Hearing that his friend from college days, the Ven Peter Townley, was moving to the benefice of Ledsham with Fairburn stirred Bishop David Wilbourne’s memory.


Back in the long hot summer of 1966 when England won the World Cup, Archbishop of York Donald Coggan had the brilliant idea of twinning parishes in his diocese so they could learn good practice from each other. My dad was vicar of Aughton, Ellerton and East Cottingwith, ten miles east of the Ouse, and we were twinned with Fairburn, Ledston and Ledsham, ten miles west of the Ouse. Clearly someone at Bishopthorpe had used the Ouse as a mirror and simply twinned reflections.

Our parish had a coach trip to our twin one Sunday afternoon, in an ancient bus, shades of Pearce and Crump in the 1951 film, The Titfield Thunderbolt. Our bus was driven by Les, who normally harvested the kids from my dad’s parish to drive us to school in Bubwith. He had suffered a head injury in the garage workshop and was almost blind – health and safety and child protection was given a very low priority back then.

People shuddered when Les clipped a bit of wood off the ancient Selby toll-bridge as we crossed the Ouse and paid our 9d to the grumpy toll-man. As we drove up the hill to Ledston Hall the bus got over-heated and with the radiator belching steam, so we looked just like the aforementioned Titfield Thunderbolt. The crumbling stone of the ancient hall withstood Les bumping into it as we parked for a guided tour, prior to Evensong in the chapel there. In the 18th Century the hall had been occupied by Lady Elizabeth Hastings, who founded a charity to help poor clergy children – her generosity paid for my school uniform at Archbishop Holgate’s, York. We then had meal in various people’s homes, with the local schoolmaster treating us to a delicious Yorkshire tea with eight different cakes on the table. Back then there was a coal mine in the midst of the parish, with concessionary coal piled up by miners’ front gates.

Our twin then had a happy return trip to our parish for Evensong and a bunfight with ham sandwiches curling in the heat. I remember, though, my Dad was very cross that our farmer churchwarden insisted on selling raffle tickets for church funds, flirting with some teenage girls that should they win the coveted bottle of whisky, he would deliver it personally and sup it with them. His surname was Ogle; clearly onomatopoeic.

All that exertion was too much for the vicar of Fairburn and Ledsham, in that he sadly collapsed and died with a heart attack shortly afterwards. Enthusiasm for twinning understandably waned after that, but Donald Coggan was a man of many enthusiasms and followed it with Opportunity Unlimited, which did what it said on the can, encouraging unlimited opportunity to spread the Gospel.

Every letter from Bishopthorpe was franked with campaign’s title, with the GPO adding another special frank for any mail posted in York. The result was that folk received important looking letters from Bishopthorpe with this message: Opportunity UnlimitedDon’t miss the York Races August 20-22!

Given the mix-up, Donald Coggan was henceforth known as the Ebor Handicap.

Happy days!