“I’ve sat on Rosebury with many a bard
Whose harp-strings, once so musical, are mute
On earth for ever : we full well did suit
Each other, in congenial regard
For the loved landscape here unfurled to view.
Yonder towers Guisboro’s fine old ruined Arch,
Memento of the Past – our onward march
Mark’d by yon blast furnaces ; churches not a few,
Towns, farmsteads, rivers, fields of every hue –
As grass and corn, and fallow – and o’er all
The watchet ocean ; prospects that ne’er shall pall
Upon one’s taste : the picture is ever new.
We may roam far and wide before we see
A finer sight than here from Rosebury.”
George Tweddle published 1870
Roseberry Topping features strongly in the identity of Teesside and its people. It has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. The hill is just over a thousand feet high, with its distinctive profile and place in the landscape, it has been enjoyed and celebrated by generations of Teessiders. A place where we take our children to climb its slopes and look out over the beautiful fertile Vale of Cleveland to the distant towns of the Tees valley.
The history of the hill echoes the area it overlooks. It’s geological origins lie in the Jurassic period but its geographic origin is one of ice. The hill is an outlier, a hard band of rocks standing aside from the moorland escarpment, sculpted by glaciers and torrential meltwaters.
The much-loved profile of the hill is a direct result of the industrial development of Teesside. Prior to the twentieth century the hill had a ‘sugar loaf’ appearance. In 1912 the extraction of ironstone, to feed the furnaces of the Tees, from beneath the hill caused the west face to collapse leaving the hill with its ‘mini Matterhorn’ profile.
There is much evidence that the hill was significant to the prehistoric inhabitants of the area. Many of the prehistoric sites in and around Teesside and North Yorkshire area are intervisible with the hill, these include the Stone Circle at Sleddale. There is a small standing stone on the village green at Newton under Roseberry that is thought to be prehistoric and may even be the last remnant of a stone row or stone circle (source English Heritage).
The hill was not always called Roseberry Topping, the earliest references it call it Othenesbery, a name which is thought to refer to it being the hill of Odin.
We often think of Odin as the warlike warrior god of the Vikings but Odin’s origins stretch back into prehistory. Here’s the wonderful Julian Cope’s thoughts on Odin.
Odin began in the comparatively unconscious guise of Wode: a godlike weather giant to whom the ancients made devotional offerings in order to ensure a good harvest and fair weather. Yes he raged and had to be appeased. But the acrimonious and capricious divinity that we see in the Odin of the Viking times was not yet present in Wode.
He was also known as Od, the singular shaman, who according to the Norse myths, left his wife Freyja alone in order to wander into the outlands.
He was also known as Ygg, the unformed shaman who must hang on the Tree of Life in order to gain sacred knowledge .
It is easy to speculate that Odin and his partner Freya, as represented in North Yorkshire by Fryup Dale and possibly Freeborough Hill, were the last in a line of primary sun/moon deities that stretch back into prehistory.
The are references the Old Wife and the Old Man on the North York Moors, most are associated with prehistoric sites. These references draw parallels with the Scottish and Irish primal deities, the Bodach and Cailleach.
In his book published in 1846 John Walker Ord described the village of Newton as “a small, dirty, insignificant village, consisting of a few miserable huts, with a wretched, squalid population, and only worthy of detailed notice in connection with out famed Cleveland Panassus, Rosebury”.
The village of Newton under Roseberry today is a typical Teesside dormitory village, no shop, no post office, just a few expensive houses clustered around a manicured village green. The pub, The Kings Head, is no longer a pub but an eating house that sells beer, ruddy cheeked farmers have given way to pasty-faced smoggies looking for tea time specials. The village car park , popular with walkers, now has a parking meter to supplement the income of a cash-strapped council. However, the village cannot fully escape it’s past, the standing stone on the green is cracked and broken but it is still there, daring anyone to move it . The village church is a pretty nineteenth century reconstruction, its outer wall contains a remarkable carving of what has been interpreted to be a dragon attacking a beast, the pre-christian roots of this place are evident and the hill is ever-present.
Update: There is an interesting Anglo-Saxon stone set into the south-east buttress of the tower, which is described in an eleventh century book entitled Bestiaries or Bestials, which recounts the supposed habits and peculiarities of animals both real and fabled. In this case it depicts a panther – which is supposed to be friendly to all beasts except the dragon – feigning dead as the winged dragon approaches.
The Walker’s Guide to the Cleveland Hills
Tom Scott Burns 1993
A little further research reveals that
The panther represents Christ, who drew all mankind to him. The dragon represents the devil, who feared Christ and hid from him. The many colors of the panther symbolizes the many qualities of Christ. After Christ was sated with the mockery and abuse of the Jews, he fell asleep in death and entered the tomb. Descending into hell he bound the dragon. After three days Christ left the tomb and roared out his triumph over death. The sweet breath of the panther that drew all animals to it is a symbol of the words of Christ that draw all to him, Jews and Gentiles alike
Of Atlas mount let poets antique sing.
summit bare supports the bending sky;
Of Roseberry’s rude rock I dein to write…
In October 2009 Redcar and Cleveland Council staged an event around Roseberry Topping called Odin’s Glow.
Artist Karen Monid created a beautiful sound installation for the event. It can be found here