Rievaulx Abbey update

In our post about the Rievaulx Abbey estates in Upper Swaledale we ended by saying that we were keen to find a Latin scholar to help us understand more about the Abbey grant’s description of the estate. We have now found that person in the shape of Glynn Coppack who has written many articles and books about the history of Rievaulx Abbey. He kindly did us a translation of this extract from the Rievaulx Cartularium:

Fourteenth century Rievaulx Abbey grant confirmation

And it reads as follows:

The gift … that Gilbert of Ghent, son of Robert of Ghent, of the whole pasture of Swaledale with its appurtenances within certain bounds contained in the same charter, both in woods and in fields, held in perpetuity, and to have there their beasts, as many and of what kind they wish, and the fields [folds] and lodges of their beasts, and dogs and horns, and for making hay and enclosing meadows, outside the said bounds, where and how much they please, and for having there houses for the (lay) brothers and servants and their beasts, and sufficient gardens and closes, and for freely taking wherever sufficient (timber) within the aforesaid bounds for all their needs for their houses and garths and fires and folds and lodges, and their other easements in the same forest, and the fallen boughs of trees, of (taking) their beasts to pasture and of using all of the pasture as they wish, and for taking wolves by whatever means they can, and further free chase and rechase of their beasts to the said pasture through all the lands of the said Gilbert and his heirs, excepting cultivated fields and meadows.”

He also discussed the meaning of the word ‘pecorini’ which we were keen to know:

Pecorini or ‘beasts’ implies larger, brutish animals, presumably cattle, though pecorius apparently means fleecy, so it could be sheep I suppose. You have to remember it is a royal clerk who is making the summary who has no idea what is going on in Swaledale and probably thinks such a wild area probably has cows but uses a word that means both…I suspect ‘pecoris’ was used to mean both cattle and sheep in the second confirmation, because it post-dates an outbreak of sheep scab and the collapse of the Cistercian’s wool trade.

So it seems that, then, as until relatively recently, cattle were at least as important as sheep in the farming economy here.

Also, and perhaps even more exciting, he confirmed that the lay brothers sent out by the Abbey to manage the estate, would have been housed in a grange and that this was located in Angram along with housing for their servants and domestic animals. And that these were separate to the fields/folds and lodges for the beasts which we must assume are out in the fields. Furthermore, these houses and lodges were built using timber taken from the woodland on the estate.

 

Were we looking at some of this timber reused in the roof of Jordan cowhouse?!

Cruck timbers, Jordan Close cowhouse

We wondered whether there would be any visible evidence for the monastic grange in Angram.  Glynn tells us:

“The grange co-existed with the local population, but would have been enclosed. The-lay brothers’ buildings were often built round a small cloister. The problem is that lay-brothers dried up in the early 14th century and distant granges were leased out. The 12th and 13th century building would have been taken down and replaced with more domestic buildings. I would look for a farm with earthwork enclosures around it…”

We will be scanning our aerial photograph collection keenly for earthworks around Angram. We already have a possible candidate for one of the later, replacement buildings with this little building by the roadside in Angram – now a cowhouse but with a stone-mullioned window facing the fields and the remnants of an early corbelled chimney stack at one end.

 

Rievaulx Abbey in Swaledale

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

Original grant to Rievaulx Abbey dated 1251

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)

Fourteenth century Rievaulx Abbey grant confirmation

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!

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…

Digital Photogrammetry

At a recent workshop volunteers learnt the merits of using digital photogrammetry to record traditional field barns (as well as other archaeological features). They had the opportunity to get out to a nearby field barn to have a go at photographing a barn themselves. Unfortunately the weather was changeable and the differing light levels made it difficult to get pictures without lots of contrast. However, with a bit of practice (and some editing) the product was a successful model of a local field barn (cow’us), Shot Lathe, near Keld.

 

 

Scouting film locations

Now the sun is shining and the hay meadows are coming to life we have started to scout locations for a series of six short videos about the cowhouses around Muker. We’ll be featuring the story of the imps of Pith Hill ; the amazing rescue of the two Dutch tourists from a hay shed one snowy winter as told to us by Jennie Harker along with fascinating stuff about the history of cowhouses and the stories of how they were used to store hay and overwinter cattle until relatively recently. Andy Kay from our Comms Team was out last week investigating the Hartlakes area and the location of the Pith Hill imps story near Muker. He sent along these wonderful images of his day for the blog

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“The Little Houses in the Fields”

Over the winter we have been collecting memories from local people about the cow’usses they remember using when they were younger. Our Interpretation Officer, Karen Griffiths is now ready to start sharing these stories. Her first project is to produce a postcard for visitor businesses to hand out when they get asked what the little houses in the fields are for – this happens a lot apparently. She’s been testing out some layouts in the office today – there’s still a use for good old glue and scissors…

 

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