Not so long ago, a farmer’s prosperity could be judged by his finials, Appleby-in-Westmorland Society members learned at their March meeting in the Public Hall.
This and other fascinating facts of bygone rural life formed part of a talk by Society favourite Andy Lowe. For thirty-two years before retirement he was Building Conservation Officer for the Lake District National Park – ‘A career in ruins’ as he described it. Fortified only by a mug of Adam’s Ale, he painted pictures with words and slides in a talk entitled ‘Bank Barns, Boskins and Bee Boles’. Members were told that farm buildings, rather than the farmhouse should be studied by rural history enthusiasts. ‘You are all farm detectives’ said Mr Lowe.
A barn with its owl hole (to keep down rats and mice), its byre and threshing floor (with a winnowing door with pentice over to let out the chaff) and finials (on the gable end sometimes above crowstep gables) was the major feature of many a Lakeland farm. A bank barn was self-explanatory, built down or along a sloping site, a style originating in Pennsylvania but now with more surviving examples in the Lake District than anywhere else. Boskins were, and still are, dividers between stock, high and strong to cope with aggressive behaviour by horses, lower for the more placid cattle. A ring widdy was for tethering. Peculiar to the Eden Valley was the horse engine or gincase, with its distinctive circular shape, a hennery/piggery being self-explanatory.
The third unfamiliar term in the title of Mr Lowe’s talk, bee boles, were wall recesses to protect from the elements the early beehives or skeps, made from coiled straw. Ideally, these faced south east to catch the sun.
Having introduced his audience to a wealth of new terms, the speaker ended by exploding a local myth concerning the cruck construction of old barn interiors. These weren’t, as commonly believed, made from ships’ timbers. “Why take the trouble to do that, when there was an abundance of local wood?” he asked.