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
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!
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!
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.
We were rather excited to see the layouts for the first of our six project walk booklets today. After months of research, writing, route testing and taking just the right photograph of every single stopping point, it’s lovely to at last see them taking shape. Packed full of stories and memories as well as lots of interesting historical information, photographs and drawings, we think that they will really enhance a visit to this part of Upper Swaledale.
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.
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
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 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.