James Walker

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

"All old farm buildings have a story to tell. Farm buildings should therefore be the subject of serious conservation policy. Conversion to another purpose should be the last resort, and converted buildings should clearly retain features that show their original character. We regard it as irresponsible to allow conversion involving the removal of features such as wall openings and external staircases or the insertion of internal divisions, dormer windows and chimneys which result in the obliteration of indicators to the building's former function."

(Historic Farm Buildings Group, 1989) The conservation of old buildings and other historical features of the cultural environment is a vital part of conserving the whole landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. The historical value of farm buildings underpins the emotional attachment so many people have to the local countryside. At one level the pressure to conserve vernacular farm buildings lies in a feeling of nostalgia; a wish to retain the past in a changing world. However, such buildings also exhibit architectural and design values worthy of conservation. The local materials from which they are constructed reflect their surroundings. Moreover, being built by local people, for local people, they have become a document of the area's history. Among the vernacular farm building types of the Yorkshire Dales the field barn is predominant. It far outnumbers any other type of agricultural building in the region. A survey completed for the Board of Agriculture at the close of the eighteenth century noted that: "The Western Dales are remarkable for their hay barns which are situated in the centre of every third or fourth field; those barns have always a cow-house at one end and frequently at both, where their cattle are wintered." (Tuke,J1800)

The process of historical research and the damaging effects of modern farming practices have fuelled a need to record the existing old farm buildings. This is especially important in respect of isolated field barns, so often regarded as a burden by farmers. Much of this recording has been carried out by voluntary or partially voluntary groups. The North Yorkshire and Cleveland Vernacular Buildings Study Group surveys provide an invaluable record of the county's buildings. Adequate historical recording is a necessary prerequisite to any comprehensive conservation strategy. In this respect, the Vernacular Buildings Survey of the National Trust is an exemplary scheme. This aims to provide the National Trust with a complete catalogue of all the vernacular and non-polite buildings in its ownership. By vernacular we mean buildings in local materials and styles which are in the traditions local to a particular place, incorporating details of their history, construction, materials, special features and layout. Surveys have been carried out on the Malham and Upper Wharfedale estates. There are one hundred and fifty nine buildings on the Upper Wharfedale estate. Ninety two of these are traditional field barns. Any such survey will show the diversity of buildings in the property. For instance, the remains of three vernacular houses survive in the hamlet of Yockenthwaite, one of which retains its beehive type bread oven. All three now serve agricultural or storage functions. On Redmire Farm, near Buckden, there are several buildings related to the use of that part of the dale as a deer park during the nineteenth century. There are remains relating to the lead mining industry on Moorend Farm and there are seven field lime kilns on the estate. The field barn is the most characteristic building. Its plan is not constant; there may be additional outshots, or cow stalls, depending upon the specific uses through time and in different parts of the dale. However, a field barn may be defined as having the multiple function of a winter cowhouse and a hay store. The internal layout has two main components, namely the haystore, 'the mew', and the cowstalls, 'the shippon'. There is a hay loft, 'the baulks' constructed over the stalls. Customarily there are two doors, the one opening to the hay store, and the other opening to the stalls. The loft is accessible from the hay store; external access is provided by pitching-eyes, 'forking holes'. The stalls are cleaned through the door or through a 'mucking out hole' in the gable end. Slit vents give the necessary ventilation to the hay store. These simple buildings display a wealth of details of the local building traditions. The walling is of rubble, limestone, sandstone or gritstone, depending on availability. On the limestone near the river Wharfe, walls of limestone coursed or brought to course, abound. In other parts of the dale poorer quality limestone is used in polygonal rubble walls. On the plateau pastures and meadows, just below the open fells, the barns are built of Yoredale sandstone. This splits easily into roughly rectangular blocks, and this is perfect for high quality coursed rubble walling. A highly developed method of finishing is 'watershot' masonry. This technique is common in the buildings of the western Pennines from the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Although limestone may be used for detailing it is more usual to find lintels, sills and quoins of sandstone or gritstone. When gritstone is used the jambs may be rebated internally for the door or shutters. A refinement seen on many gritstone openings is to have a chamfer to the surround. The face of the stone may display tooling or chisel drafted margins of a quality equivalent to ashlar masonry. Several lintels have inscribed on them the date of construction, thereby providing architectural interest as well as useful dating evidence. However, when utilising such information caution should be taken as much worked stone has been reused in the farm buildings. There are two main types of traditional door first the standard single pierced plank battered door, and secondly the two piece stable type door. The articulated door, with two sets of hinges allowing opening in confined spaces is rare, although some few examples survive in Langstrothdale. Most of the wide cart entrances had harr hung doors, where vertical pegs extend to fit into sockets in the lintel and threshold. Only one example of this remains on the National Trust's estate. The stall divisions, 'boskins', also reward study. The older divisions are made from a single piece of slate or flagstone. A late eighteenth century example survives, in situ, in High Thorn Haw Bam near Beckermonds. The slate is framed in wood; the corners of the posts are chamfered and the near posts are kneed. Later nineteenth century divisions have wood in place of the slate. Such historical interiors are under considerable threat of damage or removal. Several interiors have been renewed with traditional wooden stalls during the twentieth century. Others have been replaced with concrete divisions and standing platforms, and have been destroyed completely.

There is evidence in Langstrothdale that some field bams had heather thatched roofs. These date from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Later in the eighteenth and especially in the early nineteenth century many buildings were re-roofed in stone. In such cases the eaves were raised leaving the line of the old thatch roof clearly visible. The flagstone roofs with gritstone ridge tiles are the most durable of the traditional roofing materials in the dale. Another vernacular type of ridge is the 'wrestler' ridge; formed by stone flags notched at either side to interlock at the top. The physical record is enhanced by research in the local record office. Tithe maps and Enclosure Awards are particularly useful when assessing the significance of old buildings to the historical geography of individual farms or parishes.

To record old farm buildings is only the first step in promoting the conservation of this agricultural heritage. It is necessary to preserve the surviving buildings. However to maintain their existing stone and timber is not enough; a regular cycle of maintenance and repair needs to be promoted, using local building techniques and materials.

Historic Farm Buildings Group 1989 'HFBG Newsletter No. 9'

Tuke, J 1800 'General View of Agriculture of Riding of Yorkshire'


Isometric Diagram of a Field Bam. Saunders Bam, Scan-House, Hubberholme (illustration by James Walker).

Isometric Diagram of a Field Bam. Saunders Bam, Scan-House, Hubberholme (illustration by James Walker).