Cattle Creeps or Culverts, Cripple, Creep and Smoot Holes

Maureen Ellis

 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Tunnels are connected with fact and fantasy; folklore such as escape passages for political or religious fugitives abounds. In North Craven there are real tunnels that can be seen today, that are not marked on present day OS maps and were not constructed for human transgress but for the passage of animals. Cattle and sheep have been so important that land owners went to the considerable expense of making tunnels usually under green lanes. Why did this happen?

The tunnels which I first discuss seem to have been associated with the enclosures. W.G. Hoskins says 'At the beginning of the eighteenth century the rural landscape was still far from assuming its present likeness. Farming was carried out in open fields that had not basically changed since the thirteenth century'. By 1700 about half the arable land was enclosed with the fields we see today. It is difficult to say how much land used for cattle was enclosed at that time. Christopher Taylor says 'In most cases where enclosure took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the existing road patterns were swept aside and new usually straight roads were constructed'. Land on either side of the lane was likely to have been owned by the same person, and passage of animals would be made possible by the building of a tunnel under the lane which was invariably bounded, (enclosed), by a stone wall on either side. As Tom Lord and Harold Foxcroft say (personal communications) the reason was, access to water. Gates have to be opened, labour was cheap and the former mostly seem to have come in at a later date.

Shaun Milward marked my map most reliably with the sites of several of these cattle creeps as they are now known. He pointed out that the give away for their presence is always subsidence in the track on either side of the tunnel.

From Stainforth village past the Post Office and leading off from the small green there is a steep hill at the start of the lane. About a mile further on at GR 832631 there is a splendid example, with a stone arch fit for a cathedral. Tom Lord owns the land on either side of the track. He drew my attention to several important points. Firstly the lane was formed by the end of the seventeenth century and that split most of the grazing land from water, hence a tunnel would give animals access to it. Secondly these extremely soundly constructed tunnels are not large enough for present day cattle; in fact most of them are blocked off, there is no longer use for them and gates are used now. Thirdly said Tom, the tunnel connecting his land, although not marked on present day maps was named on the 1st edition of the O.S map as a culvert. This is the name he uses. There is a further culvert on his land just up the lane.

There are two more culverts further up the lane on the property of Mr R.S. Lodge at West Side House.

Leaving Upper Settle and taking the road to Malham, Lambert Lane branches of in a southerly direction.

This lane yields at least three cattle creeps. Look at GR 832625.

A mile out of Settle in the direction of Long Preston at GR 814627 there is another, under the A65 next to the barn.

There are two further tunnels under the A65 which may be more well known. One leading from Clapham to Clapham Station and the other at the junction of the road from Austwick and the A65. The later is a walkway beside Austwick beck.

Although this article is about tunnels for animal passage it would be incomplete without mentioning cripple and smoote holes. I am indebted to Jill Sykes for the following information. The first are the familiar square holes at ground level, large enough for a sheep to pass through, mediaeval sheep had longer legs than the present

Cripple Hole, Austwick

fell side sheep. Lanolin from sheep wool still adheres from times past to the sides of these holes. The second holes higher up in the walls are for rabbits to jump through. There is a wall at Kinsey specially built to demonstrate these different holes

This article is by no means an exhaustive account on this subject and I would be grateful for further information as to the whereabouts of more tunnels

REFERENCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Personal Communications, Harold Foxcroft, Tom Lord, Sean Milward, Frank Royston and Jill Sykes. Christopher Taylor. Roads and Tracks of Britain.

W.G Hoskins. The Making of the English Landscape.

Photo: Jill Sykes

Carved gate post, Thorpe
Photo: Jill Sykes
Culvert on lane out of Stainforth
Lambert Lane
Under the Settle Road from the west side and Cripple Hole, Austwick
Near Newby Cote, Clapham Old Road. It was to keep sheep and lambs in, judging by the number of bars and how they would be.

Under the Settle Road from the west side