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!
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:
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?!
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.
Stone-mullioned window (circled), Angram
Chimney corbel (circled), Angram
Roadside view of early house, now cowhouse, Angram
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.
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
We’re really pleased now to be able to offer local visitor businesses an attractive display panel sharing some of the stories we’ve collected about cowhouses in Muker parish. We’ll match the stories and memories on each panel with the locations they are going into. Keld Lodge for instance, has a lovely picture window in its guest lounge with views towards East Stonesdale farm. We’ve recorded the memories of the farmer that worked there as a young man and so we’ll use a selection of these on their panel. Kearton Country Hotel is based in Thwaite and luckily we have some wondeful recordings from a retired farmer and his wife who still actually live nearby.
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.
We have come across a wonderful book called Swaledale Wills and Inventories 1522-1600 edited by Elizabeth K Berry and published by the Yorkshire Archaeological Society in 1998. It opens a fascinating window onto the lives of people living in the dale during the Elizabethan era. There are no mentions of cowhouses around Muker which was a bit disappointing, though further down the dale at Hudswell, Ciciley Thomson’s inventory of possessions includes ‘five spayned [weaned] calves in ye laithe’ (no 180 dated 1592/3). Laithe is a word used for barn or cowhouse in other parts of the Yorkshire Dales. The only possible barn in the Muker area was mentioned in Simon Alderson of Keld’s will where he leaves his ‘fermhould greinge’ to his son Simon (no 121 dated 1577). A grange can mean a barn (literally, a granary) or it can mean a farmhouse with buildings attached.
Stacks of hay however are mentioned a lot, they clearly formed a noteworthy part of someone’s wealth. The inventory of John Rawe of Ravenseat’s possessions included ‘Item a stack of hay and a peece of another’ worth 20 shillings (no 204 dated 1598). Phyllis Alldersonn of Thwaite had ‘Item haye’ worth £3 6s 8d (no 209 dated 1600).
Even more important were the beasts. Cattle are head and shoulders above sheep in terms of their value. The various types of animals are also carefully listed and priced accordingly. Edmund Harcaye of Thwaite lists ’11 kyne [cows] and one wheye [a heifer or young cow of up to three years old or until calved]’ worth £16 16s 8d – the most valuable things he owned. Plus ‘one bull price 26s 8d’. Then ‘8 stotes [young male cattle one to three years old]’ and finally ‘8 twinter [two year old] stotes and wheyes’ (no 177 dated 1591).
It’s not clear if these animals are for meat or milk, however, many inventories list dairying items so we think most were kept for the production of butter for sale and cheese for the household. John Rawe mentioned above was a husbandman which means he didn’t have his own farm. His inventory shows he wasn’t a wealthy man, he has one sheet and ‘a sacke’ listed, but he does have three cows and two calves along with ‘a chirne [butter churn] and towe old kittes [a wooden vessel for carrying milk and butter among other things]’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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?