Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Flashback to 1948: ‘Yorkshire dale to begin new life’

Bransdale Eastside and the farmsteads of Smout House (formerly Loft House and now the National Trust’s office and stores), Toad Hole, and Cow Sike.

I came across an interesting article in the Yorkshire Post dated 27 November 1948, which gives a very good insight of what life was like in Bransdale in the first half of the 20th-century1‘Yorkshire dale to begin new life’ | Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer | Saturday 27 November 1948 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000687/19481127/136/0006> [accessed 15 September 2022]:

Yorkshire dale to begin new life

The first scheme submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture under the Hill Farming Act of 1946, Lord Feversham’s £12,000 project to bring modern amenities to the 23 isolated farms in Bransdale, ten miles north of Kirbymoorslde, has been agreed in principle by the Ministry. The construction of a new road to link the dale with Helmsley and Kirbymoorslde will begin in the spring.

Bransdale, 1,741 acres of marginal farmland, surrounded by moors rising over a thousand feet above sea-level, is typical of the picturesque isolated dales intersecting the North Yorkshire moors. The scheme aims to ameliorate the difficulties of inaccessibility, the rigours of severe winters and the poor financial rewards for arduous labour, old problems for the hill farms.

If the scheme had not been approved it is believed that farmers would have left the dale and the west side would have reverted to heather and bracken within ten years.

During the past 20 years many farmers have moved to the plains to be closer to the towns and the diminished community is insufficient to support social life. Consequently, social amenities and the attraction of newcomers are chief aims of the scheme.

Bransdale is in the heart a National Park proposed for the North Yorkshire moors and, if the North Riding County Council agrees to take over the new road, visitors will be able to travel through the dale and vehicles will able to deliver goods at the farms.

Supplies by sledge

At present the nine farms on the west side are served by a track surfaced with rough stones and mud. Supplies, provisions, fuel, fertilisers and fodder are left two miles away and have to be drawn over steep hill sides in carts and on sledges. Farmers’ wives visit the nearest town, Kirbymoorside, once a week when they travel the ten miles in a vehicle which is used as a hearse.

Women and young people believe that the new road and the possibility of a bus service will transform the dale. The scheme also includes plans for the installation of hot-water systems, baths and sanitation in the farm houses and cottages. Probably the worst feature of the inaccessibility is the unhappy lot of the schoolchildren, several of whom have walk over a mile to and from the terminus of the school bus which takes them eight miles to Gillamoor.

Five-year-old Joyce Palmer leaves home at 7.30 a.m. to walk two miles down a one in four slope and up a track steeper than Sutton Bank. It is almost dark again when she returns. The new road will pass within a few yards her home. Her parents. Mr. and Mrs. T. W. Palmer, of Low South House, who had intended to leave the dale because of the difficulties of transporting milk and the lack of social life, said the new road would be like a lifeline into the outside world.

A bath and hot water, says Mrs. Palmer, who has four daughters under six years age, would make life a great deal easier.

The new road will also pass the home of Mr. T. Collier, a hill farmer who has lived in the dale for 30 years. He recalls the days when every farm and cottage in the dale was occupied.

Bransdale became nationally famous when an R.A.F. mountain rescue team crossed the moor on snow-shoes to carry out a farmer who had been taken ill when the dale was cut off by deep drifts. The nearest telephone is seven miles away.

The first step to implement the scheme and improve social amenities was taken a year ago when Lord Feversham handed over to the dales folk the old school buildings for use as a village hall.

Forestry to be introduced

The possibility of the introduction of a subsidiary industry is being explored. Forestry is considered to be the most appropriate occupation to bring to the dale, and the Forestry Commission has been approached with a view to establishing a forest on the west side. In addition estate workers are to plant a shelter belt of softwood trees at the head of the dale.

A comprehensive experiment in hill farming methods is also being carried out on seven farms which have been amalgamated. The experiments are now following the traditional system of hill farming, which is mainly stock rearing.

The improvement scheme, under the terms of the Act, must be carried out within the next two years, with a possible extension of one year, and will be an accurate test of the efficacy the Hill Farming Act as applied to North Yorkshire.






4 responses to “Flashback to 1948: ‘Yorkshire dale to begin new life’”

  1. Susie Millard (nee Powell) avatar
    Susie Millard (nee Powell)

    I really enjoyed your article and was particularly interesting to read about the RAF rescue. I think this must have been in the Winter of 1946/47 when my father (David Powell) was living at Cow Sike and managing the tenancy of holdings in Bransdale and Duncombe Park. His Uncle William Abbott held the tenancy and my father managed it on his behalf. Dad wrote extensively about his time there, during which he was joined by my mother and older sister and brother, before moving to Uncle William’s farm near Peterborough in 1948/49 (by which time I had been born).
    For the Winter of 46/47 Dad was on his own at Cow Sike while the rest of the family were in Peterborough. He wrote separately about the privations of this time and remembers walking 10 miles to Kirbymoorside to make arrangements for the RAF Mountain Rescue Unit to help out, and to help the man who was ill.
    I won’t write it all here except to say that after Kirbymoorside, Dad went to Helmsley where his old friends the vicar and his wife gave him a meal then he walked back to Bransdale. He wrote: ‘In hindsight it was probably one of the most foolhardy things I have ever attempted’.
    Because the man who was ill refused to go on the stretcher that the RAF had brought, but insisted on walking, when the press got hold of the story they suggested it had been ‘just a big hoax’. I know this was very hurtful to my father.
    I was born a year after this and spent just a year at Cow Sike before we moved but my uncle kept the tenancy for another ten years and my father made frequent trips to Bransdale/Duncombe Park to oversee the management.
    Let me know if you’d like to know more!

    1. Fhithich avatar

      Thank you Susie, that is really fascinating. All memories are valuable and well worth recording. If you have any other recollections I, and I’m sure the National Trust would too, be interested.

      1. Susie Millard avatar
        Susie Millard

        I’m visiting Nunnington Hall next week to see the exhibition ‘Fields, folds and farming life’ – life in Bransdale – and hope to see someone from the National Trust while I’m there. I’ll come armed with my father’s writings and lots of photos.

        1. Fhithich avatar

          It’s an excellent exhibition. None of the Bransdale rangers will be there though.

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