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The Butching Garth at Nappa. Photo by Gaby Rose.

Examples of recent barn restorations

Tuesday 21 June, 2022, by Peter Reynolds

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.

Gunnerside barns by Ken Readshaw
Gunnerside barns by Ken Readshaw

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 Arkengarthdale.

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 in 2018. Photo by Gaby Rose
Henry Simpson’s Barn in 2018. Photo by Gaby Rose

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.

Timbers in Henry Simpson's Barn
Timbers in Henry Simpson’s Barn

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”. 

Dykelands Barn in 2018. Photo by Gaby Rose.
Dykelands Barn in 2018. Photo by Gaby Rose.

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.

Dykelands Barn in 2018. Photo by Gaby Rose.
Dykelands Barn post-restoration.
A carved stone lintel of Dykelands Barn, recording a date of 1703 and the initials “I.R.
A carved stone lintel of Dykelands Barn, recording a date of 1703 and the initials “I.R.

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.

Butching Garth in 2018. Photo by Peter Reynolds.
Butching Garth in 2018. Photo by Peter Reynolds.

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.

Butching Garth in 2022. Photo by Gaby Rose.
Butching Garth in 2022. Photo by Gaby Rose.

Surviving internal features of the former slaughterhouse have been retained, including a mechanical winch set into the rear wall.

Mechanical winch at Butching Garth
Mechanical winch at Butching Garth

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.  

Picture of Peter Reynolds

Peter Reynolds

Peter is a Building Conservation Officer with the YDNPA.


3 Replies to “Examples of recent barn restorations”

  1. I have been really interested in your article in the Craven Herald about Dales Barns . Born and brought up on a Dales farm, I have had a life-long interest in painting and have been especially inspired by the landscapes and natural beauty of the surrounding area.

    Over the years, I have painted many of the barns in the Dales and have become increasingly concerned about their disappearance and decay. I have gradually been putting together a collection of paintings and sketches as a record of their existence.
    I’m now trying to put these into a booklet form and wonder if there is a list anywhere of the names of barns or how I might find them.

    • News Release says:

      Hello, Your question has had us thinking for a while. We’re pretty sure that no list of names of laithes (barns) in the YDNP exists. In my experience laithes are often given simple locational names; the hill farm I knew well as a lad had only two barns away from the farmstead and they were known as Far Laithe and Low Laithe. Laithes can also change names depending on ownership. For instance in the town I know best a barn was named after the farmer who had the field but that name has now been forgotten and fallen out of use.
      The National Park Authority looks after the Historical Environment Record for the NP area and that contains quite a few names for barns.
      Another option is to look at 19th century OS maps, which are so detailed they sometimes have names of the laithes written on.
      Often the best option if you’re out and about researching is to try to catch a word with the farmer or a local resident for the names.
      Best wishes, Andrew, Communications Team

  2. A. Magee says:

    I saw your article in the DST and looked online for more info. Finding substantial funding for restoration seems to be a real challenge, putting the barns and local people’s heritage more at risk.

    You seem to be looking at quite traditional (pre-internet) funding and match funding approaches, and the information all seems to be quite general-there doesn’t seem to be a donate option for individuals, so I think you must be losing potential donations from passing footfall on the website.

    Is there some reason why you aren’t seeking crowd funding as match funding for some of the barns? This could be packaged in various ways to make an attractive option (e.g. specific buildings, specific parts of a dale, particular history, Herriot links etc), and some (not all) could perhaps be done on a competition type basis (eg a win a weekend in the dales competition). If the NP isn’t allowed to do this, could the YDMT? This may mean slightly different skills/approach to what you’re doing at the moment.

    Prince Charles was always very interested in upland farming in the northern dales. His new role probably prevents his taking an active interest, but is there any scope with the Princes Trust, or a youth training scheme to develop skills?

    The dales are a unique environment, and given the number of visitors, surely there is scope at Visitor Centres to harness some of that interest into donations for practical improvements to barns and laithes while visitors are actually in the area. There have been times in the past when I’ve read something interesting at a Visitor Centre, and would have donated, but no option for doing so. Making a contribution to the general work doesn’t feel very effective.

    Also, the YDMT doesn’t seem to have a specific option for donating to barn restoration- I would have made a donation.

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