Haver and Stirks: Farming in Austwick from 1550 to 1750

Michael Pearson
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 


According to The place-names of the West Riding of Yorkshire Austwick means ‘east dairy-farm’. Today there is no dairy farming in the parish. The existence of strip lynchets and the survival of ridges and furrows shows that arable farming was more prominent in the past. In 1851 the Tithe Schedule recorded that nearly 200 acres were being ploughed. In 2015 there was just a single field devoted to growing corn. Clearly the pattern of farming has changed over the past centuries and no doubt will continue to change in the future.

The documentary evidence for this change is scant. However, probate inventories provide some useful clues. Inventories are lists drawn up by neighbours of the possessions of a deceased person who had left a will. They list and value the testator’s furniture and household possessions, sometimes room by room, the animals and crops as well as any farm equipment. They date from the 1530s and continued into the 19th century. The late Stan Lawrence devoted much of his life to researching local history and transcribed over 70 of these inventories from the Lancashire Record Office relating to Austwick, dating from the 1550s to the 1740s. These have formed the basis of the following analysis and the light they shed on the changes in farming from just after the dissolution of the monasteries to the agricultural revolution.


Table 1 is a summary of the number of inventories and the net value of the estates grouped in fifty-year periods. The net value was calculated as the total value of the assets plus any debts owed to the deceased minus any of the debts owed by the testator. For example John Ash, who died in 1621/2 (old style calendar with year end of 25 March) left animals, crops, household item etc. valued at just over 48; he was owed nearly 8 by two individuals but in turn owed 16 which included 30 shillings for his servant’s wages. So the net value was 40. In some cases the debts exceeded the total value of the moveable assets. However, the inventories do not include the value of any land held let alone the acreage farmed. Thus the deceased was not necessarily insolvent. We will return to this further in a wider discussion of the economics of farming and village life.

TABLE 1 Number of inventories and net values of estates
No. of inventories7232813
Net estate ()11 to 155 1 to104 2 to 2100 to502
Average ()54315679

In the sixteenth century the sample included just one woman but all had been engaged in farming in that they kept animals or grew crops. In the first half of the seventeenth century the proportion of women was similar (14%) and all but two of the group had been engaged in farming. However, these two still kept hens. For the second half of that century the proportion of women remained at 14%, but nearly a third of the sample were not engaged in farming, though some of them owned a horse or kept a single cow. In the final group the proportion of women was unchanged. Three of the group were not farmers, though one of them still owned farm equipment. The other two were women who did not keep any animals.

The net value of the estates varied considerably in all four groupings. The richest person was Arthur Ingilby who died in 1701. If his data are excluded the highest value for the eighteenth century group is reduced to 145, which is similar to the maximum found in the preceding periods. Similarly the average falls to 44. This suggests that due to the small size of the samples the data for one individual can skew the results. Nevertheless, it appears that the average net values of estates were similar from 1550 to 1750, with the exception of a possible dip at the start of the seventeenth century.


Table 2 is a summary of the figures extracted from the inventories for sheep. After the Tudor period, when all the people in the sample kept sheep, there was a decline in the number of people keeping flocks. (The term seems inappropriate for a group of four sheep!) Of the 20 farmers who died between 1650 and 1699 only seven reared sheep, and of these only two had flocks valued at 10 or more. In the eighteenth century sample, while the proportion keeping sheep increased, the size and value of the flocks generally declined. It is interesting that the wealthiest farmer, Arthur Ingilby, kept no sheep at all. Occasionally the valuers made the distinction between ewes and hoggs (lambs) and it is sometimes possible to calculate the price per animal. It appears that the value of sheep increased after the 16th century but then remained fairly static until at least 1750. Throughout the period from 1550, though sheep were a part of the farming landscape, they were not the dominant part they are today.

TABLE 2 Data for sheep
No. of entries 7 out of 78 out of 237 out of 287 out of 13
Value of sheep2 to 1214/- to 243/- to 20 1- 14
No. of sheep11 to 514 to1131 to104 7 to 38
Value per animal (s/d)wethers 1/7sheep 3/7 tohogg 3/73/- to 7/4
ewes 2/45/4sheep 3/- to 4/-
lambs 2/7


The inventories include an interesting range of names for cattle. Terms such as heifer, kye, stirk, stote, why, calf steer, cattle and oxen all appear in a variety of spellings. Some retain their current meanings while others need further explanation. ‘Why’ is a Craven dialect word for a heifer, whilst stirk is a heifer between the age of one and two years but can also be used for cattle of either sex. A stirk becomes a stote when it is old enough to be yoked in a plough. Finally a kye, sometimes spelled quy, is a cow or in plural kyne.

Table 3 is a summary of the inventory data. In the Tudor sample all but one of the group owned cattle, which accounted for just over a third of the net value of the estates. In the first half of the 17th century all but four of the sample kept cattle, which again accounted for a third of the estates. Though there was a further decline in the proportion of people rearing cattle the average value remained at about a third.

TABLE 3 Data for cattle
No. of entries 6 out of 719 out of 2319 out of 2810 out of 13
Value of cattle () 4 to 42 1 to 32 1 to 92 7 to 222
Average () 19 13 16 38
No. of oxen 0 to 7 0 to 60 to 12 0 to10
No. of cattle 2 to 36 0 to 21 0 to 26 0 to 54
Value per animal(/s)
     oxen2 to 32/3 to 3/32/10 to 4/134 to 5
     kyne1/18 to 21/15 to 2/102 to 32 to 3/10
     stirke 0/6 to 1 0/13 to 1/3 0/15 to 1/01/10
     stotte1/12/161/15 to 23 to 3/10
     calf-0/80/7 to 0/101 to 1/10

A distinction can be made between draught animals and other cattle. In the earliest sample all but two of the deceased owned oxen or stotes. As both of these people also owned corn, which presumably they had grown, it would suggest that they either hired oxen for ploughing or else used horses for the job. In the next sample only four inventories listed oxen among the possessions. The remaining farmers did not always possess horses, or possessed only a single mare, so it seems probable that they borrowed or hired their neighbours’ oxen. In the latter half of the seventeenth century the number of farmers owning oxen remained unchanged. John Paley, who died in 1650/51, owned a total of twelve oxen which were valued at 56. This amounted to about 30% of his net estate and was a significant investment. In the next century only three inventories listed oxen, with ten beasts being owned by Arthur Ingilby. Again this suggests a continuing decline in the numbers owning oxen with little evidence that their role was being performed by horses.

Analysis of the inventories shows that rearing cattle, other than oxen, was an important part of farming throughout the period. This was both for milk production as well as beef. From the inventories it is often possible to calculate the value of the different types of cattle. For example, in the Tudor period oxen were worth between 2 and 2.17s each. In the next sample they ranged from 2.3s to 3.3s each. In the final half of the seventeenth century values ranged from 2.10s to 4.3s. The final sample shows that prices had risen with the beasts being worth from 4 to 5 each. There seems to have been a steady increase in their value over the period. This may explain the decline in the numbers of farmers keeping oxen. If you had a limited amount of land to plough then keeping oxen would be an expensive investment; it would make more sense to invest in rearing cattle for beef or cows for milk.

The values of the other cattle have also been listed in Table 3 and it is clear that there is a wide range in values. This is possibly due to the age and condition of the animals. In one inventory ‘one old poore, lame cow’ was valued at 1.3s.4d, when in the same period other cows were valued at 2.10s each.


Table 4 is a summary of the information extracted from the inventories. There is one obvious proviso: the season in which the testator died would have had an important effect on the value of the crops. The earliest inventories provide the greatest details about which crops were grown. In the sixteenth century only corn, haver (oats), barley, bigg (a variety of barley) and hay were listed. Beans were listed in the next century. From then onwards the level of detail deteriorated and items were often simply described as ‘crops’. Generally quantities were not provided, with the three exceptions listed. With more examples it might be possible to calculate the areas under cultivation. Very occasionally timber was listed and there is a single instance of hives and bees. Also there was an instance where a manure heap was valued.

TABLE 4 Data for crops and wool
No. of entries 7 out of 716 out of 2316 out of 289 out of 13
Value of crops(/s) 3 to 330/11 to 11 0/10 to 27 0/10 to 50
Average () 10 4 10 16
Values 1 acre (haver) 2:½ acre (oats) 4s
½ acre (barley) 1
4 out of 710 out of 239 out of 28 1 out of 13

In the Tudor period crops were listed in all the inventories, with an average value of 10. In the next sample a smaller proportion of farmers grew crops and the average value fell to 4 before recovering to 10 in the second half of the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century a greater proportion of farmers were growing crops but when the estate of Arthur Ingilby was excluded the average value had fallen to 3. This could be due to a fall in grain prices, a decline in the acreage being planted or a combination of the two.

Although not strictly a crop, wool was listed in a number of inventories throughout the period. However, this would depend on the time of death of the farmer and the time of shearing. In some cases wool was listed but the farmer did not have any sheep. This may suggest that wool had been bought for spinning or weaving. This is supported by the listing of looms in three inventories between 1600 and 1649. John Frankland, who died in 1650, was described as a webster and possessed wool and cloth valued at 20. In 1710 William Beecroft died leaving wool, cloth and looms valued at 9. He was described as a clothier. It is interesting that hemp, ‘lynin’ and flax appear more frequently in the inventories than wool. Either hemp and flax were grown locally or were purchased to be spun and woven as part of a way of supplementing farm incomes.

Farm Equipment

Often described as ‘husbandrie geare’ the inventories rarely specify the value of individual pieces of equipment. Hay and turf carts, yokes and ploughs were listed but these were lumped together and given fairly modest values. Table 5 is a summary of the range of values over the period with some examples of the values of individual items. In the final period, if the estate of Arthur Ingilby is excluded, the maximum value of farm equipment falls to 2, which is in line with the previous century.

TABLE 5 Values of farm equipment
 1550-99 1600-49 1650-99 1700-49
No. of entries5 out of 714 out of 2319 out of 289 out of 13
Value of farm equip.6s to 10 2s to 213s to 210s to 15
Values plough geare 6s hurroweing geare 3s/4d
axeltries 2s
weale 8s
2 dickeing spades 20d
spades 10d
picke & 2 hames 1s
carts 1/15/0
plough gear 1/10/0
harrow & plough geare 16s/8d

Horses, Pigs And Hens

Table 6 provides the comparative data for horses. Used for transport, drawing carts, as pack animals and possibly for harrowing and ploughing, it is not surprising that they were commonly listed in the inventories. The number of these multi-purpose animals remained fairly constant over the period, with Arthur Ingilby’s stable skewing the data in the final group. Once again variation in the values of animals may be explained by their age and condition.

TABLE 6 Data for horses
No. of entries 7 out of 714 out of 23 17 out of 28 9 out of 13
Value of horses () 1 to 131 to 112 to 242 to 40
No. of animals 1 to7 0 to 6 0 to 6 0 to10
Values(/s/d)Mare1/3/41/16/8 to 4 2 to 41 to 4

Pigs were regularly listed in inventories of all periods. However it is clear from Table 7 that not every household kept pigs and, if they did, only limited numbers were reared. There was one exception: John Granger kept a herd of pigs valued at 12. A lack of woodland in the area for foraging may explain the low number of swine. On the other hand hens were far more commonly kept. Numbers were rarely specified and the values listed were modest. Stephen Procter had six hens valued at 2s. By the 18th century poultry were no longer listed: perhaps their value was so low that the valuers ignored them.

TABLE 7 Data for pigs and hens
No. of entries(pigs) 2 out of 7 15 out of 23 8 out of 284 out of 13
Values (s) 10 to 240 2 to 13 6 to 40 10 to 40
No. of entries(hens) 6 out of 713 out of 23 7 out of 280 out of 13
Values (s) 1-4 1-3 1-6 -


The sample of 71 inventories is a small one, particularly as they span 200 years. In fact Stan Lawrence did not transcribe all the probate inventories for Austwick held by the Lancashire Record Office. When all of the remainder have been transcribed we will have a better idea as to whether the sample analysed here is representative of the larger group. The next issue is whether inventories, as a group, are representative of all classes of the community. Not everyone who died left a will and an inventory. Although the sample described above was drawn from a wide variety of social classes (gentry, yeomen, husbandmen, tradesmen and widows) women were significantly under-represented. This may not be so critical when considering the pattern of farming in the area. Even so, the changes in agriculture described and the explanation for the causes of these changes must remain tentative. The analysis of the inventories for neighbouring parishes, as well as the transcription of the remaining Austwick ones, will provide greater confidence in the trends and observations described above.

Analysis demonstrates that farming in Austwick was not static between 1550 and 1750. Various trends have been identified: a decline in sheep rearing, the dominance of cattle (whether for beef or milk) in the economy and the continuing importance of arable agriculture, along with the development of other employment to supplement incomes. The shift from sheep to cattle is supported by studies elsewhere [Whyte and Shaw, 2013]. Studies of Nidderdale also show a decline in sheep-rearing and the development of the domestic textile industry [Turner, 1995]. In the case of Nidderdale the change was attributed to a reduction in the size of agricultural holdings. The average medieval messuage was said to be about 20 acres which was enough to support a family with a small surplus. By the early seventeenth century the average holding had fallen to 12 acres with copyholds repeatedly divided to provide an inheritance for younger sons. Even with common grazing rights this was not sufficient to support a family without an additional income. Hence the growth of the linen industry.

This was not necessarily the case in Austwick. Unfortunately we do not have details of the acreage of individual farms. Whilst this is available from the Tithe apportionment of 1851 and the census of the same date there are no data for earlier periods. The Court Baron records provide information about the exchange of land but not the actual size of holdings. An examination of Austwick wills, however, does not support the continued division of farms to provide for younger sons. For example when William Browne died in 1663, he left his eldest son, Adam, all his land except Moore Close, which was left to his other son and daughter unless Adam paid them 5. Similarly, when Robert Armitstead died he left his nephew all his customary lands and tenant right. He also made provision of cash rather than land for his other nephew, and sister as well as other relatives. To meet these bequests the main beneficiary may have had to dispose of land. However, this is not supported by the Court Baron records. Alternatively the main beneficiary may have borrowed money locally to pay for the other bequests.

The peasant proclivity for hoarding money under the bed does not seem to have existed in Austwick. The probate inventories show that only small sums of ready cash were kept. From the start of the seventeenth century the inventories show that the deceased may have had debts, credits or both. For example, William Yeadon, who died in 1631, had goods valued at 3 but was owed 10.9s. He possessed no animals or sources of income so probably lived off the interest he charged on the loans. At the other extreme Isabel Yeadon, who died in 1650, had goods valued at 59, was owed 158 and in turn had borrowed 6 leaving a net estate of 210. In Lincolnshire the probate inventories showed that one third had debts or credits [Holderness, 1976]. Part of this borrowing may have been due to problems of liquidity between sowing and harvest, fluctuations in prices and yields, as well as a source of capital for the purchase of stock or land. Far from hoarding, there is plenty of evidence for redistributing idle capital towards the economically active or those in difficulty in the community. This is an avenue for the further exploration of the economics of a farming community.

Another area for further investigation is that of the role of oxen and their part in the rural economy. Research on medieval England has demonstrated that while horses were more expensive to keep than oxen they were also more versatile on the farm [Langdon, 1982]. Nationally, by the late 16th century horses were said to comprise more than half of the draught herd. By the 19th century oxen appear to have been of little importance, with the minor exception of the Yorkshire Dales [Collins, 2010]. Analysis of a wider sample of inventories may provide further insights.


  • Collins, E.J.T., 2010. The latter-day history of draught oxen in England, 1770-1964. Agr. H. Rev., 58: 191-216
  • Holderness, B., 1976. Credit in English rural society before the nineteenth century, with special reference to the period 1650-1720. Agr. H. Rev. 24: 97-109
  • Langdon, J., 1982. The economics of horses and oxen in medieval England Agr. H. Rev. 30: 31-40
  • Lawrence, S., 2003. Austwick agriculture. North Craven Heritage Trust J., 11-12
  • Turner, M., 1995. Kith and kin: Nidderdale families 1500 - 1750. York: Summerbridge Tutorial Group
  • Whyte, I. and Shaw, H., 2013. Post-medieval vegetation and landscape change in Upper Ribblesdale: resilience and stability in farming.in Medieval Studies in the Yorkshire Dales, ed. R. D. Martlew, York: PLACE