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.
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.
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