Vernacular farmhouse with associated outbuildings and garden boundaries, C17 origins with later alterations, including those made for a mid-C19 butter factory.
Reasons for Designation
The eastern range at Low Whita (Bells) Farm, with its associated outbuildings and garden boundaries, 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 C18 and C19, provide an illustration of changing vernacular construction and architecture over time, the buildings being of considerable interest in terms of building archaeology;
* for the evidence of the mid-C19 butter factory, a rare survival of a vernacular, small-scale commercial dairy.
* 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 western 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. One C17 house forms the earliest part of the domestic range described here, the other two C17 houses form a separate range just to the west described and 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, although it is thought that James Hird may have occupied the eastern part of the separate domestic range to the west because this has an 1680 dated lintel including his initials. The 1844 tithe map records the whole eastern range at Low Whita, along with the associated outbuildings to the south as being owner/occupied by John Close, one of the four farmers at Low Whita recorded in the 1841 census. The 1851 census records a reduction to two farms at Low Whita, with one house standing empty, but still the same number of households overall as recorded in 1841 (seven). A new household consisted of William Leonard Batty and sister Elizabeth who were butter factors from Whitby. By the 1871 census, Low Whita was reduced to just three households, all recorded as farmers: John Close, Mark Kendall and William Bell. Other census records are uncertain because of variations in the way addresses are recorded for Low Whita, but it is thought that by the First World War there were just two dairy farming households, reducing to one sometime after, with the western range (described separately) being entirely turned over to farming use.
The earliest part of the range is considered to date to the C17 and is identified as the bays either side of the principal front door. This formed a single depth house with a steeply-pitched thatched roof and a stair turret projecting from the west end of the north wall. Probably also in the C17, the range was extended by a further bay to the west with its own stair turret, this extension subsequently forming a separate cottage, probably in the early to mid-C18 given the style of its now blocked front doorway. The thatched roof was replaced by a shallower-pitched stone slate roof, raising the eaves, probably in the earlier C18. Perhaps at the same time, or a bit later, the front, south elevation of both the house and cottage was rebuilt or refaced with good quality coursed masonry, this extending to the east for an additional lower bay. This bay to the east may have originally been an attached farm building: internally there is a large alcove in the north wall which may represent a blocked cart entrance. Also in the C18, the house had an outshut added to the rear (north) for an open-well staircase and a small service room. Its stair window was partially formed with re-used elements from C17 chamfered windows. In the later C18 or early C19, the front (south) eaves line of the cottage, house, and bay to the east was raised by about four courses and unified to its current level. Probably at the same time, the window openings were regularised for vertical sashes, those to the house and bay to the east being given dressed stone surrounds. The eastern-most bay of the current house was probably agricultural and single storey at this time, but appears to have been raised to two storeys and made domestic before the mid-C19. The two-bay barn or byre adjacent to the east is considered to be mid-C18, based on the quoined surround to its doorway. The simpler barn beyond is probably C19, but appears to have been extant by the time of the 1844 tithe map which also shows the now ruined lean-to at the western end of the range. Not shown on the 1844 map is the eastern extension to the rear outshut which includes an additional staircase which supports the evidence from census records that the house was subdivided before 1851. The 1854 1:10560 Ordnance Survey map appears to show this addition, and certainly shows both the gig house and the second outbuilding further south, both also shown in 1844. Changing map depictions also indicate that the walled garden was formed between 1844 and 1854. This may have been the point at which the cottage was incorporated into the main part of the house with the creation of internal doorways and the blocking of the cottage’s front door.
The eastern two domestic bays of the house, with the rear outshut added after 1844, contains very extensive stone shelving extending through multiple rooms. This is interpreted as being a butter factory operated by William and Elizabeth Batty who were recorded in the 1851 census. The gig house has a wash room on the ground floor (perhaps for washing cheese cloths) and what appears to be an office or goods dispatch room above with a blocked taking-in door facing the house to the south and access to the first floor cart bay for loading. Its other ground floor room has a low boskin (vertically set flagstones) forming two stalls, perhaps for milking sheep, although an alternative interpretation is that this room forms a coal store.
Farm house and associated buildings, C17 origins with extensive alterations in the C18 through to the mid-C19.
MATERIALS: local gritstone rubble laid to courses with some sections of higher quality masonry with well-coursed, dressed rubble. Local sandstone slate roofs laid to graduated courses to the stone ridge.
PLAN: the house has a complex internal plan form retaining evidence of its evolution and previous subdivisions. Its early C18 form (possibly the same as its C17 form) appears to have been a two bay house with a near central direct-entry to the main room to the west which was also served by a stair turret at the north-west corner, with a separate heated parlour to the east. The far west bay, a C17 addition, probably originally service accommodation, appears to have become a single bay cottage no later than around the mid-C18. The bay to the east may also have C17 origins, either agricultural or as further domestic accommodation but was certainly domestic by the later C18, perhaps around the time of the addition of the new staircase outshot to the rear of the original house. In the mid-C19, with the addition of another outshot with its own staircase, this bay (with the formerly agricultural bay to the east) appears to have formed a separate property operating as a butter factory. The range continues eastwards with two, two-bay barns/byres with a ruinous C20 pig sty beyond. To the west of the cottage there are the ruins of a lean-to C18 or early C19 extension with an outbuilding (earth closet) projecting southwards.
EXTERIOR: front, south elevation: the western four bays of the domestic range consists of rebuilt well-coursed masonry, probably C18, with a building break between bays three and four and some later rebuilding around the windows of bay one, the former cottage at the west end. The eaves have been raised and unified, possibly at the same time that the windows to bays two to four were given slightly projecting stone surrounds. The flush-set stone surrounds to the front door of the house (on the east side of bay two) and the blocked door to the cottage (on the east side of bay one) are probably earlier. Quoins to the upper part of the east side of bay three show that bay four was previously lower. A building break between bays four and five show that the latter was previously single storey. The door and ground-floor window to bay five are a C20 alteration. Other windows, including that to the first-floor of bay five, have four pane sashes. The front door is panelled, the top panel being glazed and divided up with glazing bars. There are stone ridge stacks on the west side of bays one and two, and on the east side of bays three and five.
West gable: breaks in the stonework clearly indicate that the cottage formerly had a more steeply pitched roof with a lower eaves lines. The gable is blind except for an inserted doorway into the now ruinous single-storey lean-to extension.
Rear, north elevation: this is of coursed rubble with scattered fenestration. Bay one (the former cottage at the west end of the range) has a blocked slit window to the ground floor and includes projecting stones indicating the former lower eaves. There is a clear building break up to this lower eaves line with the stair turret projecting from the western part of bay two. This stair turret has a blocked slit window set just below the original eaves line. The central part of bay two shows that the original house also had a lower eaves line originally. It has a ground-floor six-over-six pane sash window with outer iron bars spanning between the sill and lintel. Bay three and the eastern part of bay two is covered by a two-storey outshut that has a stair window set in a surround made-up of reused elements from one or more C17 chamfered windows. This window is a four-pane vertical sash and is protected by horizontal iron bars. A further four-pane sash window in a plain opening is to the east on the first-floor. Below there is a smaller ground-floor window, this being a very small-paned six-over-six. There is a clear building break with the outshut to bays five and six which is of one continuous build, with a quoined eastern corner, a central door and three windows all of slightly different sizes, but all with four-pane sashes set behind vertical iron bars. Set high in the east gable end of this outshut there are three dove holes and a projecting stone for alighting.
INTERIOR: the cottage, bay one, retains its spiral stone staircase and a mid-C18 kitchen fireplace to the ground-floor, this having a cast-iron fireplace with two ovens on one side retaining decorative doors and a crane on the other side. The stair turret to bay two has been converted into cupboards on both the ground- and first-floor, probably in the C18: they retain planked doors. The two ground-floor windows retain panelled shutters, as does the ground-floor window to bay three, this also having a pelmet with a sculptured swag decoration. The ground-floor room to bay four also retains shutters. Its ceiling has exposed C19 floor joists fitted with timber airing racks and numerous iron hooks. The ground-floor room of bay five and the three service rooms to the rear outshuts all have extensive stone shelving. At least some of the alcoves and built-in cupboards throughout the building are considered to represent blocked internal doorways.
C18 barn or byre, attached to the east gable of the domestic range: this is of two bays and has a mid-C18 doorway in the south wall flanked by small, nearly square windows, with an inserted taking-in door above. The mid-C18 doorway has a large lintel supported by plinthed, upright-and-impost jambs set in contemporary watershot masonry, the east gable being quoined. A change in the stonework indicates that the eaves has been raised to match that of the attached domestic range. The north wall is more roughly built, but also retains evidence of a lower eaves line. It has a single opening, this being a partly blocked mucking-out opening.
Early C19 barn, attached to the east gable of C18 barn: this is also of two bays, but slightly lower and smaller than the earlier barn to the west to which it is attached at a slight angle. It has a quoined east gable, a first-floor taking-in door and ground level doorway on the south side and a small window and ventilation slit on the north wall.
Gig house: this is of two bays and two storeys, built into rising ground south of the C18 barn. Appearing to be of a single build, this has quoined gables and a central ridge stack. The north elevation has a doorway to each bay, the east bay also having a window. To the first-floor there is a taking-in door and a window, both being blocked. The first-floor forms the ground-floor of the south elevation because of the rising ground. This has a neatly arched cart opening to the west and a window to the east. The east gable has windows to both levels; the west gable has a blocked first-floor window. The west ground floor room has a low boskin forming two stalls or bunkers. The east room retains features of a wash room.
C18 outbuilding: this lies just uphill to the south of the gig house. It is a single storey, two bay building that is quoined and has a lean-to extension to its west side which is also quioned. The north gable end has a mid-C18 doorway matching that of the C18 barn: with a large lintel supported by plinthed, upright-and-impost jambs. The larger doorway in the east wall is possibly inserted.
Ruined C19 lean-to extension: this single storey extension to the west gable of the cottage is reduced to its south wall which retains a set of stone shelves. Attached to the south is a small outbuilding: an earth closet.
Garden boundaries: the main domestic garden extending south from the house and cottage is defined by a tall, coped wall. A second, smaller domestic garden lies between this and the gig house, bound to the south by C19 iron railings.