Friday 26 April 2024

Extracts From The Writing Of Joy Gelsthorpe

The Search For Family Became A Saga

When author Joy Gelsthorpe (writing as Joy Stonehouse) looked into her family history, she had no idea it would lead to a family saga spanning 5 novels. “I discovered that, on my mother’s side, I had descended from the Jordan family in Reighton, just south of Filey,” she says. “The Jordans had been substantial landowners living at Uphall, and there were plenty of wills available to add detail. One, from 1574, not only left the usual farm animals and implements, but also a coat of armour, a helmet and a long bow with half a sheath of arrows.”

The idea of dramatizing the story grew, the more she uncovered. “My imagination was first fired when I looked closely at the Reighton Parish Records from the early 1700s. The marriages revealed a closely-knit community, and the deaths were intriguing—an unusual mixture of young adults along with the expected babies, children and elderly.”

As a lover of all things historical, Joy wanted to recreate the atmosphere of a small coastal village in Filey Bay three centuries ago. It would have had no electricity, no running water and poor roads. Joy says, “I decided to begin the story of the Jordans of Reighton in 1703 as the Great Storm of that year was well documented by Daniel Defoe. The weather becomes as important as the characters, often determining the action.”

The following extracts are from Book One, Witch-bottles and Windlestraws


They dreaded the return of those winters of the late 1600’s; years when they were cut off completely from the outside world and when heavy snow even fell in May.

William Jordan, watching his breath steaming above the pew, was also remembering those cold winters. He and most of his brothers and sisters had been born then. He’d spent long, dark days kept indoors for weeks at a time, bundled up in such thick clothes he could hardly move. Other memories were of a silent white world, the snow piled up outside and small birds, frozen to death, dropping from the trees. 

The really cold spell began on the evening of 5th January. That night the temperature plummeted dramatically and kept falling. Rabbits froze in their burrows, and pheasants lay dead in the hedgerows. The wind came from the northeast and, although Filey Brigg looked clear and distinct one morning in the sunshine, all views were soon blotted out by a snowstorm. The sky became a dirty yellow and everything went quiet as if nature itself had shut down.


By the end of January, the Gurwoods sat with as many clothes on as they could manage, as near to the fire as was safe and, even then, did not feel warm. John had the unwelcome experience of waking one morning to find his nightcap frozen to the bed-head. He couldn’t shave because the water froze on his stubble before the razor could do its work and, when he cut his chin, his veins were so far below the skin that he hardly bled.

Water froze in the bowls and buckets and even Martha Wrench’s ale froze in the casks. The ponds and wells, and even the cistern at Uphall, all turned to ice; chunks had to be hacked off and melted over the fires. Dickon tried to make sure all the animals drank warm water but, by the time he carried it from the fire to the troughs, it had gone stone-cold again. Within minutes of pouring it out, ice would start creeping over the surface like ghostly fingers. The still air had almost a tinkling sound and, out in the yard, any sound carried for miles. At night, trees could be heard cracking apart as frost penetrated the trunks. Reighton, lying in a hollow, was trapped by the ice and snow. No one came into the village and no one left it.


The novels are full of old remedies and superstitions. The following extract describes one strange rite—placing a witch-bottle in a new house to ward off evil spirits and/or witches.


There was just one thing, however, that Mary needed to do before she could consider the house ready to live in. When the men were out ploughing, she fetched Sarah Ezard to carry out a secret ritual in the kitchen.  Sarah had brought a small brown stoneware bottle full of urine.

Mary shuddered. ‘William will hate us doing this.’

‘What ’e won’t see ’e can’t grieve over,’ Sarah replied.  ‘Come on, let’s get on with it.  Pass me all that I need.’  Mary handed over a few small iron nails, some human hair and finally some small chicken bones.  Sarah put them in the bottle and then stopped it up with clay.  Then she tied on a piece of leather to secure it.  They prised up the hearth stone, dug out a small hole and wedged the bottle in upside down, packing the earth back round it and over it.  Then they laid back the flag, satisfied they’d done what was necessary to ward off evil spirits.


The five novels cover the years 1703 to 1734.

Book One: Witch-bottles and Windlestraws 

Book Two: New Arrivals in Reighton  

Book Three: Whisper to the Bees 

Book Four: Bonfires and Brandy 

Book Five: A Time for Reaping due out in 2024

The saga might be finished, but Joy has not forgotten Filey and is working on a new book called The Boy with Mussel-shell Eyes. “I had an idea inspired partly by the folk song, The Bonnie Fisher Boy, and by a report in a Scarborough Newspaper from 1822. It’s a love story written through the letters of a girl who stays in Filey one summer.”

Learn more about Joy and her writing HERE

1 comment:

  1. Great atmospheric writing here, with such compelling detail and an emotional punch. Thoroughly enjoyed this post.


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