Coping through – commemorating the craft of dry stone wallers

Dry stone wall near Howarth, Yorkshire © Adèle Emm

Another eclectic post. Sorry!  I had the most fabulous day in Yorkshire yesterday: sun, sky and dry stone walls, the iconic feature ooop in t’north...   Who would have thought there were so many styles of walls  all built without mortar?

Such walls, often constructed hundreds of years ago, were constructed to contain  sheep – England, of course,  amassed vast amounts of money through the wool trade but subsistence farmers up in such inhospitable terrain had little money;  they needed to protect what livestock they had.  Drovers’ roads were walled to prevent sheep straying onto another man’s lands. These walls provide shelter for ewes and their lambs when the weather – as so frequently does up here – suddenly turns nasty.  The walls also act as firebreaks (wooden fencing is merely more tinder, fire fodder for flames) and, when Lyme Park has just lost acres of vegetation just this week, Ilkley Moor is still burning at the time of writing and Saddleworth Moor  similarly and disastrously affected last year, such firebreaks are indispensable.

The golden age of professional dry stone wallers was the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when fields were expanded to  encompass  larger mechanised agricultural machinery developed, by necessity, during the population explosion of the industrial revolution.  Today,  few people want this job.  It’s generally poorly paid, hard physical work often under  appalling weather conditions.   Dry stone labourers were itinerant,  travelling through remote areas lodging when and where they could.   Take 70 year old Lancashire born William Angus.   In the 1851 census, living with his family at 38 Craven Street, Bradford, Yorkshire, he was enumerated as dry stone waller. The visible work of such men is a testament to their skill although their names are forgotten.   Marvel at their results.

Dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire, clearly showing copestones at the top and throughstones in the middle. © Adèle Emm

Let’s name some  more Yorkshire dry stone wallers as enumerated in the 1851 census.

  • William Brook, 55, living at 32 Rantnor Street, Bradford; born Settle, Yorkshire
  • James Schofield, 54, at Waterstalls in Todmorden, Yorkshire, born Lancashire
  • John Howarth, 29, of Frenches, Saddleworth, born Bolton, Lancashire
  • Yorkshire born John, 54, and son Thomas Sunderland, 23, living at 12 Delph Terrace, Leeds

They are forgotten no more…

yet another dry stone wall near Haworth, Yorkshire.  © Adèle Emm


For more information about dry stone walling, visit the Dry Stone Walling Association or the National Trust which has volunteering schemes.

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