1 2 3 4 5 5
find wynd cottage whitby on facebook button

Whitby, 1557 - The Farmer's son

A short imagining of a farmer's son living in Whitby post dissolution.  We don’t often get to hear about the “common” people, all the written records are about the lords and ladies, royalty and the church.  So what would the common folk be thinking?  This short piece, written specially for Wynd Cottage by Alice Bell, explores the perspective of one who might have lived and worked the land near where Wynd Cottage stands.

Little Will is sick, fourth time in as many weeks. I don't think he's got long left, but I can't tell anyone, Ma's heart is already breaking. It started with a cough, a tiny grating little tickle that would wake Pa up before dawn broke and set him in an awful mood for the rest of the day. We just thought it was one of his silly spells, he's always picking something or other up from the boys when Ma takes him into town to help sell the worthless harvest and pick up feed for the pigs. Seems like if it's not a cough then it's a cold, if it's not a cold then it's a rotten stomach, they're always some kind of ill. I used to be the same when I was younger.

But then the cough got harsher, and he'd retch up blood and phlegm up onto the sheets in the middle of the night. The shakes and sweats started, his hands as cold as the winter sea and his forehead hot as hell. Ma wont let me go in to see him anymore, she's scared that I might catch it too.

I'll be the only one left when Will passes.

Pa isn't taking it well. He's had three boys and two girls, and I'm the only one whose lasted past their sixth birthday. It's a rotten bit of luck, I never thought it possible to lose so many children. Janey and Ed  starved when the crops were battered by wind and hail ten years past, and the storms were so harsh the fishermen couldn't make it out to sea. Pa slaughtered and salted the pigs, a dozen less mouths to feed, they were worth more to the town dead than alive. All we'd eat in a day was a bowl of boiled down broth, the vegetables half rotted and barley practically a treat. Ma, Pa, and I would cut down our portions just so they could eat, but Janey and Ed's bellies shrunk so much that they couldn't keep down more than a spoonful a day. I couldn't look at them when they died, their eyes bulged and their cheeks hollow, tummies swollen with hunger.  They looked less like children and more like beasts. Those babes who died, they weren't my brother and sister. Sometimes I still see them when I close my eyes and wait for sleep.

Then there was Anne, Anne was my favourite, just a year younger than me. She was the first to go. A sickness of the stomach. We both caught it, but only I pulled through. We lay in the same bed, aching and crying and wailing, when our bellies were empty we'd heave and retch until our throats were sore and raw. When I stopped retching she stopped crying. At least she looked more peaceful than Jane and Ed.

Pa looks out to the other cliff every sundown, to the shadow of the old abbey that the old king closed and sold before my time, when Pa was still a boy. I heard him talking to Ma (it's impossible to not overhear, your voice always echoes across the stone) after Will got sick, that this is a sign from God. God is unhappy that the blasphemous king closed his houses and stole their wealth, their riches, their knowledge. God thinks that the people should have done more to stop them, so they're carrying away their children with disease and famine and death. I think it's the only way he can make sense of it. He loves to talk about the better days, before King Henry shut down the monasteries. We would pay them for prayers, and when times grew hard they would offer us food and shelter, they would take in our sick and pray and heal them, they would take the sons we could not afford and educate them and always give them a place to stay.

I think that's what upsets Pa the most. He thinks that if we still had the Abbey, his children might have lived.
He had hope when Will was born, when Queen Mary took her brother's throne. Talk of the town was that she was a Catholic through and through, that she would give us back our Abbey and our Monks and our charity and our lives would be just a little easier again. Well, it's been four years now, and the Abbey keeps on crumbling and collapsing, and Will just keeps on getting sicker.

Catholic or Protestant, I'd pray any which way to save my brother.


Handy Links

Site Contents

back to top