Date stones given a local dimension

Date: Friday 12th November 2010

DATED structures in Cumbria was the topic under discussion at the latest meeting of the Appleby-in-Westmorland Society.

Peter Messenger, chief conservation officer for Cumbria County Council, introduced the subject and society member Marjorie Campion, who carried out fieldwork in the Appleby area, provided a more local dimension.

The meeting was held at the Tufton Arms instead of the usual public hall venue, which was being used to stage the beer festival.

Mr. Messenger said that not all date stones found on buildings indicated when they were built, as some may record a marriage date, when a property changed hands or a modernisation. The date stone could even have been taken from another building.

In the absence of a date stone, clues could be found in the building’s layout, materials used and details of doors, windows and fireplaces, he said.

He illustrated his talk with slides of local buildings, ranging from defensible towers and cruck cottages to the crosshouses where people and animals lived side by side.

Anyone interested in learning more about local buildings should read the books of R.W. Brunskill, which feature detailed plans, photographs and an explanation of building methods.

There are always surprises when looking at old buildings one example was the discovery of a number of handmade bricks decorated with hearts and pictures. The rose-coloured bricks, made from local clay, were perhaps made to celebrate a marriage.

A project has been launched to record date stones across the county and people are being encouraged to record any they see. Record sheets are available by contacting: Peter Messenger, Holme Croft, Seaville, Silloth, Wigton, CA7 4PT.

330 YEARS

Following this introduction, Marjorie Campion spoke about her work in Hilton and Murton, where she had found a total of 29 dated structures spanning 330 years the oldest, dated 1677, was a former small farm, while the most recent was a bungalow built for the millennium.

She said every date stone told a story. For example, in Murton, villagers had handed down the legend that the battered date stone bearing the inscription “1677 W. M.” referred to William of “Orange and Queen Mary but sadly they had not ascended the throne at that date!

Some historical detective work followed the discovery of a 1745 date stone at Murton.

Jeremiah Blackett owned a small farm by the bridge and there he built a new byre for his cattle with a hay loft over. After his 20 years there, he, his wife Mary and their nine children moved to Hilton Hall as a tenant farmer and agent for Sir James Lowther.

SUGAR PLANTATIONS

The Lowthers were deeply involved in the coal industry, shipping and sugar plantations in Barbados. Jeremiah’s sixth son, Thomas, went to work for the Lowthers in Barbados, eventually becoming a landowner on the island. Others followed from Murton, and this explained the name of another property in the village known as Barbados.

A much more recent building is the bus shelter in Hilton, built to commemorate the Queen’s coronation in 1953. A metal plaque proudly confirms this information.

What it does not reveal is that stone from the now demolished Fell Dykes farm on the Army ranges was incorporated into the structure at the request of the last owners, the Salkeld family.

From all this, it is clear that collecting date stones is not just a question of listing your finds but can lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries.

Members were really impressed, not only with Marjorie’s detailed work but also with her courage in presenting her information to a group of people she knew, which was much harder than talking to strangers. It is hoped more members will pluck up courage to talk about their interests.