Muker Show 2017

We’re just back from a wonderful day at Muker Show where we joined the good folk on the Keld Resource Centre stand. They’d brought along the new travelling display unit which was much admired and we were able to talk to lots of visitors and locals about the project. We also met several local visitor businesses and told them all about the posters and photo prints we have available for them.

Travelling Display at Muker Show

Several businesses took framed items away with them and others took our special order form and will be back in touch later.

Naming the parts of the cowhouse

We’ve already mentioned the origins for some of the words used to name the parts of a cowhouse in Swaledale, but we’ve now brought these all together to go with a nicely labelled drawing of a cut-away cowhouse.

Swaledale barn parts

Booses/buses –  the stalls where the cows were tied. A wooden post in the middle of a buse allowed two cows to be tied side-by-side without bumping into each other. Probably from the Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.

Skelbuse – wooden or sometimes stone-built division between the hay store (mew) and the cow stalls (booses). From Old Norse ‘skelja’ meaning to divide & ‘bas’ meaning box. Also called the boose’yead (ie boose-head) in Upper Swaledale.

Group or groop – stone-lined channel behind the stalls (booses), where the cow muck collected.  From Old Norse word ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer.                                                                                                                                                 Boskins – wooden panels or large flagstones forming the division between the stalls (booses), again possibly from Old Norse ‘bas’ meaning box.

 Mew – large open part of the cowhouse where the hay to feed the cows was stored, right up to the rafters. The word ‘mew’ can have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’ but in this case it is more likely to come from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowdAnd indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.

Rudster or rudstake – wooden post to which cattle were tied using a chain, from the Old English ‘rodd’ probably related to Old Norse ‘rudda’ meaning club

 Settlestanes – stones forming a kerb along the back edge of the cow stall. From the Old English ‘stān’ for stone.

Truffs/throughstones – long stones binding together the inner and outer skin of the walls, usually projecting in parallel lines on the outside of the cowhouse.

Foddergang – passage-way linking byre to mew along which hay was carried to feed the cows, from the Old Norse ‘fóthr’ feed & ‘gangr’ to go.

Baux/baulks – wooden loft over cow stalls where green hay and bracken for bedding was stored. Early ‘stick-baux’ were made from wooden poles interwoven with heather. More recent baux were made from sawn planks of wood. From the Old Norse ‘balkr’ and Old English ‘balc’.

Forking’ole A small opening with a door, built high up in the back wall of the mew through which hay was forked into the mew.

 Muck’ole Cow muck collected behind the tethered cows in the group. It was regularly shovelled outside through the muck hole located at the end of the group nearest the hay meadow. The pile of muck was then spread by hand onto the field in order to feed the next hay crop. Muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.

Recess – a small hole built into the inside wall of the byre where a tin ‘budget’ or backcan for carrying milk might be rested along with a candle or lantern or perhaps cattle medicines and a milking pail and stool or ‘coppy’. There were no windows or electric lights inside the cowhouse.

Ventilation holes – hay that hadn’t completely dried could heat up and sometimes catch fire so good ventilation into the mew was essential.

Doors into mew and byre – different cowhouses have different arrangements and numbers of doors. A cowhouse with a single door into the cow byre end is probably an earlier type than one with doors into both the byre and mew. Sometime doors were inserted into older cowhouses. Sometimes they were closed up and new ones created. All part of the individual cowhouse’s story.

Cowhouse Stories: William Calvert

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.

Crackpot Hall

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.

Hartlakes (Mat Robinson)

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:


The ‘Weardale Warriors’

Alongside the wonderful stories and memories of lives spent working in and around Muker’s cowhouses , we have unearthed a tiny number of precious stories from earlier days. We came across the story of the Weardale Warriors being bested by local farmers in Edmund Cooper’s delightful book ‘Muker: the story of a Yorkshire Parish’ published in 1948.

Edmund Cooper’s ‘Muker’

The incident he describes took place in a cowhouse at Crook Seal Farm – long abandoned and itself now used as a cowhouse. The building lies beside the main road out towards Kirkby Stephen in the far western corner of the parish.

Crook Seal (Mat Robinson)

We haven’t been able to identify Rakestraw’s cowhouse – the fields shown on the 1841 Tithe Map around Crook Seal have different names. The ‘moss-troopers‘ he refers to were lawless men from the border regions of Cumbria, Northumberland and Scotland who raided farms all over the north of England in the seventeenth century. In earlier centuries similar groups of raiders were known as border reivers.

“The dalehead was visited about a hundred and twenty years ago [c1828] by poaching miners from Weardale in Durham, who not only came for the game, but carried off sheep and poultry as well. They were known locally as the ‘Weardale Warriors’ and like the ‘moss-troopers’ of centuries before, scared the farmers by their ferocious ways.

One Paul Armstrong was their leader, a man of immense strength, who, with a dozen or so followers with dogs and guns, was usually given a wide berth by the men of Swaledale. On one expedition they were observed by Cherry Kearton, a well-known gamekeeper. He kept watch upon them until evening and when dusk fell he saw them enter Rakestraw’s cowhouse at Crook Seal Farm on the Kirkby Stephen road. As they appeared to be settling down inside for the night, he summoned some local farmers. They were George and Charles Alderson of Stonehouse, Charles Rakestraw of Firs, Charles Alderson of Hill Top Farm, George at Birtle (also an Alderson), Neddy Alderson of Greens, and ‘Harry Tom’ (a Rakestraw) of Hoggarths. Each armed with a shot-gun, they surrounded the cowhouse and waited for dawn. At daybreak, Paul Armstrong was seen at the ‘forking-hole’ and was heard to say: “A fine mornin’ chaps, we mun be up and off.” The Swaledalers, at a given signal jumped to their feet and pointed their guns at him. He swore to shoot anyone who attempted to come near. A shot was fired. The farmers waited. Armstrong, feigning capitulation, attempted to rush the door but was knocked on the head by Neddy Alderson with the butt-end of his gun. Seeing their leader temporarily out of action, the rest surrendered and were marched off.”

Edmund Cooper (1948) Muker: the story of a Yorkshire Parish Dalesman Publishing Co: Clapham p81

Barn owls

While we were filming inside one of the cowhouses near Keld last week, we sadly found a dead barn owl. It had died some time ago but we checked it over and found that it had a British Trust for Ornithology leg ring so we asked our Wildlife team to send it off for us.

Barn Owl (photo: Whitfield Benson)

Barn owls aren’t a common sight up in the Dales and it seems that numbers in Britain declined through the 20th century but are now recovering. They’ve had a particularly good breeding season in the Dales this year. Oddly enough we saw one flying alongside the road near Ribblehead the following day when returning from a trip up to Swaledale.

The BTO report came back really quickly and we discovered that the bird was male and had been ringed in the nest in August 2014 about 14km away in Cumbria. The floor of the cowhouse we found it in was thick with owl pellets so we assume that it’s been used as a roost/nesting place for generations of these wonderful creatures. Some barns were built with small ‘owl holes’ high up on the gable ends as these birds were a welcome visitor helping to keep rodent numbers down.

Filming Muker’s cowhouses

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

The imps of Pith Hill – update

We loved tracking down the locations for Arthur Harwood Brierley’s nineteenth century story about the unmusical imps of Pith Hill cowhouse. Will Swales who first alerted us to the story has now done some further research and seems to have identified the real person behind the unfortunate schoolteacher in the story and why it was that he was so unpopular in Muker. Read all about it on his Swaledale history blog. 

We wondered how people in those days would have pictured an imp and found this wonderful stone carving of a mischievous imp on Lincoln Cathedral – very scary!

Lincoln Cathedral imp

Touring display – update

We were delighted to drop off the panels and promotional materials for a new touring display about the Every Barn project at Keld Resource Centre yesterday.

We are really looking forward to sharing the stories we’ve collected about the cowhouses of Muker more widely and hopefully attracting more visitors to come a stay and explore this beautiful area.

Portable Display A-board

Many of the places you can stay in are actually farmhouses mentioned in the stories, like Pry House farm – a B&B

Pry House B&B

On some, you can even stay in one of the cowhouses featured in the project –  at Swaledale Yurts for instance

Swaledale Yurts bunk barn

Leaflets and posters

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.

Poster and leaflets ready for touring display

Old Norse names

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.

Edmund Cooper’s ‘Muker’

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 ‘thveitmeaning 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’.

Books on Yorkshire Dialect

‘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