As a child I was taught an old Yorkshire dialect poem by my father. “The Two Lamplighters” has ever since been a favourite of mine which I love to recite as a party piece, especially as it evokes particularly fond memories of my Dad. The poem contains an intriguing phrase “thrang as Throp’s wife”. While I knew that this was an idiom for busyness, until this weekend I had no idea what might be the origin of the phrase.
On Saturday Marie and I drove to Bolton Abbey to visit a wonderful antiquarian book shop. Grove Rare Books is an Aladdin’s cave for book lovers, and most particularly so for those with a passion for Yorkshire history. We were, of course, in search of antique knitting books, and enquired about these immediately upon entering. We were disappointed, though unsurprised, to be told that they had none. Nevertheless we said we would search the shelves, because, who knew, they might have something to pique our interest?
Within seconds of commencing our browse, Marie found an antique copy of Thomas Gill’s “Vallis Eboracensis”. The Yorkshire printer Thomas Gill is of immense interest to us because he published “The Handbook Of Knitting” – an early Victorian knitting manual which we recently acquired. “Vallis Eboracensis” is a book he wrote himself about his native town of Easingwold and its surroundings. Given that we had entered with an enquiry about knitting books, no doubt the owners were bemused by our excitement over a book with a Latin title!
Shortly after this find, I picked out an unassuming little book, “Tales Of The Ridings”. Thumbing through it I was shocked to find a whole chapter entitled “Throp’s Wife”. It seemed that I was at last to learn the origin of the phrase in my beloved dialect poem, which is by the way the only poem that I know off by heart. Of course, this little book went to the counter too.
Later, in the comfort of my own home, I read the story of Keziah Throp. Progressing through the tale my excitement and delight increased tenfold as I discovered that her “thrangness” consisted of spinning and knitting! To add to my delight, the whole story took place in my part of Yorkshire, and was full of references to towns and villages that I know well. It transpired that a mystery in my life was solved by a folk tale about the crafts that I love in the county that I love.
“Tales Of The Ridings” by F. W. Moorman has been out of copyright for over twenty years, so we have decided that a reading of “Throp’s Wife” will feature in my Yorkshire Knitting Tour. It is an excellent tale, full of humour, and oozing with Yorkshire character, and I love expounding it in my most broad native tongue. That said, we want everyone to experience the wonders of this story, so we have also digitised the relevant pages to share here…