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.
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.
We’ve had a rather nice drawing done for the project showing all the different dialect names for the parts of a cowhouse. We collected these from local people during the various open days we held earlier on in the project.
As with our last post, many of these dialect names have Old Norse origins, like skelbuse from ‘skelja’ meaning ‘to divide’; boose from ‘bas’ probably meaning box and group or groop from ‘grop’ meaning drain or open sewer. Even muck comes from the Old Norse word ‘myki’ meaning manure or dirt.
Not everyone agreed on the names. The skelbuse was also known as the boose heads or boos’yeads.
“They knew which ‘boos’, which is what we called the, you know, they were in sections, usually a stone slab that way on [stone stalls?] yes..boos’yeads, don’t know how you spell that! And the cows knew which one to go into…”
Margaret Fawcett (nee Alderson) (74), formerly Skeugh Head farm
‘Mew’ is a harder word to unpick. At face value it looks like it comes from the same origins as ‘mow’ as in cutting the hay, but it can also have the meaning of ‘to shut away or confine’. More likely though is from the Old English ‘mūga‘ and Old Norse ‘múgi’ having meanings of stack, swathe or crowd. And indeed ‘mow’ descends from these too.
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