Book Review: ‘Report on the dating of traditional farm buildings around Ingleborough’ by Alison Armstrong and David Johnson

Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (2019)
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Many old buildings are palimsests: they have been altered with original features destroyed, replaced or moved. Dating of these different stages in the development of a house is problematic. Whether it is the dating of the style of a fire surround or the carpentry joints of roof timbers it all appears imprecise and speculative. So I am all in favour of the use of scientific techniques to shed more light on the problem. This book is all about a dendrochronological survey of some of the traditional farm buildings in the area around Ingleborough. Tree-ring dating is not about counting the number of annual growth rings of the timber to give its age. Rather it is the matching of the differential annual growth with other dated samples plus the identification of the hardwood/sapwood boundary to give a date range at which the tree was felled. All this is explained clearly and concisely in the book.

There were 15 buildings surveyed with 86 timber samples analysed by the Nottingham Tree-Ring Dating Laboratory. The results surprised me. Many of us have accepted the idea that the field barns that adorn our landscape were built in the 18th or 19th centuries. This study changes that: nearly three quarters of the timbers successfully dated were felled before 1600. A fifth could be dated to around the start of the previous century. It is amazing that some of the timbers date to about 1259.

This is a fascinating book and my only quibble is that the analysis section for each building is unnecessarily repetitive. Hopefully further funding will be available to extend this research and add significantly to our understanding of the vernacular architecture of the Dales.