Chris Scott Wilson                   Writer                                             

©2010 C.J.S.Wilson

Roseberry Topping

This article was originally published under the pen-name J.S. Christopher


“’Tis a long hill, ’tis a hard climb, ’tis a fine view,” is probably the most accurate observation ever made about Roseberry Topping. The landmark seen from a great part of Cleveland has fostered legends, yielded ore, jet and fossils plus sandstone for building. It has changed its face more than once and has been known by at least twenty four names throughout the centuries. They range from Odinburgh through Theuerbrught to Roseberrye Toppinge. Daniel Defoe in about 1726 even called it Rosemary Torp! Most writers agree on the name's derivation. The early versions come from the God Odin. Later names evolve from Ross (meaning heath or common), Bury (Saxon for fortress) and Topping (meaning

                  point or apex).

                                       Over 1,000 feet above sea level, Roseberry

                                          Topping has conjured inspiration for

                                             countless local poets, and has always

                                                been a magnet attracting sightseers.

                                                  Some endure the climb in order to

                                                  rest at the summit where a

                                                  panoramic view of Cleveland awaits.

                                                  Others have gone to carve their

                                                    initials in the soft limestone.

                                                    Camden in about 1600 wrote of many

                                                   a ‘syllie soul, not without hazard of

                                                   breaknecke tumblinge’ who scaled

                                                 Roseberry in order to crawl through

                                                 the eye of a dangerously sited rock

                                                 called Willifryd's Needle, now long


                                                         Another lure was water. The

                                            ancient Cottonian manuscripts tell of a

                                       well dedicated to St. Oswald near the foot

                                 of Roseberry. A sick person's shirt or shift

                     would be thrown in to see if it would float. If so, the

 patient was diagnosed to recover. But if it sank, then… Visitors would tear a strip from the cloth as a token of thanks and hang it on the briars near the well. The writer remarked, ‘I have seen such numbers as might have made a fayre rheme (fair ream) in a paper myll.’ Also mentioned is a spring erupting like a fountain from a stone almost at Roseberry's apex. This mineral water was claimed to ‘cureth sore eyes’, also rheumatism, rickets and lameness. By 1808, however, the spring had withered to a trickle.

     Legend has it that when a Northumbrian princess was delivered of a son, Oswy, she consulted a soothsayer who predicted Oswy would die by drowning. Anxious to outwit destiny, the princess brought Oswy to live at Roseberry, although within sight of the sea, well away from its danger. As time passed and the boy grew strong, the princess fretted until she made herself ill with worry. One day while confined to her bed by nervous exhaustion, Oswy went wandering alone. When he did not return, a search was mounted. The young prince was discovered dead in the mineral spring, fulfilling the prophecy. It is said the princess died of shock and heartbreak shortly afterward. Tradition recounts the burial place of mother and son was named Osmunderly (Osmund here lays), or Oswy-by-his-Mother-lay, hence Osmotherly.

     Also in ancient times, a hermitage or grotto graced the summit, and in March 1826 a labourer unearthed several tools which implied a forge had been worked at some earlier date. Camden (1600) mentioned smoking craters nearby called the Devil's Kettles, which may corroborate the forge theory.


Roseberry Topping viewed from Stokesley bridge in an old engraving

next page