Managing farm animals through the farming year is a far from simple job. From the very earliest days when animals were first domesticated, there needed to be places where animals could be kept for protection from wolves and thieves, or to make sure they did not damage growing crops in fields.
The Bronze Age settlement on Burton Moor comprises a series of stone built huts set in rounded paddocks or enclosures. It seems likely that these enclosures were used to corral sheep or cattle whenever necessary. Flat ground to the east of the site might have been where these animals were let out to graze.
From the Norman period, the feudal system of managing farmland communally meant that strict controls were placed on where and when animals could graze. The village pound or pinfold was created as a place where straying animals could be locked up until their owners paid a fine for their release. Several stone built pounds survive in villages around the Dales although most probably date to more recent times. Muker Pound is a good example as is the example at Thoralby. Complicated tenurial arrangements in Malham dating from the days when the village was owned by two monastic houses, have resulted in two village pounds being operated.
The village pound survived the end of the medieval system of communal farming and shared grazing since animals still tended to stray if their owners failed to keep up their field boundaries. The pound was a handy place to keep animals while their owner was located even if fines were no longer imposed. Most of these little stone walled enclosures fell out of use after the implementation of the Enclosure Acts in the early 19th century. Little open grazing survived after this and land had to be securely walled or hedged.
The management of sheep in the Dales has always required the use of small enclosures or gathering pens. A Medieval sheephouse on Malham Moor was excavated in the 1950s and had several enclosures for managing the flock of milking ewes that were housed there over the winter months. Archaeologists have also recognised the remains of a medieval monastic sheepfold and washdub complex in Raydale.
More recently built sheepfolds and gathering pens dot the landscape both high up in the hills and near gates and roadsides. On common grazing land such places were vital for gathering and separating flocks into their different ownerships. Sheepfolds had many other uses including gathering sheep for counting, worming, for separating out lambs for sale and for clipping. Today farmers often prefer to construct temporary folds from corrugated iron, old gates and hurdles. Elsewhere, stone folds are restored and still in use. A large stone walled gathering pen can be seen on the communal grazing land at Surrender Ground, Reeth High Moor.
In 2002 the Yorkshire Dales saw the culmination of a long-running project by the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy. He has rebuilt and created environmental sculptures from a series of sheepfolds all over Cumbria since 1996. In part as a memorial to the destructive effects of the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak, the artist worked on a washfold above Cautley Spout in the National Park. He then went on to restore a sheepfold near Ingleton and an adjacent shepherd’s hut became the permanent resting place of a red sandstone arch that Andy Goldsworthy travelled down through Cumbria in association with the Drove Arch folds part of the project.
Before the compulsory introduction in 1905 of chemical sheep dips to control parasites and scab, farmers went through the laborious process of salving their sheep every autumn. The salve was applied to the animal’s skin by parting the wool in regular lines. It consisted of a sticky mixture of oils, tar and butter. In order to get a better price for their wool, up until the early 20th century, farmers needed to wash the salve out before clipping. Several purpose built washdubs and adjoining folds survive from those days. Good examples can be seen outside Austwick and Hebden. Several accounts of the job were recorded by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby. There is also a film of the Hebden washdub in use which can be seen at the Upper Wharfedale Museum in Grassington.
Hartley, Marie & Ingilby, Joan (1997) Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales Otley: Smith Settle
Moorhouse, Stephen (2003) ‘Medieval Yorkshire: a rural landscape for the future’ in Manby, T G et al (eds) (2003) The Archaeology of Yorkshire: an assessment at the beginning of the 21st century Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No 3 pp181-214
Raistrick, A & Holes P F (1962) ‘The Archaeology of Malham Moor’ Field Studies Vol 1 pp73-100
Raistrick, Arthur (1976) Monks and Shepherds and the Yorkshire Dales Bainbridge: Yorkshire Dales National Park Committee
White, Robert (2002) The Yorkshire Dales. A Landscape through Time Ilkley: Great Northern Books