We are about to sign off the first three walk booklets but in the meantime we have taken delivery of the sets of photo posters we ordered last month. Several bed & breakfast businesses told us that they would like lovely cowhouse photos to hang on the walls of their bedrooms and dining rooms. We had photographer Mat Robinson take a series of gorgeous shots of cowhouses, each of which has a special story which we’ve added to each photo as you can see.
We’ve had them printed A4 & A3-sized and have organised some card-mounts for the A4 ones so that people can frame them up themselves to match their businesses interiors.
When the builders were at work restoring Great Rampsholme cowhouse recently as part of our sister Muker Barn Restoration project, they came across this child’s shoe.
One can only imagine the ticking off the owner got when it was discovered they’d lost it – perhaps while they were hard at work tramping down the hay in the mew one hot summer’s day.
“Oh yes, when they were leading the hay. It was nice to go in there because you were away from the midges, you used to get eaten with the midges…lot of trees around [Park House]. Probably two of us might go in..it was very hot …[dark?] well as the haymew got fuller it was, especially when it got up round the forking hole…There was often a place at one side where they could throw the hay over into the byre and so there was a little bit of light would come in from there, but when that got blocked up you couldn’t…but it was hot and there was dust from the hay…it was nice when you came back out again…[right up into the rafters?] Oh yes, sometimes you did, you were sort of sticking it in… after the hay had been a while it did settle quite a bit.”
Elsie Metcalfe (nee Scott) (83), formerly of Park House farm
We’ve already mentioned the origins for some of the words used to name the parts of a cowhouse in Swaledale, but we’ve now brought these all together to go with a nicely labelled drawing of a cut-away cowhouse.
Booses/buses – the stalls where the cows were tied. A wooden post in the middle of a buse allowed two cows to be tied side-by-side without bumping into each other. Probably from the Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.
Skelbuse – wooden or sometimes stone-built division between the hay store (mew) and the cow stalls (booses). From Old Norse ‘skelja’ meaning to divide & ‘bas’ meaning box. Also called the boose’yead (ie boose-head) in Upper Swaledale.
Group or groop – stone-lined channel behind the stalls (booses), where the cow muck collected. From Old Norse word ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer. Boskins – wooden panels or large flagstones forming the division between the stalls (booses), again possibly from Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.
Mew – large open part of the cowhouse where the hay to feed the cows was stored, right up to the rafters. The word ‘mew’ can have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’ but in this case it is more likely to come from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowd. And indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.
Rudster or rudstake – wooden post to which cattle were tied using a chain, from the Old English ‘rodd’ probably related to Old Norse ‘rudda’ meaning club
Settlestanes – stones forming a kerb along the back edge of the cow stall. From the Old English ‘stān’ for stone.
Truffs/throughstones – long stones binding together the inner and outer skin of the walls, usually projecting in parallel lines on the outside of the cowhouse.
Foddergang – passage-way linking byre to mew along which hay was carried to feed the cows, from the Old Norse ‘fóthr’ feed & ‘gangr’ to go.
Baux/baulks – wooden loft over cow stalls where green hay and bracken for bedding was stored. Early ‘stick-baux’ were made from wooden poles interwoven with heather. More recent baux were made from sawn planks of wood. From the Old Norse ‘balkr’ and Old English ‘balc’.
Forking’ole A small opening with a door, built high up in the back wall of the mew through which hay was forked into the mew.
Muck’ole Cow muck collected behind the tethered cows in the group. It was regularly shovelled outside through the muck hole located at the end of the group nearest the hay meadow. The pile of muck was then spread by hand onto the field in order to feed the next hay crop. Muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.
Recess – a small hole built into the inside wall of the byre where a tin ‘budget’ or backcan for carrying milk might be rested along with a candle or lantern or perhaps cattle medicines and a milking pail and stool or ‘coppy’. There were no windows or electric lights inside the cowhouse.
Ventilation holes – hay that hadn’t completely dried could heat up and sometimes catch fire so good ventilation into the mew was essential.
Doors into mew and byre – different cowhouses have different arrangements and numbers of doors. A cowhouse with a single door into the cow byre end is probably an earlier type than one with doors into both the byre and mew. Sometime doors were inserted into older cowhouses. Sometimes they were closed up and new ones created. All part of the individual cowhouse’s story.
Have a look at our 3d model of the Keld Side Hogg House. The model was made using a piece of software called Agisoft Photoscan, and by using digital photo’s taken on cameras provided to the project through the HLF funding.
This building is a particularly good example, similar to a number of other Swaledale Hogg Houses. It is located on an area of enclosed fell, higher ground which was suitable for pasture, but not for meadow. The hogg house dates from the second half of the 19th Century, it is very well-built, made from quarried sandstone which was probably acquired specifically for the purpose.
Inside, part of the roof truss shows scratched markings which may indicate that the timber came from the Baltic – unusual, given that the overland journey for such a substantial piece of timber would have been quite a challenge.
The model shows the barn as it was early in 2017, with clear signs that the roof ridge needed attention. It has been repaired this summer as part of the concurrently running ‘Muker Barns Project’, and will hopefully stay in the landscape for many more years.
The daily round, all winter long, of letting the cows out for water, feeding them, mucking out and so on, usually twice a day is remembered by many of the project’s older participants. William Calvert worked at Crackpot Hall farm as young man.
They had the deserted houses converted into cowhouses that once formed the scattered settlement called Hartlakes, near Keld. Even on a sunny day, it’s quite a spooky spot.
It was quite common to find tramps sleeping in the hay mew of a cowhouse and the young folk of Muker were scared to death of them. William recalls one gloomy evening at Hartlakes when he thought his worst fears had come true:
Alongside the wonderful stories and memories of lives spent working in and around Muker’s cowhouses , we have unearthed a tiny number of precious stories from earlier days. We came across the story of the Weardale Warriors being bested by local farmers in Edmund Cooper’s delightful book ‘Muker: the story of a Yorkshire Parish’ published in 1948.
The incident he describes took place in a cowhouse at Crook Seal Farm – long abandoned and itself now used as a cowhouse. The building lies beside the main road out towards Kirkby Stephen in the far western corner of the parish.
We haven’t been able to identify Rakestraw’s cowhouse – the fields shown on the 1841 Tithe Map around Crook Seal have different names. The ‘moss-troopers‘ he refers to were lawless men from the border regions of Cumbria, Northumberland and Scotland who raided farms all over the north of England in the seventeenth century. In earlier centuries similar groups of raiders were known as border reivers.
“The dalehead was visited about a hundred and twenty years ago [c1828] by poaching miners from Weardale in Durham, who not only came for the game, but carried off sheep and poultry as well. They were known locally as the ‘Weardale Warriors’ and like the ‘moss-troopers’ of centuries before, scared the farmers by their ferocious ways.
One Paul Armstrong was their leader, a man of immense strength, who, with a dozen or so followers with dogs and guns, was usually given a wide berth by the men of Swaledale. On one expedition they were observed by Cherry Kearton, a well-known gamekeeper. He kept watch upon them until evening and when dusk fell he saw them enter Rakestraw’s cowhouse at Crook Seal Farm on the Kirkby Stephen road. As they appeared to be settling down inside for the night, he summoned some local farmers. They were George and Charles Alderson of Stonehouse, Charles Rakestraw of Firs, Charles Alderson of Hill Top Farm, George at Birtle (also an Alderson), Neddy Alderson of Greens, and ‘Harry Tom’ (a Rakestraw) of Hoggarths. Each armed with a shot-gun, they surrounded the cowhouse and waited for dawn. At daybreak, Paul Armstrong was seen at the ‘forking-hole’ and was heard to say: “A fine mornin’ chaps, we mun be up and off.” The Swaledalers, at a given signal jumped to their feet and pointed their guns at him. He swore to shoot anyone who attempted to come near. A shot was fired. The farmers waited. Armstrong, feigning capitulation, attempted to rush the door but was knocked on the head by Neddy Alderson with the butt-end of his gun. Seeing their leader temporarily out of action, the rest surrendered and were marched off.”
Edmund Cooper (1948) Muker: the story of a Yorkshire Parish Dalesman Publishing Co: Clapham p81
Artist Helen Peyton has been hard at work using her magnificent Victorian printing press. She has sent us this background information on it:
“Since training on a Columbian printing press at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art, Dundee it has been my life’s ambition to be able to print on one again. So when Jane rang from Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln to offer me theirs it felt like a dream come true.
Invented in 1813 by the American George Clymer, the Columbian Press was one of the first iron printing presses The eagle which perches with outstretched wings and open beak on the main counterbalance lever. The eagle isn’t ornament, it is the counterbalance weight. In its talons the eagle clutches a flight of Jove’s thunderbolts, representing war, and the olive branch of peace and the cornucopia or Horn of Plenty, signifying prosperity. Further decoration can be found on the supporting pillars and the lever and include a Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, the messenger of the ancient Greek Gods and serpents which are symbols of wisdom.
“If the merits of a machine were to be appreciated wholly by its ornamental appearance, certainly no other press could enter into competition with the Columbian.” (T. C. Hansard, Typographia, 1825)
Moving it became the next priority, due to scheduled building works at the University, I only had a week to arrange transport and a home. A hoist and 7 sturdy men were needed to move this one and half ton cast iron beast. A sleepless night or two working out logistics, much scratching of heads, two days, a landrover and trailer and a lot of muscle proved to be the winning combination.
The press prints broadsheet or A1 so it will influence the scale and content of my work for the foreseeable future, it is giving options to work at larger scale for this project. Watch this space as I now go into the printing stage.”
We’ve posted before about how important we feel it is to work closely with local businesses in the area in order to share our cowhouse stories with the wider public. We were very pleased to be able to deliver nine colourful indoor information panels to various accommodation, shop and cafe owners last week.
Each panel is unique and features stories from a range of our project participants alongside some wonderful archive photos from local people and the collections at the Dales Countryside Museum.
While we were filming inside one of the cowhouses near Keld last week, we sadly found a dead barn owl. It had died some time ago but we checked it over and found that it had a British Trust for Ornithology leg ring so we asked our Wildlife team to send it off for us.
Barn owls aren’t a common sight up in the Dales and it seems that numbers in Britain declined through the 20th century but are now recovering. They’ve had a particularly good breeding season in the Dales this year. Oddly enough we saw one flying alongside the road near Ribblehead the following day when returning from a trip up to Swaledale.
The BTO report came back really quickly and we discovered that the bird was male and had been ringed in the nest in August 2014 about 14km away in Cumbria. The floor of the cowhouse we found it in was thick with owl pellets so we assume that it’s been used as a roost/nesting place for generations of these wonderful creatures. Some barns were built with small ‘owl holes’ high up on the gable ends as these birds were a welcome visitor helping to keep rodent numbers down.
There’s lots going on at the moment including our film makers being out and about capturing footage of hay meadows and cowhouses. They began with a morning recording Karen Griffiths, the Every Barn project lead and Sue Wrathmell, the project’s historic buildings specialist talking about how to date cowhouses. They visited Willy Greens and Jordan Close cowhouses near Aygill and had a great time inspite of the showers.
We are employing a North Yorkshire-based company called Aberration Films to do most of the filming and editing and have been most impressed so far – there’s quite a bit of walking involved lugging camera and lighting equipment and the cowhouses themselves are dark and pretty dirty inside so it’s no picnic!
After filming around Aygill, the team moved on to interview Chris Calvert talking about his childhood memories of working with his dad at various farms in the area. His wife Glenda took some great pics and has featured them on her Pry House blog