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Milking cows in Castle Bolton

Friday 27 September, 2019, by Karen Griffiths

We are continuing to work on the walking routes which we intend to publish for the Dairy Days Project. Several of our Dales Volunteers have been out snagging the routes for us and taking photos for inclusion in the walk booklets. Where they can they chat to local people to check information for us and Paul who has been checking routes around Castle Bolton has come up with lots of extra stories for us. We can’t include them all in the booklet so we thought we’d write about them here. We’ve also had local historian Ian Spensley, who grew up in Castle Bolton, hunting out information for us.

Paul started by finding where Ellerlands was, a common cow pasture in Castle Bolton, which we already knew about because of Ian Spensley’s grandmother, Annie who we featured in the blog post ‘A Wensleydale milkmaid

Annie Spensley, Castle Bolton 1930. Courtesy of Ian Spensley

The photo shows Annie off to milk her two cows which were grazed on Ellerlands.

Cow Pasture at Ellerlands Edge, Castle Bolton
Cow Pasture at Ellerlands Edge, Castle Bolton

Ellerlands is a rare survival of a communal system of farming dating back to Norman times. In those days, the lord of the manor allowed the peasants who worked his land, to graze animals on a field set aside for them. Each household was given a number of ‘cattlegates’, one ‘gate’ allowed you to graze one cow. Local men Steve Bostock and Richard Spensley told Paul that even within living memory a cowherd was employed to bring the cows down each day from the pasture so their owners could milk them. What is now part of the Castle car park is where the herder brought the cows for milking by their various owners.

Site of the Spensley’s milking shed in Castle Bolton car park. Courtesy of Ian Spensley

Ian tells us, having gone out to take a photo of where Annie used to milk her cows: ” …things have changed more than I thought. The corner where my grandparents had their shed is totally overgrown and most of the wall has gone.”

Will Dinsdale was the last person to milk cows in the car park area, near the toilets, you may be able to just make out the stone foundations of that shed in amongst the trees in the photo below.

“…he would keep so many cows in what used t’be the communal pasture along with Horn’s cows, and Will had a ramshackle, rough stone building with a tin roof at the bottom of the cow pasture and he used t’milk his cows in there with a milking machine that attached t’the power take off on the back of the tractor.” Ian Spensley (64), of Redmire

Ruins of Will Dinsdale’s milking shed, Castle Bolton. Courtesy of Ian Spensley

According to Ian, Will Dinsdale also milked cows down the lane from the castle in a cow house below the main road at SE 0365 9135. “The timings would depend on when they ate the fog or were wintered in the cowhouse“.

Dales Volunteer Paul found out some more information about the milking area in the car park and other communal grazing fields:

Raymond Hunter says that there were rings in the wall to tie the cows for milking but doesn’t think there are any still there. Richard Spensley is uncertain whether there were any! Some milkers brought their cows from this pasture to milk in byres in the village. Raymond Hunter and Richard Spensley say that the pasture went up to the top of the ridge and, because most of the residents of Castle Bolton were lead miners, each house in the village had ‘gates’ to keep so many animals on this area, and one or two small fields each, with a field house (small barn). There was an equivalent area on Bolton Park (access via Park Lane) for non-milkers and beef cattle (also note Bull Park Plantation on OS Map). The Bull Coppy (enclosure immediately below this plantation) was where the communal bull owned by the village farmers served the cows. The bull was kept on Castle Bank land. There was another herdsman on this communal pasture.

The small field houses Paul mentions are quite a feature in fields around the village. As we’ve already seen, some were ramshackle to start with and haven’t stood the test of time, but some are still standing like this one near the main A684 below the village.

Leeming's milking shed, Castle Bolton. Courtesy of Ian Spensley
Leeming’s milking shed and meadow, Castle Bolton. Courtesy of Ian Spensley

This milking shed and the hay meadow it sits in once belonged to Bob Leeming (it is located at SE 0352 9098). Like several local people in the last century, he worked elsewhere, but still kept and milked a couple of cows to supplement his wage. Ian Spensley knew him when he was a boy and told us:
“Bob Leeming worked at Redmire Quarry I think (he was an old man when I knew him) and lodged with Jim Iveson and his wife Florrie, I guess that milk from his two cows paid for part of his lodgings, Florrie made butter and cheese from the milk. Jim also worked at Redmire Quarry.”
Ian Spensley (64), of Redmire

The Shields family who were tinsmiths and plumbers in the village, also kept and milked a few cows. Ian Spensley told us: ” Shields also had a cow house and field, I’m not sure if it was Frank’s father William and Uncle Joe’s or both.”

Shields’ milking shed. Courtesy of Ian Spensley

The open-fronted barn to the right would have been used to store hay cut from the surrounding meadow. It’s interesting how these field barns were single storey and lack the integrated hay mew of field barns higher up the dale. We can only assume that originally the winter hay supply was simply stacked in the open next to the cowshed.

So far we’ve looked at people who kept one or two cows to supplement their wages, but there were full-time tenant farmers in the village too. We’ve already met the Bostocks of West End Farm and of course Jimmy the donkey who carried their milk back to the farmhouse for them last century. Paul our Dales Volunteer went on a detective hunt to learn more and see if he could locate where some of the old photos of Jimmy were taken.

First off he located the ‘new’ milking shed which was built in the 1960s at the back of the farm (NB not publicly accessible). The Bostocks by this time would bring their cows in to be milked rather than going out and milking them in the fields.

He then spotted where some of the old photos we have were taken in the village. The garden gate at West End Farm is quite distinctive.

Paul was then shown where Jimmy was actually stabled at West End Farm! NB not publicly accessible.

Jimmy carried milk from cows milked by Walter and his daughter Mary both outdoors in the Bostocks’ fields and in the winter in field barns as this photo shows.

Jimmy carrying backcans outside a barn near castle Bolton. Courtesy of Steve Bostock
Jimmy carrying back cans outside a barn near Castle Bolton. Courtesy of Steve Bostock

We can’t be sure if it’s the same one, but we know from Ian Spensley that the Bostocks milked in a cowhouse south of the castle at SE 0378 9160. Paul got permission to photograph it for us. Ian Spensley isn’t sure this was Bostock’s barn however, he reckons it belonged to the Hunters.

Steve Bostock told Paul more about his grandfather Walter which Paul summarised as follows:
“Walter Bostock was 22 and a stonemason when he came from Weardale to work in Redmire Quarry because of shortage of work in Weardale. In the quarry his job was to break dynamited stone into smaller piece by hand, and was paid by each full cart that he loaded with stone. Walter lodged originally in what is now the Old Post Office. He met and married his wife, a Lambert of West End Farm, Castle Bolton who had a brother who had died aged 21. At that time West End was tenanted from Bolton Estates. Walter milked some cows at West End, and some in barns, one in a field below the footpath to Redmire, and others near the road down from the castle [the one in the photo above we think] . Milk was taken by horse and cart to Redmire Dairy until Express Dairies opened a dairy in Leyburn. At one stage, 3 cows were milked in the barn where Jimmy was housed next to the farm. Cheese was made at the farm, and there is still a cheese room in the house. The cheese was taken by train to Richmond (quite a journey, as no direct line?) and sold to a shop in Richmond. A horse was also stabled in the buildings adjoining the house. After the ‘new’ cow house was built (about 1960) at the back of West End, 6 cows were milked there. Walter died aged 72. When he died no further milking took place in West End Farm. Steve’s father, Joe, had moved to Coverdale in 1957 as West End couldn’t support all who were living there. West End was bought from Bolton Estates by Joe in 1981. Old Jimmy is buried behind the farm. “

East End Farm lies (unsurprisingly!) at the other end of Castle Bolton. When Ian Spensley was a child in the village, it was tenanted by the Peacocks. They milked at the farm and in away barns.

East End Farm, Castle Bolton
East End Farm, Castle Bolton

We are lucky enough to have this picture of a member of the Peacock family hand-milking in one of their barns. Ian thinks it is Fred Peacock. “Peacocks’ main milk house was in Grange Garth on Bolton East Lane SE 0384 9190. The chap milking would be Fred Peacock I think.”

Mr Peacock hand milking, Castle Bolton. Collection of Ann Holubecki

Many of the village centre barns have disappeared or been converted into houses, but memories of them clearly still linger.

We’re very grateful to the locals and relatives of past inhabitants who were so helpful to our Dales Volunteer, and of course Ian Spensley who knows the village so well.

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


5 Replies to “Milking cows in Castle Bolton”

  1. John Vimcent says:

    My Grandmother was born in Castle Bolton, her name was Annie Plews she was born in 1866 to John Plews and Alice Russell. I have a postcard of the Castle which, I think, is unusual in that it shows the Castle with 2 steps as opposed to today it has one step. If anybody has any photos of the Plews family of that time, could they send them to me via my email address ?

    • Dale Adams says:

      Hi John,
      I think my family have been in touch before ?
      My grandfather was Fred plews , illegitimate son of Annie and John Fawcett , I think

      • John Vincent says:

        Hi Dale, Your grandfather, Fred Plews was my mothers brother . She was Annie Smales daughter of Annie and George Edward Smales. one of 9 children. I have a lot of information and photos of the Plews family if you are interested. Would be nice to hear from you regarding the family !!

  2. Shelley Earwicker says:

    My great, great grandparents were Ralph and Ann Peacock from Castle Bolton and Fred milking the cow would be my great grandfather Christopher’s younger brother.

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