altogether a remarkable man. In the past he has also played in the Pocklington Church Orchestra, music by Bach being one of his favourite choices. He played the violin in many chapels and churches in the area sometimes accompanied by his sister on the organ. She too was a gifted musician, as was their father. They were also talented singers and sang in more than one choir
Mr. Harrison made a very strong point in saying that, "All this talent was not a case of being clever, but was a gift." A gift well received and used.
Not only does Billy play the violin, he has also made one. A one-string violin, made from an old cigar box and a length of broom handle. He tells how he got a book from the library which slt:''.-Ioi.l Mnrh a violin and not only did he copy the design but improved upon it. He can get a tune from it too, even though it is 60 years since he made it.
Memories of the Maypole in Nunburnholme and the dancing and celebration on May Day are amongst his most happy recollections. The Maypole was in a paddock behind a row of houses named Black Row and May Day was a Big Day in the year when he was 16 or 17 years old. One of the songs which were sung was 'Here we come gathering nuts in May', the tune of which Billy can play very well on his 'cello and which certaily sets ones feet tapping. 'Weel may the Keel Row" is another folk song which he plays and the old song 'Drinking1, with its low, lower and lowest notes is one of his delights. His grandfather farmed at Nunburnholme nnd was also a good bass singer.
The Vessel Cuppers were a group of Mummers, dancers and singers who
used to perform in the East Yorkshire area and Billy remembers them when, as a child, they were a bit fearsome to him. They dressed in weird costumes, so he says, and indeed, stories of them dressing in feathered costumes and blackening their faces could well have been very awe inspiring. Maybe they were the forerunners of the Morris Dancers.
A strange story related by Billy's father is that, as he was coming home to Nunburnholme along the road which passes Methill Hall Farm, he heard someone chanting in a plantation in the vicinity of the farm, and saw a movement in the trees. Being curious, hecrept to the edge of the copse and saw there a woman in a white robe with chains about her and heard her reciting the Lords Prayer, backwards. He left the trees and waited and watched, after a while he saw a servant girl come out of the plantation with a bundle under her arm and make her way to the back door of the Methill Hall farm. "She was a witch of course," said Billy. "There was a lot of witchcraft about in those days, pots and pans flying about in the air in certain houses."
There was a tunnel which ran from the Manor Farm at Nunburnholme to Warter Priory. Also Billy remembers, after singing and playing his fiddle at a farmhouse in Stillington, the owner of the farm showed him an old priest hole in one of the bedrooms there. This of course, was a secret place for a priest to hide and so escape persecution in the days of Elizabeth I. There was an old stone bed there, all covered in cobwebs and left just as it used to be. When the door in the wall was closed, no-one would know it was there. Remnants of an exciting past are still around us if we look for them.
Mr. Harrison's sense of fun is still strong and he has a ready wit. Hence this final story:
Albert Richardson farmed a small holding in Nunburnholme and was a very knowledgable man and a good bass singer. There was also a miller in the village who worked a corn mill. The two men met in the village street and the conversation went like this:
"Morning Mr. Miller." "Morning Mr. Richardson."
"They tell me," said Mr. Richardson, "that an honest miller has a tuft of hair in the middle of his hand."
"That's right," said the miller, "I've got one."
"Have you now? I'd like to see it," was the reply.
"I'll show you it," said the miller, and held out his hand.
"I can't see a tuft of hair," said Mr. Richardson.
"No," said the miller. "It takes an honest man to see it!!"
This then is almost a character study of a very charming personality, Mr. Billy Harrison. Helped and cared for by his devoted daughter, Bridgit, he is now writing a book about his life so far, which is currently running into the fifth or sixth notebook. Here, with such wonderful older people, lies a source for the recording and preservation of our local history. The term older people is preferable to old people. They are not old. They are young people who have lived longer than most, and have had the experiences of a great number of years. Their common sense and wisdom are a valuable addition to any community and they should be respected and listened to in their natural dignity.
It is a sad reflection on our present society that they are not given the most important role. That of adviser and councellor. A role they could
fulfil to its utmost.