Datestones on old buildings in Craven, Bowland and Upper Wharfedale

Michael Slater and Mary Slater
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Our area is well-known for having old buildings with a datestone, often with initials, sometimes ornate, over house doorways, barn entrances and archways. They are seldom found in such concentration in other parts of the country. Several booklets provide much information on many datestones found in the area and the website provides many more examples (without pictures). However, these sources are not definitive. An approximate definition of the area of interest in this note is Craven, Bowland and Upper Wharfedale, roughly within a 15-mile radius of Settle. The area is currently circumscribed by what photographs have been conveniently collected so far.

The late Dr Jan Rhodes spent time taking photographs of dated doorheads when she lived here in recent years; these are in North Craven Heritage Trust archives and have now been scanned electronically. They have not been researched to establish family names - that is for other interested parties to do! Other photographs have been located in the Museum of North Craven Life archives (at the Folly in Settle), for example in the Harrington collection. M. Clarke and Jill Sykes of Austwick provided Austwick photographs and we have added our own collection. An attempt has been made to fill gaps - but there is no guarantee that full coverage has been made since many are not accessible to the public. Datestones inside buildings have not normally been photographed but are known to exist. Diana Kaneps provided illustrations in the 2001 Journal of highly decorative lintels associated with Stephen Park.

The pictures of the datestones are available for inspection on the North Craven Heritage Trust website (see Archives). They are subject to copyright. Although a total of 532 datestones has been listed, many of these are on private property and are not accessible to the public. Otherwise the remaining 408 can be seen from public paths. Several datestones have decayed in recent decades so that dates or initials can no longer be identified; photographs and drawings made in earlier years have to be relied upon, but some of the drawings have proved to be inaccurate. The stone varies in type; a complex design in sandstone may have taken seven days to execute with fire-sharpened chisels (information courtesy Hardwick Hall, National Trust) and so was an expensive item.

The photographs in the collection so far range from 1602 to 1900, with a very few later ones to indicate that the practice has not yet died out; of the 532 examples over half are in the date range 1660 to 1730, with a peak period of 1670 to 1690. One example in Kettlewell is dated 1590 but it appears to have been re-cut. Quite remarkably no two are exactly the same (c.f. 1693 Giggleswick, 1695 Stackhouse and 1702 Rathmell) and it is difficult to categorize them. They are not always in their original place and may not be original, and any date cannot be guaranteed to be that of the building itself. Rather, they may record events such as a marriage or of alterations made to the building. They are placed on buildings great and small - manor houses, halls, houses, cottages, barns. Public buildings are excluded from this collection; these are mainly of late date. It would be useful to have other evidence for the age of a building - the type of windows, the layout, roof structure, stonework - to consider alongside any datestone.

In order to make visual comparison the types were tentatively and roughly placed in categories with some examples illustrated here, i.e. Boxes, Plaques, Single Pendant, Double Pendant, Triple Pendant, Lintels, Decorated Lintels, Unique

There is scope for a more exact architectural system of categorization but the wide variety of types makes this perhaps an unsatisfactory exercise. It appears that they were carved individually without reference to a style book but with similar features copied from other local examples. However, any style books are unlikely to have survived if they were the working copies used by individual masons. A particular mason probably carved some of the few very similar examples (e.g. double pendant 1678 Langcliffe, 1679 Horton (Studfold), 1681 Langcliffe, 1678 Stainforth; elaborate double pendant 1707 Long Preston, 1707 Giggleswick; triple pendant 1687 Holden, 1683 Long Preston, 1694 Settle). Perhaps the houseowner designed his own datestone.

We have little knowledge of seventeenth century local stonemasons apart from Thomas Kidd of Skirethornes 1679 (will at Borthwick vol. 58 fol. 538): In the name of God Amen I Thomas Kid the elder of Skirethornes in the township of Threshfield in the county of York Freemason ...

Pacey [2007] notes in his work on craftsmen in Upper Wharfedale that Thomas also had local grazing rights, so he combined his mason’s work with some farming. Thomas Kidd the younger (fl. 1670-1690) was perhaps a relative of Thomas the elder. He may have worked as a mason at Askwith, Kettlewell, Starbotton and Conistone. The mason’s mark letter K on Kettlewell New Bridge could be his. (The Folly in Settle has a mason’s mark on a door jamb - a letter K cut sideways). Pacey’s list of mason’s marks includes the letter K and nothing else remotely similar. Together with Mark Scott, Thomas the younger made a complaint about working conditions: Petition of Mark Scott and Thomas Kidd, masons who worked on repairing Kettlewell Bridge, against their supervisors (Quarter Sessions Rolls (Wetherby) QS1/15/1/6/5 1676 at Wakefield repository)

A local man, James Butterfield of Settle 1635, has been identified (will at Borthwick vol. 42 fol. 599): In the name of God Amen the second day of May one thousand six hundred thirty five I James Butterfield of Setle in the county of yorke mason ...

Hoyle [2014] has identified Robert Charnley (c.1738 - 1789), and Benjamin Cockshutt of Settle as stonemasons involved in the building of the Shambles in Settle.

Most examples of datestones have initials (two, three, four or more) and a date, some only a date. Care has to be taken in reading the numbers (1 and 7, 0, 6 and 9 in particular) and the letters, noting that I is used for names such as Isabel, Jeneta and John, J being interchangeable with I. A clear distinction between the capital letters I and J first appeared in an English language book in 1633. A large number of lintels in this present collection use the letter I (1641 onwards) and the letter J appears much later. Only after 1720 does the letter J begin to be used regularly. The number 1 and letter I are sometimes written in the same way with an X superimposed. The family name initial is often separated or is repeated in a set of four initials - but not always. The example at Swinden Hall, 1657

is at first confusing but is presumed to be

May the 16 EW and HW
where the W is the family initial.

Although the family initial may be the separate one in a set of three, or duplicated in a set of four as above, care is needed. For example in Austwick we have Battle Hill

1673 I . L M
where M might be thought to be the family initial. However, it seems that the only likely fit using the Clapham Parish Register is for the marriage of John Leeming of Austwick to Mary Battersbie in 1665 (courtesy Jill Sykes). The Leeming family was in Austwick between 1665 and 1689. Similarly, in Tatham
E BW 1678
for Bryan Waller marrying Elizabeth Pearson in 1672.

Many examples have 6 or 4-pointed crosses in circles or the stylized chi/rho Christian symbol (1668, Wigglesworth; 1673 Gisburn; 1669 Giggleswick). The 6-petal flower motif is common in other countries in Europe and often found elsewhere than on lintels. It may be a protective symbol. In two cases the circles in numbers 6 and 9 contain crosses (1695 Long Preston; 1707 Long Preston). Four have hearts inscribed and nine depict animals, birds, trees (maybe tree of life) and flowers (1694 Grassington; 1715 Wharfe; 1602 Langcliffe;1673 Bordley; 1684 Wray; 1702 Malham). The meaning of many of these symbols is generally unclear.

A comparison has been made with similar collections from South Lonsdale made by Emmeline Garnett and with the Lake District (Portsmouth University Geography Department). A data set for West Yorkshire is also available as a table of the number of examples in a series of decades. The date range and the late 1600s peak period is essentially the same, except that in the Lake District a Victorian revival is evident, perhaps linked with tourism and the influx of industrialists building new houses in the vernacular style. Ambler [1987] shows a set of examples around Settle; the Folly in Settle has the date 1679 noted - in recent years this date has become nearly indecipherable. The designs found in our area of study are generally more complex and attractive than elsewhere. The island of Jersey has very many dated lintels but almost no decorated examples. The Cotswolds have many old stone buildings extant but datestones are not common.

It would be of great heritage value if a more complete set of photos could be achieved over a wider region. It is suggested that anyone who can look at the website examples and is willing to check their own neighbourhood for datestones not noted here, and able to take digital photographs can send it or them by email to us for inclusion in the collection. Any added notes can also be incorporated. Notification of completed checking and surveys of places will also be very helpful. The job is really too large for one individual to accomplish but as a joint project it becomes feasible. Do please help!


The collections of Dr Jan Rhodes (decd. 2014) held by NCHT and Mr Cyril Harrington held at the Museum of North Craven Life in Settle (courtesy Peter Thomson and Mrs Anne Read, Hon. Curator) have made this project feasible. This article, pictures of typical datestone types, the list of datestones found, and the complete set of photographs have been put on the NCHT website by Prof. Frank Woodhams; this was not a trivial matter and required a lot of work. Kevin Illingworth and David Shore have been very helpful in making suggestions and supplying pictures. We are grateful for all this support.

Sources of information

  • Ambler, Lois, 1987. The old halls and manor houses of Yorkshire. Reprinted by Smith Settle (originally Batsford, London with preface dated 1913).
  • Broadbent, G.H., 1897. Ancient stone doorheads in Settle and Neighbourhood. Manchester (copy in Settle Library).
  • Garnett, Emmeline and Green-Hughes, Margaret, 2000. The dated buildings of Bentham, NCHT.
  • Garnett, Emmeline, 2007. The dated buildings of South Lonsdale, Centre for North-West Regional Studies.
  • Harrop, Sylvia, 2011. Austwick - a historical walk around the village, NCHT.
  • Hoyle, R.W., 2014. 'The Shambles in Settle Marketplace, its date and builder', YAS Journal, vol. 86, 228-36.
  • Hudson, Phil and Rita, 2000. Take a closer look at Settle, Hudson History of Settle.
  • Hutton, Barbara and Martin, Joyce, 1986. Doorways in the Dales, North Yorkshire and Cleveland Vernacular Buildings Study Group.
  • Pacey, A., 2007. Building craftsmen in Upper Wharfedale, privately published.
  • Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, 1986. Rural houses of West Yorkshire 1400-1830. Supplementary Series 8. West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. HMSO.
  • Sanderson, Gordon, 1911. Architectural features of the Settle District., Percy Lund, Humphries and Co., London.
  • Stainforth History Group, 2001. Stainforth - stepping stones through history.
  • The Horton History Group, 1984. Horton-in-Ribblesdale - the story of an upland parish, NCHT.
  • Walton, J., 1979. Homesteads of the Yorkshire Dales, Dalesman.
  • ‘Lakes Guides topics frameset’ then ‘Topics’ on the left-hand side).

The frequency of distribution of all types in Craven by decade.
The frequency of distribution of all types in Lakeland by decade.
The frequency of distribution of all types in South Lonsdale by decade.
The frequency of distribution of all types in West Yorkshire by decade.


The frequency of distribution of all types in Craven by decade.

The frequency of distribution of all types in Lakeland by decade.

The frequency of distribution of all types in South Lonsdale by decade.

The frequency of distribution of all types in West Yorkshire by decade.