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]’.


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