Two vernacular C17 farmhouses formed from subdivision of an earlier property, complete with a detached barn which may also be of C17 origins.
Reasons for Designation
The western range and associated barn at Low Whita (Bells) Farm is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* as part of a remarkable survival of multiple pre-1700 properties formed by the subdivision of an earlier farmstead;
* the way that alterations made to the buildings, particularly through the C17 and C18, provide an illustration of changing vernacular construction and architecture over time, the buildings being of considerable interest in terms of buildings archaeology;
* the survival of features such as the 1680 inscribed lintel and daisy-wheel marks which are thought either to be apotropaic marks from around 1700 or C19 graffiti hinting at the long persistence of folk tradition.
* for the way that documentary records combined with the evidence preserved in the buildings illustrates the effect of the tradition of gavelkind, a form of partible inheritance.
* with the buildings of the eastern part of Low Whita.
Low Whita Farm is thought to have developed from one of the farms tenanted from Bridlington Priory in the Middle Ages. In the early post-medieval period, Swaledale was one of the few areas of England that practiced gavelkind: a form of partible inheritance whereby property or tenancies were, under some circumstances, divided between children rather than passing undivided to the eldest son. This resulted in farms being divided up and is likely to explain why at least three distinct C17 houses can be identified at Low Whita. Described here are the two houses that form the western of the two main ranges at Low Whita. The third C17 house that forms the earliest part of the eastern range at Low Whita, is listed separately.
Surviving C17 documents include a 1649 grant of ownership to James Close by his father, John Close, of a messuage (a house with associated land and outbuildings) at Lawe Whytay. A document dated 1675 notes that Low Whitay was occupied by a widow, Elizabeth Close, and James Hird. This may have been the James Hird who was a farm servant in Arkengarthdale who became a yeoman farmer at Whitaside in circa 1680, possibly explaining the 1680 inscribed lintel which includes the initials JCH, possibly intended to read J & C H. The 1844 tithe map shows the eastern range divided into three ownerships: the cow house to the west was owned by Eleanor Thompson and tenanted by James Chapman, a farmer who occupied the house at the eastern end of the range, owned by James Close. The western house was owned by John Close (owner/occupier farmer of the separately listed eastern domestic range) and occupied by two lead miners James Batty and Anthony Metcalfe, the latter probably a relative of John Metcalf who was one of four farmers at Low Whita in 1841. Census records imply that the range was subsequently occupied by two farming households through to the first decade of the C20.
The stonework of the building documents a very complex developmental history which is only summarised here. There is evidence, in the form of vertical breaks in the lower stonework coursing of the north wall, that the western range developed from a timber-framed house, likely to have been cruck-framed and built in the C16 or early C17. Areas of early stone rebuilding, perhaps mid-C17, include the south-west corner, the second doorway from the west and the lower part of the partition wall which separates the range into two C17 houses. This partition wall includes a blocked doorway which may represent the earliest principal entry to the western house: either a gable entry or one from a former cross passage predating the formation of the eastern house from an original byre-end. A number of the windows also retain reused stonework from earlier C17 openings. The fire-window, lighting the smoke-bay to the centre of the south elevation, marks a further, slightly later episode of C17 stone rebuilding. The more roughly formed northern fire window to the same bay is also likely to be C17, but incorporates a reused sill.
The range appears to have been subdivided into two properties around 1680, dated by the inscribed door lintel to the eastern house, although this subdivision may have occurred earlier, the datestone instead marking a change of ownership or a refurbishment. The two-light window to its east is considered to be contemporary with the doorway; however it again appears to be made up of reused earlier stonework.
The front (south) wall of main part of the eastern house was rebuilt in relatively better quality masonry, probably in the late C17 or early C18 with square format windows made up of stonework from earlier C17 mullioned windows. This refronting appears to have included the construction of a masonry partition wall incorporating a ground-floor fireplace to the west of the fire windows, probably seeing the disuse of the smoke-bay as a heated part of the house. The smoke-bay subsequently passed into agricultural use with the insertion of upper taking-in doors, probably in the C19. The whole range would originally have been heather-thatched with a more steeply-pitched roof: the stonework shows how the eaves were raised to accommodate shallower-pitched stone slate roofing, some of the gable and interior walls also showing the change in roof pitch. This re-roofing clearly happened after the addition of the two C17 projecting stair turrets to the rear (north) and occurred in stages as shown by breaks in the eaves and roof lines.
By around 1700, the range thus appears to have been divided into two similar houses: both being of two storeys with rear projecting stair turrets to the north west corner, with front doors providing direct entry to the main ground-floor room to the west served by the stairs, with a separate, probably heated parlour to the east. Linking the two houses, the earlier smoke-bay is thought to have become an unheated service room. The upper part of the partition wall between the two houses is thinner than the lower part, but may incorporate remains of a corbelled stack serving the central smoke-bay, being later reused as a straight stack for a ground-floor fireplace to the eastern house, with C19 modifications for a first-floor fireplace. The various episodes of eaves-raising and re-roofing probably occurred in the C18, with some of the surviving fireplace surrounds also likely to be C18. Surviving wall plaster especially that inscribed with daisy-wheel designs in the eastern house, may also be C18, the designs being apotropaic or witches’ marks intended to ward off evil spirits: however at least a proportion may be contemporary with the C19 children’s graffiti. By 1844, when occupied by two lead miners, the western house appears to have been divided into two cottages with the insertion of a door to the east of the C17 front door. Other door insertions and alterations may indicate further subdivisions for multiple occupation as implied by the large number of households recorded by mid-C19 censuses, but may have occurred in the later C19 and early C20 as the range passed by stages into agricultural use. The inserted ground-floor openings on the north wall appear to have been created for mucking-out.
The barn to the south was originally a single storey thatched building and was heightened to two storeys with a stone slate roof probably in the late C18 or early C19. The 1854 Ordnance Survey map shows it as the southern end of an F-shaped set of buildings, presumably farm buildings, which was much reduced by the time of the 1891 map. It is possible that the original building represents part of another, separate C17 domestic property.
The cow house (which in 1844 was in separate ownership) attached to the western end of the domestic range was extended southwards sometime after the 1910 Ordnance Survey map.
Two farm houses, possibly pre-C17 origins, but mainly C17 with later alterations, passed into agricultural use in the late C19 and early C20.
MATERIALS: local gritstone rubble laid to courses, the south wall of the western house being of higher quality. Local sandstone slate roofing.
PLAN: although altered for agricultural use, the plan form that both houses had in the C18 is understandable: being single depth with near central entrances in the south wall originally giving direct access to the main ground-floor room to the west, with a separate heated room to the east. Both houses have stair turrets projecting from the western end of their north wall, accessed from the main room. Linking the two houses there is a single bay, a C17 smoke-bay originally serving the western house.
EXTERIOR: the range is of two storeys and faces south. It can be seen in three parts: at the west end a two bay house with partially truncated end stacks; a single bay to its east with a ground-floor fire window, this being the C17 smoke-bay of the western house; then a three bay house at the east end that has lost its gable end chimney stacks above the roof line.
West house: the front door, nearly central between the later chimney stacks, is quoined and has a substantial monolithic lintel with a slightly projecting drip stone above, the doorway being chamfered. Whereas most of the masonry of the south wall of the western house is thought to be late C17 or early C18 rebuilding, this doorway is considered to be a part of an even earlier phase of stone rebuilding, probably contemporary with the early stonework to the south west corner. To the right (east) is an inserted doorway (considered to be early C19), and beyond a window which is part of the late C17 or early C18 rebuilding. This window is square with monolithic, straight-chamfered jambs, sill and lintel which are considered to have been reused from earlier C17 mullioned windows. Above the lintel there is a slightly projecting dripstone. The window directly above, to the first-floor, is similar and also appears contemporary with the walling, but again being made up of earlier C17 elements. The first-floor window opening to the west has been modified, but retains a substantial chamfered C17 lintel. Walling to the ground-floor to the west of the original front door has been rebuilt for an inserted door and window, probably late C19 or later.
Smoke bay: excepting the lowest courses, there is a clear butt joint with the house to the east, and an irregular boundary with the rebuilt masonry to the west. The eaves line is slightly lower than that to the west and higher by a single course than the eaves of the house to the east. There are clear indications that the eaves have been raised by about five courses. The bay has three openings: an in situ C17 ground-floor fire window; an inserted first-floor taking-in door, and a first-floor slit window.
East house: the near central front door is irregularly quoined, the jambs being finished with a bold roll-moulding, supporting a substantial lintel that carries extensive inscribed carving. This carving is irregularly laid out and has weathered but is thought to read J C H 1680 ANNO DOMINI, being embellished by a central bowl and flanked by incised diamonds. Above there is a projecting dripstone. To the right (east) there is an inserted doorway with a roughly blocked window opening beyond that is considered to be C17, but formed from reused stonework. This is a two-light chamfered, mullioned window with a rough projecting dripstone set above. To the left of the front door there are two inserted doorways, the eastern one probably being enlarged from an original window opening. There are three windows to the first-floor, all with altered openings, the eastern and western retaining elements of C17 windows. The first-floor window lintels coincide with the original eaves level.
West house including smoke-bay: there is no break in the stonework between the smoke-bay and the rest of the house to the west, and there are clear indications that they had a continuous eaves line before the eaves were raised to provide shallower pitches to their roofs. There is a clear, but undulating horizontal break in the stonework around four-six courses above the ground level, this stonework appearing to be continuous with the eastern partition wall of the smoke-bay. Within this lowest section of walling there are three distinct vertical breaks which might correspond to bay divisions of an earlier timber building. The north elevation is blind except for a slit window high up in the rectangular projecting stair turret at the west end of the elevation; a small inserted window to the centre of the ground-floor; a now blocked ground-floor fire window to the single bay at the west end and above this, an inserted taking-in door.
East house: the rectangular stair turret, which projects from the west end of the north wall, is an early addition, pre-dating the raising of the eaves. The north elevation is blind except for three irregularly sized and spaced ground-floor muck-hole openings that are clearly inserted. Breaks in the stonework suggest that the western opening may have been inserted into a larger blocked opening, possibly a two-light window. Similar to the western house, but less clear, there is a horizontal break in the stonework near the base of the wall.
INTERIOR: largely stripped out for agricultural use. The floor structure for the first-floor is renewed as is the roof structure, although the latter is mainly traditionally detailed and jointed and some sections retain earlier timber. The west gable of the west house retains an infilled C18 kitchen fireplace on the ground-floor with a simple timber mantelshelf inscribed with the name 'Close' (the family name of the owners from the C17 to mid-C19). The first-floor retains a C18 hob grate fireplace. The partition wall between the houses retains a blocked ground floor doorway. The east house retains its spiral stone staircase missing its top one or two steps. Wall plaster on the first-floor includes C19 and early C20 graffiti, including inscribed daisy wheel designs which could be C17 or C18 apotropaic marks. The ground floor retains an early blocked fireplace to the east gable.
Barn: a two-bay barn that was originally single storey with a steeply pitched thatch roof that was raised to two storeys under a stone slate roof probably in the late C18 or C19. The altering of the roof line is clearly shown in the north gable. The barn has two ground-floor doorways on the east side, the southern one set beneath the landing for an external stone stair to a centrally placed first-floor doorway. Set high in the south gable (but at cart height because of the rising ground) there is a taking-in doorway. On the west elevation there is a ground-floor window and first-floor ventilation slits. The roof structure retains hewn timbers. Internally the building retains a masonry partition wall and two substantial door lintels which could be reused fragments of a cruck-framed building.
Cow house: a single-storey, three-bay addition attached to the western end of the domestic range, but set at a slight angle. This was expanded to the south after 1910 with the replacement of its south wall with brick pillars supporting the light-weight timber roof structure covered in corrugated iron. The interior is fitted out with C20 concrete stalls.