The Butts, Codhill Heights

A modern take on the lines of shooting butts that typically cross the heather moors of North Yorkshire. Butts awaiting their clients while lines of workers chase the grouse over their heads on the Glorious Twelfth112th August, the start of the shooting season for red grouse.. Although they have a bit of a wait; I’ve heard the grouse numbers are down this year.

These butts are wooden and, in theory, transportable so they can be moved to disperse environmental impact. Wood will certainly be cheaper than traditional stone which will also lessen the temptation to reuse stones from cairnfields and walls. Frank Elgee writing in the 1930s was particularly scathing about gamekeepers who had ‘no scruples about pulling down and breaking up prehistoric standing stones from circles and ramparts’ to secure solid foundations for their grouse butts2“‘To plough or not to plough’: the effect of ploughing on the barrows of East Yorkshire”. Emma Watson, Department of Archaeology, Durham University. Page 42. Teesside Archaeological Society Bulletin Number 25. 2021.. The loops are to remind shooters to stop aiming at the birds over the line of neighbouring butts and risk shooting a human.

It was in the days of yore that every man between the ages of 15 and 60 had to equip themselves with a bow and arrows and every Sunday had to go to the village butts to practice their archery3Lordsandladies.org. (2017). Butts. [online] Available at: http://www.lordsandladies.org/the-butts.htm [Accessed 31 Jul. 2021].. King Edward III decreed the Archery Law in 1363 that “forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise“. Every township had its butts, a name that persists today in lane and field names, and is a favourite for modern housing developments.

With time, ‘butts‘ came to refer to the archery targets or the mounds of earth behind them rather than the shooting field itself4Etymonline.com. (2021). butt | Origin and meaning of butt by Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://www.etymonline.com/word/butt#etymonline_v_18146 [Accessed 31 Jul. 2021]..

It seems odd then that the name ‘butts‘ should have made the leap from the targets used for practice, to these shelters intended for hiding behind while your man hands you a loaded shotgun, to await the flight of a driven grouse.

As an aside, in Yorkshire, a ‘butt‘ may also refer to a ‘strip(s) of land in the open field which abutted on a boundary or were at right angles to other groups of strips5York.ac.uk. (2021). butt – Yorkshire Historical Dictionary. [online] Available at: https://yorkshiredictionary.york.ac.uk/words/butt [Accessed 31 Jul. 2021].. This might be subtly different to the Scottish ‘butt‘: ‘ground disjoined from adjacent lands, strip of ploughed land, irregularly shaped ridge6Ordnance Survey (2019). The Scots origins of place names in Britain. [online] OS GetOutside. Available at: https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/guides/the-scots-origins-of-place-names-in-britain/ [Accessed 31 Jul. 2021]..

3 Replies to “The Butts, Codhill Heights”

      1. Funny really how these things develop and how we prioritise what should be preserved. Maybe one day the cairns themselves will be seen as ancient monuments and receive preservation orders.

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