Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough (1883-1976) was very knowledgeable on the dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire, which contains Marton, Great Ayton and Whitby. Sir Alfred Pease, in the foreword to his dictionary of the North Riding dialect,1 said that there was no one living who had given more attention and study to it than Fairfax-Blakeborough. Perhaps worthy of mention is that Fairfax-Blakeborough’s great interests were fox hunting and horse racing.
A play about Captain Cook was commissioned by the villages of Marton and Great Ayton, through their Bi-Centenary Committee. It was published in 1928 under the title “The Bi-Centenary of Captain James Cook”.2 The Committee was led by the Parish Vicars Algernon J. Holloway of Marton, and W. Lawson Smith of Great Ayton. The Ayton Players gave performances of the play for a week in September 1928. It was also performed at the Leeds Art Theatre, and this performance was broadcast on the radio.
The play was also going to be performed in Melbourne, Australia, after the Cook Cottage was rebuilt there in Fitzroy Gardens. However, it was felt Australians wouldn’t understand the Yorkshire dialect, for example, “My mother allus said books put nowt but consate and badness into folk’s heads”. Fairfax-Blakeborough gave permission for the play to be translated into conventional English, but it was not performed in Australia.
Summary of the Play
Marton cottage kitchen
James and Grace discuss their new son’s name and christening.
The Walkers’ kitchen
Mrs Walker talking about farm work with the young James. The Cook family are going to move to Aireyholme. Includes two songs in dialect, “The Milkmaid’s Life” and “To be a Farmer’s Boy”. Chat about the value of “Book Learning”.
6 years elapse.
Skottowe’s sitting room
Discussion between Skottowe and the Vicar, and the Cooks, father and son. Postgate School and James’s education. Indenture of apprenticeship with William Sanderson at Staithes. The young Cook discouraged from going to sea.
18 months elapse.
Act 4 - Scene 1
Sanderson’s shop at Whitby
Sanderson talks about Cook with two fishermen.
The accusation of taking the shilling from Sanderson.
Act 4 - Scene 2
A street in Staithes
Cook leaving Sanderson’s with his belongings in a bundle on a stick over his back.
Act 4 - Scene 3
Sanderson blames Cook for the loss of the shilling.
13 years elapse.
The Walkers’ house in Whitby
Cook volunteers for the Navy.
Act 6 - Finale
Just inland on the island of Hawai`i
Prologue covering Cook’s voyages.
- Pease, Sir Alfred Edward. A Dictionary of the Dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire.Horne & Son. 1928.
- Fairfax-Blakeborough, MC, J. The Bi-Centenary of Captain James Cook: Under the Distinguished Patronage of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York. An historical play to celebrate a great Yorkshireman and benefactor of the Empire. 1928.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 37, volume 44, number 1 (2021).