Dungeon cowhouse

We are lucky enough to have copies of several old maps for the parish with field names. A cowhouse is often (but not always) called after the field it is in. When we interviewed Sidney & Betty Reynoldson of Thwaite they called one of their cowhouses ‘Dungeons’:

“I know it’s a lot better nowadays, when buildings are all together…you had to go there and here, there…there was one building where we had up at Moor Close, it was quite a way to go to that, we mebbe just mebbe used to go in the once to that…there’s a lot of these buildings, they all had a trough near…all near water, such as our Dungeons and over there and all them, within feet of byres they had water…well some of them had a yard round with water in corner. So they’d build them where there was water. That’s what I always thought.”

We’ve found an old map with a field and cowhouse called Dungeon shown on it near Thwaite but it’s not the one that the Reynoldsons showed us on the maps we had at  our open day so we need to do a bit more research on that one, as well as wondering why it had that name in the first place?! Interestingly, we do know that the word ‘Ing’ which can be seen in the next door field,  is from the Old Norse and means a meadow, especially one near a river.

Lightning House

We’ll be sharing some of the fantastic stories we’ve collected about the cowhouses of Muker parish on this blog and here is one that our researcher Glenda Calvert tracked down – she’d heard rumour of a cowhouse struck by a lightning bolt and eventually found the story behind it. Here it is as told to her by Raymond Parker formerly of Kisdon Farm:The Lightning House aka Kierton cowhouse

“I think it would be ’61…[a summer storm?]..yes, it must have been latter end of August , a really bad storm, and there was this big flash and bang, where we were milking and me mother, she was frightened of thunder and she came out to us and after this bang she said oh you’d better look out, I think that must have done some damage and when we looked out we could just see this building roof and smoke just coming out of it. [And how far from the homestead was this?]…about  a hundred yards. So we went and thunderbolt must have gone in the top and it just like starting to burn, on top of hay mew, so, well, we went and tried to get some water but there wasn’t much about and, it had put telephone off, so mother went down to Usha Gap to ring for fire brigade, which they came, but they couldn’t really do anything. It just had to burn itself out…[this was after haytime?] aye, yes, it was full of hay, was t’hay mew [small bales or loose hay?] oh, all loose. [Just a hay mew on its own or was it a cow’us, and was it empty being summer?] Oh cow’us..actually I think there was a young calf in, put in for some reason, anyway we got it out alright, I don’t know why we put it in there, we got it out and then…it was on evening, 5 or 6 o’clock when it…and it got out a grand night, sunny fine night again. And there was a lot of people came up to look at it…[so was it actually flames?]..oh aye. Walls kept standing, but all roof came in and all woodwork inside was all gutted out, it had to all be redone….[that would be a big loss, all your hay?]…aye, yes, well, I suppose it wasn’t same as if you’d got a big building where you put all your hay you know, it was just off a couple of fields that would be in that one, so it mebbe wasn’t just as bad that way…we’d have to buy some extra hay [next winter], yes and we must have been like 4 or 5 stalls short as well somewhere. We must have worked round it somehow…[So the people from Muker came?] Aye, there was quite a lot came up to see. ..Trouble was, you see,  there was no water up there of any quantity, so fire engine, well, fire brigade didn’t bring a fire engine, just came in the landrover  I think and they couldn’t really do anything about it. [Even if they had been able to hose the hay, it would have been ruined?]…oh aye, it would’ve been all ruined. It really might as well burn I suppose…might’a  just have saved more of the building, but walls stayed up, they probably just pointed ‘em up a bit. All the inside walls, after, few years after, bits of stones kept breaking off with being so hot…so it’s lucky that it still stood. [So, did your family repair it?] … Well actually, it was just rented farm then so just landlords that had to do that. They got it done straight away. You could still smell it though, for years after, oh aye, the smell was there.”

[Did you used to call it Lightning House?]. “No, it was Kierton cowhouse to us”

Raymond Parker formerly of Kisdon Farm

Field names

We are continuing doing the research for the Every Barn… walk leaflets and discovering some wonderful dialect field names like ‘Slapey’ meaning slippery and ‘Puke’ which is short for the family name Peacock (see Will Swales blog). There are lots of meadows called Ing and Close which are obvious, along with others like ‘Slack’ and ‘Seal’ and ‘Purse’ pronounced Puss,  which we are still puzzling over.

Hartlakes’ cow’usses after dark

Anyone who has walked from Muker north towards Keld through the deserted settlement at Hartlakes will know how atmospheric the place is with its encroaching dark woodland and derelict houses. Many of the houses had been turned into cow’usses by the end of the nineteenth century and William Calvert remembers just how creepy  those buildings could be at nightfall.

“I always tried to get those jobs done [at Hartlakes], cows and so forth, before dark. One day, it didn’t work out that way, it was getting dusk. And I was nervous. And I went down, the first building I came into, I let cows out, did what [was] necessary, went to get hay, and I felt some leather of some sort, where hay was [supposed to be] . And I panicked, I thought, it felt like a [suit]case. And I whipped out, got cows in, I went like blazes. Everything was done very very quickly that night. And when I came back the following morning, I said to Percy [his boss] a bit o’story, and he started to laugh. He said ‘well, I left the horse gear there, I’d been doing something wi’t’horse that day and left the horse gear there just where the hay was,’ and of course, I felt it and panicked…I thought it was a suitcase, I didn’t know what the heck it was…I mean I was only just in me very early twenties and nervous in dark anyway. It’s creepy down there at night as well. It frightened me.. [the cows got a] very quick do, I don’t know whether one or two was missed to be honest [laughter].”

William Calvert (83) formerly of Greenses, Keld

Walk leaflet prep

One of the most important things we will be producing as part of the ‘Every Barn…’  project is a set of walk leaflets helping people explore the amazing farming landscapes of upper Swaledale. We’ll be adding stories; old photographs and history to each walk making it a real journey back in time to when the cow’usses formed such an important part of the farmer’s daily life. It means we are spending a lot of time poring over old maps, zooming around digital maps and sticking labels and applying highlighter pen onto paper ones!

The drinkings

Bringing in the hay has always been a family affair up in Muker. It was hot, dusty work though – ‘bringing out the drinkings’ was essential at regular intervals during the day.

“Especially in haytime, it was a family event, I mean, everybody mucked in, the women as well, I mean they had to break off to go and make the meals and they used to bring the meals out into the hayfield in a basket, and a can of tea…I remember me mother used to make fruit pies on a tin plate, and she used to send a whole pie”  

Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat Farm

This lovely photo was brought along to our last Open Day for us to scan – we wonder what that stone jar had in it – ginger beer maybe?


Open Evening Thursday 16 March 2017

It’s time to share how we’re getting on with this exciting
project about the cowhouses and people of Muker Parish. Come along and find out what we’ve
been up to this winter:

Have you got old photos of your family and their cowhouses we could scan for the project?

Are you interested in learning about the history and features of local farm buildings?

See our new 3D barn recording software in action and find out about our training sessions

Listen to some of the audio recordings we have made

Tourist businesses? Find out about what we hope to offer your visitors

Come and have a chat over soup & a roll – we’d love to meet you!

If you would like to know more about the Every Barn Tells a Story project then do drop by on Thursday March 16 2017 4.30-7.30pm at Muker Village Hall.

Cow’us Postcards

Every Barn Tells a Story postcard
Every Barn Tells a Story postcard

We just taken delivery of a big box of postcards which we are rather excited about. One of the first things we discovered when we talked to local visitor businesses was that people simply don’t know what all the little buildings in the fields are. So we’ve come up with a handy postcard which they can hand out to anyone who wants to know all about cow’usses.

We’ll be distributing these to visitor businesses in Muker in good time for the start of the season. Get in contact if you like some to try out. We’ll be gathering feedback over the Easter and early summer once they’ve been tried out and hope to tweak and reprint more for the main summer holidays.