Wood House probably around 1950
This brief history of Wood House Farm, Austwick (Map Ref SD 777 682) has been gleaned from the written records, from individuals still living and, a little bit, from my imagination!
Wood House Farm stands in a beautiful location at the foot of Oxenber Wood looking towards Keasden and Clapham moors to the south, the village of Austwick to the west and Crummockdale to the north. The land is all limestone and therefore well drained.
The written record goes back to the Census of 1841, but I believe that the land has been farmed for hundreds of years before that The evidence for this lies in the presence of many lynchets (terraces) in several of the fields, which would have been ploughed by oxen for growing oats, barley and emmer - a primitive form of wheat. Lynchets were a form of agriculture practised from Anglo-Saxon times to the Mediaeval period, which suggests there was farming being carried on somewhere between the 7th and 14th Centuries. The lynchets are in several of the farm fields, but the ones which can be seen most clearly from the top of Oxenber run from north to south, starting in High Wood Close and ending in Sowden Croft (see sketch). These lynchets run underneath the present stone walls and clearly pre-date them, whereas another group of lynchets, in Scaleber pasture, end abruptly at the present boundary wall, suggesting that they are of a different period. In a field just to the south of the farm there is a site which has been identified as a mediaeval farmstead with 7 crofts which is associated with the lynchet system. This site was 'depopulated', probably for sheep farming, during the monastic period.
The farm house does not have any date on it, but I imagine that it is at least 18th century and possibly earlier. Over the years the farm has varied in size from about 50 acres to 83 acres. In 1841 (the earliest Census information available) the farm was run by a tenant farmer, Thomas Holden, with his wife, Jane, and four children, Elizabeth, Richard, Henry and Margaret. Thomas was in his mid 50s and the children ranged in age from 20 to 6, with Richard and Henry being twins aged 15.
The owner of the farm was not recorded. The farm house at this time would probably have been similar to that shown in the photograph, comprising a kitchen/living room, scullery, larder and parlour downstairs with probably 2 or 3 rooms upstairs. There was an earth closet up the garden. Mains water did not arrive until about 1950 and the principal source of water was a trough in the yard which was fed by a pipe running underground from the beck flowing down from Feizor.
Ten years later the 1851 Census records the occupiers as Thomas Holden, now aged 63, with his wife, Jane aged 69, and two children, Elizabeth 34 and Henry 24. There is no mention of either Richard or Margaret. Both Elizabeth and Henry are said to be unmarried but interestingly there is a grandson, Thomas Henry Wilson, living in the house. The farm at this time has 58 acres and the owner is Samuel Powell and Agnes his wife.
By 1861 Henry has married an Elizabeth, 10 years his junior, and she has produced their first child, Margaret, who is just 10 months old. Thomas is still the tenant but his wife has died and there are now just 4 people, including the baby, living on the farm which is much the same size as ten years previously.
The next ten years see some interesting changes. Thomas remains the tenant and the farm has grown to 83 acres. Henry, Thomas's son, has acquired a new wife, Mary, who is 17 years his junior. It is not clear what has happened to Elizabeth and there is no mention of her daughter Margaret either, so perhaps there has been a divorce or some other tragedy. In any event Mary goes on to produce 6 surviving children over the next ten years, Jenny, Annie, Clara, Harry, Ernest and Ella. In 1881 Henry has become the tenant, his father having died somewhere between 1877 (when he would have been nearly 90) and that year. At that time the farm has contracted back to 58 acres and there are two adults and 7 children living in the house, ranging from 13 years old to one month. It must have been very crowded!
Henry's eldest son, Harry, who is 5 years old in 1881 comes to take over the farm though we do not know exactly when this happens. However we do know that in 1945 the tenancy passes from Harry Holden to John Dowbiggin who goes on to farm the land up until his death in 1978. The owner of the farm during John Dowbiggin's time is Margaret Horsley who is a member of the Robinson family of Austwick.
The farm had been bought by Joseph Robinson from a Colonel Bairstow in 1919. Joseph died in 1936 and ownership passed to one of his sons, Joe. Margaret Horsley was Joe Robinson's daughter and she inherited the farm on the death of her mother in 1941. At that time the farm was valued at £1,900! During John Dowbiggin's tenancy the farm was 52 acres with further land rented at Wharfe and near Settle. In addition there were 10 Sheep Gaits on Oxenber and 1 Dale on Austwick Moss. The farm was mixed with both dairy and beef cattle, sheep and chickens, whose eggs were sold locally. The last major extension to the farm took place in 1952 when a 'state of the art' milking parlour was added, with space for 16 cows. Electricity did not arrive until 1957 and even then it was still necessary to have a generator on stand-by as the supply was unreliable! In 1978, on John Dowbiggin's death, the farm ceased its long history as a single unit. The house and one field were sold into residential ownership and the remainder of the land was auctioned and bought by various neighbouring farmers. Like many Dales farms the economic pressures of the industry had dictated that it was too small to be a viable unit and the end of an era had arrived.