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:
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
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
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?
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.
We have found yet more evidence for late seventeenth century cowhouses in the Muker Manorial Court Books in the shape of the cowhouse on Jordan Close near Thwaite which changed tenant in 1688.
This field took a bit of hunting down as the transcription we have for the 1841 Tithe Map had no field with that number shown. However after a careful search back through the original Tithe Map photos we found what we were looking for just north of Aygill; field no 549 Jordan Close with the cowhouse marked with a red cross below, the tiny field west of it was called Piece and the field west of that was called Jordan Head. In 1841 they were owned by a James Alderson and occupied by one Nanny Alderson – the same family name as the 1688 tenant.
The cowhouse still stands at the end of the tiny field called Piece – whether it is the original 1688 building will need checking by an expert of course. Our Historic Environment Record suggests that it is eighteenth century but enlarged later on.
We had a look round the little village of Thwaite last week. It features on one of our trails and we wanted to check out how many agricultural buildings you walked past on the proposed route. This little cow’us caught our eye, right beside the roadside.
We assume that in days gone by, tourists staying perhaps at local campsites, could call into the farm here and buy milk fresh from the cow. Those were the days!
We also love this little anecdote (there is a well-known campsite at Usha Gap farm):
“The stories used to be…if a young farm lad had had a rough night, the night before, hard work getting up, but get up, go out into the warm [in the cow’uss], get his head into a cow, sat on a stool milking, able to nod off again…just milking the cow, the warmth of the cow”
We are lucky enough to have copies of several old maps for the parish with field names. A cowhouse is often (but not always) called after the field it is in. When we interviewed Sidney & Betty Reynoldson of Thwaite they called one of their cowhouses ‘Dungeons’:
“I know it’s a lot better nowadays, when buildings are all together…you had to go there and here, there…there was one building where we had up at Moor Close, it was quite a way to go to that, we mebbe just mebbe used to go in the once to that…there’s a lot of these buildings, they all had a trough near…all near water, such as our Dungeons and over there and all them, within feet of byres they had water…well some of them had a yard round with water in corner. So they’d build them where there was water. That’s what I always thought.”
We’ve found an old map with a field and cowhouse called Dungeon shown on it near Thwaite but it’s not the one that the Reynoldsons showed us on the maps we had at our open day so we need to do a bit more research on that one, as well as wondering why it had that name in the first place?! Interestingly, we do know that the word ‘Ing’ which can be seen in the next door field, is from the Old Norse and means a meadow, especially one near a river.
We’ve already learned lots about the sorts of things people are interested in when they visit Muker – the barns and walls are of course top of the list. But what’s the thing that puzzles people the most? Well, apparently, everyone wants to know what those lines of sticking-out stones are for that you see on all the barns (and some field walls). They are known as ‘throughs’ or ‘truffs’ in the Swardle dialect. They are long stones that, as their name suggests, run right through the wall thus providing strength. However, we’ve heard one or two other stories….
“… these buildings were well made like, lot of these cow byres, they were all well made. …I tell you, I was once on wi’ a fella and he came and said, “What’s all them ‘throughs’ sticking out there, those truffs?” I said, “they’re for birds to shelter under on a windy day” [lots of laughter]. He said, “I’m not blimmin believing that!”