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Journey into Bishopdale

[This section is under construction].

Journey into Bishopdale, Dalesman, 1957 Vol. 19 pp.274-277

by William R. Mitchell

(Courtesy of the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes)

The following is a transcription from the above Magazine:

© Thoralby Through Time

"It was a grey morning, mild and dry. The fells which divide Wharfedale from Bishopdale, (and the West Riding from the North Riding) looked very careworn. Limestone walls which under bright conditions seem to reflect every shade of light, from pink into indigo, were just grey, and mist clung hollows.

Major Horner - the "Major" is a Christian name, not a military title - was busy in the small shippon which is attached to Cray's White Lion Inn

As I watched him expertly remove the last of the milk from the udder of a patient cow, I noticed that on the head which pressed against the animal's flanks was a deerstalker-type hat, an indication of Major's sporting instincts.

Though Cray is small and remote, there is never a dull moment, especially in summer. I was told of the gun club supported by local farmers, and he also mentioned that the bed of Cray Beck is popular with motor cycle clubs who organise trials here. When there is a coverlet of snow on the slopes of Buckden Pike beyond, the skiers arrive and to quote Major Horner, Cray "looks like a little Switzerland."

There was a distinctively Swiss atmosphere in February, 1953, when it was not possible to see out of the inn's lower windows for three days, and a snowdrift nine feet deep formed right down the centre of the road which climbs over Kidstones into Bishopdale. 

During the holiday season, this tall fresh-faced Dales inn-keeper has little time for sport. He has been at the White Lion for seven years, and told me that in 1950 it was primarily a farmhouse with a license for the sale of liquor.

After suggesting the inn got its name from the roar of Cray Beck, and the white froth which gathers on the water in time of storm - a picturesque derivation - he went on to describe its modernisation and increase in trade.

When he sees the long processions of charabancs [sightseeing motor coach] and motor cars travelling past the inn in low gear on their way to Bishopdale, he is sometimes reminded of the old horse 'buses he knew during his Wharfedale youth, and of such drivers as Tommy Dawson and Jim Dinsdale. He remembers the Chapman family, of Grassington, introduced their first motor charabanc. It had solid tyres and doors into every seat like a railway carriage. Over 30 years ago motor cycles with rubber belt drives chugged along the narrow, winding roads. 

Urban Sheep-clipping

The walls of the bar in which we chatted were almost covered with curiosities, including a venerable field marshal's baton, a Chinese pipe from Hong Kong!

There is also a framed letter from Mr. J. H. Denby, the Bradford wool merchant, dated 1930. This refers to an attempt made with Mr. Horner's help to break a world record for wool, "from the sheep's back to the finished suit." This was held by the Americans, the time being six hours. Mr. Horner recalls that he stayed at the home of Mr. Denby the previous night with three other farmers, and the clipping took place in the mill. Two Lonk ewes and six Swaledales were involved, and the whole process through to the making of the suit took three hours, and twenty and a half minutes.

He understands that since 1930 the record has again been broken, but by very little. More modern machinery was involved in the processing. Incidentally, with the letter is a piece from the record-breaking cloth.

An antler from one of the deer which roamed the fells near Buckden is also to be seen. His brother, Frank shot the last of the herd, which was maintained by Miss Crompton Stansfield, though the other animals were disposed of after her death.

Mr Horner's most vivid memory of Miss Stansfield is of this fine old lady journeying along the snowbound roads in horse-drawn sleigh driven by Old Baldock, her coachman. Buckden derives its name from the presence of deer, and Miss Stanfield's herd numbered about 40.

© Thoralby Through Time

From Hampshire

The road from Cray to Bishopdale - famous Kidstones Pass - rises fairly steeply to a height of about 1,400 feet above sea level. Chatting with Mr. George Beresford [see Farm Survey], who lives at the topmost farm in the dale, I discovered that his buildings are 1, 100 feet above the sea and his land runs up to 1,800 feet.

The Beresfords are one of the best known Dales families. George told me they came to Yorkshire from Hampshire in 1668 to mine lead. He has heard that 36 Beresfords were in the original emigration North, but only three eventually settled.

They are most intimately connected with Langstrothdale, tributary valley of the Wharfe. George came to Kidstones Farm 17 years ago [1940] from Yockenthwaite. "I nobbut moved over the hill," he remarked.

The horned Dalesbread sheep are the foundation of Bishopdale's economy. "We like a good crop of lambs; it is our main living."

We were talking at the end of the best winter he had known. "The sheep are in real condition, and there's every prospect of a good lambing time."

"But we've had some real winters, mind you," said George Beresford. "The first spring I was at Kidstones I lost 200 sheep, and I bet there were a thousand sheep went down in the valley as a whole. It was 1941, and there was snow three feet deep on April 2nd. I ended up with 140 lambs - bad ones at that - and worked day and night to see them safe."

That winter hit Mr. Beresford more than the 1947 winter, for he had little fodder for the sheep. There had been a drought the previous summer, and the grass was not more than four inches long when it was mown.

In 1947, however, the road was clear of traffic for nine weeks. The Beresfords ran out of coal, and a tree was felled for fuel. It dropped across the main road, and the family hacked wood from it when it was required. They were in no hurry to clear the road, for they had it to themselves until the thaw.

Preference for Shorthorns

BISHOPDALE men keep Shorthorn cattle. "There've been a few Friesians kept, and I've tried both Friesians and Ayreshire, but Shorthorns are the old original type of beast for this part of the country, and they seem hardier than the other breeds."

He has 25 miles of walls on his 800 acres, and walling is a task for any free time. "We always say that if a man comes to Kidstones and doesn't know how to wall, he'll know right enough before he leaves!"

Seven feet high posts and wall-top wire help to keep down the number of gaps by discouraging the sheep from jumping over. But snow puts a fearful stain on the old boundaries. And frost lifts the land, which drops again in the thaw. The walls come shuttering down. A local problem is carrying stones back to their position after they have been displaced on the steep fell slopes.

"But walling's a job we like in summer. We get set off with a bag of bait and stay away from home for the day. It's grand on the tops, especially the Stake Road side. Though I've lived here all these years, there's not a walk I like better than the old Stake Road, particularly at five o'clock in the morning, when we're gathering the sheep for clipping.

"The sound a hill farmer likes best is the call of the old curlew. Then you know the thick of winter is getting past. After lambing time we're listening  for the cuckoo shout, for then we are sure that summer's come. We always like to have some copper in our pockets so that we can turn it over. It's supposed to bring luck."

The Rookery

HALF an hour later, having travelled down the narrow, winding road, admiring the U-shape of Bishopdale, a legacy from glacial times, I stood on a heap of rubble - all that remains of the valley's stateliest home. The Lodge family built The Rookery, but it was demolished [1952] again in less than a century.

At a nearby farm named New Houses - it has the date 1635 above the door and is really the oldest in Bishopdale! - I was told that father and son, both named Rowland Fawcett, had "gone up the pastures fencing." They were not expected back before evening. So I was content to look up at the chimney, into which all the flues of the house pour their smoke. The centre inside wall, which houses the complicated flue system is over five feet thick.

It was Mr. Thomas Heseltine, of Newbiggin who told me about The Rookery; of how Ralph Lodge, an ordinary farmer, had a son called Robert, who married a Miss Wilkins from Manchester, daughter of a family who were dry-salters and very well off financially.

Robert began buying up land and property until he owned almost the whole dale, and the big house was completed about 85 years ago. Thomas Heseltine's father, who was also called Thomas, worked on it and regarded the place as the "grandest built house in the North." The original estimate was for £8, 750. William Hammond, of West Burton, was the contractor for the masonry, and a Manchester firm handled the woodwork.

Boer War Veteran

WITHIN living memory life there was on the grand scale, with an indoor staff of six women, butler, coachman, two gardeners and a gamekeeper. Robert and his wife had one son and three daughters. 

The son, Colonel John William Lodge, a veteran of the Boer War and first world war, took over after the death of his parents, and he died on 14th August, 1917. He never married.

Colonel Lodge's eldest sister, the widow of a Major Liddon, was the next to preside over The Rookery, and she became Mrs. Liddon-Lodge. She died in the early twenties [1920], to be succeeded by her son, who only had it a short time before it was sold [1921]. 

John Brian Fawcett bought Rookery, Scar Top and New House, and he lived in the big house until his death [1936].

During the war it became a private school [1940-1945]. For a time it was a youth hostel [1946-1950]. In 1952 the house was demolished, and its stone and timber is now to be found in various parts of the Dales. A layer of rubble and the stables survive.

I  had a meal at the Street Head Inn, and discovered from the board outside that it was established in 1730. As the building stands at the head of what was once the only coachway into Newbiggin, it was named Street Head. 


Swivels and hooks, once used for tethering horses, may be found on the outside walls. The oak beams in the dining room are the originals, and still well preserved, and the name Alice Thwaite is scratched on a bedroom window. It is believed that the Thwaites kept the in from the time it was built until 1920.

Feast Day

MR. Heseltine told me that up to the first world war Bishopdale had its annual Feast. It was always held on the day after the second Wednesday in June, when sheep were brought down from the fell to be washed, and this work was followed by quoiting, races and competitions. Brass band music added to the interest. 

At one end of his home, Eastburn Farm, there is a room which was once a grocer's shop. Here three tailors worked, and there names were Jim Brown, Jack Sarginson and Jim Greenbank [see the 1871 and 1881 census for Newbiggin]. One of them made Mr. Heseltine his first suit when he was taken out of frocks at the age of three. This was rather earlier than usual, but his elder sister [see 1891 census Newbiggin] had caught his finger in the mangle on washing day, and the suit was to pacify him! The tailors also travelled from farm to farm, maybe spending a fortnight at each place.

There was a public house in the village, called the Bishopdale Heifer. Old George Heseltine - "no relation of mine" - brought up thirteen children here [see Kelly's Trade Directory 1879]. He was a cattle dealer by trade and drove his cows from the valley to York. The blacksmith, another Heseltine [Leonard, George Inn, Thoralby 1871 census], provided the cows with shoes for the rough journey. 

Most of Mr. Heseltine's recollections were about Thoralby Mill, which he remembers as a corn mill but which has passed through several hands since, and once had generating equipment which supplied the two villages [Newbiggin and Thoralby] with electricity.

John Heseltine [1799-1875], his uncle, was a badger, and he brought oatmeal from the miller, Tommy Sayer [1862-1934], and delivered it to the homes of of the dalesfolk, who made oatcake or rattle bread on their back-stones, or used it for breakfast-time porridge. In 1853, John Heseltine was supplying a quartet of a load of oatmeal for 7s. 6d.

Postman's Round

BISHOPDALE remains elusive to the visitor if he keeps to the valley road, and the valley's shape and character is best appreciated from the height, either from Kidstones Pass or the hill ranges on either side.

Alfred Lambert [1901-1985], of Thoralby, covers twelve miles of rough, upland country six days a week as postman on the Gayle Ing round, which brings in the farms of Littleburn, Swine Cote, Blind Syke, Cote Bottom and How Syke.

This round reaches an altitude of 2,300 feet, and there are no metalled roads - just sheep trods. Mr. Lambert crosses stretches of heather, picks his way through bogs, and fords many streams. In 1947 he had to negotiate twelve feet drifts. Once he fell through a drift into a beck, and was buried up to his neck, with feet sodden by the cold fell water.

He knows the upland so well he has never been lost in mist, but has known days when the visibility has been down to ten yards. Frost is welcomed. It makes the going better. Starting at nine o'clock and finishing  the round at noon, he averages three and a half miles an hour.

Another Thoralby man who knows the Dales intimately is Jack Kilburn [1918-1991], rabbit, poultry and game dealer for six years. He took over from Bob Heseltine [1892-1956], who had the business for thirty years.

Myxomatosis claimed the rabbits which were responsible for the bulk of the trade, but Mr. Kilburn knows the rabbit well. and thinks it will be back in its old haunts before long, though the numbers may not be as high as before the disease struck.

He has a modern wet-plucker for poultry, and can handle sixty birds an hour with the help of an assistant. It's about three times as fast as hand plucking.

In the spring he handles a good many goslings, selling them for fattening in the lower country, and sometimes he buys back the fattened birds for sale to townsfolk!"

© Thoralby Through Time

 Letters Page - Dalesman Magazine

"Bishopdale Inn-keepers

IN "Journey into Bishopdale" (August Dalesman) William R. Mitchell says: "It is believed that the Thwaites kept the inn (i.e., the Street Head Inn at Newbiggin) from the time it was built until 1920. " I have seen this statement elsewhere, but it is in fact untrue.

White's Directory of the East and North Ridings for 1840 gives "Thos. Tattersall, victulaller, Streert Head Inn." I am not sure of the exact date when my great-uncle Simon Thwaite took over, but he was there in April, 1942, when his eldest son Richard was born, so the family must haved moved to the Street Head between 1840 and 1842.

Simon Thwaite was born in 1806 at Cotebotton in Bishopdale [Thoralby], (where my great-grandfather, Richard Thwaite, was farming at the time) and lived until 1898. During his later years his son Richard had taken over from his father at Street Head and himself died in 1918. It seems therefore that the family had been there for some eighty years, but certainly not from the time when it was built (1730). 

- Hartley Thwaite,

Scarcroft, Leeds.

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