History in Settle

John Fox, Phil and Rita Hudson on behalf of the NCHRG

In recent years the North Craven Historical Research Group under the chairmanship of John Fox, with projects co-ordinated by Phil Hudson in Procter House, Settle, have continued to collect information and to undertake studies concerned with the local history, architecture, and archaeology of North Craven. All information collected is freely available to the general public. The Group also have a number of items of equipment which Community Groups as diverse as Giggleswick Horticultural Society, W.I.s and local history/heritage groups are welcome to borrow free of charge. These include a digital camera, digital projector, exhibition boards, GPS and portable computer. There is now a searchable collection of over 2000 local old photos, 20,000 digital photos, maps, local ephemera, and an extensive local and national history library based in Procter House that people may consult for research. Some members of the NCHRG are usually available to give illustrated talks on a variety of topics.

The members of the group are all dedicated in their own ways to making the past come alive, whether looking for features in the landscape or bending over ancient parchments, or both. Various exhibition boards are always on show in Procter House and other public places, and are changed frequently to show various aspects of historical research in the area. Research by Group members can be printed out in booklet form if required, or used as articles in publications.

The collection of information (stored on a large computer) is a searchable resource of over 200 Gb of information, for example to help people discover the history of their old houses, to determine family genealogy, and to understand the North Craven landscape. Group members can provide advice on how to set about your own research effort, or you may join in existing projects. Basic skills training can be provided if need be, including the use of the computer archive system. Initially the Group focussed on local townships but those further afield are also now of interest. Occasionally the contribution of one member happily provides important information to another researcher.

A substantial amount of information has been collected from county archives in Bradford, Leeds, Northallerton and Wakefield as well as others in York, Preston, Kendal, the Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) in Leeds and The National Archives in Kew. A large collection of property deeds (4000 or so), wills (several hundred), maps, ancient rent surveys, tithe awards and Court cases of local concern dating back hundreds of years are now accessible. Church Records are being catalogued. The history of the various local churches is of interest, as are also local charities set up in the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries. Public Health data and water supply history are documented. Quaker records, census data, Parish Register data, hearth taxes, trade directories, land enclosure details, bank records - all these can come together to flesh out the lives of local grandees as well as yeoman farmers, shopkeepers, traders and the ordinary folk of the area.

The chartularies, rentals and surveys made by the monastic houses and major landowners in the 15th to 18th centuries give important information about the early days. Once only available to specialist historians, anyone can now see the transcriptions of these documents. The tithe maps and awards of the early 1800s give much detail about field names, owners and occupiers. By computer super-imposition of the tithe and modern Ordnance Survey maps a better understanding of land use can be observed. Moreover, computer technology leads from a place on a map, such as a field, to the underlying documents where available. Historical research is now so much easier!

The Heritage and Environmental Records (at present being updated for the North Yorkshire County Council and the Yorkshire Dales National Park by group members) and Listed Buildings information can be viewed at Procter House, useful for new arrivals to the area to find out for themselves what to go and see. Photographs of old houses and their internal construction are in the collection.

The more agricultural aspects of the local scene are being studied, e.g. sheep creeps and gate stoops in the old stone walls, old routeways, mill sites and lime-kiln sites. Other landscape features such as pre-historic remains, quarries, mines, milestones, underpasses, boundary markers and old boundaries are being mapped using GPS devices coupled with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software. The combined use of field work and documentary evidence often is very rewarding - the work of the armchair and computer experts and open air enthusiasts often comes together.

Large collections of private property deeds ranging from the late 1500s to the 1900s have been made available to us which together with wills have allowed the stories of both Cowside and Winskill in Langcliffe to be told. It is to be hoped that other such collections will surface at some time.

A major project to investigate the Giggleswick Scar area financed by the Aggregates Fund has been undertaken recently along with input from national experts on radio-carbon dating of artefacts, Optical Stimulated Luminescence dating of soils, cosmogenic dating of rock scree samples, ecology and cave archaeology. Already this has produced results of national importance and more is yet to come. A small exhibition showing some of the early 20th century cave excavated artefacts is presently housed at Craven Museum in Skipton, and hopefully a much larger exhibition will be held in future. In conjunction with this, a second biennial workshop is being held by the Yorkshire Dales National Park at Bainbridge in September 2008 when experts in all aspects of Limestone Landscapes will be invited to meet and discuss recent research results.

All this has resulted from the activities of a large number of group members with a wide range of overlapping interests with a common interest in making Settle a centre for accumulation of information, mainly copies of material and transcriptions, otherwise scattered over the county and further away, expensive in time and money to consult. Computer technology makes the searching of distant archive sites much more efficient and relevant new material emerges constantly. For example the taxation records from the early 1300s are at the National Archives in Kew (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk). Typically 100 documents for a village can be examined (but in London) with occasional name lists and sums of money collected which can throw light on late medieval times. The Procter House resource allows free and rapid public access to local archives, county archives and the national www.a2a.org.uk website - an excellent research facility for documentary historical research. The Bradfer-Lawrence collection index for the material at the YAS in Leeds and local documents in the Tom Lord and Tom Dugdale collections are available.

The use of all this material requires a computer data base which can be interrogated with search terms, and this has been done in large measure by converting computer files to the portable document format (pdf). This is constrained sometimes by variations in spelling of old words and names but is also powerful in finding a search term on documents, maps and photographs. A browsing approach may also be useful when specific information cannot be defined too readily and this may throw up topics or pieces of information or clues which otherwise might have remained hidden. With this in mind a simple system has been created to access part of the collection using a limited index to subjects and a more sophisticated system is being considered. A website for some material has been set up especially for schools and the general public to use - see the site www.northcravenhistoricalresearch.co.uk.

There is something for nearly everyone to do to support local historical research, whether armchair or open air work. It isn’t really work; real pleasure is derived from discovering something new about the area we live in and making that knowledge available to others not fortunate enough to live here in North Craven.