Dairying has been at the heart of the Wensleydale economy since records began and is still thriving today. The legacy of this dairying heritage is all around, from barns and milk churn stands to cheese press stones and dairies. Evidence from prehistoric farmsteads and field boundaries hints at the farming of cattle since at least the Iron Age.
Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy Wensleydale’s beautiful scenery and also sample the products of the famous local dairying industry, from the eponymous cheese through to ice creams, cream teas; curd tarts and locally churned butter.
The Dairy Days project aims to research and share the story of the industry that helped shaped Wensleydale’s landscape and which still plays such an important part in the local economy. The project is funded by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority with a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Follow the Dairy Days blog to find out how we get on and how you can get involved.
For further information, contact the Dairy Days project manager on 01756 751619 or email@example.com
We’ve already shared some of ethnographer Werner Kissling’s photographs of cheese-making on this blog and now we have had a sequence showing butter-making on the same farm in Swaledale in the early 1960s digitised for us by the people over at Leeds University Library.
We visited the dairy competition displays at the Great Yorkshire Show yesterday – what a wonderful display from butters to ice cream to yoghurt and of course cheese. We particularly enjoyed comparing the colour and risen cream content of these milk exhibitors’ entries.
The Wensleydale Creamery was there of course and we were pleased to see they were among the prize winners including a silver card for their traditional style Kit Calvert cheese.
Our volunteers are busy testing out the various walk routes we will be publishing over the coming months. One has been having a lovely time in Castle Bolton chatting to various people and collecting some amazing photos of local farming families – we especially loved this set of photos of Jimmy the donkey who we’ve met already in a couple of blogs. He belonged to the Bostock family who Ian Spensley knew well as a child. Steve Bostock kindly loaned them so we could have them scanned for the Dairy Days archive.
The donkey was an essential part of the farm workforce, helping to carry full back cans of milk up from the fields where the cows were milked every day.
Our education specialist Heather Hodgson has put together a really interesting Dairy Days-themed project for local secondary schools. Last week thirty students from The Wensleydale School in Leyburn enjoyed a full day of exploring the history & traditions of dairying – with demos at the Wensleydale Creamery, quizzes at the Dales Countryside Museum and a visit to a traditional Dales farm, Lowlands in Askrigg.
With sophisticated grazing systems already in place the Roman army had little trouble setting up supplies of meat and dairy products when they arrived in Wensleydale in the first century AD. The Roman fort at Bainbridge must have sucked in farm produce from all over the dale and beyond.
We are well on with writing the texts for the exhibition panels for our Dales Countryside Museum show in September now. We’ve reached the period of the First World War and it’s been fascinating following up some more of the research that Val Slater and Geoffrey Keeble of the Middleham & Dales Local History Group have been doing. One character they sent me information about was Herbert Banks whose family lived and worked for the Listers at Fleensop, a remote farm in Coverdale.
A journey down a quiet back road between Middleham and Coverham will take you past a derelict building which was once a pioneering cheese factory. Coverham Dairy was one of two dairies founded by Alfred Rowntree and his wife Margeurite in the early years of the twentieth century. Thanks to a fascinating archive of photos and newspaper clippings sent to us by their grandson Charles Rowntree, we can now tell a little of the dairy’s story.
We had an absolutely glorious day in West Burton with a group of nine Dales Volunteers and two job experience teenagers yesterday. The aim was to both check up on their skills as guided walk leaders and introduce them to the Dairy Days walk routes and research that we are in the middle of preparing.
We are just putting the finishing touches to the research behind our latest Dairy Days walk which starts in Carperby. One of the characters we wanted to feature was a Mrs Willis of Carperby who carried off most of the cheesemaking prizes at the Yorkshire Agricultural Show held in Beverley in 1894. The vicar of Askrigg refers to her in the September edition of his parish magazine that year:
“At the recent Show of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, held at Beverley, Mrs Willis, of Carperby, suceeded in carrying off four out of five prizes offered for Wensleydale Cheeses, her exhibits being placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th; while Mrs Brown, of Marske, occupied the 4th place. I cannot help thinking it is a pity that our local cheese-makers do not more frequently compete at the Yorkshire and other good shows, as to do so is one of the best possible means of calling public attention to what is undoubtedly one of the most important industries of the district.” ‘Dawn of Day’ Askrigg Parish Magazine September 1894.
We had a rather damp morning checking some of the details of our Dairy Days walk up Waldendale from West Burton yesterday. Highlights included finding the interior wooden skelbuse and foddergang of a barn near Town Head farm still intact. The foddergang or booseheads divided the stalls where the cows were tied in the winter, from the hay mew where their feed was stored. The foddergang is the narrow passageway alongside the booses or stalls allowing the farmer access into the mew.
Face-to-face interpretation is a fantastic way to share stories. Our wonderful Dales Volunteers regularly take people out on guided walks so that they can enjoy our lovely scenery and also learn something about it on the way.
Wensleydale today is renowned for its cheese, but in days gone by, butter was at least as important a product of the farmhouse dairy. The nineteenth century butter market in Hawes drew traders and buyers from a wide area. Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby wrote in their book ‘Life & Tradition’ that on one day in spring 1878, 7000lbs of butter were sold at Hawes market and 3000lbs was usual. The Buttertubs swallow holes alongside the pass over into Swaledale were supposedly given that name because traders left surplus butter in their cool depths rather than haul it all the way back home after trying to sell it in Hawes.
We’ve recently been alerted to the work of Castle Bolton-based artist Fred Lawson by one of our local researchers Marjorie Iveson.
She put us in contact with author John Duncalfe who has published a book on his life called ‘Fred Lawson 1888-1968: A Painter’s Life’ and Fred Lawson’s niece Trixie Walker. Both have been very happy to send along relevant images of Fred’s work featuring dairying in Wensleydale. The ubiquity of the dairy cow is the first thing you notice.
Trixie also sent this delightful quotation from Fred Lawson about an evening sketching:
“I enclose a drawing I did in an old yard here the other night, it is next to the castle and has always a shadowy romantic feel about it. When I started the yard was full of cows waiting to be milked, but as we were a bit crushed and they kept backing into me, I got a bit tired of them and did not put any in the drawing. When I got it home and propped it up to have a look at it, I got a strong desire to put a group of little old men with long beards sitting near the building and having a chat, and perhaps one peeping out of the forking hole.” Excerpts from Fred Lawson’s Letter from the Dales 1950 & 1951
Fred lived in Castle Bolton almost all his adult life and John Duncalfe sent us these lovely family photographs featuring the famous milk delivery donkey in Castle Bolton which appeared in Country Life magazine.
Fred was mostly interested in painting outdoors but John Duncalfe has included two wonderful scenes inside cow byres in his book. One is a pen and ink drawing showing dairy maids with cows on a farm at Finghall near Leyburn dating to the 1920s.
The other shows Albert Spensley (uncle of Ian Spensley) feeding a pet lamb inside a huge barn at Castle Bank Farm, Castle Bolton. The foddergang and skelbuse dividing the hay mew off from the cow stalls (booses) are all shown. It dates to 1912. These early twentieth pictures are important because they pretty much predate the earliest photographs we might have so we’re very grateful for permission to reproduce them here.
There are so many dairying stories to tell around Hawes that we actually have two walks planned, both starting from the Dales Countryside Museum. One heads north across Haylands Bridge, to Hardraw, uphill to Simonstone then through a wonderful set of haymeadows with field barns to Sedbusk and then back downhill to Hawes. Our research revealed the medieval layout of land around Sedbusk, with a common meadow spreading west along the hillside, once farmed communally when the village was a vaccary, or large cattle farm, belonging to the Lords of Middleham. Tenant farmers took over from peasants and the meadow was divided up and ‘doled’ out. We know this because several of the fields on the 1840 Tithe map have the name ‘dale’ which comes from ‘dole’.
Similarly, a large area of common pasture north of the village was divided up and ‘allotted’ to villagers who previously had ‘beastgates’ on it which allowed them to graze one cow per beastgate on the communal pasture.
Our second trail runs east out of Hawes though haymeadows to Burtersett
We loved the paved paths through the meadows, originally put down for quarry workers, but weren’t quite so keen on the really narrow and rather well-named ‘squeeze’ stiles.
There were plenty of interesting features, such as troughs and culverted water courses but we didn’t manage to spot the stackstands which are supposed to be visible from the path.
The trail returns at a higher level to Gayle and of course the Wensleydale Creamery!
In a previous blog post Early Factory Production of Cheese, we looked at the beginnings of what today is a business with an internationally-known brand, the Wensleydale Creamery. We left the story in 1933 with local farmer Kit Calvert about to step in to save what had become a lifeline for dairy farmers in Upper Wensleydale:
“…if the creamery was shut we’d nowhere for our milk. Nobody else would buy. So we would have been at a loss because a number of the farmers couldn’t attempt to make cheese of it because they hadn’t the equipment. Quite a number of them had been selling milk for years to these away merchants, and by way of being unfortunates they’d not got the renewed contracts and they’d had to fall back on the creamery when their Manchester or Leeds buyers had plenty of milk. And so therefore they were at a loss.” Bill Mitchell interview with Kit Calvert (1979)
At that point the Wensleydale Dairy as it was then known, was being run by an ex-army man, Captain Goodwin. He’d bought the dairy in 1927 after staying in Wensleydale on holiday. Previous to that it had been briefly run by local farmer and cattle dealer Edward Preston who we met in David Mason’s oral history recording.
Captain Goodwin proved to be a poor businessman, not helped by the deep economic depression the country was plunged into at the time. By 1933 he was in major trouble as Kit Calvert records:
“He owed his suppliers about six months’ money and then he called us all together and said he couldn’t pay. Instead of bankrupting the captain we formed a committee of creditors to run the factory. I was elected onto the committee and we kept his place going all through the summer until the Milk Marketing Board came into being on 5th October that year. We made enough money to clear all debts and pay ourselves out, and we gave the captain his factory back, plus £60 we had left over.” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source pp80-81
Here’s Kit Calvert describing the decision to hand back the factory, in an interview with Bill Mitchell:
“‘Well now, we’ve so much money and it’s not our business. I think this old gentleman ought to have it back again. He can’t help but mek money for himself now. We don’t want to tek money off ‘im, so we can pay twelve shilling in the pound on his debts and we’ll give a sixteen pound cheese.’ So that’s how we settled wer debt, we gave twelve shilling in the pound for what were owing to ‘im, and one ol’ farmer ‘ad about seventy pound [of cheese]. He said, ‘What the devil is it I’m goin’ to do with 76 eight pound cheeses? I can’t eat that lot.’ He said, ‘Give us twelve bob, it’s more than I expected..'” Bill Mitchell interview with Kit Calvert (1979)
With government support, the newly-formed Milk Marketing Board “took full responsibility for the marketing of the nation’s milk supply” (Kit Calvert (1946)‘The Story of Wensleydale Cheese’ p11). It bought milk from farmers at a guaranteed price and then sold it back to cheesemakers like the Wensleydale Dairy. Kit and his committee had proved that it was possible to still turn a profit making cheese under this new regime.
Unfortunately, Captain Goodwin (‘the old gentleman’) ran the factory back into the ground again just two years later. He had at least been scrupulous about paying local suppliers and farmers like Kit, but this left him with about a £4,000 debt to the Milk Marketing Board for milk supplied. In 1935, the Board decided to foreclose on the business. Express Dairies offered to take milk from the local farmers instead but this meant the closure of the cheese factory in Hawes and problems for the more remote farms:
“I realised the gravity of this changed situation, especially to many small milk producers who had no satisfactory water supplies laid on at their farms and therefore could not cool their milk for long distance delivery by road or rail” ‘Kit Calvert: The Complete Dalesman’ 1981 Dalesman Books
Luckily the amount of cheese stockpiled in the factory prevented an immediate foreclosure by the Milk Marketing Board:
“When they inspected the creamery they were dismayed to find the place jammed with 150 tons of unsold cheeses. This was probably the largest concentration of Wensleydale cheese ever seen, but it stopped the Board from forcing a liquidation because there would inevitably have been a slump on the market” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source p81
Kit Calvert apparently then stood up in the market place in Hawes and persuaded his fellow farmers that it was in their own financial interest to keep the factory going and not to take the Express Dairies’ offer. They agreed and he led a second fight to save the making of cheese in Hawes. He had realised that Express Dairies were far too keen to get hold of their milk from the Milk Marketing Board. They were building a new dairy in Leyburn as well as the one they already had in Appleby and eager for cheap milk. In other words they were probably going to turn a tidy profit at the local farmers’ expense. When the farmers were called in to sign the new milk contract two or three at a time in a small room in the Board Inn in Hawes, Kit smelled a rat:
“… and we get notified by that morning, 28th February that would we meet the Milk Marketing Board representative at ‘The Border Hotel’ [sic] at two o’clock. And so we were all in town, but I was as being knowing amongst the farmers and I told them, I says, ‘It’s to mek money.’ I knew it would mek money with the bit of experience I’d had. Of course I did pump the ol’ man [Captain Goodwin]. I said, ‘How much does t’Milk Board sell your milk for?’ Oh, well it had got up to about thruppence ha’penny. And so I resisted, and when the Milk Marketing Board representative came he called us to come and sign this contract, two or three at a time as he only had a little room, I rallied the farmers together and said what we weren’t signing without knowing more about it.” Bill Mitchell interview with Kit Calvert (1979)
Kit then demanded that the meeting take place as a collective, brushing aside excuses that there were no larger rooms in ‘the village’, stating indignantly that Hawes was a market town and marching across to the Hawes Market House to find space for all the farmers to meet with both the Board’s representative from Newcastle and Mr Crosby from Express Dairies.
The Board’s man then found the farmers standing in a group outside the hall and he admonished them to Kit’s obvious annoyance:
” ‘Now come along gentleman, the sooner we start the sooner we’ll get you all signed up because I want to be making back to Newcastle.’ ‘We’re not inclined to come.’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘if you don’t come there’s nowhere for your milk tomorrow.’ ‘Oh,’ I says, ‘yes, we have.’ ‘There’s nowhere you can sell your milk other than to the Milk Marketing Board.’ ‘Aye,’ I said, ‘we can find a place for it.’ ‘Where?’ I said, ‘Maybe down the drain.’ ‘There’s no farmer is going to produce milk to just pour down the drain? Whose goin’ to pay for milk down the drain?’ I says, ‘Maybe the Milk Marketing Board.’ He says, ‘The Milk Marketing Board will not pay for milk that’s wasted.’ ‘Well, they do what they’re told.’ ‘Who can tell ‘em?’ I said, ‘Somebody will tell ‘em, maybe the biggest manager in the Milk Marketing Board.’ He said, ‘Explain yourself.’ ‘Aye,’ I said, ‘I can soon explain myself. You said we were goin’ to ‘ave a public meeting if I got this building, and I got it. And you said that you would bring Mr Crosby out, but you haven’t done. So you’re failin’ not me.’ Bill Mitchell interview with Kit Calvert (1979)
Mr Crosby was eventually produced, but it took a week of hard negotiating before Kit and the farmers he represented got the deal they wanted from the Board and Express Dairies, which included a contract for 500 gallons of milk (a week? It’s not clear).
Eventually Kit and his fellow negotiators also struck a deal over the debt with the Milk Marketing Board – they got the cheese factory for free if they paid off an outstanding mortgage of £500 on the property. The deal got stuck over the fate of the mountain of cheese left in the factory. The Board wanted to leave it behind, Kit refused, “I told ’em it was cheese that sunk the captain and it would sink us if we took it.” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source p81
The Board finally capitulated and the brand new owners sold shares locally at £1 each, raising over £1000 in capital with Kit buying £100’s worth. However, all was not settled because when Kit arrived to take over the running of the business, the cheese mountain was still there. He had to pester the Board until finally they sent along a fleet of lorries to ferry it away. Years later he discovered it had been sent to a Quaker charity in Whitehaven. They’d been offered 20 tonnes which they duly paid for at a much reduced price, only to find dozens and dozen more tons arriving than they asked for, filling every nook and cranny in their property:
” ‘We just couldn’t get rid of it, there was so much. Even the poor and unemployed got sick of it. Then that summer we had a really hot spell. We hadn’t realised it should be racked to allow air to circulate and the stuff started to melt. Then it began to smell so badly that I lost all my staff. The fat was running out of the rooms and into the passageway and the yard. I’ve never seen such a mess in my life.'” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source p82
In the end the director of the charity was forced to bring in some unemployed miners to dig it out and throw it down a disused mine shaft!
Kit took over the management of the factory and turned a profit in his first year of over 100% on the capital invested. He’d offered to defer his salary until the end of this first year and was rather surprised when his co-directors offered to pay him just a pound a week:
“I’d been paying a man twenty-five shillings a week, plus keep, to look after my farm for me. But I said nowt and took it. At the next meeting, however, I said I wanted £3. Well they nearly threw a fit and when the next edition of the local paper came out I discovered they had advertised my job” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source p83
Kit wasn’t the sort of man to take that lying down. He asserted his right as a director to help select his successor, then on the day set aside for the short-listing interviews he said he wasn’t turning up for work the following day. The directors hurriedly backed down, dismissing the four candidates who’d turned up for the interviews and offering him the £3 a week he’d asked for. To their horror, he refused, saying he now wanted £4 a week and the job of managing director. They gave in and never challenged his authority again.
Kit established a good working relationship with the Milk Marketing Board who saw the difficulties that Wensleydale cheesemakers in general were having with declining markets in the coal fields of the north east and cotton towns of the Colne valley due to the economic depression of the 1930s. They worked with cheese producers like Kit; with cheese factors and with farmhouse cheesemakers to establish ‘The Wensleydale Cheese Joint Conference’ which met at Darlington almost every fortnight from 1936 to 1939. It oversaw a voluntary system of price-fixing and co-operation among members which amongst other things helped restore the quality of the cheese being produced as well as opening up new markets.
The Second World War brought further challenges. As we discussed in the blog post Traditional cheesemaking, the need to grade cheese for the purposes of rationing in 1940, ultimately led to the end of traditional farmhouse cheesemaking in Wensleydale. Wartime conditions also meant that milk was sometimes diverted away from cheesemaking altogether:
“For long ‘a bit of Wensleydale’ had been regarded in many north country homes as one of the delicacies of Christmas fare and there was a strong seasonal demand at this time. Prior to the war tens of thousands of 1 lb and 2 lb ‘smalls’ had been manufactured each November and December, yet the supply rarely equalled the demand…The first wartime Christmas found Britain short of milk for liquid requirements, caused by the dislocation of imports of condensed milk from the continent of Europe, and the Milk Marketing Board found it necessary to divert all milk to the liquid market…no Wensleydale cheeses were available for Christmas 1939 which brought disappointment to a large consuming market.” Kit Calvert (1946)‘The Story of Wensleydale Cheese’p22
When the rationing of cheese was introduced in May 1941, the far-sighted members of the Wensleydale Cheese Joint Conference forged a relationship with Professor E. Capstick, Director of the Butter and Cheese Division of the Ministry of Food. Thanks to that relationship and through fairly blunt negotiations, special measures were put in place which involved the Joint Conference setting up a trading company guaranteeing to buy the whole of the local industry’s output from the Ministry and becoming distributors of that cheese to the trade. They had to guarantee they had enough capital to do this and above all, storage space. The latter actually proved to be a great advantage – members stored cheese in their premises all over the Yorkshire Dales with further stores in Stockton and Lancashire, making them much harder to bomb than a single centralised store would have been.
The final condition of the deal with the Ministry was harder to organise. The new company had to guarantee that it could dispose of the industry’s total output whatever the individual cheese ration per person might be. Cheesemakers Rowntree’s of Leyburn stepped in by offering to balance any shortfall or excess and so the company fulfilled all its obligations:
“This was to be proved by later events, a significant achievement, as Wensleydale cheese was the only territorial type that withstood the first onslaught of rationing; Leicester, Stilton, Gloucester, and Caerphilly makes had all been obliged to go out of production.” Kit Calvert (1946)‘The Story of Wensleydale Cheese’p25
Saving factory production of cheese within the restrictions imposed by the rationing scheme was sadly at the expense of the farmhouse cheesemaker as Kit reflected in 1946 with rationing still in place:
“Pickled Wensleydales accepted by the connoisseur of territorial cheeses as the aristocrat of the table, cannot pass the Ministry’s grading standards because of the high percentage of liquid left in the cheese, and the susceptibility to moulding. This high liquid content gives to the cheese a heavy evaporation shrinkage, thereby making it unsuitable for distribution within the Ministry’s rationing scheme.” Kit Calvert (1946)‘The Story of Wensleydale Cheese’p28
The Wensleydale Dairy survived against all the odds and by 1953 had outgrown its former woollen mill premises besides Gayle Beck in the centre of Hawes. A brand new factory was built in Gayle that year and the business was renamed ‘Wensleydale Creameries Ltd’. Under Kit’s guidance, the business had rapidly expanded after the war, buying up other smaller dairies in the area and establishing another factory in Kirkby Malzeard.
As Kit’s daughter Florence Garnett recalled in an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 2006, business in the new factory in Hawes thrived:
“In 1953 he built a new creamery in Hawes. He introduced the “baby Wensleydale”, a 1lb cheese which the average household might buy weekly. About 50,000 were sold in the first year; production rose to 250,000 per year by the 1960s. The Milk Marketing Board purchased Wensleydale Creamery for [£]500,000 in 1966 but persuaded Mr Calvert to continue to run it. In 1967 he retired.” ‘Dale hero who was one of the people’ Yorkshire Post 19 Sept 2006
Kit Calvert retired a wealthy man, and his original investors also came away well rewarded. He made certain conditions before he agreed to sell to the Board:
“Some old business connections had to be maintained, and the factory at Hawes, which took 8,000 gallons a day and employed 140 people, was not to be closed in my lifetime.” ‘King of Wensleydale’ unknown source p87
Kit Calvert died in 1984 aged 80. In 1980, the Milk Marketing Board formed a new processing division called Dairy Crest, and it took over running the factory in Hawes. Ian Millward joined as manager in 1983 and under his leadership the factory continued to produced prize-winning cheese.
However, farmer Neil Haworth told us that it wasn’t long before Dairy Crest began to asset strip the factory and neglect the buildings with the ultimate aim of centralising Wensleydale cheese production in their Longridge plant over in Lancashire. In May 1992 they closed the factory in Hawes with the loss of 59 jobs. Six months later, a management buy-out succeeded in re-opening the business and in the years since, the Wensleydale Creamery has gone from strength-to-strength, achieving European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for their world-famous Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese in 2013. A brand new factory was opened on the Gayle site in 2015 and today the factory employs 200 people with an annual turnover of £27 million. They contribute around £12 million to the local economy. A fact that Kit Calvert would have been particularly proud of.
“Kit was very good, he took on anybody who was wanting a job, and he would train them up, and probably wouldn’t be able to pay them a lot but it would give them a job and a bit of self-respect and anybody who was out of work would say ‘I’ll have to go up t’Dairy and Kit’ll set me on’ and he always did and great credit to him, that was a very good paternalistic attitude.” David Dinsdale Mason (79), formerly of Leyburn
We’ve just taken delivery of a boxful of lovely postcards, featuring some of our favourite photographs from the project so far along with an appropriate quotation from one of our oral history participants.
We aim to distribute them to some of the local visitor businesses that we have been working with – they can hand them out to their customers and help get the project more widely known.
A major part of the interpretation that we hope to offer as part of the Dairy Days project will be a set of seven walk booklets introducing visitors to the hidden heritage of dairying around Wensleydale. We’ve now begun work on the the first of these walks – around Askrigg.
The route has been selected by our ranger Nigel Metcalfe who knows the area well and consists of a main loop from Askrigg up to Skell Gill and back via Mill Gill, with an extra shorter loop around Askrigg Bottoms to take in some of the history of dairying at Lowlands Farm that we learned about last week.
We already have quite a few fascinating stories about dairying in Askrigg itself, such as Amy Scarr nee Mason‘s memories as a child of making cheese at Mason’s Dairy:
“They gathered milk from ‘The Common’, Worton, Abbotside, and Newbiggin etc. on a low wagon pulled by a horse. The cheese was not quite like ‘Farmhouse’ being deeper in colour, but it was very good and very rich.” Amy Scarr nee Mason (unknown date)
But we’ve also been finding out new information, such as the fact that in the late nineteenth century, Askrigg briefly restarted its weekly Thursday market when they heard the Wensleydale railway was coming:
“An eye-witness recorded a show of pigs, poultry, and seven hundred sheep, that many tradesmen set up stalls, and that farmers’ wives displayed baskets of butter at the cross” Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby (1953) ‘A Yorkshire Village’ p180
As we followed the trail along the line of the old railway we passed the site of Fors Abbey where a small number of Savigniac monks founded their short-lived abbey in 1145. They had several hundred sheep and forty cows and were certainly making cheese and probably butter as they declared that “they were confident that they could find bread, ale, cheese and butter for the first year” ‘Victoria County History’ Richmondshire 23 The Abbey of Jervaulx.
Their landownership we discovered had far-reaching consequences long after they had been absorbed by the Cistercian order and relocated to Jervaulx. Evidence for this comes from an early seventeenth century survey of the Manor of Wensleydale or Dale Grange which was essentially the monastic estate. Three of the hillside pastures where they grazed their cows form part of the walk route, known since at least 1605 as ‘Brakinbarr’ ie Breconbar, ‘the Spenn’ and ‘Grainger Gill’ ie Grange Gill. Thomas Stuart Willan & Ely Wilkinson Crossley (eds) (2014) ‘Three Seventeenth Century Yorkshire Surveys’ p6-7
We pass Yorescott farm from which we have a set of detailed mid-nineteenth century farm account books belonging to dairy farmer James Willis as well as a collection of photographs from the Hopper family who farmed there a hundred years later.
Field names form a fascinating part of the research, and land ownership and tenancies add another dimension to the research for the walk. From the 1840 Tithe records for Low Abbotside we’ve been learning about a farmer called Ann or Anna Pratt, who lived on the site of the monastic farm or grange, called Dale Grange. By the nineteenth century, the name of the little group of houses had been shortened to Grange, it lies near the turning off the Askrigg to Hawes road down to Bainbridge. She owned a cluster of meadows and a cow barn way up Skelgill Lane, another barn near Helm and a large meadow called Great Close to the west of Grange alongside the Askrigg road. From the 1841 census record we found that she was aged 50 and farmed all of this with just the help of one servant called John Ash.
The hamlet of Skell Gill where Anna had some of her meadows takes us back further in time even than the monks of Fors, our archaeology survey work has mapped what may be an early medieval farmstead, and the name Skell comes from the Old Norse skali meaning a shieling or summer pasturing site.
We pass through Anna Pratt’s fields and then on to New Park which is where we believe her servant John Ash ended up twenty years later, married and renting 12 acres of farmland. The route then returns to Askrigg past a little outpost of the Manor of Wensleydale in High Abbotside township, a cluster of meadows called Storra Flatts.
Once we’ve completed researching all these stories and maybe adding a few new ones, our volunteers will be checking the routes and taking photographs ready for us to then turn them into the first of our colourful printed walk booklets.
Farmer John Amsden was one of the many people that we met at our project launch event early last year. Sally Stone went along to interview him late last year at his home in Carperby and they had a wide ranging discussion about dairying on a large estate and the state of dairy farming in general.
We had a delightful day yesterday, dodging hail showers while visiting Heather Hodgson at Lowlands Farm. We’ve already met her father-in-law David Hodgson through his oral history recording, so it was fascinating to actually have a look round the farm he talks about in such detail.
Working with local businesses to help us share our Dairy Days stories is a key part of the next phase of the project, now that the research and recording side of things is gradually coming to a close. Yesterday we went out to meet three more visitor businesses keen to find out what we can offer. The first was the Corn Mill Tearoom in Bainbridge. We already know how delicious their food is and how they use local dairy products as much as possible, as they have catered for some of our volunteer training days.
We’ve already met David Hodgson because our museum manager Fiona went out to see an old milk cooler he owns. He has farmed at Lowlands in Askrigg all his life so we were also keen to record his memories for the project.
We’ve already written about the rather wonderful prospect of a milk vending machine returning to Wensleydale courtesy of Ben & Adam Spence of ‘The Home Farmer‘ so we were delighted to be invited over to their farm near Aysgarth earlier this week to have a tour and discuss how the Dairy Days project might work with them.
The horsebox with the vending machine was off being branded up but we did see samples of the various milk bottles they’ve had designed to go into it. We love the glass one, which people can reuse over and over again. The intention is to move the unit from village to village up the dale on a rota system – we’ll post details once they are firmed up.
Neil Haworth’s contact details were passed on to us by a member of the National Park Farm Team who shared a train journey with him back from a conference. It turned out that he had a very interesting story to tell about his involvement with the dairy industry in Wensleydale through pig farming. He was interviewed by Maggie Townsend at his farm in Garsdale late last year.
He started by describing how, having left the Army, where he had served in Cyprus in the 1950s, he set himself up breeding pigs while working part-time on a nearby farm at Churchtown, near Garstang in Lancashire. Fate took a hand when a well-known Lancashire pig farmer, Bill Richardson, approached him with a life-changing offer. Bill sold pigs from his farm in Fylde, near Blackpool, to the Walls meat company in Manchester and he used to deal with the manager there called Harry Whittle. Bill arranged to meet Neil to discuss his proposition:
“…we met in the local pub, The Horns Inn, in Churchtown, and he said ‘You’re a young, likely lad, look as if you’ve some work about you. You wouldn’t like t’come into partnership with me? Because I’ve heard that in Hawes, in North Yorkshire, that the Wensleydale Cheese factory,’ which…was a cottage industry then…'[was] going to be bought by the Milk Marketing Board, and Harry Whittle has told me, informed me, as to what may happen’, but…what I’ve already forgot, that Bill fed all his pigs on whey, which he got out of Lancashire, which is the by-product from cheese of course, which is very good feed for pigs… there was a lot of competition for the whey in Lancashire, a lot of big pig farms, a lot of competition. And Harry Whittle had told him that, on the grape vine, and that if we’s prepared to move to Hawes … and the Milk Marketing Board got into production, there’ll be plenty of whey for your pigs.” Neil Haworth (82) of East Bridge End Farm, Garsdale
One of the contacts we made at the Middleham & Dales Local History Group talk last week, Valerie Slater, has now sent us a brilliant set of family photographs especially ones to do with Coverham Dairy. She writes:
“Have just sent you a photo of grandma at Coverham Dairy…[it] shows staff and visitors at Coverham Dairy c. 1920. My grandmother, Annie Mary Horner, is front right next to her friend Mary Hogg.
Here at the National Park office in Grassington we are still lucky enough to get our milk delivered in eco-friendly recyclable glass bottles. The milk is semi-skimmed and homogenised though, so no cream on the top like in the old days.
The lucky folk of Wensleydale will soon have the option of milk with the cream on top from The Home Farmer who has just tweeted a photo of their lovely new milk bottle design.
It was lovely to meet family historian Robert Mason at the Middleham and Dales Local History Group talk last week. He has already contributed a great deal of his own family’s history to the Dairy Days project, particularly about their connections to the Carisbrooke Road Dairy in Liverpool. Having heard Karen’s talk with its emphasis on uncovering the stories of the women in the dairying industry in Wensleydale, he thought we might be interested to hear the story of Mary Metcalfe Ewbank née Pratt (1843-1903), a remarkable Dales woman who ended up running a Liverpool cowhouse on her own for twenty years in the late nineteenth century. He sent us the following article about her which we reproduce here in full with grateful thanks:
There was a record turnout of around 44 people to hear Karen Griffiths talk about the progress of the Dairy Days project yesterday afternoon at Middleham Key Centre. Karen writes “the Middleham & Dales Local History Group made me feel most welcome and it was a pleasure to talk to such a knowledgeable and interested audience many of whom have already helped a great deal with the Dairy Days project. ”
Amongst the audience were people who had contributed oral history recordings to the project including 92-year old Women’s Land Army member Margaret Watson and farmer Neil Howarth who had travelled all the way down from Garsdale to be there.
Several new contacts came forward after the talk including a man whose family ran Coverham Dairy and a woman whose grandfather was a cheese factor in the dale. We look forward to finding out more about their stories.
Richard Fawcett has been very helpful to the Dairy Days project already as the stackstands we surveyed and excavated last Autumn at Floshes Hill near Hardraw are on his land – read more about the site in the blog post Stackstands….latest research. Richard has farmed in Hardraw all his life and is well known locally for his regular sheepdog demonstrations .
In our previous blog post Dairying during wartime we mentioned how the Women’s Land Army played an important role in helping Wensleydale farms keep on producing milk during the Second World War. We were delighted to add depth to this story with a wonderful recording by Marjorie Iveson of the memories of 92-year old Margaret Watson who joined the Land Army from her home in Leeds, aged just seventeen in 1943.
Of all the stories that came out of our Dairy Days project launch event last year – one of the most interesting was from local woman Mary Dinsdale who told us that her husband, Wilson Dinsdale, had a milk vending machine in Hawes in the early 1960s. The machine had already been installed between the chip shop and the car park on the High Street and Wilson bought it as a going concern. We know nothing more about it as Mary wasn’t able to take part in the Oral History side of the project – but if anyone has any memories or photographs of the machine we’d be delighted to hear from you.
The Hawes vending machine is long gone, but with the wholesale price of milk being so low, as discussed by retired dairy farmer John Simpson in his oral history recording, there is a growing trend for today’s dairy farmers to retail their own milk direct to the customer, and modern vending machines are one of the ways for them to do this. We were delighted to hear that Wensleydale will be getting its very own milk vending machine once again.
We’ve been following the progress of Ben Spence of Thorngarth Home Farm, Aysgarth since the beginning of the Dairy Days project. He’s one of the new generation of dairy farmers who see diversification and adding value to his milk as crucial to his business model. The farm is developing its own raw milk cheese, which we’re pleased to say benefited from one of our Sustainable Development Fund grants. They have also invested in a milk vending machine which will be out and about in March in an adapted horsebox. We can’t wait to try some farm fresh milk from it – with the cream on top, just like we remember from our childhood!
Follow the Spence family’s progress on The Home Farmer Facebook page and Twitter account. Check out The Home Farmer Instagram account for a wonderful photo montage of them building their brand new state of the art cow shed last year.
John Simpson has farmed man and boy at Gildersbeck Farm, near Agglethorpe for over 50 years. Marjorie Iveson recorded his memories of how the farm has changed over those years for the Dairy Days project last September.
John Simpson as a young man at Gildersbeck Farm. Courtesy of John Simpson
Local historian Ian Spensley has been a stalwart of the Dairy Days project right from the start due to his extensive research into early Wensleydale wills and inventories – we’ve already mined lots of information from them and there’s lots more to come. Ian wears another hat however in that he was born in the dale to a family of farm workers. His grandfather Ernest Spensley worked as a shepherd at Castle Banks Farm in Castle Bolton. Ernest and his wife Annie also kept two cows in the common pasture at Castle Bolton (the Ellerlands). The photo below shows Annie off to milk them some time in the 1930s. Read more about her in the blog post A Wensleydale Milk Maid.
Ian’s uncle Albert was also a shepherd at Castle Banks, and his father, Metcalfe (Mec) Spensley, was the cowman. Author John Duncalfe has sent us his wonderful book about the Castle Bolton artist Fred Lawson, who painted Ian’s uncle Albert inside one of the farm’s barns.
The farm was actually run by Ian’s Great Great Uncle Metcalfe Spensley, followed by his son John and his grandsons David and Richard. Ian grew up around the farm and those of his friends in the village, the Horns at West End Farm and the Bostocks.
Ian was interviewed by Sally Stone last August, and she started off by asking him what time his father’s day began on the farm:
“Generally about half-past six, he’d be up at half-past five, have his breakfast. Half-an-hour’s walk down t’the farm, then start milking. Probably come back mid-morning I think…first memories were they were all milking by hand, in the old cowhouse and that there’d be probably m’dad; Thomas Hunter; Cuthbert Kirkbride; Richard Spensley, there’s probably five or six of them milking by hand…” Ian Spensley (64), of Redmire
The photo shows Fred Peacock, a member of another Castle Bolton farming family. He’s hand milking at around the same time as Ian’s father was. The Peacocks farmed at East End Farm.
The milk was then taken into what used to be called the milk room, an annexe of the old cowhouse, where it was cooled using a metal water cooler “like a washboard” as Ian describes it. The milk churns or cans, full of milk, were collected by lorry and probably taken to the Express Dairy in Leyburn.
Ian fondly remembers hanging around at the Horns’ farm and also going down with the Bostocks, father, daughter and Jimmy the donkey, to milk their cows as described in the following audio clip:
Terry Dodd who features in this well-known photograph of Jimmy, has recently written to Ian about it:
“My family came to Leyburn in 1947 when my father started as manager at Macnamee grocery shop in High Street and we left in 1959. My father delivered grocerys all over the Dales at that time and that’s how we got to know the Bostock family who became very good friends and we still keep in touch occasionaly. I know Frank [Knowles] because he lodged with us for a time in Maythorne.”
Sally asks Ian when hand milking gave way to milking machines::
“Lot of the cowhouses were built about, well, mid-50s to early 60s, so I’m guessing they, most of the milking machines were installed about that time. The ones I remember around the dale, were from Alfa-Laval, actually, thinking about it, lad I went t’school with, his father, Jack Dent, was the Alfa-Laval agent for the Dale.”
Sally asks Ian if any farmers delivered their milk locally:
“In Castle Bolton and Redmire you’d go to either one or two farmers within the village who would supply the milk…you would go t’them, if you weren’t a farm labourer, you would go t’farm t’get the milk.”
“When we moved down t’the pub in Redmire, t’the Kings Arms, we used t’get our milk from one particular farmer, and m’mother was a bit suspicious about it so she had her own sile [sieve] pads to filter the milk!”
As Ian says, the farm labourers had free milk as a work bonus, which they carried home in little tin cans made locally. Ian actually remembers Frank Shields the village tinsmith who is featured in Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby’s ‘Life & Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales.’
“Yep, there was Frank Shields particularly, obviously quite unique really, he was, apart from being a plumber and electrician, he was a tinsmith. So he actually made the backcans, either for donkeys or for people t’carry on the’backs, plus they used t’make the little cans. The farm labourers who were given a quart of milk every day, t’bring their milk back home in.”
Ian emailed us about him: “I spent hours with Frank especially if I saw smoke coming out of the chimney and then I would go and watch him making cans and copper kettles”.
The contents of Frank’s workshop at Castle Bolton was saved when he died and is now on display at the Dales Countryside Museum, along with many examples of the work of Dales tinsmiths.
Every farm in the area had cows apparently, many were grazed on communal pastures which still survived in Castle Bolton from feudal days when much of the land was farmed communally on behalf of the local lord of the manor.
“Every farm would have some cows. Will Dinsdale had a bit of a, he used t’keep so many cows down below Bolton Lane, and he would milk them down there, and then he would keep so many cows in what used t’be the communal pasture along with Horn’s cows, and Will had a ramshackle, rough stone building with a tin roof at the bottom of the cow pasture and he used t’milk his cows in there with a milking machine that attached t’the power take off on the back of the tractor.”
In winter, all the cows were kept indoors at various locations scattered around the village. Some farmers were lucky enough to have them nearby, others not so lucky:
“Well, Bostocks obviously kept their cows out at a distance; Peacocks, now, their cows was about a quarter of a mile outside the village, they always used the same cowhouse; Castle Bank, obviously, next t’the farm; Horn’s was just across the road from the farmhouse.”
Even from a young age, Ian and the other village boys were roped in to help at haytime, gathering enough fodder to feed the cows housed in their barns over the winter.
“Well that was one of our main jobs I suppose, even as young kids, we used to, at Bostocks, all the hay that he got was loose hay, so you’d t’take it down on a sweep, then it had t’be forked into the hay shed and as kids we were encouraged t’jump up and down on the hay in the hay shed t’consolidate the hay…[what pulled the sweep?] They used a tractor, grey Fergie…Horns used t’use a horse for sweeping up the loose hay…it was all taken to field barns.”
Part of our aim for the Dairy Days project is to make sure that we collect dairying stories from the length and breadth of Wensleydale and also into the tributary dales like Bishopdale, Coverdale and Walden.
To help us make sure we’re doing this we’ve been working on a very low tech visual aid – a map with stickers on it – showing the location of every farm and village mentioned in one or other of our blog posts.
We’re really pleased to see that we are certainly hitting our distribution target with a very good spread of stories.
This map will also be really useful when we come to plan the content of our upcoming walk leaflets.
Our Media Officer Andrew Fagg has just written a delightful reminiscence about dairy farming in Wensleydale which has been published in the Yorkshire Post’s farming section. We particularly love the quotes from Wensleydale dialect poet John Thwaite (1873-1941) which he has unearthed as proof of how central to local lives the dairy cow was last century.
Lines like this description of a ‘bonny rooan’ cow being auctioned at Hawes Market:
“Says Edwin ‘Who says sixty – a jingler that,’ says he As long as a wet week, wi’ bag an’ tit for all to see.”
We were particularly interested to meet Ian Millward at the Dairy Days launch event last April. It turned out that he once managed the Creamery in Hawes and he brought along a wonderful collection of objects and photographs from his days there. We were obviously very keen to record his memories so volunteer Sally Stone arranged to meet up with him last August.
Following publication of our blog post Wensleydale cowkeepers in Liverpool we were contacted by Robert Mason, a descendant of the Mason family who built the Carisbrooke Road dairy we researched. Robert turned out to be the grandson of Edward Ewbank Mason whose memoirs have been published by Dave Joy on his Liverpool Cowkeepers website – see Memoirs of Edward Ewbank Mason .
Robert very kindly provided us with lots more background information about his family including telling us about a transcript of a taped interview that local author and journalist Bill Mitchell conducted with Annie Mason nee Pratt, one of the cousins that Edward Ewbank Mason writes about meeting on his farm holidays in Burtersett as a teenager.
We are lucky to have a complete run of the nineteenth century Wensleydale Advertiser newspaper at the Dales Countryside Museum. It had a short lifespan starting in 1844, reporting on a selection of local and national news as well as promoting its editor’s fairly forthright opinions on a wide range of subjects.
Our volunteer Stuart Barron visited Alan and Edith Pratt (nee Heseltine) last year to record their memories. Alan Pratt’s stories of dairying can be found here Oral History Recording: Alan Pratt.
Edith was keen to talk about her grandfather Christopher along with other members of her family involved in dairying in the past.
“I want t’talk about m’grandfather who I didn’t know, granddad Christopher Heseltine was born in 1882 at Swinacote [Farm], Thoralby. When he got married he moved to Hestholme Farm, West Burton. 1920s, he moved to Heaning Farm at Thoralby. ” Edith Pratt, nee Heseltine (65), formerly of Studdah Farm, Bellerby
We’ve already featured the story of Alan’s dad, Jim Pratt in a previous blog post. Volunteer Stuart Barron recorded Alan’s memories last October, bringing the two generation story up-to-date. We also recorded Alan’s wife Edith talking about her family’s wide-ranging involvement in dairying which we’ll create a separate blog post about shortly.
Alan was born at West End Farm in Marsett in 1945 and has early memories of his father hand milking the family’s cows there. One in particular was a bit of a pet, but as Alan recalls in the following audio clip, you always had to be a little wary around cows however tame, especially ones with horns:
Two of our oral history interviewees, Alan and Edith Pratt, came along to meet us at our Open Day last September in Askrigg. They have their own fascinating dairying stories to tell which we’ll publish here shortly, but Alan also gave us a copy of a typed manuscript containing the recollections of early twentieth century farm life at the eastern end of Wensleydale by his father Jim Pratt.
Well-known local press photographer Frank Knowles has sent us an archive of his wonderful photographs for the project, some of which record the efforts made to get milk though to the Express Dairy during the snowy winter of 1963 which we thought we’d share with you this Christmas Eve. If you’d like to see more of Frank’s photos then visit his exhibition at Tennant’s in Leyburn.
Happy Christmas to you all and we look forward to sharing more of the heritage of dairying in Wensleydale with you next year.
Volunteer Marjorie Iveson has recorded the early memories of her husband Glynn who left school aged fifteen to be a farm worker, progressing from mucking out cow byres to helping milk a sizeable dairy herd before ending up running his own farm.
Cows, pigs and chickens all occupied the traditional farm buildings that were surveyed as part of the Dairy Days project. Up to now the surveying side of the project has focussed on recording earthwork sites. This week contractors from Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA) along with two volunteers surveyed buildings on a farmstead in Thornton Rust. Continue reading “Cows and pigs and chickens, oh my!”
Earlier this year, we spent quite a lot of time helping out the production company making the new ‘Made in Great Britain’ series now showing on BBC2. They were keen to hear all about our research into the history of cheese making and make contact with contemporary cheesemakers and collectors of historic recipes. Andy Swinscoe of the Courtyard Dairy is of course going to be featured as are several other people we have been working with like Jane Sammells of Curriculum Kitchen.
The episode is due to be aired on BBC2 on Friday 7th December at 9pm – further details on the Made in Great Britain series webpage.
Our interview with retired dairy farmer George Sledge was conducted by Marjorie Iveson. George farmed at Constable Burton which is at the far eastern end of Wensleydale with quite different soil and weather to the majority of the farmers from Upper Wensleydale that we have interviewed for the project so far.
With Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA) appointed as our archaeology consultants, we were keen to get them started surveying our chosen selection of archaeological sites and buildings. A couple of weeks ago, we met up to do a recce of them all including a possible early shieling site up on Green Side at the head of Sleddale. We quickly spotted the large circular banked enclosure with a couple of what looked like round huts clustered along one side.
Coverdale is perhaps less well known than neighbouring Wensleydale, but it also has a long history of dairy farming and cheesemaking. Marjorie Iveson has done several interviews for us with farmers in the dale, starting with Michael Horner who had a small village farm in Carlton.
We were delighted to receive this interview conducted by Marjorie Iveson with 72-year old Doris Harker, because Doris turns out to be one of the last women remaining who made and sold farmhouse cheese in the northern Dales.
Our next recording is of 77-year old Mason Scarr of Cravenholme Farm in Askrigg. Our recorder was Maggie Townsend. Mason was born in 1941 and came to Cravenholme Farm with his parents when he was four.
Before they moved, his mother made cheese and butter in the dairy in Askrigg. We’ve already posted her recollections in an earlier blog post Masons Dairy, Askrigg. Mason was too young to remember those days but he does remember his mother making butter for the family as he recounts in this audio clip.
When he was old enough, Mason joined the other lad employed by his father on the farm and the team of three worked together milking and tending to the dairy herd. The extensive interview is fascinating because it gives a really good idea of the sheer volume and variety of the work needed to look after a herd of dairy cows all year round.
Our interview with David Mason was undertaken by Sally Stone last month and we have just finished transcribing it. David’s involvement with dairying in Wensleydale was very wide ranging – starting with family stories about his grandfather Edward Preston, a farmer and cattle dealer who bought the old Hawes Dairy as an investment, through trips out on the wagon collecting milk churns with his Uncle Herbert, to working as a boy on a milk round in Leyburn.
David’s grandfather was born in the 1860s and farmed at Borwins, near Hawes for some years having married a Jane Dinsdale from Dent. He also did some cattle-dealing on the side, and was apparently popular with farmers because of the fact he paid in sovereigns:
“…this was the time when paper money was coming in, and Dales farmers did not trust paper money and quite rightly ‘cos some of the small banks went bust, and they had every cause not to trust them. So with his bagful of sovereigns he was always secure at doing deals.” David Dinsdale Mason (79), formerly of Leyburn
The first oral history interviews conducted by our newly-trained team of volunteers are now being transcribed. The first one to be finished was recorded by Colin Luckett who interviewed farmer Cliff Allen of Scaur Head Farm above Gayle.
Cliff was born in 1953 and came to the farm when he was four years old. It had been bought by his granddad, the son of Elijah Allen of grocery shop fame in Hawes and it had dairy cows on it right up until Cliff gave up milking around twelve years ago. This photo shows his children herding the cows down to be milked sometime in the 1980s.
A handful of photographs which we discovered scanned onto the Research Room computer at the Dales Countryside Museum started us on a little piece of detective work yesterday. They relate to a Liverpool cowkeeper named George Bargh.
Our second set of farm accounts held at the Dales Countryside Museum belonged to Jane, known as Elizabeth, Thwaite (possibly born Wilkinson, or this surname may come from a later remarriage) who conducted a profitable dairy and poultry business from her farm up at the head of Walden at the end of the nineteenth century.
The book we have in the collection covers Jane’s butter and cheese sales from 1894 to 1910 and her income from poultry and egg sales from 1898 to 1904.
Among the collections at the Dales Countryside Museum are two sets of nineteenth century farm account books which together provide an incredibly detailed history of the finances of two farms making and selling cheese and butter in Wensleydale.
We discovered the first set after reading a short article about them in the museum’s journal ‘Now Then’ :
“Eight small notebooks containing itemised accounts from 1822 to 1850, with a gap of two years from April 1828, in a cardboard box marked ‘Aniseed Balls 20 a 1d’, gave an interesting insight into a self sufficient community in Upper Wensleydale. The books belonged to James Willis of Yorescott. The house no longer exists but it lay just to the west of Yorebridge, north of Bainbridge and had a walled garden. The Willis family was from Carperby and initially James kept the accounts on behalf of E. Willis & Sons as his father, John, died at Yorescott in January 1821. His widow Eleanor, sons James and Matthew and two daughters Jane and Eleanor (Ellin) carried on farming.”
Denny Minnitt (1995) ‘James Willis of Yorescott’ Now Then pp15-16
Thanks to our small army of oral history recording volunteers we are now gathering more and more stories about dairying in Wensleydale. It will take us a while to transcribe them all, but in the meantime, one of our interviewees, Mason Scarr, let us have a copy of a typed recollection from his mother Amy Scarr nee Mason, whose father founded Mason’s Dairy in Askrigg. It offers a fascinating window into yet another small cheesemaking operation in the early years of the twentieth century. It also confirms a story told to us by Janina Holubecki that her grandmother Margaret Hopper shared her college-learned expertise in cheesemaking with local dairies.
Our two week-long excavation of a pair of stackstands near Hawes is now completed. Dig director and our Community Heritage Officer Douglas Mitcham was very pleased with the results and how much the volunteers achieved in spite of the appalling weather with high winds and heavy rain causing us to lose several days half way through.
On the final day, four of us bravely laboured through squalls of rain to backfill and returf the site to Doug’s satisfaction. Who said archaeology was glamorous?!
Alongside our Archaeological Surveying Techniques training days for community volunteers, we have also recently run a Staff Development Day in survey techniques to give national park staff a taste of the work that we are doing as part of the Dairy Days project. We had wonderful sunny weather for it, and the stackstands stood out really well in the bright light.
We have had a busy week starting with five more local people trained in the art of oral history recording by Tracy Craggs and now all set to interview people around Wensleydale – one or two already had people lined up including a woman who was a Land Army girl and several retired farmers.
The next day we had our first Archaeological Surveying Training day led by our Community Heritage Officer Douglas Mitcham. Six people enjoyed a day studying the theory and practice of surveying using the plane table and also tape and offset techniques, both easy for community groups to undertake as they don’t require expensive equipment. Read more about it on our main blog ‘Lumps seen in Upper Wensleydale.’
We have another archaeological survey training day lined up on 26 September. Contact Douglas Mitcham on 01969 652353 to book a place.
Among all the photographs that we have been collecting for the project, there are many showing children both at work and at play on the dairy farm in the past.
As we saw in our last blog Dairy Maids in the census record, girls in their early teens were working as dairymaids on farms in Wensleydale during the late nineteenth century either as paid servants or helping their older female relatives. Boys would have been similarly employed as farm labourers or helping their fathers.
Most of the earliest photographs we have, show boys helping adults in the fields hand-milking cows or carrying milk back to the farmhouse.
The younger children would have been going to school by the time these photos were taken and they would have had to fit their farm chores in around it. There were early starts and gloomy evenings spent foddering and watering cattle in the winter and feeding calves and pigs and helping father with the milking outside in the summer. Farmer’s daughters helped in the dairy and fed hens, collected eggs and also helped feed the calves and pigs. They may also have gone out round field barns in the winter letting cows out to water and giving them hay.
By the time we get to the 1960s, things have changed. Some photographs are clearly posed as if the children are ‘helping’ with farm chores. Sometimes they are visiting a grandparent’s farm as with Janina Holubecki’s charming photo of her ‘lifting’ milk cans.
There’s no doubt that children were also (and still are) playing their part in helping out round the farm. Herding cows down to be milked being a common task for the younger members of the family.
Northern Dairy Shorthorns and the first Friesians were docile because they were well-handled and many photographs show children cuddling or playing with them.
Sometimes children were plonked on top of cows as in these two photographs, taken 30 years apart. They were sent by Janina Holubecki who wrote that the earlier one shows her Aunt Josephine Hopper,
“…she looks about 4-5 and she was born in 1934 so that makes it around 1938-9.”
“The colour one is dated August 1973. L to R my sister Marysia Holubecki (on Cilla the Ayrshire cow [sic]) and 2 of our cousins Jane Lambert and Elizabeth Lambert. It was taken at Raygill Farm near Hawes. The cow belonged to my uncle, Bill Lambert – Elizabeth and Jane’s dad.
This is what Liz remembers of the incident: “I believe it was taken seconds before a low flying jet caused Cilla to bolt – with Marysia shouting ‘shall I hang on or jump off?’ I don’t think she had a choice, but she bounced well!”
Cilla was a much loved pet as well as being a good milker. She was apparently not an Ayreshire as Janina first thought, but a dairy shorthorn and Friesian cross.
We expect to hear lots of childhood memories of work and play on the farms of Wensleydale as our team of oral history recorders starts the process of visiting and interviewing people around the dale. Get in contact if you have stories of dairying in Wensleydale that you’d like to share.
Census records provide a fascinating snapshot of communities, telling us who lived where and with whom and often what their occupations were. Thanks to the wonderful Dales Genealogy website, we have access online to full sets of censuses for Wensleydale from 1841 through to 1911. They provide us with an interesting picture of the number of women involved in dairy work in Wensleydale over that period of time.
We are delighted at the number of local historians who have come on board and are busy researching various dairying-related topics for the project. Geoffrey Keeble of the Middleham & Dales Local History Group has a particular interest in wartime farming topics and is finding out about things like the Women’s Land Army and conscription of farmers during the First World War. He sent us this delightful photo of a Women’s Land Army recruitment poster showing a dairy maid and calf. These young women provided a crucial workforce on farms up and down the country as men were enlisted and sent away to fight in the Second World War. Margaret Watson was one of these brave young women who came to work on farms in Coverdale all the way from Leeds during the Second World War.
On the subject of recruitment, the North Yorkshire County Record Office holds an extensive archive of World War 1 Appeal Tribunal papers where local men appealed against being conscripted. In one example, a 31 year old dairy farmer from Bainbridge Ings called Ralph Tiplady Metcalf offered the following argument:
“Metcalf is sole proprietor and worker on his dairy and sheep farm, he milks his own cattle and has a milk contract. If he is called up, there is no-one to take over his farm. The local tribunal granted one month exemption from 13 Mar 1916″
Geoffrey has followed the case up and it appears that Ralph’s exemption was short lived,
“… he lost his next appeal and sold all his stock. He went into the army in 1916 and died, without ever having been in action, of pneumonia in the south of France in 1917 whilst his regiment was on its way to Italy to fight the Austrians.”
Geoffrey Keeble (pers comm)
A sad end indeed. We will be very interested to hear more from Geoffrey as the project progresses.
We’ve discovered Ralph and his family in the 1911 census for Bainbridge parish. It turns out he was farming at High Fors with his sister Mary working as dairymaid and two servants. One can only imagine the consequences for this little family following on from his conscription and subsequent death.
39. High Fors
METCALFE Ralph Tiplady/head/28/S/farmer/Yks/Bainbridge
METCALFE Mary/sister/25/S/dairy work/Yks/Bainbridge
CATTON Hilda May/serv/17/S/gen serv dom/Yks/Bradford
METCALFE Robert Pickering/serv/17/S/farm lab/ Yks/Aysgarth
We have been reading the ‘Milk traffic’ section of Christine Hallas’ superbly researched book ‘The Wensleydale Railway’ this morning. In it she describes in detail the close link between the railway line and the farmers in upper Wensleydale who relied on it to transport their fresh milk to city customers from the late nineteenth century to the early 1930s.
The arrival of rural railways such as the Wensleydale line towards the end of the nineteenth century was apparently perfectly timed. Continental cheese imports were depressing the prices of locally made cheeses and farmers needed to look elsewhere in order to sell their milk at a decent price. The new railways allowed producers to send fresh milk at speed to distant city populations and thus the ‘Milk Train’ was born.
We’ve already written about the nineteenth century cheese factory founded in Hawes by Edward Chapman in the blog post ‘Early factory production of cheese in Hawes’ but we’ve now gathered some information about another early factory, this one located in Bainbridge at Low Mill and known as Harper’s Dairy. The name is interesting because a well-known cowhouse in Liverpool had the same name – read more about the Harpers in Dave Joy’s blog.
We were lucky enough to visit two large cheese competitions recently, at the Great Yorkshire Show and at Nantwich Agricultural Show, the latter being one of the largest in the world.
The range of cheeses on display was quite remarkable and the chance to go round all the producer stands and try samples was brilliant.
Of course, pretty much all the cheese in these modern competitions comes from commercial cheese-makers. Things were quite different in the nineteenth century, when the makers of farmhouse cheeses competed for cash prizes at Cheese and Butter Shows such as this one held in Leyburn in 1890.
‘Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese’ manufactured in the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes is world famous and the company is proud of its long history in the town. We’ve recently been learning about the early days of factory-made cheese in Hawes from Kit Calvert’s little booklet ‘The Story of Wensleydale Cheese’ published in 1946 by Dalesman Publishing. We have a well-thumbed copy in the Research Room at our Dales Countryside Museum.
Local historian Penny Ellis has kindly put together a folder of information for us relating to a small farm called Spickles near Thoralby. The documents range from part of the 1840 Tithe map for the parish right through to a wartime Agricultural Returns form for the farm. The maps, census returns and government paperwork provide a fascinating picture of the life of a family-run dairy farm over a hundred year period.
By coincidence we recently walked along Eastfield or Eshington Lane (we’re not sure which name is correct!), from Eshington Bridge towards Thoralby and ended up near Spickles – which is still very much a working farm. Notice the big stack of green plastic wrapped silage bales and modern sheds for overwintering cattle.
Our newly-trained team of oral history recorders is busy setting up interviews with our first group of local people with dairying memories to tell, but in the meantime, we have already transcribed our first interview – recorded by Dairy Days project officer Karen Griffiths last month.
We were contacted by Eileen Cockburn after she saw this lovely photograph published in The Dalesman accompanying an article about the project.
It turns out that Matt was Eileen’s older brother and that they both grew up on Hogra Farm in Redmire where her father and mother had sheep and dairy cows (plus six children!).
Dairy Days Archaeological Field Survey training day
Tuesday 4th September 2018
A really exciting aspect of the HLF-funded Dairy Days project is the archaeological field surveys and excavation we have planned for the coming year.
For our first training day we will be learning to survey and record the enigmatic archaeological features known as stackstands. Read our blog post on ‘Stackstands and stackgarths‘ for background information on these important sites.
Our Community Heritage Officer Douglas Mitcham has sent us the following short summary of the aims of the day:
This Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority-led one day training event aims to teach local volunteers basic archaeological survey techniques. It forms part of the HLF-funded Dairy Days project, which is currently investigating the heritage of dairying in Wensleydale. The course aim is to equip people with the skills needed to help us survey a number of key dairying sites in the dale. Participants will be given an introduction to the Dairy Days project and the role that archaeological survey will play. The course then comprises five main sessions which will focus on understanding survey, planning and reconnaissance; understanding earthworks; conducting reconnaissance and level 1 survey; undertaking plane table survey; undertaking tape and offset survey. A final open session will give participants the chance to undertake further practice in whatever techniques they wish. The day will conclude with a re-cap on what the course has covered, including forthcoming opportunities to take part in archaeological surveys for the Dairy Days project.
If you would like to join us then contact Douglas Mitcham to book your free place. Lunch will be provided.
One of the most useful sources of information about dairy farming in the nineteenth century and earlier are the Tithe Maps and their lists of field names, owners and occupiers known as the Tithe Apportionments.
Tithe Maps were drawn up during the first half of the nineteenth century in order to allow tithes historically paid to the church in kind (usually agricultural produce) to be commuted into money payments proportionate to each person’s property and land.
We are lucky in that a local couple, Fred and Joyce Roberts, have transcribed both the 1844 Tithe Map and the apportionment for Bainbridge and published them as ‘The Township of Bainbridge in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century’ (June 1979 North Yorkshire County Record Office Publications No 21).
Armed with a highlighter pen, we have been doing some detailed research on the places where cows were grazed during the summer months.
The photograph above shows a large area of ‘Cow Pasture’ relatively unenclosed at Fors (pink highlighter), whereas the photograph below tells us a different story.
What at first glance might seem to be a range of small fields owned and farmed by different people from Marsett village, turns out to be the remains of a single D-shaped village grazing area called ‘Marsett Cow Pasture’ (pink highlighter), once held in common or stinted, with each villager having a number of cattlegates allowing them to graze a certain number of beasts on it. At some point in time before the drawing up of the Tithe Map in 1844, the pasture has been divided up and enclosed, with each person with grazing rights being assigned a proportionate area which they then had to wall or fence.
Look at the owners and occupiers and an even more interesting picture emerges. A small lot in Marsett Cow Pasture belonged to one Robert Nichols. However, it turns out that Mr Nichols farmed from Bella on the edge of Marsett Cow Pasture and also owned a large D-shaped area of pasture and meadow adjoining it (green highlighter). The names of a couple of his fields tell us more, no 833 ‘Knights Close Pasture’ and no 832 ‘Lower Knights Close Pasture’ allow us to match up the farm with a medieval vaccary of the same name. The D-shaped close or pasture is a classic indicator of one of these cattle farms, owned and run for the benefit of their aristocratic landowner, in this case, the Lord of Middleham.
Archaeologist and historian Stephen Moorhouse discusses the evidence for the fluctuating numbers of these vaccaries or cattle farms in medieval Wensleydale:
“Occasionally the documents tell us that a farm no longer exists. The loss of income of £6 from the Lordship of Middleham’s vaccary at Bardale in the Forest of Wensleydale in 1465/6 is explained: ‘because the buildings of the said holding are laid waste long ago and the pasturage was taken out of use for the keeping of animals.’ The vaccary was functioning in 1342, but was similarly described in accounts following that for 1465/6 showing that it was probably not re-occupied. The earthworks survive adjacent to the post-medieval farm at Knights Close…”
Stephen Moorhouse (2003) ‘Anatomy of the Yorkshire Dales: decoding the medieval landscape‘ in ‘The Archaeology of Yorkshire’ ed Manby, Moorhouse & Ottaway
The farm called ‘Bella’ on the nineteenth century Tithe Map is called ‘Bella or Knights Close’ on the modern Ordnance Survey map, so we can identify it as the likely location of the medieval cattle farm or vaccary called Bardale.
Many people with allergies or lactose intolerance prefer goat’s milk to cow’s milk nowadays, but in the past, goat’s milk was prized because it could be safely fed to orphan lambs. In this delightful photo – farmer Redvers Hopper of Yorescott feeds an orphan Dalesbred lamb watched on by his granddaughter Janina and her cousin David.
Our colleagues here at the national park have been working hard to put together this year’s festival which promises to be even bigger and better than last year.
All the events are now confirmed and full details can be found on the Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival 2018 website. From cheese-tasting to cheese-heritage walks, there’s something for everyone.
The Dairy Days project will be running an open day as part of the festival on 18 September at Askrigg village hall. It will be a chance for the public to come in and see how the project is progressing. Details on the Dairy Days Open Day event page, with further information on this blog soon.
We discussed the evidence we have for who and where people were milking their cows before the advent of mechanised milking parlours in a previous blog post called Milking in the Fields. We have just received a fantastic series of photographs of farmers in Wensleydale doing just that. They were collected by local historian Ann Holubecki and date from probably the 1920s through to the 1960s. Notice that they all milk from the right hand side of the cow? We also really like the little corrugated iron shelter used by Colin Horner, it will be interesting to see if we can spot the remains of any of these field shelters today.
Oral History specialist Tracy Craggs ran our first training day for volunteers yesterday. The course was fully booked (we have a waiting list!) and a wonderfully inspiring day was enjoyed by everyone.
A morning session discussing dos and don’ts and illustrated with plenty of examples was followed by an afternoon concentrating on the Dairy Days project and included some role playing which everyone seemed to enjoy.
Participants will now be matched up with people who have offered to help with stories and memories and we hope to build up a really informative archive of digital recordings for the project.
The northern dairy shorthorn was the premier cow for milking in Wensleydale up until the 1960s when the black and white Friesian began to take its place with its superior milk-producing capabilities.
We’ve seen this changeover illustrated in the following series of photographs sent to us by Janina Holubecki, showing her great grandfather Joseph Hopper (1859-1949) and grandfather Redvers Hopper (1900-1970) both of whom farmed at Yorescott near Bainbridge. We’ve blogged about Redver’s wife Margaret in an earlier post ‘Margaret Hopper nee Moncrieff.’
We finally got to meet award-winning cheesemonger Andy Swinscoe at The Courtyard Dairy near Settle earlier this week. He is at the forefront of a movement championing the uniquely-flavoured ‘proper’ farmhouse cheeses that are growing more and more popular here in the UK.
It’s already clear from our research that people have always had quite strong opinions about how to make the best cheese and butter in Wensleydale. We were shown this little snippet of advice from the Victorian vicar of Askrigg last week:
It comes from the delightfully named ‘Dawn of Day’ the Askrigg Parish Magazine and dates to September 1894. The author refers to a recent cheese competition:
“At the recent Show of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, held at Beverley, Mrs Willis, of Carperby, suceeded in carrying off four out of five prizes offered for Wensleydale Cheeses, her exhibits being placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th; while Mrs Brown, of Marske, occupied the 4th place. I cannot help thinking it is a pity that our local cheese-makers do not more frequently compete at the Yorkshire and other good shows, as to do so is one of the best possible means of calling public attention to what is undoubtedly one of the most important industries of the district.”
We were pleased to see that at last week’s Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, the Hawes Creamery carried off the top prize and many others besides. Read more here on the Wensleydale Creamery blog
Another rather sternly-worded letter dating to the early 1930s has been copied to us. It was sent to a local newspaper following an article about cheese-making which clearly met with the correspondent’s disapproval. The author was in fact Margaret Hopper who we profiled in an earlier blog post. Her discussion on the correct use of bacterial starter cultures is fascinating. Many thanks to Janina Holubecki for sending it to us.
Monday 30 July 10am -3.30pm Dales Countryside Museum
Please join us for a fascinating day with Tracy Craggs learning how to make oral history recordings for the Dairy Days project. You will learn how to plan interviews; how to create a comfortable atmosphere and get the best out of your subjects and what pitfalls to avoid.
A buffet lunch will be provided and the course is free but there are limited spaces so please book early to avoid disappointment. Contact details below.
Once trained you will become a vital part of the Dairy Days project, recording the memories of local people involved in Wensleydale’s dairying heritage.
We spotted an interesting bit of detective work going on over on The Courtyard Dairy’s Facebook page last week. They’ve got a copy of a letter written in dialect by by the famous saviour of Wensleydale cheese, Kit Calvert and they were asking for help translating part of it.
He was apparently writing about how much easier it was making cheese nowadays in his factory than when his Aunt Nanny was making it on the farm.
We translate it as follows:
“Cheese-making these days is child’s play compared to the old days although I doubt that we’re making a Wensleydale with the flavour in it that Aunt Nanny had, but maybe if it had such a flavour this generation wouldn’t eat them. Who knows?”
We found ourselves in Burtersett yesterday – looking for clues about the village’s dairying heritage. We already know from its ‘-sett’ name that it probably started life in Viking times as a temporary settlement among valley-side summer grazing pastures. Early in May each year, cows were brought up from family farms somewhere down the dale to the east. Family members lived with them during the summer months, watching over them until November-time when they were brought back down to the main farm. Read more about it in our Shielings and summer pastures blog.
The hot sunny weather means that cutting and baling winter fodder is now in full-swing in Wensleydale. We were reminded during a walk up Mill Gill in Askrigg, of how important the old stone barns or cowhouses once were for storing the summer hay crop in order to feed the cattle tethered inside over the long winter months.
Of course nowadays the field barns are mostly empty and it’s more likely to be silage being made rather than hay.
Janina Holubecki has just sent us some wonderful photographs and documents about her grandmother Margaret Hopper nee Moncrieff who farmed at Yorescott with her husband Redvers. They had northern dairy shorthorns and Dalesbred sheep apparently.
We’d like to welcome Dr Tracy Craggs to the Dairy Days team. She’s been appointed to help us train a small number of people to conduct the oral history interviews which will form the backbone of the project. We’ll be posting the training dates shortly so watch this space.
Tracy has sent us a short bio:
“Dr Tracy Craggs has worked in the field of oral history for more than twenty years, both interviewing a wide variety of people with different stories to tell, and training others to capture memories. She has worked for the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association for ten years, recording survivors and their families, interviewed members of the armed forces, young and the not so young, and worked extensively with a large number of organisations and community groups including English Heritage, the Royal Armouries and the Oscars. Her most relevant experience for this project is working for the Yorkshire Museum of Farming for three years, being fortunate to meet and interview farmers and their families about their working lives and their hopes for the future. Despite not knowing one end of a cow from the other, after three years she could discuss the problems of slurry disposal with a dairy farmer! Tracy is really looking forward to working with staff and volunteers and to contribute towards the success of this exciting and worthwhile project.”
In our recent blog post Milking in the Fields we decided that, at least from the nineteenth century, men and boys were most likely to found hand milking the cows out in the fields in Wensleydale, while the women of the farm ran the dairy.
However, there are always exceptions to any rule, and local historian Ian Spensley has just sent us this wonderful photograph of his grandmother Annie Spensley, off to milk her cows at Castle Bolton some time in the 1930s.
“My grandmother was in service during the 1890’s first at Fountain Farm in Booze in Arkengarthdale and then at Yorescot near Bainbridge before marrying and settling in Castle Bolton. Like many other young women she spent much of her time in the dairy.”
She has a typical Dales backcan or budget made of tin on her back and carries two metal milking pails. Notice that she is also apparently wearing wooden-soled clogs, a vital bit of equipment when the ground was muddy or covered in cow muck.
Read more about Annie in Ian Spensley‘s oral history blogpost.
Our first training afternoon took place last Monday at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. Five people joined us, with one other not able to come but interested in coming along on another day.
The aim of the session was to introduce people to the dairying collections at the museum and then look at the ways we might research the stories, people and places behind a selection of them.
We started with a brief introduction to the Dairy Days project and then we had a look round the ‘Life and Tradition’ exhibition and discussed the materials and makers behind items like the tin back can and a pottery stand churn.
We also had a look at the permanent displays and talked about the farms and families associated with some of the items.
Most of us are familiar with the idea of a haystack, even if it’s just the idea of looking for a needle in one. However, it’s been a long time since outdoor stacks of loose hay have been seen in Wensleydale. Ensuring a sufficient supply of nutritious sweet hay to feed cows and sheep with over the winter has been a problem from the earliest times for Yorkshire Dales farmers. The winter weather being what it is, stacks had to be protected as much as possible to prevent the hay from going mouldy and rotting.
The stone field barns we are so familiar with had the dual purpose of both housing cattle in winter and protecting their winter feed supply in the large hay mew.
Have you ever been held up by a herd of cows being slowly walked up the road to be milked? It’s still a common sight in Wensleydale during the summer when the cows are grazing outdoors. Twice a day, come rain or shine they are driven to the milking parlour and then brought back out to their pasture. A hundred years ago however, and this would have been a rare sight.
The development of mechanised milking parlours centralised the process of milking after the Second World War along with increasingly stringent hygiene rules and regulations, but one might have expected that walking cows to the farm to be milked, even by hand, would have been much less hard work than carrying gallons of milk back from the cows in the fields, as was actually the case during the summer months in Wensleydale in times gone by.