Austwick and The Hall

6 June 2007
Leader - Sylvia Harrop

This walk was originally to take place on the date above, but a marked change in the weather that evening from being lovely and warm to very chilly meant that by common consent we gave up after about an hour, when a number of the group were showing signs of hypothermia! The walk was completed and extended in August 2008.

My aim in planning the walk was to show evidence of village life through the centuries, from Romano-British days to the present, covering the landscape, architecture, agriculture, industry, commerce, pubs, churches, education and social life. We started at The Hall, up Townhead, from where we could see evidence of old settlement in the landscape with the strip lynchets which almost surround the village. Austwick is in Domesday, meaning ‘eastern dairy farm’. Michael Pearson and Eric Culley, owners of the hall, gave us a brief history of the building and of its occupants to start off the walk. This history is by no means clear or straightforward, and the building has been much changed over the centuries. Several written sources speak of evidence of a peel tower, but this is hard to substantiate. Opposite the hall is Old Hall Farm, built to serve the hall, with a moulded lintel and sundial above the door. From here we walked up Townhead to School House, the first school in the village, belonging to the township and built on land owned by the hall. In 1842 a new school was built on the main road into the village from the east, still in use today.

Walking back down the hill and turning right on to Main Street, we looked at an impressive seventeenth-century house, Battle Hill, with a storeyed porch and an original studded door. Above the door is a rectangular panel with a date stone for 1673, and the initials I*LM. An unusual feature is a stair turret built on to the porch on the left. Passing the ‘new’ school we noted that it was built by three members of the Ingleby family of Lawkland Hall. This family was a major benefactor to the village in the nineteenth century. We also noted the former shop front on the house on the corner of Low Street opposite. Until the middle of the last century, Austwick had at least nine shops, making it almost self-sufficient. Opposite this shop Norcliffe House was built by the Rechabites of Rochdale in 1818, a large Temperance Friendly Society strong in this area. Their meeting room was on the top floor.

Practically every village in the north of England had a reading room by the end of the nineteenth century, and Austwick is no exception. The Old Reading Room on Low Street lasted around a century before finally giving up in the early 1980s. Reading rooms were a very important means of providing adult education in rural areas, where there were no public libraries. They were widely founded in the nineteenth century, providing books, newspapers and journals, together with educational and social facilities. In 1927 this one contained a library of 300 volumes, but struggled to survive from the 1930s onwards.

Walking down Low Street, we noticed examples of farmhouses with their original barns (now private houses), which are a feature of the village. We then turned left down the footpath to the bridge over the Austwick Beck. Part of the old road is still visible between two stone walls, running down to the ford, which was presumably the way across the beck before the stone bridge was built, probably in the seventeenth century. There was a clapper bridge for foot travellers on the east side of the present bridge, which was still there in 1923. Austwick is said to have one of the best collections of clapper bridges in the country. Two more of these cross the stream at the bottom of the Pant, but before we reached them, we noticed the privy over the stream behind what is now Merton Cottage - a rare survival, and one of a pair before the other, serving Suncroft, was demolished (illegally) several years ago.

At the top of the Pant, built right on the edge of the village, its poorhouses still survive. Originally three dwellings, they served the parish until soon after 1834, when new Union workhouses were built for groups of parishes - in this case at Castlebergh in Giggleswick. We then walked over the field to Holme Lane, and up to Clapham Road. Turning left out of the village, there are some of its oldest buildings. The last on the right was formerly the tithe barn. Until the last century, by law the incumbent of the parish took ten per cent of produce in tithes as part of his income. Harden House, across the road, was once the dower house to Lawkland Hall. It has a fine outside chimney stack, listed Grade 1, and has evidence of timber construction inside. Town End Cottage, next to the barn, has a date of 1712, but is probably older, and Harden Cottage, further up on the left, has a very elaborate date stone of 1719. A window with a ledge inscribed ‘Cheese Room’ appears to have been moved from the ground floor.

The wind was becoming more and more chill, and by the time we got to the church enthusiasm was definitely waning, so it was decided to give up and continue our tour of the village in 2008, to be reported later. We had already covered a good deal of the village’s history - though sadly, there was just not enough time to do more than scratch the surface.