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
Sunny days out mowing, drying and bringing in the hay or ‘haytiming’ as it is known up in Swaledale sound like a rather idyllic way to spend your childhood. Years ago, the whole family helped out , it was often a race against the weather to get the mown grass dried off sufficiently and into the hay mew of the nearest cowhouse, so it was all hands to the deck, from the smallest child upwards as this photo of the Calvert family taken in the 1930s shows.
The children of the family usually ended up in the hay mew trampling down the loose hay. This was in fact far from an idyllic job – it was hot, dusty and dark in there. Dorothy Brown (nee Clarkson), formerly of Scarr House farm, has less than fond memories of one particular occasion inside Banty Barn, as she tells our interviewer Glenda Calvert here:
Banty is a large cowhouse – the first one after the Buttertubs pass. Dorothy must have spent quite a long time in that hay mew!
Two gloriously sunny days at the start of the week meant just one thing in Upper Swaledale – haytime! There were lots of happy farmers out yesterday turning , rowing and baling hay as fast as their machinery would allow them. The whole dale was filled with the thick sweet smell of drying hay – delicious!
We saw some small rectangular bales being made using some venerable old machinery, but much more popular were the machines that produce the large round bales. You can see clearly why our little cowhouses are no longer much used for storing hay given that you wouldn’t fit one of these big bales through a doorway.
We were also reminded of one of the memories we collected when we saw the steeper, harder to mow parts of fields left untouched .
“No, a lot of the fields up there are full of rushes now, but they didn’t used to be because they were cut. If we couldn’t get it with a machine we’d get it with a scythe, and Irishmen used to go round the sides and do the gills and that. They’re just left now because they can get all they need without.”
Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat farm
It’s also very noticeable how the number of fields that are haytimed has reduced, the higher fields are now permanently used for grazing, with their lonely cowhouses a reminder of the past.
The folks running Keld Resource Centre are looking forward to promoting the Every Barn project to a wider audience over the summer when they tour the new portable display unit that we have bought for them. We’ve also just taken delivery of some promotional materials to go with it: an A-board; posters which can be overprinted with dates and locations and a load of colourful leaflets that will point people in the direction of further information, including this blog.
We’ve had a rather nice drawing done for the project showing all the different dialect names for the parts of a cowhouse. We collected these from local people during the various open days we held earlier on in the project.
As with our last post, many of these dialect names have Old Norse origins, like skelbuse from ‘skelja’ meaning ‘to divide’; boose from ‘bas’ probably meaning box and group or groop from ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer. Even muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.
Not everyone agreed on the names. The skelbuse was also known as the boose heads or boos’yeads.
“They knew which ‘boos’, which is what we called the, you know, they were in sections, usually a stone slab that way on [stone stalls?] yes..boos’yeads, don’t know how you spell that! And the cows knew which one to go into…”
Margaret Fawcett (nee Alderson) (74), formerly Skeugh Head farm
‘Mew’ is a harder word to unpick. At face value it looks like it comes from the same origins as ‘mow’ as in cutting the hay, but it can also have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’. More likely though is from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowd. And indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.
A large number of field and place names in Upper Swaledale have their origins in the Old Norse language. They are evidence for the many Scandinavian settlers who began arriving in the area during the late eighth century AD. They came in via Ireland and the Isle of Man and headed into north west England, some eventually ending up here.
Place names are the most obvious examples and we’ve already researched a couple of theories about the original meaning of Muker. The widely accepted one is from the Old Norse ‘mjór akr’ meaning ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’ – this comes from ‘The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names’ . We were re-reading Edmund Cooper’s excellent history ‘Muker: The Story of a Yorkshire Parish’ and his translation is, ‘mior-akr‘ meaning a narrow field. Wiktionary has ‘mjor‘ meaning ‘thin’, ‘slender’ or ‘narrow’ in Icelandic with an Old Norse origin.
We have another theory though. We discovered that ’mjolka’ means milk in Old Norse so we were wondering if the name meant ‘milk fields’ instead?
Keld and Thwaite are less controversial, coming from the Old Norse ‘kelda‘ for ‘spring’ and ‘thveit‘ meaning a ‘clearing’, respectively.
Anything with the word ‘side’ or ‘seat’ in, refers to what were once Viking summer grazing areas for cattle, hence Kisdon Side and Ravenseat. Edmund Cooper has the latter as ‘Hrafn sætr’ in Old Norse, or ‘Raven’s Pasture’. A ‘sætr’ can be summer pasture or a dwelling. From the earliest times, when stock was sent up into the hills, a member of the family went with them and lived up there over the summer in a hut, guarding them from wolves and thieves.
Field names are similarly fascinating. We’ve been using a couple of book sources for these as well as the online dictionary Wiktionary . They are Arnold Kellett’s ‘The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition & Folklore’ and Captain John Harland’s ‘A Glossary of Words used in Swaledale, Yorkshire’ dating to 1873. Many have Old Norse elements to them and describe the field’s location such as ‘Ing’ from ‘enga’ meaning ‘meadow, especially by a river’ and ‘Holme’ meaning flat ground by a river liable to flooding, from ‘holmr’ ‘an island’ and ‘Strands’ from Old Norse ‘strǫnd’ meaning ‘border, edge or shore’.
‘Slack’ means a depression or valley, while ‘Garth’ is a paddock or yard.
Several of the project participants have referred to cutting ‘seeaves’ for bedding. These are rushes and the word comes from the Old Norse ‘sef’ for rush.
“Yes we used to mow rushes and bracken and use it for bedding. Bracken was better, rushes, when you spread the muck it didn’t break up as good as bracken, bracken used to break up nice…We used to store it, we had like a baux, above, in the Home Barn and we used to fork it up into there…”
Richard Campbell (75), formerly of Ravenseat farm
“There wasn’t straw…the bed in the big sheds, they put all straw out, but they didn’t buy straw then, no, so the muck they did was in this group they used to call it, without straw, so that was just muck to be quite honest ..the cows went up onto a step and muck went into group…Seeaves…we used to cut them for bedding…well there wasn’t such a thing as proper bedding”
Annas Metcalfe (nee Whitehead) (73), formerly of Ravenseat farm
The ‘Art Barn’ part of the Every Barn project is in the hands of Yorkshire Dales-based artist Helen Peyton. Local charity, the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust has generously funded her to produce a piece of work that we can reproduce on items such as tea towels, tote bags and mugs. We will be offering these to local visitor businesses in the first instance but would like eventually to be able to sell Art Barn souvenirs to help raise money to preserve Swaledale cowhouses into the future.
Helen has been out and about looking for inspiration and she has just sent us this update and photos:
“As you drive over the pass at Buttertubs into Swaledale, it has to be one of the finest views in the whole of the Yorkshire Dales and I am one of the luckiest people because I have been invited by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to make artwork linked to the cowhouses in Swaledale and the project Every Barn Tells a Story.
I start as I always do with any artwork at the museums; my linocuts are based on their collections. I am fascinated by why we collect objects, how our memory and emotions can be linked to them. The stories behind a museum artefact give us a wonderful base to understanding an area, its diversity and traditions.
My first visits were to Keld Resource Centre, Swaledale Museum in Reeth and the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes and between them the wealth of information is captivating. To start with, everything is interesting or beautiful and would make a lovely linocut and I think it is the trickiest aspect of any commission, isolating your interests and just settling on one thing. Immediately I am attracted to cheese and butter production and in particular the butter marks or moulds that imprint a decorative pattern onto the surface, these are particularly pleasing as a printmaker to find something so charming and intricate, similar to the way I cut wood or lino for printing.
Another interest lies in the old packaging, posters and maps from the area…
Watch this space to see which I select to develop into linocuts or letterpress.”
The rain has been falling pretty relentlessly this week and we noticed a few days ago that some hay had been cut near Thwaite, then gathered into pikes and covered with tarpaulins to protect it.
It reminded us of these descriptions of building pikes in order to try and dry green hay before it went into the mew:
“And then above the cow’uss part where the cows were, there was always a section there and we called that the baux…and that’s where the green hay went, specially if you’d had pikes. Pikes were a big mound of grass really, grass hay that wasn’t quite dry enough to go into the mew. So they’d put them into a big pike and cover it and then if it came wet they were covered and if it came fine you had to shake it out, you had to shake these pikes out and if it really …never got dry, it went into the baux to dry out . So it went separate, didn’t go into the hay mew”
Anne Guy (nee Thornborrow) (64) formerly of Frith farm
“I never heard of a lot of loose hay catching fire. They got very, very warm, cos as I say it had to go in as hay, there was no silage made in them days it had to go in as something. But that’s why we had these pikes, made pikes in t’fields. If your hay wasn’t quite ready and good enough and it was going to rain, you ‘piked’ it, you put it into pikes and they stood out for a week to sweat out and then you put it into mews and it came out better stuff.”
Robert Clarkson (69) formerly of Scarr House farm & Black How farm
A major part of the Every Barn Tells a Story project is the production of videos recording the best memories and some of the history of the cowhouses around Muker parish. We have already appointed a film maker to help our in house staff and they have been out and about capturing the glory of the haymeadows before the rain set in.
Yesterday we travelled over to York to visit the team at the Yorkshire Film Archive to have a look through some of their footage with a view to incorporating archive clips into our own footage.
We’d already viewed a film in the collection called Dale Days online here . This was filmed in 1940 by Charles Chislett and shows a group of four children on an idyllic holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. They seem to have been based in Bainbridge in Wensleydale, but make at least one trip over the Buttertubs Pass into Swaledale. We loved this clip of a farmer carrying a rather heavy backcan full of milk up Hunger Hill, Faw Head, near Gayle in Wensleydale.
Later on there is a long sequence showing a farmer handmilking Northern Dairy Shorthorns in a cowhouse and then following the milk in churns to the creamery in Hawes where it is made into cheese. Scenes that would all have been very familiar to our farmers in Swaledale in the 1940s.
We also saw some superb sequences of early haymaking in the Dales including some on original film stock from an old collection which we have arranged to have digitised for the project. All very exciting, so a big thank you to Graham Railton and the team at the YFA.