One of the largest parts of the Every Barn project has been to create new exhibition panels for the Keld Resource Centre. We’re pleased to say that these are now ready to be installed – along with a built-in audio player so we can share some of the voices of the people who have taken part in the project. The interior of the main exhibition room has been fitted out like a cow byre so the panels will work perfectly in the space.
Each panel covers a different aspect of the project, from the historical origins of the unique barns and walls landscape to the Muker Barns restoration project that has been running parallel to the Every Barn project.
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.
The daily round, all winter long, of letting the cows out for water, feeding them, mucking out and so on, usually twice a day is remembered by many of the project’s older participants. William Calvert worked at Crackpot Hall farm as young man.
They had the deserted houses converted into cowhouses that once formed the scattered settlement called Hartlakes, near Keld. Even on a sunny day, it’s quite a spooky spot.
It was quite common to find tramps sleeping in the hay mew of a cowhouse and the young folk of Muker were scared to death of them. William recalls one gloomy evening at Hartlakes when he thought his worst fears had come true:
At the heart of the ‘Every Barn tells a Story’ project are the audio recordings that Glenda Calvert collected for us from around 30 local people. We are sharing many of these as transcripts on lots of different pieces of interpretation but we would also like people to hear the authentic voices of Upper Swaledale so we will be installing various audio posts in exhibitions and also putting them online here. One of our absolute favourites is Jennie Harker’s tale of how her late husband Clifford and his dog Fly saved the lives of two Dutch tourists one winter’s day:
Heavy snow sometimes seems like a thing of the past and it’s can be hard to imagine just what it was like struggling through blizzards every day to feed and water cattle in their distant cowhouses.
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 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]’.
Many of our cowhouses lie in what are called ‘intake’ fields such as the one in this photo near Keld.
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.
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
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.
Swaledale was looking particularly gorgeous last week when we set off to visit some of the businesses working with us on the project. We distributed promotional materials about this blog and also handed over the new Cow’us Code beer mats to Keld Lodge and the Farmers Arms in Muker. Finally we had a chat with Usha Gap camp site about providing their campers with interpretation panels about the cowhouses on their farm.
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