HFBG LANCASHIRE CONFERENCE 19th to 21st September 2014

Last year’s Autumn Conference was based in the attractive village of Downham, Lancashire, under the shadow of Pendle Hill, on the western edge of the Pennines.  As an estate village, Downham appears to be entirely of local stone with no permanent modern detractions.  Its cottages, barns and dry stone walls are set on hilly land around Downham Beck (a tributary of the River Ribble) with a church, pub and teashop but no pylons, television aerials, satellite dishes, yellow lines or other intrusive street furniture.  The village and its surrounding area lie within a detached portion of the designated Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty [AONB]. 

The Conference was ably led by our Chairman, Les Hardy who conveyed his detailed local knowledge of the area to the 27 members who attended.  Thanks are due to Les for organising the event in a beautiful rural setting, assisted by Joan and Harry Grundy who produced the Conference Handbook and organised the evening meal at the Higher Trapp Hotel in Simonstone on the Saturday evening.  It might not be well-known but Lancashire has some seriously good food and three main variants of the white crumbly Lancashire cheese which Les brought along for sampling.

The weekend began on the Friday evening in Downham Village Hall with an introduction by Les.  As the fourth largest county in England, we were clearly not able to see buildings in the whole of the county but were focusing on the surrounding area which was originally part of a Royal Forest and one of longstanding estates.  Downham and the land around it is part of the estate owned by Lord Clitheroe and managed by his son, Ralph Assheton, both of whom live in the village.  There is a mixture of farms within the estate with an aisled barn, dating from the 17th century at Downham Hall, but mainly late 18th and 19th century barns, shippons, cart sheds and stables.  20th century farm buildings are rare as even the corrugated iron hay barns are disappearing fast. 

The buildings are constructed of the local stone: limestone and gritstone for the walls and sandstone ‘slates’ or flags for the roofs.  After the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century, cheaper bricks from Accrington and Welsh slate became available and were increasingly used for repairs in the area (but were not obvious in Downham).  As in most upland areas, the range of farm buildings reflects the small scale mixed agriculture which was practised when they were originally built.  They were later adapted to a specialisation in livestock farming, more suited to the climate and terrain, when the improvement in transport routes allowed them to supply milk, butter and cheese to the burgeoning industrial towns of the south Lancashire coalfield, chiefly during the 19th century. 

The land is now mostly under grass with dairying, cattle rearing and sheep.  The management of traditional meadows is being encouraged in the AONB.  Arable farming is carried out on the higher grade agricultural land of West Lancashire and the Fylde around Blackpool where there is a nationally significant production of field vegetables and fruit under glass and in polytunnels, especially for the supermarkets.

The introduction was followed by a talk from Sandra Silk, the AONB Project Officer, in a year which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the Forest of Bowland AONB (the 16th AONB to be designated).  The AONB covers some 300 square miles, mainly in Lancashire but a tenth of the area lying within Yorkshire, and is home to some 16,000 people.  Downham is in the Pendle outlier, which is roughly equivalent to the medieval hunting Forest of Pendle.  The most important work is seen as protecting the moorland habitat for the upland bird life, especially the hen harrier which is the symbol of the AONB.  The highest area is Ward’s Stone at 561 metres above sea level and Pendle Hill is 557 metres asl. 

The upland is used for shooting by the private landowners and the AONB authority promotes horseriding, cycling and walking, as least damaging to the habitats and character of the area.   Funding and training courses have been provided for the management of traditional hay meadows, especially around Slaidburn (in the main part of the AONB to the north of the Ribble Valley), and associated scything techniques for small grassland areas; peatland restoration; and the repair of traditional boundaries, both dry stone walls and hedges.  Training courses have also been run for farmers who have recently diversified into providing visitor accommodation so that their guests are fully aware of the special features of the area.

On Saturday morning, the speakers were two experts on Lancashire farm buildings who are also members of HFBG.  First, Joan Grundy’s illustrated presentation concerned Lancashire dairy farming and its buildings from 17th to 20th centuries.  She described how farming responded to the mass industrialisation in the southern part of the county and the buildings were adapted, extended or replaced to accommodate agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th centuries and to comply with hygiene regulations in the 20th century.  The current M6 motorway approximately divides the eastern hilly areas of pastoral farming from the arable farming areas to the west.  Although the latter practised more mixed farming in the past, including milk production, it is now almost entirely under crops.  When the railways came to the Forest of Bowland area (the nearest station to Downham was at Chatburn, opened in 1850), those farms which happened to be closest to the stations sent their milk to the towns and the more remote farms specialised in cheese production.  Unusually, the character of the Lancashire cheeses is derived from the use of more than one day’s milk, indicating the small size of the dairy herds in these farms when the cheese was originally produced.  Joan had many interesting photographs of local farm buildings taken in the 1960s which demonstrated how change had occurred in the last 40 years when compared with those taken recently.

Nigel Neil, from Neil Archaeological Services, practising out of Lancaster, also an HFBG member, delivered the second talk: A County of Contrasts: 20 years of planning condition surveys of farm-buildings.  Unfortunately, only the specific buildings which were the subject of the planning consent could be recorded, not the whole farmstead, as the time-scale was always short and developers had often begun demolition or the removal of interior fittings before surveys could be carried out.  As a result, photographs formed the main record, although for his own satisfaction, Nigel carried out documentary research for some of the most interesting cases.  He had many illustrations from all over the present county of Lancashire.  There were medieval buildings; those that had been downgraded from dwellings with high status timbers and chamfered tie beams; buildings with redundant mortises in re-used timbers; reduced roof pitches; unexpected cruck frames inside stone buildings; a bank style of barn way outside the usual range of bank barns as mapped by Dr R.W. Brunskill; laithe houses in the Pennine foothills and the Ribble Valley; weavers’ windows on hill farms in the south-east, reflecting the mixed farming and cottage industries common before the textile industries were concentrated in the towns close to the Lancashire coalfield; ‘paddy houses’ (bothies for migrant workers); a pighouse with a hen house above (destroyed in the development as is often the case for minor farm buildings); pigeon lofts; and sea cobble barns in the Fylde. 

After a ‘coffee break’, Mr Ralph Assheton gave a short introduction to the farm buildings on his estate.  The farmsteads had all been surveyed by the Lancashire Heritage Trust in 1993-4.  A copy of their report was handed to delegates and formed a useful reference to the farms visited on the Saturday of the Conference and changes in the last 20 years could be noted. 

Before a buffet lunch at the Village Hall, members of the Group visited the Home Farm buildings adjacent to Downham Hall.  These included the oldest building on the estate, the 17th century aisled Barn, which is listed Grade II.  The exterior walls are of rubble limestone with sandstone dressings around the windows and cart entrance, a common practice in the area as the sandstone is easier to work than the harder carboniferous limestone found in the vicinity.  The roof was low-pitched and clad with heavy flagstones/stone slates.  Internally, the Barn has 7 bays and is the largest on the estate, reflecting the importance of the Home Farm.  The purlins and rafters had been replaced with softwood but the oak roof trusses and arcade posts remain.  The latter stand on stylobates of roughly dressed sandstone of varying heights, the shortest being adjacent to the single cart entrance.  The Shippons were said to be a 19th century addition to the main barn in bays 1 and 7.  The Barn is currently used for general storage.  The yard is also flanked by a Cartshed and Granary, at right angles to the barn, with a datestone inscribed ‘1812’, and a Stable and Coach House of 1857 (also Listed Grade II) attached to the barn, all in a formal classical design.  Opposite the barn is a traditional stone Pig Sty. 

There are several other former Barns in Downham village, probably of early 18th century date with steeply pitched gables, both to the main roof and to that of the cart entrance, indicating that they may have been thatched.  Thatching was common in north east Lancashire until well into the 19th century.  These barns are converted to residential use, storage and an interpretation area with public toilets.

The afternoon was spent touring around as many of the other estate farms as possible within the 2 mile radius of Downham village – 5 out of the 16 were inspected.  During the 19th century, 6 estate farms were completely re-designed to a new plan.  Of, these two were visited: Clay House and Gerna.  At Gerna, there was an example of a labourer’s cottage (recently restored), sometimes referred to as a ‘paddy house’.  Some farms were no longer in agricultural use on the more marginal land, such as that occupied by Sandra, the AONB officer (Coolham Farm).  This farm had an 18th century Laithe Barn and a 19th century Shippon to the rear. The farm buildings were used for general domestic storage but many original fittings were still visible. 

In particular, in relation to Joan’s talk, different methods of tethering the cows for milking were spotted as the Shippons at each farm were viewed.  In some, the cows would have faced outward with the drainage in the centre and the feeding arrangements against the outside wall; in others, the cows faced inwards with the feeding passage in the centre and drainage by the outside walls.  It was also interesting to note the position of the small doors where the cows entered or exited, depending on when the buildings were last in use for this purpose.  In some of the Shippons, the old oak boskins separating the cow stalls remained; in others they were 19th century iron rails or 20th century concrete.  In many, the tethering posts were of wood, installed in the ground and tapered at the top, for two cows to each stall. 

Unlike further east in the Pennine dales of Yorkshire, isolated field barns were not so characteristic of the area but did occur and an Outbarn (or outfield barn) close to one of the roads radiating from Downham village had been converted to a camping barn.  There were originally two Corn Mills on the estate, one of which was converted to a textile mill for spinning and weaving wool.  At Downham Mill, mainly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, the site of the wheel pit could be seen as well as the silted up mill pond.  There was also a stone kennel under the steps to the rear of the manager’s house and an isolated pig house with possibly a hen loft above but the Heritage Report described it as a dovecote.

Tea, back at the Village Hall, was followed by the AGM.

On Sunday, a talk was given by Jamie Quartermaine, Project Manager of Oxford Archaeology North.  He described their work on the project, Flowing through time: the archaeology of the Ribble Valley carried out with Lancaster University whose team worked on the geology of the area.  They started in 2005, using the Lidar technique so that they were able to scan the whole of the Ribble Basin in Yorkshire and Lancashire, approximately 1320 square kilometres, from an aircraft.  This formed the basis of the interpretation of the area through map, diagram and photograph of the recent geological and archaeological history of the local landscape from glacial and inter-glacial to modern times.  Five distinct river terraces were identified where settlement and agriculture would have taken place beginning with the ‘Neolithic Age’ and many other new discoveries and patterns were identified.  Jamie emphasized that the Ribble formed a significant cultural boundary after the Romans left Britain to its own devices.  (Ribchester on the Ribble had been an important fort and on the supply chain to Hadrian’s Wall.) 

Even after the Norman Conquest, it was ‘border country’.  Clitheroe Castle near Downham dates from this time.  Deserted medieval villages have strip fields which would originally have been part of the open field system of farming.  In medieval times, the local abbeys which had a substantial influence on agriculture in the area were Whalley and Sawley.   Originally, the textile industry relied on waterpower from the fast-flowing Pennine streams but later the mills moved to the towns when steam power from coal was available.  Preston was an important centre but the Clitheroe area also had some 20 mills.

Jamie referred to the rare Hoffman lime kiln* at Langcliffe in the upper Ribble Basin, built in 1873, which was linked to the opening of the Settle-Carlisle Railway.  The kiln was on an industrial scale with 22 individual burning chambers where the lime and coal mix was burnt continuously in a circuit, taking several weeks to complete the burn.  Farmers without lime on their land or who did not have kilns to burn it themselves could obtain it from here but it was also used extensively for building mortar and in other industries such as tanning, textiles and paper-making.  Unfortunately, the results of this Ribble Basin project have not been published in book form to date. *The Langcliffe kiln closed in 1931 but can be visited north of Settle – car park and interpretive board by the Yorkshire Dales National Park).   In the ‘question time’, Carole Ryan pointed out that there was also a Hoffman kiln at Llanymynech on the Welsh/Shropshire borders.

After ‘coffee’ the Group set off in a mini-bus for Padiham, near Burnley, and the Gawthorpe Hall Barn (courtesy of the National Trust, as the barn was about to be repaired and not open to the public).  The barn was built for the Rev. Lawrence Shuttleworth at the same time as the Hall.  It is considered to be one of the finest surviving aisled barns in the North West of England and is listed Grade I.   Apart from its scale (100’/30.5m long x 60’/18.3m wide), it is important because there are detailed building records, dating it to 1603-5.  These records showed that animal accommodation in the barn was planned from the start: two ox houses and two cow houses were incorporated.  One ox house remains in the south east aisle and is reputedly the oldest dated example in the country.  This suggests that, in this part of the Lancashire, it was not only the smaller farms which built and used the barn as a multi-purpose building for housing cattle as well as crops.  The barn has 9 bays, two of which were converted to stables in about 1870, and a single set of opposing cart entrances.  The timber frames are massive and the aisle-posts braced to support the heavy flagstone roof and sandstone walls.

The next visit was to Hall Barns Farm, the former home farm of Stonyhurst, the ancient seat of the Shireburn family, which was given to the Society of Jesus in 1794 and was greatly expanded as a Roman Catholic boarding school from the mid-19th century.  The Farm remained a principal source of food for the college until the mid-20 century.  After examining the buildings around the concrete yard, obviously devoted to cattle, the much patched long building on the north-west side was entered to reveal what is believed to be one of the highest-quality cruck barns in Lancashire, worthy of its Grade II* listing.  There are 5 massive cruck trusses with high collars and a yoke just below each cruck blade.  Each cruck has two spurs connecting it to a wall post at and below the level of the wall plate.  The walls are now mainly of sandstone rubble but where the wall plates remain the position of its empty mortises strongly suggests, as the list description states, that the walls were originally timber-framed.  In common with most of the barns so far seen, the barn contains a shippon (at the south-west end). 

The roof cladding of the cruck barn is now of slate and steeply pitched.  The south-east facing wall of the barn has a wide entrance with a small shippon doorway to the left.  There is also a small doorway on the north side of the barn opposite the wide cart entrance.  The original date of the barn is thought to be 16th century, possibly around the time when Sir Richard Shireburn began building his new house in 1592.

The grounds of Stonyhurst have a public road running through them and gave the appearance of a public park on a sunny weekend – the perfect place for devouring the packed lunch, overlooking the 17th/18th century canals (but stray too close to the college buildings and security guards appear).

After lunch, the bus returned towards Downham by a hilly route over the western shoulder of Pendle Hill to view panoramas of the West Lancashire Plain and Forest of Bowland scenery.  The final visit of the weekend was to Little Mearley Hall Farm in the Ribble Valley, a working dairy farm where the buildings had been severed from their original farmhouse.  The house, itself, was interesting being late 16th century, listed Grade II*, and striking for the grand, two-storey, semi-octagonal window, facing out west over the valley which had been removed from nearby Sawley Abbey after its dissolution. 

The tall Barn had a single cart entrance with opposing double doors which did not reach the current eaves level on the north side.  Here, the wall had clearly been raised in height and contained a row of ventilation slits close to the eaves.  In 1965, according to a plan made by Joan Grundy, the most prominent feature was the housing for 87 cattle of varying ages distributed between the main barn; an attached building to the east of it, upslope, separated by a doorway inscribed with the date ‘1736’ in the stone lintel above it; and a newer building further west, downslope attached to the covered midden.  At that time, all the cattle were housed in Shippons with lofts (baulks) above.  The cattle stood in double stalls and were of different measurements, the young cattle requiring less space than the adults.  The farm currently has 219 hectares, nearly half of which is an allotment, with fell rights.  There are 76 dairy cows and a flock of Lonk sheep, the native breed of Lancashire.

After another satisfying day and stimulating Conference, the Group returned to Downham Village Hall for tea before going our separate ways.

April 2002

In April 2002 the Historic Farm Buildings Group organised a special conference to draw attention to a wide range of organisations with responsibility for farm buildings, or for the policies and grant regimes that affect their management.

The conference was very timely, hitting a period of increased interest in this major rural asset, at time when rural support mechanisms were under review and assessment.
As a direct result of the reaction to this conference, the HFBG sent out invitations to a wide range of organisations with an interest in or responsibility for farm buildings. A strong response was received to this invitation, and the HFBG now acts as the Secretariat to the Forum, which has met quarterly for the past two years.

Current membership of the Forum consists of:
Ancient Monuments Society Cadw
Council for British Archaeology
Council for the Protection of Rural England
Country Land and Business Association
Countryside Agency
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
English Heritage
Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG)
National Trust
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM)
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
The work planned and undertaken by the Forum will be reported on this site in due course.