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Behind The Book Blog Series - Detective Matthews Book 1

The Planting of the Penny Hedge: A Fascinating Tradition Rooted in History


As an author I am often asked how I get inspiration for my books, and in truth my inspiration comes from the real world. Be that a place, an event or a moment in history. When it comes to my novels I am always drawn to the past, and moments in history I love to learn more about. For The Planting of the Penny Hedge, this book came from a character I was drawn to in a previous book, and wanted to learn more about him. Detective Benjamin Matthews first appeared in my 2015 novel D: Whitby's Darkest Secret, and since it's release I became fascinated in wanting to learn more about him and how he found himself to become the detective of the small fishing town of Whitby. The Planting of the Penny Hedge allowed me to explore his origins, and for that reason I claim this book to be "his first case", as it is set nine years before the events of Whitby's Darkest Secret.



Of course writing a detective book as an origin story wasn't all I wanted to do, I of course wanted to give his a crime to solve, and so for this I began the part of my create process I love the most...RESEARCHING!!!

The research part of my book writing is something I have always enjoyed doing, and so for this "Behind the book" series I thought I would you some more information about what inspired me for each of my books.



I love discovering things from the past, and this can often influence the stories I tell. When I learned about the Penny Hedge I just knew I wanted it to be a part of my story. It's own story however is just as fascinating - left me share it with you...


In the quaint coastal town of Whitby, England, a unique and ancient tradition takes place every year, captivating both locals and visitors alike. The Planting of the Penny Hedge, an age-old ritual dating back over eight centuries, serves as a reminder of a bygone era and celebrates the fascinating folklore associated with the town.

A Tale of Origins:

The Planting of the Penny Hedge finds its roots in the intriguing legend of a man named Gamaliel, who lived during the time of King Stephen in the 12th century. According to the story, Gamaliel, a devout monk, was punished for accidentally causing the death of a young boy while crossing the River Esk during a storm. As penance, he was instructed to plant a hedge on the banks of the river to protect future travelers from perilous waters.

The Tradition Unfolds:

To this day, the planting ceremony takes place annually on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. Whitby locals, accompanied by a chosen hedge-reeve, assemble near the East Pier as the low tide reveals the sandy banks of the river. Armed with willow stakes, participants painstakingly construct a large hedge formation, measuring approximately three yards in length. Each stake is hammered into the sand, creating a barrier that symbolizes Gamaliel's original hedge.

The Ritual:

The ritual follows a strict set of rules that have remained remarkably unchanged over the centuries. Participants must plant the stakes before sunrise and complete the hedge by noon, using precisely three handfuls of nails and three pennies at each intersection. Furthermore, the hedge-reeve must recite the ancient pledge, affirming the continued observance of the tradition and the responsibility to protect travelers.

Preserving the Tradition:

The Planting of the Penny Hedge has weathered the test of time, surviving wars, societal changes, and the march of modernity. Despite occasional interruptions throughout history, the people of Whitby have continuously resurrected the tradition, ensuring its cultural legacy endures. The local community, including fishermen, families, and historical enthusiasts, band together to maintain this significant link to the past.

Festivities and Cultural Impact:

The planting ceremony is not only a solemn affair but also a celebration of Whitby's rich heritage. Festivities accompany the ritual, including vibrant parades, traditional music performances, and local delicacies. The event draws crowds from far and wide, captivating visitors with its time-honored charm and intriguing folklore. Furthermore, the Planting of the Penny Hedge has inspired artists, authors, and filmmakers, contributing to the cultural fabric of the region.

Preserving Tradition for Future Generations:

While the Planting of the Penny Hedge remains deeply rooted in the past, efforts have been made to ensure its survival and relevance in the modern era. Local historical societies, in collaboration with educational institutions, work together to raise awareness and foster a sense of pride in this ancient tradition. Through educational programs, workshops, and interactive experiences, younger generations are encouraged to embrace the legacy and actively participate in the annual event.

The Planting of the Penny Hedge stands as a testament to the enduring power of traditions and the significance of local folklore. Embedded within the charming town of Whitby, this ancient ritual captivates all who witness it, transporting them back in time to an era where faith, penance, and community were intertwined. As the hedge is planted year after year, the spirit of Gamaliel's penance lives on, reminding us of the importance of preserving and celebrating our cultural heritage.


If you would like to read The Planting of the Penny Hedge, or find out about more of my books you can do so by clicking the button below!


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