Glenda Calvert has been working on a children’s ‘Every Barn…’ walk leaflet with a group of local children. As a reward for all their hard work, she and her husband Chris laid on a hay timing afternoon at Pry House farm for them, complete with ‘drinkings’ at the end. The children learned how to use wooden hay rakes to row up the hay, build foot cocks and jockeys – it was absolutely fascinating to watch Chris demonstrating these age-old techniques. Everyone worked really hard and thoroughly enjoyed the slap up tea that Glenda had laid on afterwards – best cheese scones ever!
We were lucky to have photographer Stephen Garnett along too to capture both the fun and the hard work. Even more amazingly, the sun shone all afternoon – we experienced a truly magical day in upper Swaledale.
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.
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.
We’ve already shared some of the wonderful family photos that local people have let us scan for the project, here on this blog. We’ve now found a whole load more evocative old photos in the collections at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Not all of them come from Swaledale but they are pretty special as some are really early. Here are some of the the highlights. Firstly some dairying pics, probably from Wensleydale.
And next, some haymaking images, some we know are from Swaledale, others may be from Wensleydale or elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales:
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.
Our research into the Rievaulx Abbey documents has thrown an interesting light on what farming looked like in Swaledale in the medieval period. Hay and the meadows it was grown in were clearly important but so too was the right to graze animals in what we call ‘wood pastures’ on the hillsides and this included cutting branches off trees so animals could eat the leaves.
Ivelet Wood just across the river from Muker has been identified as an original piece of wood pasture which was ‘common’ or shared land where, from the earliest times, commoners had the right to graze their stock and also have access to woodland to supply firewood and sometimes timber. As grazing pressure has reduced on this relatively remote steep valley side, the trees have become more dominant.
Part of the grant of land in Swaledale to Rievaulx was the right to lead cattle to and from the wood pastures so long as they avoided going through cornfields and meadows [segetibus et pratis]. Given that they were also given the right to catch wolves it’s possible that cattle were only grazed out during daylight hours and brought back into the safety of shelters called lodges in the document [logias].
A party of national park staff went out on a working holiday to a village in Romania earlier this year and they found that the villagers look after their cows in exactly the same way – leading them out in a communal herd in the morning and then bringing them back and letting them make their own way to their individual cowhouses at night. They even cut branches off trees as fodder. There the danger is from bears as well as wolves!
Find out more about historic woodland in the Yorkshire Dales on our Out of Oblivion website.
Bringing in the hay has always been a family affair up in Muker. It was hot, dusty work though – ‘bringing out the drinkings’ was essential at regular intervals during the day.
“Especially in haytime, it was a family event, I mean, everybody mucked in, the women as well, I mean they had to break off to go and make the meals and they used to bring the meals out into the hayfield in a basket, and a can of tea…I remember me mother used to make fruit pies on a tin plate, and she used to send a whole pie”
Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat Farm
This lovely photo was brought along to our last Open Day for us to scan – we wonder what that stone jar had in it – ginger beer maybe?
This large, late eighteenth century cowhouse is one of the first ones you will see on your way down into Swaledale from the famous Buttertubs Pass. Its prominent position above the dale is perhaps the reason why we have collected several stories about it from people who once used it. It stands in Banty Field which has now gone back to rushes but was once a fine haymeadow. Dorothy Brown remembers all too well one long hot day having to work there:
“The story about Banty that always sticks in my mind, the cow’uss, in haymaking time. It didn’t matter what you were doing or how ill you felt, at that point, one day I was feeling really grotty…..and my father said, ‘right, we have to get this hay in, it’s going to rain’, and we went into the cowhouse, there’d be one of my uncles and me sister and I, and we had to tramp the hay down right to the rafters and it was hot, it was dusty. You didn’t wear trousers, you had cotton skirts so the hay prickled your legs, it was horrible. I would say it was one of the most awful experiences of me life really, uncomfortable, and just hard, because you couldn’t breath either and you had to cram as much hay in as you could, to the rafters, so then when you’d got right to the last little bit and you’d got it then you could crawl out of the forking hole window and they’d help you down to the bottom….”
Dorothy Brown (nee Clarkson) formerly of Scarr House Farm