Landletting with the Hubberholme pub parliament

The land-letting ceremony at the George Inn, Hubberholme, about 70 years ago

The George Inn today

First published in News

The name Hubberholme was given to the village by its tenth century Viking invader, Hubba the Berserker – a frenzied Norse fighting machine. Victoria Benn finds these days the tranquil village’s most engaging claim to fame lies in a more festive and philanthropic story and tradition

If you are starting to think about your New Year’s resolutions, and perhaps craving a little fresh air and exercise, or a bit of spiritual or cultural enlightenment, then you could do no worse than to take a drive up to Hubberholme, which lies just a mile above Buckden.

After a recess of nearly a year, ‘Hubberholme’s Annual Parliament’ will reconvene on Monday, January 6, at 8pm sharp. For those of you unfamiliar with the parliament to which I refer, it has been in existence since 1815. Proceedings commence in the stunning 12th century church – with a blessing of the land and the community from the vicar of the parish, Reverend Peter Yorkstone – before moving across the river to possibly one of the most quaint and characterful pubs in the Dales, The George Inn.

The ‘Annual Parliament’ oversees the letting of 16 acres of poor pasture land, located just up the road at Kirkgill, which was given to the church for the benefit of the community in 1734 by a local land owner. Most importantly, absolutely anyone and everyone is welcome to come along to enjoy the evening’s events, which one must emphasise are a lot more convivial than anything Westminster has to offer.

The setting of Hubberholme is as picturesque as it gets. The village basically consists of a couple of farms, a few cottages, the church and the pub all nestled around the infant Wharfe and connected to one another by a packhorse bridge over the river. No wonder Hubberholme has been a favourite retreat for intellectuals and aesthetes, such as JB Priestley, whose ashes are buried in the churchyard there. It is widely reported that The George Inn was his “favourite watering hole”, and you can see why with its unspoilt charm, cosy fire and fine selection of local ales.

No trip to Hubberholme would be complete without a look round St Michael and All Angels church.

It was originally built as a chapel in the 12th century by William de Percy, the then owner of Skipton Castle, as a place to worship within the hunting grounds of Langstrothdale Chase. Later extended to become the church we see today, it is also notably one of only two churches in Yorkshire to still have a rood loft, miraculously escaping the edict of Elizabeth I, to destroy all “monuments of superstition”. Even the pews have pedigree, being carved by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson of Kilburn in the 1930s, and of course much to any child’s or even adult’s delight, sport several – hidden – carved wooden mice.

The George Inn, where the ‘Annual Parliament’ is held, has its own fascinating story too, being originally built in the 1600s as the vicarage for the church. In 1750 the vicarage was moved to another location in the village, and the building became the local hostelry. Most unusually the pub remained the property of the church until as late as 1953. The ownership of the George Inn may have passed from the church, indeed the pub is now owned by Ed and Jackie Yarrow, however there is one key thing that intrinsically keeps the two establishments linked, something which very much comes into its own at the land letting ceremony on January 6 – and that is the humble candle.

“For hundreds of years the candle has had a huge significance here at The George. Originally a candle in the window would signify the vicar was in, and now just as our predecessors did, every day we light the candle to signify the pub is open. When the candle is snuffed out, that indicates we are shut – so I always warn children, who tend to be fascinated with it, not to blow it out or else they’ll have to leave!” explains Ed.

During the land letting ceremony the George Inn adopts the guise of a parliament, with the slightly elevated dining room becoming ‘the House of Lords’ and the tap room, ‘the House of Commons’. The Reverend Peter Yorkstone, and Avril Harrison the church warden, just as their forebears will have done, traditionally take office in the House of Lords, and parties interested in bidding on the land, and any onlookers, take their place in the House of Commons – which luckily for them is where the bar is.

The candle on this occasion is the auctioneer.

“Obviously in days gone by the candle would provide necessary light, and I suppose in a small community like this there was maybe a worry about bias from an auctioneer. Basically all interested parties bid on the land with guidance and encouragement from the Reverend, and when the candle snuffs itself out the person who made the last bid before it did so – wins.” explains Avril.

Sounds simple enough – nevertheless last year the candle expired unexpectedly early, meaning that local farmer Gill Huck, who didn’t actually want the land – she was just doing her bit in pushing up the price – actually won it. The decision of the candle is binding, and so Gill was duty bound to pay for the land, and use it. “It was so funny when I won it, as I really didn’t want it. Anyway we’ve made good use of it, I’ll just have to be more careful this year!” says Gill with a smile.

The money raised from the auction historically went to help and support ‘the poor of the parish’, though now it is generally used for good deeds in the community, such as flowers for people who are ill – and for those ends locals still like to see a good sum raised.

So, if you fancy becoming part of this age old tradition, which moreover, could be topped and tailed with a bracing walk and a refreshing pint, see you at the George Inn on January 6. Beware though, control your nods and winks – all it takes is an unexpected draught and that parcel of land could be yours!

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