Mr and Mrs Wickam
The Yorkshire Dales are dotted with numerous farm buildings, large and small. Many of these are still in use; however, changing farming practices mean that others no longer serve a function and have fallen into disrepair or ruin. Such was the case with two stone farm buildings located within a cluster of walled animal enclosures to the east of Whaw Chapel, Whaw, Arkengarthdale, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The buildings were located within the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns and Walls Conservation Area, so NAA was commissioned to undertake documentary research and a survey of the derelict and collapsing structures prior to their demolition to make way for a new garage.
Although there has been a settlement at Whaw since the Middle Ages, much of the modern hamlet was probably constructed during the height of the lead-mining industry in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A plan of the area in 1841 shows a series of sheepfolds between the chapel and the site of the two buildings, but it is not known whether the two structures were present at that time; however, they are depicted on the Ordnance Survey map of 1857 although not in any detail.
The two buildings stood on the south-west and south-east sides of a small walled enclosure, with further paddocks and enclosures to the south and south-west, and an area of common land known as ‘the village green’ to the north-east.
Building 1 was a single room building with a single-pitch roof. Although partially collapsed, the original structure was approximately 6.95m long and 2.3m wide, with a maximum internal height of 2.1m. The walls were constructed of two faces of irregularly coursed cobbles, some roughly shaped, with a rubble core. The building had been floored with sandstone flags laid in mortar over an earlier compacted earth floor. The north-western end of Building 1 had been fully closed, abutting a boundary wall, while the south-eastern end had been open and possibly gated. The sandstone-slated roof had been rebuilt on several occasions, although two of the original rafters had survived among a mixture of recycled and modern replacements.
The only surviving original access into Building 1 was a ‘sheep creep’ located between two external buttresses on the south-western side of the building. This opening was 0.7m wide but only 0.9m high on the inner face. Outside the building at this point there was a sunken depression in the enclosure which may have represented the site of a sheep dip.
Building 2 was divided into two rooms. It also had a single-pitch roof, was 5.07m long by 3.4m wide and had a maximum external height of 3m. Located on sloping ground, the building was partly sunk into the hillside at one end. The walls were 0.5m to 0.6m thick and constructed of roughly shaped sandstone blocks. The roof was composed of sandstone flags in a diminishing course, and had been rebuilt using modern, machine-cut timbers. Both rooms, which did not interconnect, were accessed by external doors in the south-eastern wall of the building. Both rooms were floored with York Stone flags and the walls had been whitewashed.
The south-western room measured only 2.49m by 1m with a window in the south-western wall. Opposite this was a small recess 0.75m off the floor. This was 0.36m wide, 0.3m high and 0.25m deep, and may have housed a light. At the foot of the rear wall was a ‘hatch’ leading to the small enclosure at the rear of the building. This was interpreted as an entrance for poultry, because it was only 0.4m high and 0.48m wide. In the corner of the room next to the ‘hatch’ were the scars of a box-like structure, with a groove in the floor and walls and a plinth on the north-western and south-western walls. This seems likely to have been the supporting box and seat(s) for an ash or earth closet (toilet).
The second room was approximately 2.5m square. There was no window, just a small vent in the northern corner, some 1.1m above the floor and approximately 0.2m by 0.2m. The only other feature within the room was an elliptical hole in the roof in one corner. This measured 0.3m by 0.2m and had been cut through two of the stone rooftiles. The walls below this hole were smoke blackened, suggesting that there had been a stove or boiler whose pipe exited through the roof.
These two buildings were typical of the small structures found in farmyards throughout the dales. They had seen a number of uses over the past two centuries, and the adjacent farm is no longer active. All elements of the two buildings’ construction were compatible with an early 19th-century date.
The ‘sheep creep’ in Building 1 was presumably intended to control access of sheep to the possible external sheep dip, although it is not clear why a roofed stone building was required for this activity. There was similar uncertainty as to the function of the rooms in Building 2. The features found in the smaller room suggested use either as an earth closet toilet, justifying the niche for a candle or lamp, or as a chicken coop, or perhaps both. The larger room, which had no windows, may have been a store. The addition of a stove or boiler at some point suggests a change of use as a wash house or for preparing animal feed.
Although a small project, NAA’s work at Whaw Chapel has highlighted the importance of recording these small agricultural buildings, which once played an important role in Dales life, before they are lost forever. Even though the structures probably retained their original use well into the 20th century, the project has demonstrated that knowledge of that function, and how the buildings’ various features were used, is quickly forgotten.