Cow’us NOT Barn!

We have been putting together a presentation about the project for the upcoming Yorkshire Dales Archaeology Day School over in Barbon village. One of the things we are going to have to explain is why the title of the project has been altered to ‘Every Cowus Tells a Story’?

EBTAS Project Logo

Well, it didn’t take us long to realise that local people nearly always called them cowhouses,or cow’usses in the local dialect. Listen to this clip recorded by local researcher Glenda Calvert interviewing four local women right at the start of the project.

Interestingly, some research we have been doing into the 1686-1701 Court Book for the parish has revealed that even that early on, they were called ‘cowhouses’.

Ned Cowus

At one of our open days a local farmer identified a cowus up near Kisdon Farm as Ned Cowus. A search of the 1841 Tithe map showed us that the field it was next to was called Fiddler Ned’s Close. This got us wondering because we had heard of the famous nineteenth century musician from Keld known as Neddy Dick who built a lithophone from local stones. Could this cowus and field have belonged to him? Sadly, a bit of research showed us that he hadn’t been born in 1841 so Fiddler Ned must have been another local musician. Read all about Neddy Dick aka Richard Alderson on the Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group’s website.

Here’s a  photo of the cowus in question taken recently by Glenda Calvert while out researching a children’s walk leaflet for the project. Nowadays the field is simply known as Ned’s Field.

Ned Cowus with Fiddler Ned’s Close beyond, now known simply as Ned’s Field

Roadside cowusses

Many of the cowusses in Muker parish were built at the top of their various meadows to make life easier hauling the muck out and down onto the field in the spring. However we came across two rather fine examples last week that are definitely roadside buildings, one called Willy Greens (Willow Green on the 1841 Tithe map) and the other called Mary Field cowus. Both lie alongside the road between Angram and Keld.

Mary Field cowus

Both were once farmed by Billy Hutchinson’s dad who had Keld Green Farm:

“Me dad was farming from there ..just milk cows and followers ..three or four cow’usses all round, on Kisdon Side, on Willy Greens, Mary Field.”

“Well, we had stock in them all, but I don’t think there is mebbe today, but we had stock in them ..hay mews, aye, was all loose hay then [made hay off fields by cow’uss] ..and then swept in by ‘oss, very first instance, and then we had old land wagons ..before the tractors came.”

Willy Greens cowus

Keld to Angram circular walk

With the weather improving we are on with testing out the various walk routes that our ranger Michael has devised for the project. Last week we tried out a circular walk from Keld to Angram and back. We had some fantastic views of the classic walls and barns landscape that the area is famous for and got up close and personal with lots of rather magnificent cowusses including at least one that we didn’t know was actually there. We also had to wade through a bog and quite a bit of water, but only got lost once so we think it should be a goer with a little bit of work done on it which is what this project is all about. We were treated to a beautiful rainbow while we were walking along the side of Kisdon Hill – we wondered if the cowus it rested on had a pot of gold hidden in it – but we were too tired to check! 

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