Intake fields

Many of our cowhouses lie in what are called ‘intake’ fields such as the one in this photo near Keld.

Broken Intake cowhouse

The name ‘intake’ has a particular meaning. It refers to land that has been literally ‘taken in’ from rough hillside pasture and moorland. It would have been drained, the largest stones picked off, mowed, spread with lime burnt in lime kilns on the hillside above and manured. Eventually, after a lot of hard work the coarse moorland grass, rushes and heather would have been replaced by sweet meadow grass and flowers. We think that the meadows on the opposite side of the dale at this point (where the main road and farm houses lie) were the first to be farmed. The intake fields on this side of the dale are later, turned into meadows maybe sometime in the late seventeenth or eighteenth century  when using lime to improve pastures became widespread.

View from near Aygill of intake fields with lime kiln above

Chris Calvert’s uncle farmed these fields from Thorns across the valley. Chris remembers looking after cattle in these cowhouses when he was younger and why they are now mostly redundant.

“These off buildings, these cow’usses are very labour intensive. It was twice a day, every day but it was the only way to do it until people got modern buildings at home and the cattle wintered in those. And you had to bring the food to them at home as well. But now, I remember it very well, these cow’usses and wintertime with the cattle…that’s what they were designed for yes…Now, they’re all just in modern sheds  in the yard, loose housing, bedded up with straw and like, silage in big round bale feeders… A lot of our cow’usses now just get used for storage, for example, storing fencing stakes, all sorts of bits and bobs that just need to be undercover and kept dry.”
Chris Calvert (57) of Pry House farm

Hay Meadows

Photographer Steve Garnett in action

We had photographer Stephen Garnett out with us yesterday taking promo shots for us to use in future publications for the National Park Authority. The meadows in Upper Swaledale were looking magnificent in the  sunshine – won’t be long before the hay crop is ready to mow.

Smithy Holme

We were out checking yet another one of our proposed walk leaflet routes – this time right up towards the west end of the parish of Muker. Haymaking and raising dairy cows must have been a tough business this high up, but the evidence for lead mining and processing showed us how many of the smaller farms got by with one or members of a family off working in Keldside smelt mill or down the mines themselves. We have a probably nineteenth century map of a small farm called Smithy Holme which we took along to see if we could spot the various cowhouses marked in the fields around it.

Nineteenth century map of Smithy Holme

These two cowhouses both lie in meadows called Smithy Holme, one south of the farm and in a lower position, the other higher up, right next to the intake wall separating meadow from moorland

The land is no longer farmed from Smithy Holme itself but the house is clearly well-looked after with a magnificent home cowhouse which is almost as big as the house itself.

Smithy Holme farm

On the way back we spotted yet another cowhouse from the map – now just a ruin, placed in a meadow with the unusual name of Quey Holme.  Spot the ruin on the skyline in the photo and also the fine limekiln below – an essential part of the process of turning such marginal land into productive haymeadow.

Ruin of Quey Holme cowhouse with lime kiln below

Cheese-making

Several of the people we have interviewed for the project remember their mothers making cheese in the farmhouse:

“And we milked, sold milk, and me mother used to make cheese. She was a very good cheesemaker , but she always said it wasn’t the person who made the cheese, it was the field that the cows ate out of and we had a very good cow pasture there, extremely good one”

Bob (72) & Dick (83) Guy formerly of Hill Top Lodge

Some of the cheese apparently went to feed coal miners in County Durham via markets in Barnard Castle. Bob and Dick Guy remembered their grandfather leaving really early in the morning once a month with the horse and trap taking cheese along with any spare butter and eggs to the market there: “Took hours, longer still on way back if pubs open!!” 

Our researcher Sue has just found a little booklet about farming in Upper Swaledale in the late 1940s.

Report on Farm Life in Swaledale dated 1948

This has proved to be a fascinating read as it was written pretty much at the point in time when the last cheese was being made in the dale. The arrival of efficient road transport and the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board meant that liquid milk became far more saleable:

“By now cheese-making has – to all intents and purposes – ceased in the dale. The writers know of only one farm which up to recently still had a flickering interest in making cheese. The heavy work of the actual processing fell to the lot of the female section of the farm family, and there is little doubt that at least some of them showed no grief when milk began to leave the farm by motor lorry. On the other hand a few regret that they have in all probability made their last cheese. Perhaps it is that the departure of the milk from the farm leaves unsatisfied a craftsman’s pride which was originally rewarded by the sight of something developing under their care and attention. One farmer was about to break a long standing family tradition. Cheese had been made and sold to the same firm for a little over a century and he confessed rather wistfully that it ‘seemed a shame’.”

From ‘Farm Life in a Yorkshire Dale. An Economic Study of Swaledale’ (1948) by W H Long & G M Davies.

The coming of the milk lorry provided a small but useful income stream for some farmers as William Calvert recalled from his childhood:

“At that time, milk wagon used to come from Leyburn, gathering milk. And m’father thought, he had a bit o’surplus. Many a time they sold mebbe five gallon at start, to get going, and so, that was added income. And I’ve seen him on a night just say, after tea, ‘well, I’m off to go get a bit o’profit in’, that was milking at night. He normally milked about four cows by hand.”

William Calvert (83), formerly of Greenses farm

Let there be light!

Exploring the interiors of cowhouses is not recommended without the owners’ permission. It can also be a bit hazardous given how little light there is inside. There are also a LOT of cobwebs and the occasional dead bird or sheep so it can sometimes be a bit creepy.

Cowhouse interior near Thwaite

Imagine visiting these buildings at night with only a candle in a lantern to light your way? Some cowhouses have little niches where a lamp or lantern could be placed. In others you might see a hook for hanging a lantern from like this one.

Hook for a lamp, Jordan cowhouse

We interviewed a group of women who grew up on farms around Muker parish, they have clear memories of how dark the cowhouses were.

“See, when they went to milk in these cow’usses it was always candlelight …I don’t know about your cowusses but ours always had a little hole in the wall for the candle to go in…wasn’t likely to set hay on fire you see…and then little lamps came that you used to carry…and then what you called a tilly lamp, paraffin, had to prime it. That was a big step.”

“Ah but tilly lamp never came to High Frith… we had candles all the time”

“You’d get heat off it as well…You did, off a tilly lamp”

“Used to have a flashlight that you could hold in his mouth…when he had two calf buckets he held the flashlight in his mouth…not like a head torch now, they’re grand!”

“They’d milk in the dark in’t winter “

Dating early cowhouses – Jordan Close

Having found some great evidence for earlier structures inside Willy Greens cowhouse we then moved on to a fascinating little cowhouse called Jordan Close near Angram. Again, with permission of the owner we unknotted what seemed like two metres of baler twine and pushed open the door into the cow byre. Almost immediately we spotted another reused cruck timber with a joint and carpenters marks on the underside of the door lintel. Spot the ancient box of matches shoved into the joint – we found a hook for hanging a paraffin lamp or horn lantern from just inside the door.

We then entered the byre area which has its original wooden boskins with a stone divider and hayracks. There was even a chain and rope remaining still attached to one of the rudsters where a cow would have been tied.

We finally crawled through the skelbuse into the haymew and looking up were greeted by the magnificent sight of a series of split, reused oak cruck blades in the roof forming parts of the triangular trusses. One even still had carpenters marks on it.

We now have to ask ourselves the same questions that we did when we explored Willy Greens cowhouse. Was there a timber cruck-built cowhouse here when it changed hands in 1688 as recorded in the Manorial Court Books, replaced at a later date but reusing some of the timber; or was the current stone cowhouse built pre-1688 using timber in its roof from a demolished cruck house nearby?

Dating early cowhouses – Willy Greens

One of the questions we are hoping to answer during the project is when the first cowhouses appeared in Upper Swaledale. We’ve already found written evidence for cowhouses built in meadows from 1686 to 1701 in the Muker & Healaugh Manorial Court Books . Yesterday we went out with Sue Wrathmell, our historic building specialist for the project and with the kind permission of the owners explored two of the earliest cowhouses that we found in those Court Books, Willy Greens and Jordan Close.

Willy Greens was the first building we looked round. We have recorded the memories of Billy Hutchinson who milked cows there with his father:

 “Well, they’d be in in September and they’d be right in I would think until first of June …we had to milk them by hand of course in the early stages, and then we got a milking machine and that made life easier …[so you milked the cows in the stalls, tied up?]…yes, tied up all the time…milked them just once a day. We had water bowls in…for the milk cows anyway. The other ones, the young stock had to go to the beck round about.”

Bill (Billy) Hutchinson (81) formerly Cathole Inn & Keld Green

It was therefore fascinating to go inside the building and see how the Hutchinsons had made improvements to the milking area, concrete boskins, whitewashed walls and the baulks above boarded out.

The building itself seemed to fit the mid-eighteenth date given in our Historic Environment Record, the evidence for a raised roof mentioned in the original survey is probably evidence of a replacement roof being added at some point later in its life, and not a sign that there was an earlier thatched roof. The building sits on a massive stone plinth which might be evidence for an earlier cowhouse on the site (the one recorded in the Court Book dates to 1696). However, even more interesting was the piece of timber used as a lintel over the forking hole. With the use of a strong torch we discovered that it had a joint cut into it and even more exciting, it had carpenter’s marks. This means that it was a piece of wood reused from a much older timber-framed building, probably medieval or Tudor, a time when timber was plentiful and people were able to use huge pieces to construct buildings with. The timber frame was assembled off site, marked up, disassembled, taken onto the building site and reassembled using the marks as a guide.

The question is, did this timber come from the cowhouse recorded as being there in 1696, a timber-framed one, which was then demolished and rebuilt in its current stone form during the eighteenth century?

Example of a cruck-framed barn

Or is the building we see today actually late seventeenth century and built using timber parts from a much older house nearby? The seventeenth century is known as the period of the Great Rebuild – all over the Yorkshire Dales timber cruck-framed houses were torn down and rebuilt in stone. The timber from the cruck-frames was often reused in the roofs of these houses, by that time big bits of timber were too precious to be simply discarded.

So many questions! We then moved on to look at Jordan Close – see the next blog post…

Jordan Close cow’us

We have found yet more evidence for late seventeenth century cowhouses in the Muker Manorial Court Books in the shape of the cowhouse on Jordan Close near Thwaite which changed tenant in 1688.

Extract from 1688 Muker Manorial Court Book

This field took a bit of hunting down as the transcription we have for the 1841 Tithe Map had no field with that number shown. However after a careful search back through the original Tithe Map photos we found what we were looking for just north of Aygill; field no 549 Jordan Close with the cowhouse marked with a red cross below, the tiny field west of it was called Piece and the field west of that was called Jordan Head. In 1841 they were owned by a James Alderson and occupied by one Nanny Alderson – the same family name as the 1688 tenant.

Muker Tithe map 549 Jordan Close

The cowhouse still stands at the end of the tiny field called Piece – whether it is the original 1688 building will need checking by an expert of course. Our Historic Environment Record suggests that it is eighteenth century but enlarged later on.

Jordan Close cow’us – looking east

The imps of Pith Hill cow’us

We recently posted a nineteenth century story about a schoolmaster called Raymond from Muker being hounded to death by some imps living in a cow’us at Pith Hill.

He kept a couple of cows at Lile Hill cow-house, which lies in the direction of Crake Nest and Love Lane. Whenever he went to milk or fodder them he had to pass Pith Hill cow-house, and this is said to be haunted by an unmusical choir of fiendish imps, whose sole plea for existence is to terrorise the countryside with their unearthly songs”

Arthur Harwood Brierley Leeds Mercury 1879

We’ve now (rather excitingly) managed to track down the cow’us itself. A bit of research on the 1841 Tithe map found two fields side by side called Far & Near Pithill with a cow’us still standing – in fact we’d walked past it last week when doing some research for our walk leaflets.

Pithill cow’us

It does look a little imposing doesn’t it? The lane the story calls Love Lane is the one which now carries the Pennine Way north out of Muker and it takes you past this cow’us and a field called Crows Nest which we assume is the Crake Nest in the story.

Love Lane, out of Muker

So, which cow’us was Lile Hill, the one belonging to Raymond? There are two candidates: the first is indeed up on a little hill, to the left hand side of the lane, but the field it sits in was called Spring Brow in the nineteenth century. The second candidate lies at the end of the lane in a field called Little Long Ings. We may never know but we’d like to think it’s the ruined cow’us up on Spring Brow – left deserted after the imps drove Raymond to his death there.

The Step-up

We’ve noticed these little buildings in and around Muker and have been told that they are called ‘step-ups’ – a sort of mini-cowhouse. We’re not so sure, they look a bit more like workshops to us or maybe stables for a horse below, with a hay loft above, up the steps – more research needed!

Step-up in Muker, external steps removed
Step-up with green doors in Muker
Step-up with red doors in Muker