Thursday, 23 September 2010


With Summer giving way to Autumn, even a short walk in any forest or wood can turn up any number of interesting fungi. They live in the earth all year round as a network of fibres called a mycelium, completely out of sight keeping quietly to themselves. However, when they need to reproduce, large fruiting bodies appear above ground and begin to develop spores. These are the mushrooms and toadstools we're so familiar with.

Here are a few found in Dalby Forest during a damp day in mid September.

Sulphur Tuft
Hypholona fasiculare
Fairly common in the forest, growing on the stumps of all kinds of trees. The smooth young caps are a beautiful sulphur yellow. Older caps are darker at the centre with a paler margin. Not poisonous, but horribly bitter with a taste like quinine.

The Sickener
Russula emetica
As the name suggests, if eaten the acrid flesh of this fungus can make the unfortunate victim extremely sick. The cherry red cap is shiny and somewhat sticky when wet and is easily broken if handled. The thin skin is quite peelable and often damaged. Found under conifers, frequently in a bed of moss.
Clustered Tough Shank
Collybia confluens
The slender, hollow stems of the Clustered Tough Shank are darker than the caps and covered with a fine grey-white down. They grow in dense clumps with many stems arising from the same base, giving the characteristic clustered appearance. Usually in beech leaf litter but also associated with other broad leaved trees.
Click on the individual pictures to enlarge them for a better fungus viewing experience.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


Irishman Patrick Castlehowe's marriage to Mary Bonas, the daughter of a Lealholm paper mill worker, is recorded in the Danby Church Registry. Soon after the wedding the couple moved to Ireland for a period of time, during which their son John was born. The year was 1792.
When he was two or three years old, the family moved back to Lealholm. At twelve years old John went to work in Lincolnshire as a gentleman's servant. After a couple of years he was back in Lealholm and gained employment in the 'mystery and trade' of a journeyman mason, a career he pursued for the rest of his working life.
John became known for his skill as a poet and songwriter, often with a hatful of scraps of paper on which he jotted ideas as they came to him. He was fond of music, particularly the fiddle and the flute. Due to the phonetic spelling often found in old records, his name became Castilo from his father's original Castlehowe.
His first book of poems entitled 'The Bard of the Dales - Poems by John Castillo' was very popular, with its easy to follow simple rhyming and its portrayal of local events and characters. Many of the pieces were written in local dialect. Around 1819 he converted from his father's Catholicism to Methodism, which was becoming increasingly popular in the dales.
This lost him many friends and had an effect on his poetical output. His general outlook on life became increasingly puritanical, indeed Castillo became a successful and original local preacher among the Wesleyans for several years.
In later life John moved to Pickering and died on April 16th, 1845 aged 53. He is buried in the Wesleyan Burial Ground there.
Castillo's old house is now Poet's Cottage Shrub Nursery, Lealholm.
His most famous dialect poem 'Awd Isaac' is thought to be about Isaac Hobb who lived near Glaisdale Church.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010



The Zillessen's guest house, Robin Hood's Bay

In 1970 a new family moved to Robin Hood’s Bay. Quietly assuming the role of guest house proprietor, Mr Zillessen settled down to enjoy semi-retirement and the gentle life the village offered. But this seemingly ordinary man harboured a secret, one which would have been known to millions of movie fans. He was in fact one of the brave prisoners responsible for organising the mass breakout at Stalag Luft III during the Second World War, an event immortalised in the 1963 movie The Great Escape.

Marcel Zillessen was born in Northampton in 1917 to a German father and Irish mother. His father, a successful businessman, would eventually relocate his family north to the small village of Eldwick, a move which enabled him to spend more time managing the family’s textile business in the nearby city of Bradford.

As a young man Marcel was given the position of Sales Director within the family business. To further his son’s education his father decided to send him to Berlin where he would study at the city’s university. It was during his stay in Berlin that Marcel became fluent in Berlinese, the language of the city’s high society. He would also witness first hand the rise of Hitler and National Socialism, an event that was to have a consolidating effect on the young man’s mind.

At the outbreak of war Marcel was approached by the British government with the intention of recruiting him as a spy, but Marcel declined claiming that subterfuge seemed to devious and that he wanted to confront the enemy ’face to face’.

Finally he opted to join the RAF where he became a Hurricane fighter pilot for number six squadron. Responsible for flying ’tank busting’ raids against Rommel’s Afrika Korps, Marcel was involved in numerous sorties, until eventually his luck ran out. On 6th April 1943 he was shot down and captured near Wadi Akarit in Tunisia.

A watch tower at Stalag Luft III

After been interrogated in Italy Marcel was transferred to the prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III in Sangen, Germany. Upon his arrival he was indoctrinated into the camp’s ideology of the ‘duty of escape‘. The escape executive committee instantly saw the potential in Zillessen and put him to work liaising with the camp authority. The fact that he was know to have spent some time in the upper echelons of German society meant that the German officers in the camp tasked him with writing long, eloquent love letters home to their wives and girlfriends.

Once ingratiated with the camp authority Marcel set about procuring pens, ink and stationary, which were then put to use forging the necessary documents and passports needed for a successful escape.

The escape took place on the night of the 24th March 1944. In all two hundred men gathered in hut 104 and prepared themselves for the breakout.
This is Marcel Zillessen’s account of the occasion.

"Everything went wrong that night, there was an air raid and all the lights went out in the tunnel, and then a Major got stuck and it took ages to get him out.

I cannot describe what it was like when it finally broke. The German were absolutely livid, there were dogs rushing around the camp and guards were pouring in from all over the place.

There was still 150 PoWs left in the hut at the time we heard shots being fired. People came pouring down the tunnel telling everybody, ‘it’s all over‘.

Once I realised that the escape had broken I just leapt out of the hut. I ran as fast as I could and jumped through the window into my own room."

An ariel photograph of Stalag Luft III. The exit of one of the escape tunnels can be seen as a light area outside the perimeter fence indicated by an arrow.

Of the 76 men that escaped that night, only 3 managed to make it back to the UK, 23 were re-captured and returned to camp and the rest, fifty men in all, were executed by the Gestapo.

After the war Marcel returned to the family business in Bradford. In 1951 he married his Bradford born wife Lyn. Later moving to Darlington, Co Durham he became involved in the wool trade. Whilst in the North-East Marcel also set up a chain of fast food outlets using the Zillessen name.

After leading this extraordinary life Marcel finally settled in Robin Hood’s Bay where he unassumingly spent the next thirty years of his life quietly running a guest house. Marcel Zillessen died on the 8th January 1999 aged 81.

Henley The Scrounger, James Garner's character in the 1963 film The Great Escape was based on Marcel Zillessen.



The Great Escape: Tunnel To Freedom

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


In 1889 this magnificent working model of jetworkers was made by George Wood. A penny placed in the slot set the wheels spinning and the foreman's head would turn periodically as if to keep an eye on his employees. They wore clothes cleverly fashioned from real fabric, and it is said that their faces were caricatures of actual Whitby jetworkers.

The heads were carved from clay pipes and all wear hats as was the custom of the day. There are eight figures, each performing a different task involved in the preparation of jet jewellery.

Each worker has a caption detailing the nature of his job. The foreman is Chopping Out the raw jet, then the rest of the team are labelled as Turning, Brushing, Rougeing (which involved using red iron oxide), Polishing, Milling and Grinding.

When first completed the model was displayed in the window of the Whitby Gazette office in Bridge Street. An advertisement of August 1909 reads 'Visitors wishing to see the various stages in the manufacture of jet ornaments should see the large automatic penny-in-the-slot model outside the premises of J. H. Hodgman, 151, Church Street.'

Later it was moved to the shop of Elisha Walker at 97, Church Street, which is situated at the bottom of Blackburn's Yard. In her book Whitby Jet Through The Years, Mabel McMillan, recalls as a child fetching the key from the shop on a Saturday morning and unlocking the door in the machine, removing the cocoa tin in which the pennies were collected and carefully counting the week's takings.

George Wood's superb model is now on display at Whitby Museum in Pannett Park.