Methodism in madness of Ilkley Moor song madness

Click to follow
THE TRUTH about that famous, and to many people unfathomable, Yorkshire anthem "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at" may have been unravelled at last.

A little like Ilkley Moor itself, the roots of the song have been somewhat shrouded in mist. But the first book on the subject confirms what some have always suspected: that it was inspired by an amorous encounter between two young Methodists from Halifax.

One of them, of course, was there "baht 'at" (without his hat). He was walking the moor with a group of Methodists when he and his lady sneaked off and when the two later emerged breathless from the bracken their group demanded to know "Wheer wor ta bahn when ah saw thee? [Where were you going when I saw you?] ... On Ilkla moor baht 'at".

The love element doesn't take much deduction since the song's second verse reveals "Tha's bin a-courtin' Mary Jane/On Ilkla moor baht 'at..." but Halifax's part in the affair is more contentious.

In his book on the subject, Arnold Kellett, a member of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, conclusively tracks the strange vowel sounds to the West Yorkshire town. A devout Methodist himself, he subscribes to the view that the group was one of many Wesleyan Church choirs which made an annual outing across the moor via the famous Dick Hudson pub which still stands there.

"John Wesley told all his flock to sing lustily," said Mr Kellett. "This group saw the courting couple and found themselves putting these words to a popular hymn tune."

In 148 pages on his subject, Mr Kellett claims to confound some falsehoods about the song's familiar tune, previously attributed to composers from Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Wales but which was actually composed by Thomas Clarke, a bootmaker from Canterbury. It was Clarke's own tribute to a schoolmaster he befriended and who helped him to read and write. "Musically Clarke was very literate but otherwise he had been illiterate," said Mr Kellett.

The song is a useful tourist attraction for Ilkley, particularly on 1 August, the so-called "Yorkshire Day", when mass singing takes place up on the moor.

But Mr Kellett's book also handles some of the bizarre misunderstandings which the song can cause. It reveals, for instance, that the most common question asked at the Ilkley Tourist Office is "Please can you tell me where Baht 'at is?"

t On Ilkley Mooar Baht 'at: The Story of the Song; published by Smith Settle of Otley; pounds 7.95.