It was a piece of skulduggery perpetrated by the burghers of Ingleton which happened more than two centuries ago, yet it still rankles. They have long memories in the Dales. It concerned a swathe of land on the slopes of Ingleborough, the table-topped fell that has become the most-climbed summit in Yorkshire. Known as a turbary, this was land on which local people were allowed to cut peat turf to burn in their hearths. Before the industrial revolution peat was the main fuel for domestic cooking and heating in Yorkshire.
But behind the backs of parishioners in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, who owned exclusive rights to dig the peat, the people of Ingleton arranged a hearing at the local assizes and had the parish boundary redrawn. Henceforth, Ingleton would own all rights to the peat.
“They didn’t tell the people of Horton about the court case, and as a result their application to move the Ingleton boundary eastwards went uncontested,” says Ian Fleming with a tone of mild outrage. He is, after all, one of today’s Horton parishioners. “So we lost a whole chunk of the parish as a consequence of Ingleton’s chicanery.”
The story has been handed down through generations in the village, but thanks to a new project called Capturing the Past it is gaining a wider audience. A new website has been launched to retell and preserve such stories from the dozen or so parishes that lie in the shadow of Ingleborough. It contains old photographs, maps, wills, audio recordings and other material that was in serious danger of disappearing forever.
“A lot of it was kept in boxes under beds in people’s spare rooms,” says Ian, who is the project team leader. “Then there were two filing cabinets full of photos and documents in a room at Horton station. When we started telling people we wanted to archive stuff, other collections started showing up. Since the majority of those who owned the collections were in their 70s and 80s and had no plans for them, it was vital we dug them out and gave them an audience.”
The Capturing the Past website contains some real gems that have so far eluded compilers of old Dales photographic collections. One of the most poignant is an image of young men from the western Dales dressed in their Sunday best, lined up on the cricket field at Settle in 1914 to enlist for military service in the First World War.
From the same location, there are photos taken in 1911 showing a crowd gathered round a biplane that had landed with engine trouble while its pilot, the French flying ace Andre Beaumont, was competing in the Circuit of Britain race. While on the stretch between Carlisle and Manchester he had gone off course in search of a suitable landing place. He went on to win the first prize of £10,000.
Numerous farming scenes from around Ingleborough have been found, and there is a lovely photo of a grouse-shooting party at the shooting box that is now a well-known ruin passed by walkers heading from Crummack Dale over to Ribblesdale. More recent images are of Women’s Land Army volunteers – popularly known as the “Land Girls” – helping farmers in the area during the Second World War.
“The old wills we have found are particularly fascinating,” says Ian. “Some of them go back to the 14th century and tell wonderful stories about how people lived then. For example, people frequently bequeathed clothes in their wills as they were considered too good to be thrown away.”
Some documents that have been turned up provide another case of skulduggery, this time from the 14th century. Much of the land in the Ingleborough area was then owned by either Furness Abbey in Cumberland or Jervaulx Abbey in Lower Wensleydale, and there was a dispute about pasture rights. According to documents unearthed by Horton’s local history group, the Abbot of Jervaulx and “other evildoers” were accused of breaking into a livestock enclosure at Birkwith, a tiny farming hamlet on the east side of Ribblesdale owned by Furness Abbey. Their attack was mounted under cover of darkness with swords, staves and bows and arrows, and they stole every agricultural tool they could lay their hands on as well as material like wool and linen. The matter was eventually settled by the Jervaulx monks being granted rights to some of the land.
Many of the documents unearthed by the project are in Latin, and have been transcribed for the website by an army of volunteers including Mike Slater, his wife Mary, Sheila Gordon and Helen Sergeant. Much of the material from the Ingleborough parishes – besides Horton and Settle they include Stainforth, Langcliffe, Giggleswick, Rathmell, Lawkland, Austwick, Clapham and Ingleton – has come from small archives that were put together at the millennium but then forgotten.
The project is being managed by the Yorkshire Dales Society and is part of a four-year programme of conservation and community projects called Stories in Stone funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. An award of around £35,000 has enabled professional scanning and digitising equipment to be purchased.
Ian Fleming and his team have been busy turning the archives into thousands of images and PDF files. Through the winter they scanned the material and hosted a series of workshops run by archivists from the County Record Office to train people who have small archives how to evaluate them for items for local and national importance.
Nancy Stedman of the Yorkshire Dales Society says: “We were worried that all these old documents and papers were vulnerable. We’re really pleased about the way volunteers have been stepping forward to help go through all the material to get it up on the website.”
Drop-in sessions at Settle are being held to let people bring their own village or family archives for evaluation. And, says Nancy, although the initial focus is on the parishes surrounding Ingleborough, the intention is that the website will expand to cover many more parishes within the National Park.
Visit dalescommunityarchives.org.uk to view the Capturing the Past website. For anyone wishing to contribute photographs and documents there are drop-in sessions at The Folly, Victoria Street, Settle, between 10.30am and 3pm on May 9, June 13 and September 12. For further information email firstname.lastname@example.org