Sunny days out mowing, drying and bringing in the hay or ‘haytiming’ as it is known up in Swaledale sound like a rather idyllic way to spend your childhood. Years ago, the whole family helped out , it was often a race against the weather to get the mown grass dried off sufficiently and into the hay mew of the nearest cowhouse, so it was all hands to the deck, from the smallest child upwards as this photo of the Calvert family taken in the 1930s shows.
The children of the family usually ended up in the hay mew trampling down the loose hay. This was in fact far from an idyllic job – it was hot, dusty and dark in there. Dorothy Brown (nee Clarkson), formerly of Scarr House farm, has less than fond memories of one particular occasion inside Banty Barn, as she tells our interviewer Glenda Calvert here:
Banty is a large cowhouse – the first one after the Buttertubs pass. Dorothy must have spent quite a long time in that hay mew!
Two gloriously sunny days at the start of the week meant just one thing in Upper Swaledale – haytime! There were lots of happy farmers out yesterday turning , rowing and baling hay as fast as their machinery would allow them. The whole dale was filled with the thick sweet smell of drying hay – delicious!
We saw some small rectangular bales being made using some venerable old machinery, but much more popular were the machines that produce the large round bales. You can see clearly why our little cowhouses are no longer much used for storing hay given that you wouldn’t fit one of these big bales through a doorway.
We were also reminded of one of the memories we collected when we saw the steeper, harder to mow parts of fields left untouched .
“No, a lot of the fields up there are full of rushes now, but they didn’t used to be because they were cut. If we couldn’t get it with a machine we’d get it with a scythe, and Irishmen used to go round the sides and do the gills and that. They’re just left now because they can get all they need without.”
Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat farm
It’s also very noticeable how the number of fields that are haytimed has reduced, the higher fields are now permanently used for grazing, with their lonely cowhouses a reminder of the past.
We’ve had a rather nice drawing done for the project showing all the different dialect names for the parts of a cowhouse. We collected these from local people during the various open days we held earlier on in the project.
As with our last post, many of these dialect names have Old Norse origins, like skelbuse from ‘skelja’ meaning ‘to divide’; boose from ‘bas’ probably meaning box and group or groop from ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer. Even muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.
Not everyone agreed on the names. The skelbuse was also known as the boose heads or boos’yeads.
“They knew which ‘boos’, which is what we called the, you know, they were in sections, usually a stone slab that way on [stone stalls?] yes..boos’yeads, don’t know how you spell that! And the cows knew which one to go into…”
Margaret Fawcett (nee Alderson) (74), formerly Skeugh Head farm
‘Mew’ is a harder word to unpick. At face value it looks like it comes from the same origins as ‘mow’ as in cutting the hay, but it can also have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’. More likely though is from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowd. And indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.
A large number of field and place names in Upper Swaledale have their origins in the Old Norse language. They are evidence for the many Scandinavian settlers who began arriving in the area during the late eighth century AD. They came in via Ireland and the Isle of Man and headed into north west England, some eventually ending up here.
Place names are the most obvious examples and we’ve already researched a couple of theories about the original meaning of Muker. The widely accepted one is from the Old Norse ‘mjór akr’ meaning ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’ – this comes from ‘The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names’ . We were re-reading Edmund Cooper’s excellent history ‘Muker: The Story of a Yorkshire Parish’ and his translation is, ‘mior-akr‘ meaning a narrow field. Wiktionary has ‘mjor‘ meaning ‘thin’, ‘slender’ or ‘narrow’ in Icelandic with an Old Norse origin.
We have another theory though. We discovered that ’mjolka’ means milk in Old Norse so we were wondering if the name meant ‘milk fields’ instead?
Keld and Thwaite are less controversial, coming from the Old Norse ‘kelda‘ for ‘spring’ and ‘thveit‘ meaning a ‘clearing’, respectively.
Anything with the word ‘side’ or ‘seat’ in, refers to what were once Viking summer grazing areas for cattle, hence Kisdon Side and Ravenseat. Edmund Cooper has the latter as ‘Hrafn sætr’ in Old Norse, or ‘Raven’s Pasture’. A ‘sætr’ can be summer pasture or a dwelling. From the earliest times, when stock was sent up into the hills, a member of the family went with them and lived up there over the summer in a hut, guarding them from wolves and thieves.
Field names are similarly fascinating. We’ve been using a couple of book sources for these as well as the online dictionary Wiktionary . They are Arnold Kellett’s ‘The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition & Folklore’ and Captain John Harland’s ‘A Glossary of Words used in Swaledale, Yorkshire’ dating to 1873. Many have Old Norse elements to them and describe the field’s location such as ‘Ing’ from ‘enga’ meaning ‘meadow, especially by a river’ and ‘Holme’ meaning flat ground by a river liable to flooding, from ‘holmr’ ‘an island’ and ‘Strands’ from Old Norse ‘strǫnd’ meaning ‘border, edge or shore’.
‘Slack’ means a depression or valley, while ‘Garth’ is a paddock or yard.
Several of the project participants have referred to cutting ‘seeaves’ for bedding. These are rushes and the word comes from the Old Norse ‘sef’ for rush.
“Yes we used to mow rushes and bracken and use it for bedding. Bracken was better, rushes, when you spread the muck it didn’t break up as good as bracken, bracken used to break up nice…We used to store it, we had like a baux, above, in the Home Barn and we used to fork it up into there…”
Richard Campbell (75), formerly of Ravenseat farm
“There wasn’t straw…the bed in the big sheds, they put all straw out, but they didn’t buy straw then, no, so the muck they did was in this group they used to call it, without straw, so that was just muck to be quite honest ..the cows went up onto a step and muck went into group…Seeaves…we used to cut them for bedding…well there wasn’t such a thing as proper bedding”
Annas Metcalfe (nee Whitehead) (73), formerly of Ravenseat farm
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.
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
“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
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.
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.
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).
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]’.
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.
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.
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
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)
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!