History of the Penny Hedge
One of the oldest traditions in our area is the planting of the Penny Hedge.
The custom takes place every year on the eve of Ascension Day and dates back to 1159 when three noblemen were hunting a wild boar. The boar is reputed to have sought refuge with a hermit on Eskdaleside but the three hunters attacked the hermit and killed him.
As penance for their crime the noblemen were instructed by the Abbot of Whitby that they must build a hedge, cut with a penny knife, in the river Esk at low tide. If they refused or if the hedge was too weak to withstand three tides and gave way, then they would forfeit their lands.
Tradition dictates that when the hedge is built a horn is sounded three times and the bailiff of the Manor of Fyling, shouts “Out on ye” three times. The custom continues to this day but had to be cancelled in 1982 due to high tides on Ascension’s eve, thus bringing an end to the penance. This was the first time since 1159, that the hedge was unable to be laid, although the planting has continued each year since as part of Whitby’s longest tradition.
Tim Osbourne of Staintondale, and Lol Hodgson, the bailiff of the Manor Of Fyling put the finishing touches to this year’s (2011) hedge:
Click on the thumbnail pictures to display a full image
The ancient legend even came to the attention of Sir Walter Scott.
In his poem Marmion: Canto II.(Xiii) he wrote:
Then Whitby's nuns exulting told,
How to their house three barons bold
Must menial service do;
While horns blow out a note of shame,
And monks cry, 'Fye upon your name!
In wrath, for loss of silvan game,
Saint Hilda's priest ye slew.'
'This, on Ascension Day, each year,
While labouring on our harbour-pier,
Must Herbert, Bruce, and Percy hear.'