Today we and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust are sharing news that two field barns in Arkengarthdale have been restored.
What I’ve been asked to do is set the context for this work and illustrate other notable recent ‘traditional building’ restorations.
The density and variety of traditional stone barns in the Yorkshire Dales is truly distinctive. The barns are testament to the resilience and hard work of upland farmers who have shaped the pastoral landscape of the Dales over several centuries.
Most barns – locally called laithes or cow houses – were built to house milk cows and hay during the winter. Then in the 1970s farming practices changed significantly. The barns are no longer used for their original purpose. Without intervention they will inevitably deteriorate and be lost over time.
The National Park Authority has been involved in two barn restoration projects recently, in addition to the work with YDMT in Arkengathdale.
Firstly there is a pilot project being delivered in partnership with Natural England and Historic England. It is providing 80% grant funding to farmers and landowners for the restoration of traditional buildings.
Another project being managed by the Authority is to restore barns in the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns and Walls Conservation Area, using funding donated and left as a legacy by members of the public to help restore Dales barns.
Between 2020 and 2022 at least 12 Dales barns, targeted owing to their traditional character and significance, have been fully restored through these two projects.
Here are three examples, each one with its own distinct character and unique story to tell and offering a brief glimpse into the lives of those who built and used them.
Henry Simpson’s Barn near Parcevall Hall in Wharfedale in Craven is a grade II* listed building, recognised as being of more than special interest. It has been at risk for more than 20 years, with the loss of its stone roof causing exposed original timbers to deteriorate. Here’s how it looked before restoration work began:
Henry Simpson’s Barn was built in 1737 on the estate of Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington. Henry Simpson was the agent for all of Burlington’s British estates. A surviving letter written by William Taylor, the local agent, to Mr Simpson in 1738 enclosed a full account of the barn including a quite remarkable sum of £126, 19 shillings, 5 pence.
Mr Taylor noted: “You’ll doubtless think a large sum… however ‘tis effectually done and is a very useful handsome and perhaps one of the best finished Barns in Craven.”
Nearly three hundred years later, Henry Simpson’s has been carefully restored. The contactor has published some good photos of the finished job. Original roof timbers (below) have been repaired and preserved under a new, lightweight roof covering.
Dykelands Barn at Scosthrop, near Airton in the Craven District is grade II listed and has been at risk for more than a decade. It was built in 1703 and adjoins a grade II listed farmhouse of 17th century origins. The history of the settlement of Scosthrop goes back further, with the name “Scotorp” as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 likely deriving from the Old Norse “Scottr” meaning “Scotsman”, and “thorpe” meaning “outlying farmstead”.
The building was suffering from very severe structural movement and needed significant repair works as well as full re-roofing. Following restoration works, the barn has been brought back into safe condition to be used as part of the working farm.
Coming further north into Richmondshire, The Butching Garth at Nappa in mid-Wensleydale is a stone’s throw from Nappa Hall, an imposing fortified manor house built by the Metcalfe family in the 15th century. You can see the hall in the background of this photo.
James Metcalfe fought for King Henry V of England at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and was rewarded for his service with land at Nappa, upon which Nappa Hall was built. Nappa Hall is grade I listed and described by Historic England as being “probably the finest and least-spoilt fortified manor house in the north of England.”
Butching Garth itself is a highly unusual building, being a 19th century former slaughterhouse of which very few comparable examples exist. Its traditional stone roof collapsed about 10 years ago, resulting in the loss of much of the first floor internally. However, following restoration involving structural repairs and the provision of a new lightweight roof structure, the building has been put into a safe condition to be re-used as a sheep shelter.
Surviving internal features of the former slaughterhouse have been retained, including a mechanical winch set into the rear wall.
Whilst it is fantastic to witness these and other traditional buildings being restored in the Yorkshire Dales, funding is available only to restore a very small proportion of the thousands of barns dotted throughout the landscape, as YDNPA spokesperson Derek Twine has explained in today’s news story.
For many redundant barns, the only option besides letting them gradually decay is conversion into a new use, which can give them a new lease of life and enable them to carry on being enjoyed by generations to come. This needs to be carried out in a sympathetic way to conserve the character and appearance of those barns and their wider landscape setting.
Sadly, some barns aren’t suitable for re-use, often by virtue of their lack of physical capacity, remoteness or poor state of repair, and it is those buildings which are most at risk of vanishing from the Yorkshire Dales landscape forever.