Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/Mr. Wikes of Leaseholme


The living of Leaseholme, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, was held by three successive generations of the Wikeses for upwards of a century; all of whom were men of literary talents, popular preachers, great oddities—but much given to the bottle. The first of the Wikes family who held the living was a gentleman who had been captain in the army in the reign of Charles I., and had fought for the unfortunate monarch throughout the civil war. In one of the battles he received a wound in his leg, which incapacitated him from further active service, and the death of the king and the supremacy of Cromwell prevented him from looking to Government for promotion.

But on the Restoration Mr. Wikes cast about for some berth in which he might spend his declining years in ease and comfort. The living of Leaseholme fell vacant, and he applied for it, remembering how his old friend the sea-captain, Lyons, had obtained the bishopric of York from Queen Elizabeth.

Captain Wikes was ordained by the Archbishop of York, and given the living he solicited, King Charles II. being glad to reward an old soldier of his father, who had shared his misfortunes, thus economically to himself.

Mr. Wikes also held the incumbency of Ellerburn, near Leaseholme, and took service in the morning at Leaseholme, and in the afternoon at Ellerburn, or vice versa.

One year, when the 30th of January fell on a Sunday, Mr. Wikes marched off to Ellerburn for morning service, with a pathetic sermon on the martyrdom of his royal master in his pocket; but on his arrival at the place he found the clerk and sexton near the churchyard, with a short pole in their hands, watching a domestic quarrel that was going forward on the opposite side of the beck that flows through the village. The parson asked why the church was empty and his subordinates were not in their places. The clerk pointed across the beck, and bade Parson Wikes "look and see a woman combing her husband's head with a three-legged stool."

Mr. Wikes at once plunged over the brook, and striking the husband with his fist, tore the furious pair asunder, shouting, "Be quiet, you brute!" to the husband, and "Hold your tongue, you vixen!" to the woman. Both fell on him, and he had hard work in defending himself from husband and wife. In the fray that ensued the yells of the parson—"Peace, you monster! Have done, termagant! Hands off, you coward! Retire, virago!"—were mingled with the abuse and blows of the disputants, till the absurdity of the whole scene burst upon them all, as the crowd of delighted parishioners and neighbours gathered in a circle about them, and they fell back laughing, and shook hands all round.

But matters did not end here. When husband and wife disagree, and a third party interferes, according to local custom, all three are doomed to "ride the stang," whilst the people shout and caper around the victims, chanting, as they beat frying-pans and blow horns—

"Rub-a-dub, dub-a-dub, ran-a-tan-tang,
It's neither what you say nor I say, but I ride the stang."

The parishioners insisted on the immemorial custom being complied with, and Parson Wikes was made to sit astride on the short pole the clerk and sexton had prepared; two others were provided for the belligerent husband and wife; and the whole village prepared to march in procession with them. But though the parson sat complacently on his pole, the husband and wife refused to submit to the ignominious custom, and he armed himself with the pitch-fork, she with the poker, and began to defend themselves against the villagers. Parson Wikes was carried to the scene of conflict, and the clerk and sexton, in their eagerness to join in the struggle, dropped him into the beck. Then the villagers rushed upon him, swearing that he was shirking his duty of riding the stang, and he had to stand up to his middle in the water, and fight them off. Armed with the stick, which he whirled about him in single-stick fashion, he rattled their heads and arms with it to such good purpose that he was able to beat a retreat into the church, where he rapidly vested himself in his surplice, and placed the sanctity of the place and garb between him and his opponents.

The crowd now poured into the church, and Parson Wikes proceeded with the service, leaving a trail of water up and down the chancel as he paced to the altar and thence to the pulpit. Having prefaced his sermon with an announcement that he took in good part the disorderly conduct and undignified treatment he had met with, he preached them a moving sermon on the merits of Charles the Martyr, and the ingratitude of the people of England to such a virtuous monarch, and wound up with—"Let those who feel the consequence of such a misfortune deplore with me upon this melancholy occasion; but if there be any among you (and I make no doubt there are) who may have secretly wished for this event, they have now got their desire, and may the devil do them good with it." After which he made the best of his way home to his rectory, and endeavoured to counteract the effects of his dipping by moistening his clay within with hot punch.