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Dairy Days archaeological surveys

Monday 16 December, 2019, by Karen Griffiths

One of the really important elements of the Dairy Days project has been linking the more recent historical record of dairying in Wensleydale with the earlier archaeological record. We trained up a group of volunteer surveyors and they worked alongside our contractor Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA) to produce a detailed record of three important and interesting sites in Wensleydale.

The first was of the Floshes Hill stackstands which we have already written about in detail on this blog. Alongside a two-week excavation conducted by Doug Mitcham our Community Heritage Officer, NAA surveyed several stackstands.

NAA also surveyed a small rectangular structure up on the hillside (location marked on the photo above as Fig 6). We wondered whether it might have been an early barn-like building but results were inconclusive. It clearly predates the drystone wall cutting through it but what it was used for is anybody’s guess.

Small rectangular structure up on Floshes Hill.

From Floshes Hill we then moved to Green Side. The name ‘side’ tells us that this area was used as an early summer grazing site and the large enclosure with associated hut structures was already recorded in our Historic Environment Record but not in a great deal of detail.

From the survey we think it very likely that this was a temporary summer grazing camp with the large enclosure designed to corral stock safely at night and the little group of structures at one end being the huts the herders lived in and processed the milk they would be collecting each day into butter and cheese which could be stored until needed at the home farm further down the dale. Unfortunately we can only speculate about the date, it could be prehistoric or medieval or any date in between.

From the survey we commissioned a reconstruction drawing from artist James Innerdale of how we imagine Green Side shieling settlement might have looked during the early medieval/Viking period.

Green Side imagined as a Viking period sheiling site. Illustration by James Innerdale
Green Side imagined as a Viking period shieling site. Illustration by James Innerdale

Finally, we ended up at a much more complex set of earthworks near Skell Gill. Again, from the name we know the hamlet was the site of another early summer grazing camp or shieling. After the Norman conquest it became the permanent location of a large cattle farm or ‘vaccary’ belonging to Jervaulx Abbey. The remains of an early farming settlement have been identified around and under a later field barn in a field called Galagill Ings east of Skell Gill.

The GPS survey alongside a geophysics survey revealed a number of smaller features/enclosures set inside a larger banked enclosure. NAA suggested that it could be the remains of a medieval farmstead possibly associated with the Abbey vaccary. Without excavation that’s as far as we can speculate.

As an interesting aside, from the 1840 Tithe Map we learn that the barn on top of the Galagill site and the surrounding hay meadows were farmed by a woman called Ann or Anna Pratt who was living a good mile away downhill at Dale Grange, site of Jervaulx’s main farm and administrative base for their medieval estate. The fields were then known as ‘Hargill’ so the modern name must be a corruption of that. Anna owned another barn and hay meadow near to Helm and a larger meadow and barn, Great Close, further east alongside the main toll road to Askrigg. The 1841 census lists her as ‘a farmer and head of household’ aged 50. Her 23-year old servant John Ash is also listed living with her. One can only imagine the hard work involved in farming these scattered fields. Foddering and watering the cows in the three out-barns through the winter would have been a major job each day for her and John, let alone all the butter and cheese-making back at the farmhouse seven days a week.

Sadly she is missing from the 1851 census and a search of Askrigg’s parish burial records gives us the probable reason, an Anna Pratt is listed as having died in 1844.

Read the full NAA survey report for all three archaeological sites in the PDF below

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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