On August 22nd members of the group travelled down Bishops Dale to the village formerly known as Burton cum Walden, and now as West Burton. Transport was on offer on the Grassington minibus, financed by the Society. The village lies to the south of the B6160 before the road crosses Walden Beck and swings north. A quick look at OS sheet OL 30 shows the medieval layout of crofts and tofts.

We were met at the village hall by a local historian who displayed a collection of historical papers and photographs and shared her knowledge with us while we had some hot refreshment.  Added to the information we had compiled ourselves, we learned that the Spencer family bought many areas of Templar land, and the Wray family established much land following the Dissolution of the monasteries.

The ancient village was undoubtedly once a hive of activity, with the industries of lead mining and smelting, stone quarrying (almost entirely of the Peacock family who have maintained the business over the centuries), farming and general village life.  Now, however, there is a little evidence of even 17th century building which surrounded the Green, and the village is very tranquil, despite being popularly visited.  The inevitable demise of old industries began in the 18th century and a new life developed as West Burton became a small market town, and many of the cottages and houses were transformed into Georgian and Victorian design.

West Burton

We ambled up to the Townhead area, which did have some interesting old properties and farm buildings.  In medieval days the community practised the open field system, when crops were farmed in rotation annually to sustain fertility and productivity.  But the main industries involved lead and stone.  We noted that the 17th century cottage windows and doors lintels were thin slabs of stone compared with Wharfedale’s thick stone lintels, and indeed the local building stone was much more varied.  Some cottages were charmingly obvious as 17th century, but the considerable mixture of builds, windows and general design really does not compliment the village, which does nestle so well below the steep fellsides of Dove Scars, Wassett Fell and Harland Fell.

The Knights Templar were very prominent in Yorkshire, owning areas of land and farms for breeding horses.  They had a substantial preceptory near West Burton.  There are open stone coffins at the now ruined Templar chapel, and the reason they are so small and narrow is that they only contained the bones of Knights returned from the Crusades rather than whole bodies (!).

Between Aysgarth and Swinthwaite lie traces of the Preceptory of the Knights Templar. For details click here for the Dales Discoveries investigation in to the Knights Templar of Swaledale.

West Burton

After a picnic lunch back at the village hall, we then took in the lower village, noting the old ‘Black Bull’ pub on the Green, its north elevation apparently original and the steep roof pitch unchanged, but the south elevation has been considerably altered, and the building became two cottages.  We followed the northside of the Green downhill, especially appreciating some of the older properties, which led us into the exit lane.  This north lane did have more of the old and unspoilt properties and typical farm buildings, and led to The Grange, Georgian, which presented some questions, such as why were the two chimney stacks facing opposite directions, and did the window arrangement indicate some extension?

Methodist Chapel
The Old Methodist Chapel

At the bottom of the village we crossed the Walden Beck over the packhorse bridge and into the lane which leads to Penhill, just to look at Flanders Hall, an 18th century house built by the Purchas family, noting unusually decorated chimneys, and attractive lead heads of downpipes.  There is some very old stone walling in this area, and much more an atmosphere of early history.

Flanders Hall
Flanders Hall
Walden Beck

Walking back to the village green, on the south side, we aimed for the old corn mill buildings. The extensive mill buildings apparently always accommodated a variety of trades. The properties all up the southside of the village are particularly of mixed designs, features and periods, but we noted that almost all had no datestones. Walking alongside the slowly trickling beck where very little water tumbled over the lower and upper falls due to the current drought conditions. These falls, called the Cauldron Falls, can indeed froth with heavy turbulent flow of storm water.

William Turner sketched the waterfall on a visit in 1816.

The smelt mill in West Burton was known at one time as Brathwaite Mill.

It is the first known mill in Wensleydale, according to Mike Gill of the Northern Mine Research Society. The only mill on the on the south side of the valley, it was working by 1684. Dr Raistrick is quoted as dating a refurbishment in 1847, when the flue was added. Ore from Braithwaite, West Burton and Bishopdale Gavel Mines was smelted here, until about 1870.

For more in information, visit Northern Mines Research Society for Burton with contributions from Dr Raistrick.

Briathwaite Smelt Mill
Braithwaite Smelt Mill
Remains of Smelt Mill Chimney
Remains of Smelt Mill Chimney
Section of Flue revealed
Section of Flue revealed

The obelisk on the Green displays a very fine weathervane, with a design we could not identify.  Apparently on the lane to Walden a property with a dated doorhead ‘FEB 1707’ (Frederick and Elizabeth Buckle) stands on the site of Burton Hall.  That dated door head is on the first floor, and was once reached by steps from the ground.  On the roof is a weathervane that once decorated the Obelisk ……an interesting building.

West Burton

We did appreciate this sunny and warm day in such a lovely setting, understanding the centuries of considerable activity within the, once, manor of the Nevilles of Middleham.

For a detailed and very interesting history of West Burton click here.

Pete Wright

Phyllida Oates

Marion Hutchinson