Art Barn project with Helen Peyton

The ‘Art Barn’ part of the Every Barn project is in the hands of Yorkshire Dales-based artist Helen Peyton. Local charity, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has generously funded her to produce a piece of work that we can reproduce on items such as tea towels, tote bags and mugs. We will be offering these to local visitor businesses in the first instance but would like eventually to be able to sell Art Barn souvenirs to help raise money to preserve Swaledale cowhouses into the future.

Helen has been out and about looking for inspiration and she has just sent us this update and photos:

“As you drive over the pass at Buttertubs into Swaledale, it has to be one of the finest views in the whole of the Yorkshire Dales and I am one of the luckiest people because I have been invited by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to make artwork linked to the cowhouses in Swaledale and the project Every Barn Tells a Story.

I start as I always do with any artwork at the museums; my linocuts are based on their collections. I am fascinated by why we collect objects, how our memory and emotions can be linked to them. The stories behind a museum artefact give us a wonderful base to understanding an area, its diversity and traditions.

My first visits were to Keld Resource Centre, Swaledale Museum in Reeth and the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes and between them the wealth of information is captivating. To start with, everything is interesting or beautiful and would make a lovely linocut and I think it is the trickiest aspect of any commission, isolating your interests and just settling on one thing. Immediately I am attracted to cheese and butter production and in particular the butter marks or moulds that imprint a decorative pattern onto the surface, these are particularly pleasing as a printmaker to find something so charming and intricate, similar to the way I cut wood or lino for printing.

Another interest lies in the old packaging, posters and maps from the area…

Watch this space to see which I select to develop into linocuts or letterpress.”

We can’t wait!

Display panels for businesses

We’re really pleased now to be able to offer local visitor businesses an attractive display panel sharing some of the stories we’ve collected about cowhouses in Muker parish. We’ll match the stories and memories on each panel with the locations they are going into. Keld Lodge for instance, has a lovely picture window in its guest lounge with views towards East Stonesdale farm. We’ve recorded the memories of the farmer that worked there as a  young man and so we’ll use a selection of these on their panel. Kearton Country Hotel is based in Thwaite and luckily we have some wondeful recordings from a retired farmer and his wife who still actually live nearby.

Indoor Every Barn project panel


Hay pikes

The rain has been falling pretty relentlessly this week and we noticed a few days ago that some hay had been cut near Thwaite, then gathered into pikes and covered with tarpaulins to protect it.

Hay pikes near Thwaite

It reminded us of these descriptions of building pikes in order to try and dry green hay before it went into the mew:

And then above the cow’uss part where the cows were, there was always a section there and we called that the baux…and that’s where the green hay went, specially if you’d had pikes. Pikes were a big mound of grass really, grass hay that wasn’t quite dry enough to go into the mew. So they’d put them into a big pike and cover it and then if it came wet they were covered  and if it came fine you had to shake it out, you had to shake these pikes out and if it really …never got dry, it went into the baux to dry out . So it went separate, didn’t go into the hay mew

Anne Guy (nee Thornborrow) (64) formerly of Frith farm

Tarpaulins over hay pikes, near Thwaite

 “I never heard of a lot of loose hay catching fire. They got very, very warm, cos as I say it had to go in as hay, there was no silage made in them days it had to go in as something. But that’s why we had these pikes, made pikes in t’fields. If your hay wasn’t quite ready and good enough and it was going to rain, you ‘piked’ it, you put it into pikes and they stood out for a week to sweat out and then you put it into mews and it came out better stuff.” 

Robert Clarkson (69) formerly of Scarr House farm & Black How farm

Yorkshire Film Archive visit

A major part of the Every Barn Tells a Story project is the production of videos recording the best memories and some of the history of the cowhouses around Muker parish. We have already appointed a film maker to help our in house staff and they have been out and about capturing the glory of the haymeadows before the rain set in.

Yesterday we travelled over to York to visit the team at the Yorkshire Film Archive to have a look through some of their footage with a view to incorporating archive clips into our own footage.

We’d already viewed a film in the collection called Dale Days online here . This was filmed in 1940 by Charles Chislett and shows a group of four children on an idyllic holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. They seem to have been based in Bainbridge in Wensleydale, but make at least one trip over the Buttertubs Pass into Swaledale. We loved this clip of a farmer carrying a rather heavy backcan full of milk up Hunger Hill, Faw Head, near Gayle in Wensleydale.

Screenshot from Yorkshire Film Archive website

Later on there is a long sequence showing a farmer handmilking Northern Dairy Shorthorns in a cowhouse and then following the milk in churns to the creamery in Hawes where it is made into cheese. Scenes that would all have been very familiar to our farmers in Swaledale in the 1940s.

We also saw some superb sequences of early haymaking in the Dales including some on original film stock from an old collection which we have arranged to have digitised for the project. All very exciting, so a big thank you to Graham Railton and the team at the YFA.

Swaledale Wills

We have come across a wonderful book called Swaledale Wills and Inventories 1522-1600 edited by Elizabeth K Berry and published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in 1998. It opens a fascinating window onto the lives of people living in the dale during the Elizabethan era. There are no mentions of cowhouses around Muker which was a bit disappointing, though further down the dale at Hudswell,  Ciciley Thomson’s inventory of possessions includes  ‘five spayned [weaned] calves in ye laithe’ (no 180 dated 1592/3). Laithe is a word used for barn or cowhouse in other parts of the Yorkshire Dales. The only possible barn in the Muker area was mentioned in Simon Alderson of Keld’s will where he leaves his ‘fermhould greinge’ to his son Simon (no 121 dated 1577). A grange can mean a barn (literally, a granary) or it can mean a farmhouse with buildings attached.

Stacks of hay however are mentioned a lot, they clearly formed a noteworthy part of someone’s wealth. The inventory of John Rawe of Ravenseat’s possessions included ‘Item a stack of hay and a peece of another’ worth 20 shillings (no 204 dated 1598). Phyllis Alldersonn of Thwaite had ‘Item haye’ worth £3 6s 8d (no 209 dated 1600).

Even more important were the beasts. Cattle are head and shoulders above sheep in terms of their value. The various types of animals are also carefully listed and priced accordingly. Edmund Harcaye of Thwaite lists ’11 kyne [cows] and one wheye [a heifer or young cow of up to three years old or until calved]’ worth £16 16s 8d – the most valuable things he owned. Plus ‘one bull price 26s 8d’. Then ‘8 stotes [young male cattle one to three years old]’ and finally ‘8 twinter [two year old] stotes and wheyes’ (no 177 dated 1591).

Northern Dairy Shorthorn cow (courtesy of Billy Hutchinson)

It’s not clear if these animals are for meat or milk, however, many inventories list dairying items so we think most were kept for the production of butter for sale and cheese for the household. John Rawe mentioned above was a husbandman which means he didn’t have his own farm. His inventory shows he wasn’t a wealthy man, he has one sheet and  ‘a sacke’ listed, but he does have three cows and two calves along with ‘a chirne [butter churn] and towe old kittes [a wooden vessel for carrying milk and butter among other things]’.


Interpretation panels for campsites

Sharing the stories we have collected about the cowhouses in Muker parish is what this project is all about now. Our first two outdoor interpretation panels are now ready to be signed off for production. They have been specifically designed to go into two visitor businesses in the area – Usha Gap campsite  and Swaledale Yurts after we consulted with the owners about what would suit them best.

Both sites have a farming background and we were lucky enough to collect stories about cowhouses specific to each location.

Interpretation panels ready for sign off
Design for project interpretation panel stands

Children’s Leaflet

We have commissioned Glenda Calvert to work on a children’s leaflet for us and she is involving a group of local children in researching and writing it.  She sent us these photos of their first recce of the route last week. She told us:

We were lucky as it stayed dry (almost) however it was unbelievably windy. Going up Kisdon it was hard to step forward without you leg being blown off course! Then when we turned left along the Pennine Way and got to the exposed part on the edge of the fell, a rain shower blew up from nowhere! Fortunately by the time we got down to the bottom of the hill the sun came out just in time for our lunch stop.”

The next step is to get the kids to produce the illustrations and words for the leaflet. Glenda is also organising a haytiming day where the children will get a chance to practice strewing the hay with special child-sized wooden hayrakes, building haycocks and then trampling hay down in the mew.

Haytiming (courtesy of Ann Holubecki)

Medieval meadows and wood pasture

Our research into the Rievaulx Abbey documents has thrown an interesting light on what farming looked like in Swaledale in the medieval period. Hay and the meadows it was  grown in were clearly important but so too was the right to graze animals in what we call ‘wood pastures’ on the hillsides and this included cutting branches off trees so animals could eat the leaves.

Ivelet Wood just across the river from Muker has been identified as an original piece of wood pasture which  was ‘common’ or shared land where, from the earliest times, commoners had the right to graze their stock and also have access to woodland to supply firewood and sometimes timber. As grazing pressure has reduced on this relatively remote steep valley side, the trees have become more dominant.

Footpath through Ivelet Wood

Part of the grant of land in Swaledale to Rievaulx was the right to lead cattle to and from the wood pastures so long as they avoided going through cornfields and meadows [segetibus et pratis]. Given that they were also given the right to catch wolves it’s possible that cattle were only grazed out during daylight hours and brought back into the safety of  shelters called lodges in the document [logias]. 

A party of national park staff went out on a working holiday to a village in Romania earlier this year and they found that the villagers look after their cows in exactly the same way – leading them out in a communal herd in the morning and then bringing them back and letting them make their own way to their individual cowhouses at night. They even cut branches off trees as fodder. There the danger is from bears as well as wolves!

Find out more about historic woodland in the Yorkshire Dales on our Out of Oblivion website.

Rievaulx Abbey in Swaledale

Part of the work we’re doing on the project involves trying to find out when the first cowhouses were built out in the fields. We managed to find one of the earliest written documents for the area this week – the Rievaulx  Cartuliarium – transcribed and published in 1899 and now available in facsimile  online. We found the original grant of the ‘whole grazing lands of Swaledale’ to the Abbey  by Gilbert de Gaunt in the thirteenth century

Original grant to Rievaulx Abbey dated 1251

Our medieval Latin isn’t great but we’ve attempted a translation of the relevant part as follows:

“To the Abbot of Rievaulx.

A donation by Gilbert de Gaunt of the whole pasturage/grazing ground of Swaledale divided (set out?) below and measured on paper (mapped?) by the same Gilbert, from whom the same monk henceforth holds having been named, with the folds and lodges [faldis et logiis] of their animals and houses [domibus] of the brothers, servants and their animals, gardens [ortis], closes [clausaris]  and all necessary/requisite to houses, fences, hearths, folds, lodges, and also their easement (access to) the forest of Swaledale. ”

This is fascinating because it seems to imply that there is housing – folds and lodges – of some sort – for animals, separate to the housing [domibus] for the lay brothers, servants and other animals.

We then had a look at the confirmation of the grant of lands in Swaledale which was issued during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377)

Fourteenth century Rievaulx Abbey grant confirmation

This is even more interesting because here the term ‘animalis‘ is replaced with the term ‘pecoribus‘ which our research tells us usually meant larger herd animals but not beasts of burden like horses or oxen so we are possibly looking at cattle,  ‘faldas et logias pecoribus‘ may therefore mean ‘folds and houses for cattle’ rather than (or as well as) sheep which is what has been assumed up to now. There is also again the distinction between these, and the housing for the lay bothers, servants and their animals which we might assume are the nucleated farmsteads we still see today often with animal housing under the same roof as the farmhouse itself.

We’re now hunting for a Latin scholar who can check what we think we’ve discovered!

Intake fields

Many of our cowhouses lie in what are called ‘intake’ fields such as the one in this photo near Keld.

Broken Intake cowhouse

The name ‘intake’ has a particular meaning. It refers to land that has been literally ‘taken in’ from rough hillside pasture and moorland. It would have been drained, the largest stones picked off, mowed, spread with lime burnt in lime kilns on the hillside above and manured. Eventually, after a lot of hard work the coarse moorland grass, rushes and heather would have been replaced by sweet meadow grass and flowers. We think that the meadows on the opposite side of the dale at this point (where the main road and farm houses lie) were the first to be farmed. The intake fields on this side of the dale are later, turned into meadows maybe sometime in the late seventeenth or eighteenth century  when using lime to improve pastures became widespread.

View from near Aygill of intake fields with lime kiln above

Chris Calvert’s uncle farmed these fields from Thorns across the valley. Chris remembers looking after cattle in these cowhouses when he was younger and why they are now mostly redundant.

“These off buildings, these cow’usses are very labour intensive. It was twice a day, every day but it was the only way to do it until people got modern buildings at home and the cattle wintered in those. And you had to bring the food to them at home as well. But now, I remember it very well, these cow’usses and wintertime with the cattle…that’s what they were designed for yes…Now, they’re all just in modern sheds  in the yard, loose housing, bedded up with straw and like, silage in big round bale feeders… A lot of our cow’usses now just get used for storage, for example, storing fencing stakes, all sorts of bits and bobs that just need to be undercover and kept dry.”
Chris Calvert (57) of Pry House farm