We were out checking yet another one of our proposed walk leaflet routes – this time right up towards the west end of the parish of Muker. Haymaking and raising dairy cows must have been a tough business this high up, but the evidence for lead mining and processing showed us how many of the smaller farms got by with one or members of a family off working in Keldside smelt mill or down the mines themselves. We have a probably nineteenth century map of a small farm called Smithy Holme which we took along to see if we could spot the various cowhouses marked in the fields around it.
These two cowhouses both lie in meadows called Smithy Holme, one south of the farm and in a lower position, the other higher up, right next to the intake wall separating meadow from moorland
The land is no longer farmed from Smithy Holme itself but the house is clearly well-looked after with a magnificent home cowhouse which is almost as big as the house itself.
On the way back we spotted yet another cowhouse from the map – now just a ruin, placed in a meadow with the unusual name of Quey Holme. Spot the ruin on the skyline in the photo and also the fine limekiln below – an essential part of the process of turning such marginal land into productive haymeadow.
Several of the people we have interviewed for the project remember their mothers making cheese in the farmhouse:
“And we milked, sold milk, and me mother used to make cheese. She was a very good cheesemaker , but she always said it wasn’t the person who made the cheese, it was the field that the cows ate out of and we had a very good cow pasture there, extremely good one”
Bob (72) & Dick (83) Guy formerly of Hill Top Lodge
Some of the cheese apparently went to feed coal miners in County Durham via markets in Barnard Castle. Bob and Dick Guy remembered their grandfather leaving really early in the morning once a month with the horse and trap taking cheese along with any spare butter and eggs to the market there: “Took hours, longer still on way back if pubs open!!”
Our researcher Sue has just found a little booklet about farming in Upper Swaledale in the late 1940s.
This has proved to be a fascinating read as it was written pretty much at the point in time when the last cheese was being made in the dale. The arrival of efficient road transport and the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board meant that liquid milk became far more saleable:
“By now cheese-making has – to all intents and purposes – ceased in the dale. The writers know of only one farm which up to recently still had a flickering interest in making cheese. The heavy work of the actual processing fell to the lot of the female section of the farm family, and there is little doubt that at least some of them showed no grief when milk began to leave the farm by motor lorry. On the other hand a few regret that they have in all probability made their last cheese. Perhaps it is that the departure of the milk from the farm leaves unsatisfied a craftsman’s pride which was originally rewarded by the sight of something developing under their care and attention. One farmer was about to break a long standing family tradition. Cheese had been made and sold to the same firm for a little over a century and he confessed rather wistfully that it ‘seemed a shame’.”
From ‘Farm Life in a Yorkshire Dale. An Economic Study of Swaledale’ (1948) by W H Long & G M Davies.
The coming of the milk lorry provided a small but useful income stream for some farmers as William Calvert recalled from his childhood:
“At that time, milk wagon used to come from Leyburn, gathering milk. And m’father thought, he had a bit o’surplus. Many a time they sold mebbe five gallon at start, to get going, and so, that was added income. And I’ve seen him on a night just say, after tea, ‘well, I’m off to go get a bit o’profit in’, that was milking at night. He normally milked about four cows by hand.”
Exploring the interiors of cowhouses is not recommended without the owners’ permission. It can also be a bit hazardous given how little light there is inside. There are also a LOT of cobwebs and the occasional dead bird or sheep so it can sometimes be a bit creepy.
Imagine visiting these buildings at night with only a candle in a lantern to light your way? Some cowhouses have little niches where a lamp or lantern could be placed. In others you might see a hook for hanging a lantern from like this one.
We interviewed a group of women who grew up on farms around Muker parish, they have clear memories of how dark the cowhouses were.
“See, when they went to milk in these cow’usses it was always candlelight …I don’t know about your cowusses but ours always had a little hole in the wall for the candle to go in…wasn’t likely to set hay on fire you see…and then little lamps came that you used to carry…and then what you called a tilly lamp, paraffin, had to prime it. That was a big step.”
“Ah but tilly lamp never came to High Frith… we had candles all the time”
“You’d get heat off it as well…You did, off a tilly lamp”
“Used to have a flashlight that you could hold in his mouth…when he had two calf buckets he held the flashlight in his mouth…not like a head torch now, they’re grand!”
Having found some great evidence for earlier structures inside Willy Greens cowhouse we then moved on to a fascinating little cowhouse called Jordan Close near Angram. Again, with permission of the owner we unknotted what seemed like two metres of baler twine and pushed open the door into the cow byre. Almost immediately we spotted another reused cruck timber with a joint and carpenters marks on the underside of the door lintel. Spot the ancient box of matches shoved into the joint – we found a hook for hanging a paraffin lamp or horn lantern from just inside the door.
We then entered the byre area which has its original wooden boskins with a stone divider and hayracks. There was even a chain and rope remaining still attached to one of the rudsters where a cow would have been tied.
We finally crawled through the skelbuse into the haymew and looking up were greeted by the magnificent sight of a series of split, reused oak cruck blades in the roof forming parts of the triangular trusses. One even still had carpenters marks on it.
We now have to ask ourselves the same questions that we did when we explored Willy Greens cowhouse. Was there a timber cruck-built cowhouse here when it changed hands in 1688 as recorded in the Manorial Court Books, replaced at a later date but reusing some of the timber; or was the current stone cowhouse built pre-1688 using timber in its roof from a demolished cruck house nearby?
One of the questions we are hoping to answer during the project is when the first cowhouses appeared in Upper Swaledale. We’ve already found written evidence for cowhouses built in meadows from 1686 to 1701 in the Muker & Healaugh Manorial Court Books . Yesterday we went out with Sue Wrathmell, our historic building specialist for the project and with the kind permission of the owners explored two of the earliest cowhouses that we found in those Court Books, Willy Greens and Jordan Close.
Willy Greens was the first building we looked round. We have recorded the memories of Billy Hutchinson who milked cows there with his father:
“Well, they’d be in in September and they’d be right in I would think until first of June …we had to milk them by hand of course in the early stages, and then we got a milking machine and that made life easier …[so you milked the cows in the stalls, tied up?]…yes, tied up all the time…milked them just once a day. We had water bowls in…for the milk cows anyway. The other ones, the young stock had to go to the beck round about.”
Bill (Billy) Hutchinson (81) formerly Cathole Inn & Keld Green
It was therefore fascinating to go inside the building and see how the Hutchinsons had made improvements to the milking area, concrete boskins, whitewashed walls and the baulks above boarded out.
The building itself seemed to fit the mid-eighteenth date given in our Historic Environment Record, the evidence for a raised roof mentioned in the original survey is probably evidence of a replacement roof being added at some point later in its life, and not a sign that there was an earlier thatched roof. The building sits on a massive stone plinth which might be evidence for an earlier cowhouse on the site (the one recorded in the Court Book dates to 1696). However, even more interesting was the piece of timber used as a lintel over the forking hole. With the use of a strong torch we discovered that it had a joint cut into it and even more exciting, it had carpenter’s marks. This means that it was a piece of wood reused from a much older timber-framed building, probably medieval or Tudor, a time when timber was plentiful and people were able to use huge pieces to construct buildings with. The timber frame was assembled off site, marked up, disassembled, taken onto the building site and reassembled using the marks as a guide.
The question is, did this timber come from the cowhouse recorded as being there in 1696, a timber-framed one, which was then demolished and rebuilt in its current stone form during the eighteenth century?
Or is the building we see today actually late seventeenth century and built using timber parts from a much older house nearby? The seventeenth century is known as the period of the Great Rebuild – all over the Yorkshire Dales timber cruck-framed houses were torn down and rebuilt in stone. The timber from the cruck-frames was often reused in the roofs of these houses, by that time big bits of timber were too precious to be simply discarded.
So many questions! We then moved on to look at Jordan Close – see the next blog post…
A few of our volunteers recently attended a workshop in surveying traditional farm buildings. Being able to survey and record the field barns in Swaledale is integral in being able to protect the barns (and other traditional farm buildings) that make the area one of the largest conservation areas in the country! The volunteers were lucky enough to be learning about traditional farm buildings from expert, Robert White, who is also YDNPA’s previous Senior Historic Environment Officer.
This workshop taught skills in recording, measuring and describing historic farm buildings which they can then use to survey barns independently. The information that they collect will then be submitted to our Historic Environment Record so that the condition of the buildings can be monitored over time.
Another two-day surveying workshop is being held at Keld Resource Centre the weekend of 20th and 21st of May and we still have a couple of places left. If you would like to come along please email either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our intrepid Dales Volunteers have now completed the task of assessing the six walk routes we have chosen to showcase the Muker area’s amazing cowhouse heritage. They have highlighted some of the issues that ranger Michael will be fixing with funding from the project and also made careful photographic records of all the cowhouses of interest along each of the routes – far too many to post here but we thought we’d share a few of the highlights. We’ll leave you to try and guess where they are!
Swaledale was looking particularly gorgeous last week when we set off to visit some of the businesses working with us on the project. We distributed promotional materials about this blog and also handed over the new Cow’us Code beer mats to Keld Lodge and the Farmers Arms in Muker. Finally we had a chat with Usha Gap camp site about providing their campers with interpretation panels about the cowhouses on their farm.
At a recent workshop volunteers learnt the merits of using digital photogrammetry to record traditional field barns (as well as other archaeological features). They had the opportunity to get out to a nearby field barn to have a go at photographing a barn themselves. Unfortunately the weather was changeable and the differing light levels made it difficult to get pictures without lots of contrast. However, with a bit of practice (and some editing) the product was a successful model of a local field barn (cow’us), Shot Lathe, near Keld.
Now the sun is shining and the hay meadows are coming to life we have started to scout locations for a series of six short videos about the cowhouses around Muker. We’ll be featuring the story of the imps of Pith Hill ; the amazing rescue of the two Dutch tourists from a hay shed one snowy winter as told to us by Jennie Harker along with fascinating stuff about the history of cowhouses and the stories of how they were used to store hay and overwinter cattle until relatively recently. Andy Kay from our Comms Team was out last week investigating the Hartlakes area and the location of the Pith Hill imps story near Muker. He sent along these wonderful images of his day for the blog