About North York Moors National Park

Located just to the north of York and surprisingly close to Teesside, the North York Moors National Park is a beautiful landscape of stunning heather moors, spectacular coast, ancient woodland, distinctive dales, dark skies and historic sites. It's a great place for cycling and walking with miles of paths and tracks for you to explore.

Keeping hold of history

Jo Collins – Volunteer and Communities Officer

If you are standing anywhere in the North York Moors National Park you will never be more than 1 mile from a known archaeological site.
Help care for this heritage.

We are very excited that we’ve been successful in securing a grant of more than £170,000 to support a new project – Monuments for the Future.  This will help secure the future of historic monuments in the North York Moors and increase public understanding of their significance.

The funds have been awarded by Historic England, who supported the National Park’s previous Monument Management Scheme from 2009 to 2018.

There are tens of thousands of monuments and other archaeological sites in the National Park. Currently 842 of these have been ‘scheduled’, this means they are nationally important and protected in law*.

History and its monuments are embedded in the landscape of the North York Moors.

Young Ralph Cross. Copyright Simon Hirst, NYMNPA.

Young Ralph Cross still stands upright by the road on Rosedale Head. The horizon is spotted with funerary round barrows (marked as tumuli or tumulus on maps), and crossed with ancient dykes thought to mark the boundaries of territories. Look closely and evidence of the lives of our hunter gatherer ancestors can be seen on rocks decorated with ‘cup and ring’ marks. Occasionally flint tools or arrowheads are still found on the moors (recorded as a ‘findspot’ on the HER map**). And of course there are the more recent remnants of history – castles, abbeys, trods, iron works . . . far too many types to mention but all worthy of our care and attention.

Key to the new Monuments for the Future project is providing training and support for an increased numbers of volunteers. We want to encourage and build a sense of ownership for the monuments amongst local communities; engaging people, young and old, with the heritage they have on their doorstep.

So we are looking for people to join our volunteer survey team to look after our Scheduled Monuments. Volunteers working in pairs or individually, with the kind permission of landowners, will visit archaeological monuments to check on their condition. Problems are commonly caused by bracken or erosion and the volunteer surveys are vital to identify issues in order to target practical management which can help sustain the monuments.

To get the most from this voluntary role you’ll need an enthusiasm for archaeology/history, a reasonable level of fitness, and an ability to read a map or else an ability to team up with someone who can. Some sites are easy enough to find but some can be more difficult, volunteers can choose the level of challenge! Training days are planned for August and September this year. Please do get in touch if you are interested in being a volunteer or you just want to find out more – we would love to hear from you.

* The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) is the only official, up to date, register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England – listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and battlefields.

** This is a map of the North York Moors Historic Environment Record. It’s a handy way to check out our claim that ‘If you are standing anywhere in the North York Moors National Park you will never be more than 1 mile from an archaeological site’. Please let me know if you can catch me out!

Local communities

Alasdair Fagan – Woodland Creation Officer

My job here at the National Park Authority means that I get the opportunity to be out and about in the North York Moors and get to places that most don’t get the opportunity to see. These hidden places are special for all sorts of reasons, in particular I get the chance to see some extraordinary woodlands – I admit I might be a little biased.

Recently we were out monitoring a woodland planting project near Castleton which meant we had to trek through a small existing woodland to get there. This was a combination of well-developed riparian (wet) flood plain woodland along river margins, wet marshy grassland filled with flowering plants and ancient woodland remnants creeping up the valley sides including oak, birch, hazel, alder and willow. Many of the woodland spring flowers were still in bloom and the woods were a lush green and bursting with insect and bird life.

Ancient Semi Natural Woodland site. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

As we approached the edge of this woodland I noticed something wriggling in the grass – it was a slow worm! Coming across this legless lizard species (Anguis fragilis) was a first time for me. Obviously I wouldn’t usually pick up/disturb wildlife but in this case I took the opportunity to move the slow worm to the cover of an old iron sheet as they are quite high up on the menu for many predatory species (birds, adders, badgers etc.).

Slow worm - copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

On the way back as we ducked, scrambled and tramped back through the same woodland I almost tripped over what can only be described as a large mound of leaf litter on the edge of a clearing. As I looked a little closer I noticed that the surface of the mound was moving – it was alive with wood ants! I was surprised to see them here as. I previously worked in Scotland and had always associated wood ants with more northern forest habitats. But they were definitely wood ants and they are surely an indicator that this particular woodland is in good ecological health.

Close up of a Northern hairy wood ant. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

Northern Hairy Wood ants (Formica lugubris) are a species of wood ant found in Scotland and in only two areas in England – the Peak District and the North York Moors. They are a fascinating species – I’m no expert yet but here are a few facts about our internationally important Northern Hairy Wood Ants:

  • The Northern Hairy Wood Ant currently has a near-threatened conservation status.
  • Northern Hairy Wood Ants ‘farm’ sap-sucking aphids (that favour oak and birch) for their honeydew. They gently stroke the backs of the aphids which then produce the sugar rich liquid in exchange for protection, and the ants use it to feed their young.
  • The ants take specific roles in the aphid farming process including; ‘shepherds’ who collect the honeydew, ‘transporters’ that move the honeydew to their nest, ‘guards’ that protect their aphids from competitors, and ‘scouts’ that search out new aphid colonies.
  • They employ a polydomous (many homes) nesting strategy whereby they have a number of nest mounds which operate as a single colony. The founding of additional nests allows for the expansion of the colony allowing it to grow and capitalise on new foraging and feeding opportunities spreading out through suitable habitat. If a smaller outlying nest is attacked or in danger then it will be abandoned and the inhabitants will return to the central nest.
  • Similar to other ants foraging workers leave pheromone trails, to good nectar sites or to groups of aphids, which direct other foragers to these valuable resources. The trails can persist for months.
  • The nest mounds of Northern Hairy Wood ants provide accomodating habitat for other invertebrates too. These include a variety of beetle species as well as the Shining guest ant (Formicoxenus nitidulus). This ant species lives within wood ant nesting colonies, accepting food from the host species and establishing its own discrete nests inside hollow twigs within the larger nest, raising its own brood. The Shining guest ant is a species of conservation interest, a priority species of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list.

Northern hairy wood ant nest - if you look carefully you can just make out the well camouflaged orange/black coloured ants. Copyright Alasdair Fagan, NYMNPA.

The intricacies of woodland ecology are often complex and astounding. My job means I work on woodland planting and creation and by the very nature of the timespan of trees I know that I’m likely never to see these new woodlands in their future glory. Therefore it’s very important to me to keep a perspective, looking at woodlands at a landscape and spatial scale and considering woodlands over their likely lifetime. Woodland visits like this one are what inspire me to want to create new woodlands and plant more trees, to establish the woodlands of the future.

If you might be interested in creating woodland in the North York Moors and would like more information about opportunities please contact me or call on 01439 772700.

Bees’ needs

Aside

Following on from Abi’s bee blog post a fortnight ago, it’s now Bees’ Needs Week 2018.

Top 5 Actions that people can take for bees and other pollinators – you don’t need to be a farmer or a major landowner:

  • Grow more plants
  • Let your garden go wild (even just a bit of it)
  • Leave your lawn to grow a bit more
  • Live and let live when it comes to pollinators and their homes
  • Avoid using pesticides

Wild bee on Field Scabious

A New Kiln for Rosedale: a poetic perspective – Part 2

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

A Brief Historic Note

The second and final part of this anonymous but momentous poem, transcribed by the local historian Malcolm Bisby, describes the inherent industrial appeal of ironstone production in the North York Moors and the bustling economy that it brought.  Picking up where Part 1 finished, two years have passed since the collapse and the kilns which have replaced the experimental kiln at Rosedale burn brightly in a never-ending production cycle. They roast (calcine) the ironstone, mined close by, which is then sent on its way to Teesside via the railway.

MB299 Rosedale Railway, East side c. 1903. Locomotive with loaded wagons, 8 in total for Ingleby Incline top was the maximum load. The derelict cottages were known as High Gill Cottages and probably once housed miners and their families. They were later used as farm storage for straw but have since been demolished.

The physical remains of the kilns today, at Bank Top and at Rosedale East, are tangible reminders of the way populations alter the landscape. Although the remains are quiet today, they once thronged with working people (including children) each with their job of work to do as this poem so clearly reminds the modern reader.

The poem ends on an eerily prophetic note as the poet notes that, as long as the furnaces burn, there will be an industry present along with ‘peace and plenty’. The ironstone industry within the North York Moors burned fiercely but briefly, largely coming to the end of ironstone mining and calcining processing by 1929.

After the poem we provide a unique insight into the industrial design of the experimental kilns, and those that replaced it, provided by Malcolm himself.

 ‘Discussion between two friends on the New Kiln while building, noting a few of its’ misfortunes, 1865’

Transcribed by Malcolm Bisby

43. And if this plan at first they’d tried,
T’would saved them much expense.
For two full years have passed away
Since first it did commence.

44. But part of her is burning now,
By day as well as night,
And men and boys are there engaged
To keep this kiln alright.

45. There’s men to tip, and boys to spray,
And coolers there likewise,
There’s red and black men I do see,
And men of every size.

46.There’s horses, and their drivers too
Are ready at a call –
A oft I hear the drivers say
Their wages are too small.

47. The calcine men work down below,
They’re men that look so funny,
And there’s no doubt but all those men
Work very hard for their money.

48. And far under the ground they are,
Beneath this rugged hill,
The miners – and if not for them,
The works would soon stand still.

49. The miners from all men are known,
In the Beer House they talk louder,
And while at work they have to use
Both iron steel and powder.

50. And many think that mining is
A very easy trade
But for their work the miners are
Not much more than half paid.

51. And deputies there are also
To see that all is right,
To prop and timber is their work
The mines to keep alright.

52. With axe and saw they pop about
To see who wants a balk,
And so they hear all kinds of news –
They love a bit of talk.

53. And platelayers there are at work,
Laying inroads and points.
They go round with hammer and nails
To straighten all foul joints.

54. If the platelayers go away,
There soon is something up.
“A wagon’s off the road,” they shout,
“Come, bring t’big bar and sup”

55. We have a furnace in the mines
Which burns both night and day,
For the good of miners when at work
To draw powder smoke away.

56. And two old men attend the fire –
We call them both “Old Dads,”
I wish you like wise for to know
We have some small trap lads.

57. We likewise have two noble men,
In the mines to see fair play,
To see that all men get their rights
There’s one there night and day.

58. Dog Whippers they are called by trade,
The Horse Drivers well they know
They are to tell them what to do,
And where they have to go.

59. The manager comes round to see
That all things do keep right,
I’m sure that he’s got much to do,
In keeping all things straight.

60. So now you’ve heard what there’s to do
Beneath the rugged hill,
But if I was to mention all,
I many a page could fill

Rosedale Miners. Rosedale Local History Society.

61. To bring my story to a close
On the works no longer dwell,
The weighmen I must mention now
Before I bid farewell.

62. Those are the men we have to trust,
Masters on them depend,
And if they’ll do what’s right and just
They’ll never want a friend.

63. I took a walk the other day
Once more this kiln to see,
And to find this kiln completed,
Delight it was to me.

64. I long have wished to hear the news,
That I have heard today,
The men say she is finished,
The boys they shout, “Hooray.”

65. Great Praise is due to the workmen,
For workmanship and skill
For everyone that see her say
She is a noble kiln.

66. All praise unto the gentlemen,
Who the money had to pay,
Some said that she would beggar them
But they have won the day.

67. For now she’s burning briskly,
Some hundred tons a day,
‘Midst all the expense there has been,
She’s sure to pay her way.

68. And long may she keep burning on,
Our gentlemen to cheer,
And while she’s doing well for them
The workmen need not fear.

69. Our prospect’s bright for future years,
There’s work for young and old.
When you’ve heard all I’ve got to say,
There’s still one half untold.

70. And long may peace and plenty reign,
Within this lovely dale,
When the Poet’s tongue lies silent,
In death’s cold chilling vale.

Rosedale East Kilns, mid 20th century?

Malcolm Bisby’s historical commentary

This fascinating poem clearly gives some useful clues as to the construction date and design changes relating to the so called “New Kilns” (or ‘Iron Kilns’). The term ‘New’ used in this case could also mean ‘of different design’ – for these kilns appear to have been a unique, one-off experiment – doubtless hoping for a more efficient calcining process in terms of fuel cost, through put rate of more uniform heat distribution.

However, this very crude system was doomed to be phased out by the gradual development of the Gjers design of calcining kiln (development of this design of kiln began around 1865) – compromising a large upright cylinder: constructed of wrought iron plating, internally lined with a refractory brick lining.

This design of kiln was by far more efficient and easier to operate and was usually sited adjacent to the blast furnaces that they were supplying. The claimed coal to ‘raw’ ironstone ratio was one ton coal to 25 tonnes of raw ironstone.

Malcolm will be presenting the final part of his lecture series (‘Tales over Tea‘) on the Rosedale Ironstone Industry at 2pm, Wednesday 18 July at Danby Village Hall.

Evaluating bees

Abi Duffy – Conservation Trainee

One of the sounds of summer is the recognisable buzzing of busy bees. Bees are a beautiful symbol of British summertime, but much more importantly are one of the best performing pollinators vital for pollinating plants and crops across the world.

Bee facts:

  • Of the 270 species of bee to have been recorded within Britain, 27 of these are bumble bee species and there’s only 1 honey bee species.
  • Wild bees pollinate two thirds of British crops whilst cultivated honey bees pollinate the remaining third.
  • The exact economic value of pollinators in the UK is uncertain due to small numbers of studies but is estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds (DEFRA).

I’ve been wanting to learn more about bees and how to identify different species, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Residential Centre at the start of June to take part in a Steven Falk Bee Workshop. Steven wrote the ‘Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland’ which we used throughout the workshop, making use of the guide’s dichotomous keys and illustrations and photographs of the different bee species.

It was a really interesting course – we focused on the habitats around Malham Tarn and the bees that can be found there. The habitats we visited included nationally important calcareous (limestone) grassland and fen/mire (wet grassland) habitats which are part of the Malham-Arnecliffe Site of Special Scientific Interest. We saw fabulous plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Butterwort, Northern Marsh Orchid and Water Avens which was particularly popular amongst the bees.

We identified thirteen different species of bee using these habitats. These included the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), a Red-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus lapidarius), the Bilberry Bumblebee (Bombus monticola) and the Moss Carder Bee (Bombus muscorum). To ID accurately we learnt to catch the bee carefully with a net and then place it into a container to get a closer look at the head, thorax and abdomen to look for distinguishing features. After a few minutes the bee is released back where it was found.

Declines in bee populations are due to a dangerous combination of reasons which together add up to a growing crisis – reasons include climate changes, creeping urbanisation, agricultural practices including using pesticides, a decline in habitats including the loss of meadows – unfortunately 97% of wildflower meadows in Britain have been lost since 1937.

Bees need continuous legume-rich flower habitat to sustain populations. Lots of bee species live in large colonies and need enough flowers in their surrounding habitat to sustain up to 400 worker bees over a season so that a colony can successfully produce new males and queens. Remaining species rich grasslands like meadows have become isolated across the landscape as areas shrink and contract, such habitats need to be better linked by creating corridors and stepping stones for bees to move through and between and so be able to make best use of the nectar (and pollen) producing plants. Like many other species, bees benefit from ecological networks where semi natural habitats are biggerbetter and more joined up (Making Room for Nature, 2010, John Lawton)As well as the species rich grassland areas themselves there are other useful linear versions such as species rich road verges, arable farmland flower margins, and native species hedgerows which can all act as useful corridors for pollinators. Domestic gardens with bee friendly plants can act as useful refuelling stops/stepping stone habitats. 

The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme brings together experts and the public to monitor pollinator populations over time. Anyone can join in with the Flower-Insect Timed Count, which is reassuringly complex.

If you want to help build up a national picture of bee populations then The Great British Bee Count continues until the 30 June this year. There is an App to help you to ID and record the different bee species you see. Sightings will help the experts to understand how bees are faring and results feed back into the Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.

More YACking

Kim Devereux-West – Land of Iron Cultural Heritage Assistant

We had our first Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) session in February this year and since then we’ve run a session on the first Saturday of each month – with the exception of March when we had all that snow!).

Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to since February…

Moors and Valleys YAC - April 2018April – Down to the Bare Bones
Teesside University, Middlesbrough
Led by our brilliant volunteer leaders Claire Hodson and Dave Errickson, we got to learn all about the bones in a human body. We learned about what bones can tell us about people, had a go at putting a (plastic) skeleton back together and made our own moving paper skeletons.

May – Getting to Know Gravestones
St. Peter’s Churchyard, Brotton
This was our first outdoor session and the weather was fantastic! We learned how much gravestones can tell you about people from the past, got to explore St. Margaret’s Church (just Moors and Valleys YAC - May 2018across the road) and had a go at recording some of the gravestones.

June – Exploring Anglo-Saxon and Victorian Lives
Preston Park Museum, Stockton-on-Tees
Carolyn from the Museum was kind enough to host  a session for us that explored the lives of the Anglo-Saxons. We got to look at artefacts and play the ancient game of Merrills (or Nine Men’s Morris) – which got pretty competetive! We finished the session playing Victorian games on the Museum’s Victorian Street and got to try out the stocks!

Moors and Valleys YAC - June 2018We’ve got loads more fun archaeological activities planned for the year. Our next YAC session will be on Saturday 7 July at the Land of Iron’s Combs Wood community archaeology excavation in Beck Hole near Whitby. Before then we have an extra bonus trip organised by Tees Archaeology on Sunday 1 July to see their excavation of the deserted medieval borough at Skelton.

To find out more, or to sign up for a session –  please contact us.

We’re also looking for new volunteer leaders so if you have knowledge of history/archaeology and would like to get involved then please get in touch.

Young Archaeologists' Club logo

A New Kiln for Rosedale: a poetic perspective from 1865 – Part 1

David Mennear – Land of Iron Administration Assistant

A Brief Historical Note

The ironstone industrial sites of the North York Moors and the Cleveland Hills were of great national economic importance in their time (Historic England Listing – Rosedale East Mines calcining kilns and iron mines) and utilised a considerable workforce for this most gruelling of industries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The massive structures, the sense of progress, the nobility of endeavour, inspired emotional and artistic responses.

Stone Kilns from Nab Scar - copyright Paddy Chambers

A unique contemporary insight into the industrial expansion in Rosedale comes from this wonderfully evocative anonymously-written narrative poem about the New Kiln’s design trialled here – as transcribed by the noted local historian Malcolm Bisby.

The kiln, built as an experiment in 1865 alongside the more traditional designs of the age, provided work for skilled individuals from across the region. Rosedale was productive in both mining quality ironstone and being able to calcine (or roast) it on site, before it was carried away by locomotives along the specially-constructed railways, which extended into the Durham and Tees areas from the heart of the North York Moors. As the poet recalls, the kilns roasted ‘by day as well as night’, a glow which lit the landscape in a way we can only imagine today in the peaceful and tranquil setting of Rosedale . . .

 ‘Discussion between two friends on the New Kiln while building, noting a few of its’ misfortunes, 1865’

 Transcribed by Malcolm Bisby

1. I long have looked for you,
‘Midst all I’ve had to do,
And many changes there has been
Since last I talked with you.

2. I’m glad once more your face to see –
Don’t think that I am joking,
While some say I am far too fast
My lines are provoking.

3. You long have wish’d to know
Our doings in this place,
And I am going to tell you
Although ‘tis a sad disgrace.

4. ‘Tis two full years at least
Since first I came this way,
Come listen and you soon will hear
What I have got to say.

5. At first I shall remind you
When here we sat alone,
And watch’d the men lay down
The first foundation stone.

6. We wondered what all this could mean
Until we saw that man
He said “They’re going to build a kiln
But ten to one she’ll stand.”

7. We did not take much notice then
To see them first begin,
But before they reach’d half the top,
Our fears they did begin,

8. Then people soon began to talk
As shortly you shall hear
Some of them spied a crack or two
And they began to fear.

9. The news soon spread from place to place
In country and in town,
And those who live to see the day
She’ll surely tumble down.

10. The mason work look’d strong and good
For which I shall allow
The master of them all you know
He came from Lastingham town.

11. The fitter came with screws and bolts
To finish and adorn,
It would be better perhaps for me.
To let these men alone.

12. Their work I’m sure it was admired
By all that came this way,
But sad to think as well as say
It shortly all gave way.

13. Then all the skill of man was tried
The kiln for to keep up
But they like all the rest you see
Had nothing but bad luck.

14. Up spoke a workman of this place –
A wild and wicked wretch
“This kiln will fall and that you’ll see,
And kill poor old Frank Petch.”

15. Up spoke another and he said
“Thou wants this kiln to fall,
But if she does thou may depend
It’s a bad job for us all.”

16. “Thou need not start to grunt and growl
About t’bad job, thou’ll see.
There’ll always be plenty of work
For either thee or me.”

17. “Thou doesn’t care for t’masters
When thou thy wage has got,
If’t kiln do fall in spite of us
And beggar all t’job lot.

18. “I don’t think it would beggar them
If she was down today,
Our gentlemen are very rich
As I’ve heard people say.”

19. “They’re very rich I must agree
But they’ve had heavy losses,
She has so many times given way
It’s sure to tax their purses.”

20. Some hundreds of pounds was paid –
Nay, thousand I may say,
But in spite of all that they could do
Part of this kiln gave way.

21. The workmen for awhile stood still
And looked sore amaz’d
And if we’d had the masters here
They might have gone quite craz’d..

Rosedale Kiln and rail wagons - Rosedale History Society Archive

22. It was a pity for to see
This noble kiln diminish’d
And worst of all she fell you know
Before she was quite finished.

23. The bricklayers too I’ve got to mention
Likewise their noble work,
I could not learn what were their names
They said they came from York.

24. And those were men of noble skill
They show’d their work was good
But it would have looked better
If only it had stood.

25. I wish you had been there to hear
The rumours on that day
Go where you will, you hear the cry
The kiln is giving way.

26. You that this kiln have never seen
You may believe my words
She was tied back you soon shall hear
With some large iron rods.

27. The rods began to crack and break
The workmen cried “Begum –
To the Blacksmith’s shop you must away
Tell Carter he’s to come.

28. “And while you thus to Carter go,
The Blacksmith for to tell,
Somebody else must run away,
And fetch Mr. Fell.”

29. And something else I now shall state
As clear as ever I can
And when you hear my story out
I think you’ll know the man.

30. It is not very long ago
They played the man a trick
I shall not state what is his name,
I’ll only say “Old Mick”.

31. This man was tired – There is no doubt
And he’d gone home to bed,
No doubt but this noble kiln
Was running in his head

32. But some one to his door came,
And in a haste did say,
“You must arise, a bad job’s up
The kiln is giving way.”

33. “And will she fall?” the inmate cried
“Yes that she will and soon,
You must be quick and come away
Or before you’re there she’s down”.

34. So without any more enquiring
This man did go to see
And the kiln was standing then alright,
How simple man must be!

35. But tricks like these are far too bad,
To either friend or foe
But what can you expect from those
Which do not better know?

36. I would have them for the future try
To do the best they can
And in their minds to always bear
That manners take the man,

37. But on this point I must not dwell
For they are leading the kiln away
And with the stones they’re mending t’road
I saw the other day.

38. And every body came to see
This kiln when she fell down
T’was such a crash! The news soon spread
In country and in town.

39. T’will be remembered there’s no doubt
As long as we’re alive,
And we’ll tell what passed in Rosedale
In eighteen sixty five.

40. And generations yet to come,
Will remember what I’ve said,
When the noble workmen of this kiln
Lie numbered with the dead

41. But a different plan they’ve tried at last,
And not a better one can be.
Instead of having her all in one,
They’ve made her into three

42. It’s thought she’ll stand and not disgrace
The last inventor’s plan,
But stone to calcine she will burn
Three times the age of man . . .

A view of the Rosedale East new mines as they were best known - Rosedale History Society Archive

We’re only half way through – the finale of this fascinating poem will follow shortly, with a unique commentary by Malcolm Bisby.

Land of Iron logos

What happened next?

Before Love in the Countryside, there was Sunley’s Daughter.

British Film Institute - Sunley's Daughter

Back in the 1970s, Barry Cockcroft made a series of documentary programmes for Yorkshire Television portraying engaging characters living a rural life in the north of the county – the most famous of which was Too Long a Winter which starred Hannah Hauxwell farming in Baldersdale in the North Pennines.

There were also a couple of programmes set in the Cleveland Hills/Esk Dale in the north of the North York Moors. One – The Children of Eskdale – has already featured on this Blog. The other is Sunley’s Daughter, filmed in 1974. Like the other episodes the idea was to document real people’s lives in such a way as to construct a ‘drama’, a human interest story.

The Sunley family live on a tenanted farm near Gerrick – Joe Sunley, the patriarch figure, Connie Sunley, his wife, and one remaining child, Mary whose four siblings have all moved away. In this north west corner of the North York Moors it isn’t the climate that is harsh enough to make a story, instead it is the atypical life of 25 year old Mary. Mary works on the dairy farm – hard physical labour – seven days a week. She has done so for years, and will do so for years to come as long as her parents are alive and keep the tenancy of the farm. The farm can’t be passed down, it belongs to the local estate – Ringrose Wharton (now Skelton & Gilling). A farm under tenancy means there is not the incentive to invest in the farm and its machinery, even if Joe Sunley wanted to, which he doesn’t. He wants to live by the tenets of the Bible – a hard life makes that easier to do. He chooses not to have electricity, as he chooses not to celebrate birthdays or Christmas – and so neither do his family, the interviewer gets his wife to admit she misses the electricity. Joe perseveres (a biblical maxim); as Connie says ‘he’ll never give in’. Interestingly Joe doesn’t come from the expected cliché of generations of local farming stock – his father was an ironstone miner and he himself was a fitter until the Great Depression. He worked his way up using allotments for growing vegetables, rearing chickens, making ice cream in Guisborough, before finally getting himself a farming tenancy. Connie worked alongside him all the way.

What Joe, along with a number of other working farmers in the East Cleveland Hills, takes particular satisfaction in is the breeding of Cleveland Bay horses – a local native breed, highly valued today. You see Joe riding a horse, he used to plough with them; the Cleveland Bay is known as a working horse despite looking like a million dollars. The breed declined in the 20th century and during that time it was Joe Sunley and his neighbours that kept it alive. Joe Sunley is and was a renowned breeder, he sold horses to the Queen of England and the Emperor of Japan, but he’s definitely not going to let that make him a fortune. The programme doesn’t explain why he does it, maybe it’s another thing to strive at, to give him a sense of achievement. His horses in particular seem extremely spirited.

According to the programme for Mary every day is the same … until she meets Jim Smith, a farm labourer on the next door farm. He asks her out, and after a year they are engaged. That’s Part One of the programme. Part Two appears to be working up to a marriage and to establishing a new future for Mary. I don’t mean to spoil the programme’s ending for you – but this doesn’t happen. Mary is a thoughtful woman, she has made sense of her life. Like her mother, she’s more passive than proactive, she wants to ‘wait and see’ and expect there will be ‘more chances’ to come for her and Jim. She’s not ready to go at that time.

One of the main themes presented is the unchanging nature of the Sunley’s lives, but this is exaggerated because around them times are changing as they inevitably do. The farm next door has a milking machine, and productive Friesian dairy cows. The Estate Manager at Skelton Castle talks about the expected ingress of Teesside and expanding urbanisation impacting on the Cleveland Hills. He recognises that small farms will become unviable and suggests Jim will need 400 to 500 acres of farmland (150 to 200 hectares) to support a family. For Jim as a farm labourer buying a farm is impossible, and estate farms to rent are few and far between – they’re trapped between lack of income and tradition. There is an opportunity for Jim to work on a ‘modern’ farm at Dunsley, near Whitby, for an 11 hour day at £31 a week (c. £225 today) but with the advantage of having a tied house for him and Mary to live in, as long as they’re married.

But it’s not all Cold Comfort Farm. Mary has been ‘outside’, to Leeds, to Middlesbrough, to Scotland; that may not seem very exotic but it’s not unusual for the 1970s. Mary is allowed to go out with Jim and to get engaged – she’s not forbidden by her father. She curls her hair and goes to the dance at the local Village Hall. The clothes and hair of the people at the dance, mainly women and girls, are very much of the 1970s even if the music is not. Mary’s father acknowledges her value, her mother says she would miss her.

It’s difficult to imagine how the programme got made. Barry Cockcroft must have been good at getting circumspect people to trust him enough to allow him to film them and to tell stories about their lives. The dialogue is encouraged, not coached – the men are much keener on speaking their minds than the women. The programme may over emphasise the romantic music, maybe it’s a bit patronising, maybe it pushes Mary a bit too much to try and get her to react. But it’s interesting for a number of reasons –  reflecting farming in the 1970s, capturing real people only a couple of generations ago even if it is in a directed documentary, or maybe it’s just because of the human interest in the realistic rather than fairy tale ending. I wonder what happened to Mary and Jim – but that’s their business, not mine.

Shaped by people

A new leaflet has been published which highlights the historic environments of British National Parks –Our Historic Environment: special landscapes shaped by people‘. The number one purpose of the National Parks is to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of their areas.

The cultural heritage reference is not just an add on, a poor cousin to nature. As well as shaping the physical landscape cultural heritage is fundamental to providing a sense of place which is just as important in making a National Park special.

Helmsley Castle - copyright English Heritage

Whereas in British National Parks sometimes it’s easy to overlook the influence of people on the natural environment, whereas the historic environment is all about human impact and residue. Here on the ground in the North York Moors it’s not possible to disentangle the natural and historic environments – a 400 year old veteran tree is a natural feature, but it is there because of woodland management in the past; rare Ring Ouzels breed in Rosedale because of the presence of industrial structures left over from the 19th century; the large conifer forests of the North York Moors are there because of a national policy of afforestation after World War 1.

East Kilns, Rosedale - copyright NYMNPA

Across the country the most important cultural heritage sites are protected through designation by Historic England, Cadw and Historic Environment Scotland. But there are 1000s and 1000s of other significant sites, structures, finds and features, which National Park Authorities are working to conserve on their patch, alongside the protected sites. By building up research, increasing understanding, and informing interpretation National Park Authorities seek to connect and engage people, both locals and visitors, with their heritage and history.

Close up of drystone wall with engraved date - copyright NYMNPA

Since the last Ice Age – the flint tools, hearth deposits, cup and ring marked stones of the subsisting Mesolithic and Neolithic periods; the pottery, earthwork dykes, burial mounds of the ritualistic Bronze and Iron Ages; the forts, settlements, castles of centuries of invasion/assimilation of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and then Normans; the abbeys, cruck houses, ridge and furrow of the striving middle ages; the alum works, musket balls and ‘witch posts’ of the religiously provocative Tudor, Stuart and Civil War period; the designed landscapes, water races, stationary engines and railway lines of the industrious 18th and 19th centuries; the radar stations, tank tracks, gas works of the technological 20th century – the North York Moors landscape retains the physical evidence of history (the what and where). Along with documents, maps and other primary sources this provides an historic environment framework, with lots of room left for investigation, imagination and involvement into the how and why.

Coastal archaeology - copyright NYMNPA