Bobby Shafto’s gone to seed

Three hundred and sixty four days before I was born, Groucho Marx was hosting an episode of an early TV comedy quiz show called You Bet Your Lifewhen he stumped a contestant with the question:

Who went to sea, silver buckles at his knee?

The answer of course is Bobby Shafto.  A folk song that I’d always associated with the North East of England or maybe Scotland because of the dialect in which it is sung has clearly travelled far beyond this region.  The man who is the subject of the song is thought to be a former Member of Parliament, born in 1732 in Whitworth Hall in County Durham, and although there is some speculation that the song could have been written about his son, that is less likely for the references to marriage in the song point to the father’s story.

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,

Silver buckles at his knee;

He’ll come back and marry me,

Bonny Bobby Shafto!

At nearby Brancepeth Castle, where Shafto’s brother Thomas was rector, Bridget Belasyse died, supposedly of a broken heart within two weeks of hearing the news of Robert (Bobby) Shafto’s marriage.

Little remains of his ancestral home as much was destroyed in a fire, but the surviving library wing now forms part of a hotel within Whitworth Hall Park.  A separate pub and restaurant that was very successful a couple of decades back now lies boarded up at the entrance to the Park, and it appears that the security measures taken to prevent trespass in the decaying building interfere with one of the attractions of the Park; a walled garden containing Britain’s most northerly vineyard.

APW_3796So when my  friend J and I had afternoon tea at the hotel, she had planned to show me this hidden gem.  Sadly it remained hidden, but the other attraction of the park did not; the deer park.  There was some confusion amongst the hotel staff as to whether the park was due to close as we bought our tickets, and when we first approached the gate we failed to open it.  Looking for another way in proved difficult but we eventually found a scaleable gate!  In no time we were mobbed by hungry juveniles, whose eagerness to be fed the pellets we had bought in the hotel led them to tread on Jane’s unprotected toes with their cloven hooves.  No fun if you haven’t tried it!

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Nevertheless we got some nice pictures, and it felt only right to take J’s portrait to reward her sense of adventure!

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