DJ Taylor: Local historian Harold Savory took up his new hobby with an intense enthusiasm


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The Independent Online

Retiring from Skipton Building Society at the age of 60, and relocating with his wife to the North Yorkshire village of Blackthwaite, Harold Savory found himself in a quandary. What, he wondered, was he supposed to do with his time?

Language classes, a patio extension and the Liberal Democrats came and went. It was only in the third year of his retirement, after prolonged study of a book from the mobile library called The Beginner's Guide to Local History, that he chanced upon the activity which, henceforth, was to dominate his waking hours.

A spry, methodical and enquiring man, Mr Savory took up his new hobby with an intense enthusiasm. OS maps of the area, a copy of Ekwall's English Place-Names and obscure pamphlets about church dedications were quickly added to his library, and he became an authority on parish boundaries and ecclesiastical settlement. There was one slight drawback, in that Blackthwaite, although of undoubted antiquity, had for at least 700 years of its precarious existence been an undrained swamp and appeared to have no historical associations at all.

Still, Mr Savory persevered. He identified a Viking chieftain named Erik Baconfat, who had certainly put this part of the North Riding to the sword in pre-conquest days; and a docile rector who, in the 18th century, had published several poems of a gloomy cast addressing the passing of the Blackthwaite seasons, the chill of its winters and the "fragrant zephyrs" of its springs. This was enough. Shortly after these discoveries, he published, at his own expense, a booklet entitled "Blackthwaite: An Historical Survey", copies of which were available for purchase at the local post office.

The difficulty about all this crusading zeal lay, alas, in finding anyone with whom to share it. The course of lectures he proposed to deliver at the village hall was discontinued at the point where the audience was found to consist of Mrs Savory and her niece. A proposal that Blackthwaite should establish a heritage centre for passing tourists was twice rejected by the parish council. It is all very disillusioning, so much so that Mr Savory, out walking in the ancient fields where Erik Baconfat once marauded and the Reverend Oliphant mediated his sonnets, is seriously tempted to move to York, where there is a proper respect for this kind of thing and he could write as many booklets as he likes.