A MYSTERIOUS DEATH, A ST. LEGER WINNER, AN INN AND ‘MONSTER HADDOCK AND CHIPS’
Whilst holidaying in Yorkshire in 2006, my wife Maureen and I visited Skipton. During my perambulation of the town’s charity shops, I purchased a booklet, Historic & New Inns of Interest, dated 1967.
Sitting in a pub a little later on, we discussed our planned visit to the town of Beverley in the East Riding. Thumbing through the booklet, Maureen suggested that the Altisidora Inn, a little way out of the townsounded a pleasant enough pub to stop for lunch – provided of course that was still there.
Described in 1967 as ‘an old coaching house built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th century’ and at that time under the ownership of the Hull Brewery Co. Ltd., the Altisidora Inn was – and still is – situated in the village of Bishop Burton, ‘one of the prettiest villages in the East Riding’. The village is indeed very pretty, set as it is at the foot of the Wolds, with an attractive pond and old cottages overlooked by the church. Waxing romantic, the compilers of the booklet wrote ‘it represents a perfect picture of rural England.’
The inn was originally known as the “Horse and Jockey” and then the name was changed in 1813 to “The Altisidora” in celebration of the victory of the horse of that name in that year’s St. Leger at Doncaster. (It had earlier been called the “Evander” in celebration of another local racehorse.) Altisidora (the horse) was owned by the local squire, Richard Watts and was trained by “Old” Tommy Sykes at his stables near Malton. The horse was a chestnut filly, born in 1810 and as a three-year-old won two out of her first three races before embarking on a second season which saw her win the St. Leger, beating fourteen other horses and this after no less than ten false starts. This victory must have made both the squire and the people of Bishop Burton very proud, so what more obvious a tribute to the filly’s success than to rename the village pub after her.
Nearly nine decades later, in 1909, the inn was connected to a murder enquiry which resulted in the licensee losing his seven-day licence. According to local historians Margaret Borland and John Dunning, the incident happened on Sunday 19th September of that year. It was harvest time – harvest was later in the year in those days – and, as usual, numerous Irish labourers had come over to England to help bring the crops in. They all laboured hard and long hours in the fields and ‘often lodged in primitive conditions in outhouses.’ If they had a family back home then they tended to send their wives the larger part of their earnings. It was only on Sunday that they had time to relax.
On the day of the incident, a group of Irishmen walked from Gardham, a short distance away from Bishop Burton, where they lived in the granary, to the Altisidora where they drank copious amounts of alcohol. They became rowdy, argumentative and disruptive, which led to the landlord giving them a warning. It was later recorded that, on their way home, a local policeman had told them to stop swearing. All the landlord and the policeman knew at that time was that four jolly Irish labourers were wobbling back to Gardham.
On the following morning, Monday 20th September one of the four, Edward Dunn, was found dead on the York road, his skull fractured by a fall which had been the result of a blow to the head.
As the facts of the case were unraveled, it was revealed that, at some point during their journey home, the four men had been met by two Englishmen, Harry Gilbank and Charles Thornholm. These two men had also been drinking in the Altisidora. According to Borland and Dunning, it was alleged that Gilbank had hit Dunn ‘with a stake taken from a hedge.’
In the East Riding Mail in November 2007, the story was investigated by journalist John Markham who wrote that ‘Things became surrealistic the following Saturday’ when Gilbank and Thornholm appeared to decide to commit suicide by wading into a pond in an attempt to drown themselves. However, it seems that once the water had reached their chests they changed their minds. It might be assumed that they were, as Markham suggests, ‘overwhelmed by the consequences of the alcoholic fracas’ but to me it sounds more like the men were both inebriated (again) and it was drunkenness – not guilt – that occasioned the walk into the water and the chill of the pond that sobered them up.
As Markham observed, the legal proceedings that followed were ‘shambolic’. The dead man’s three companions were acquitted and the case against Thornholm dismissed. However, Gilbank was charged with wilful murder which was later reduced to one of manslaughter. Then, after due deliberations, the jury decided there was no case to answer! The judge apparently remarked that it was ‘an extraordinary state of affairs’ and that a charge of murder should never have been brought. But if all parties were guiltless, why then did the Altisidora lose its seven-day licence?
According to one of the numerous pub guide-type websites, the Altisidora Inn is now part of Marstons Inns and Taverns group and is ‘an olde wolde [sic] 1800s, Grade II listed building’ and claims to have ‘some of the original beams to show’. The description continues that the inn still retains ‘traditional charm’ and is a ‘renowned food house’. The specials are ‘not to be missed’ and include the ‘legendary’ Altisidora ‘monster haddock and chips.’ It is also stated that it is a ‘real destination pub’ which receives 80% of its trade from passersby.
That is not exactly how Maureen and I found the Altisidora Inn but then we probably would have done, with or without the aid of the little booklet purchased in the Skipton Oxfam shop for 60p. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief sojourn at the inn having been heartily welcomed by the manager. The waiter/waitressing staff all seemed to have been extremely polite and efficient students from a nearby equestrian college. There was even one young lady serving there whose parents lived only a few miles from our home in Essex.
Small world…nice pub.
© 2008 (revisions © 2009) Patrick Chaplin
Borland, Margaret and John Dunning. Bishop Burton and its People: a village history (Beverley: Highgate Publications, 1992
Hill, Bernard and Windle, J. Trevor (compilers) Historic & New Inns of Interest – Wining and Dining – East Riding of Yorkshire (Halifax: C & B Publishers (Weardale) Ltd., 1967), p. 21.
Markham, John. The Living Past – Mystery Surrounds Bishop Burton Brawl, East Riding Mail, Monday 19th November 2007, p. 35.
Thoroughbred Heritage Portraits – ‘Altisidora’ – www.tbheritage.com Downloaded 29th February 2008.
www.marstonsinnsandtaverns.co.uk Information on Altisidora downloaded 1st March 2008
www.pubinnguide.co.uk Information on Altisidora downloaded 29th February 2008.
The original of this article first appeared in the Pub History Society Newsletter Spring 2008