|Will Swales gave an excellent Zoom talk yesterday about the farmers' disputes on Harkerside in Swaledale. Under the old Manorial system, tenant farmers were allowed to graze a certain number of sheep, known as a "stint" on their adjacent common land. By the eighteenth century the Manor governing Harkerside was extinct and there were 19 farms on Harkerside with, apparently, unregulated access to moorland grazing. Gentlemen's agreements (or plain common sense) might have been a solution but sadly seem to have been in short supply and the land became overburdened.
In 1827 the Duke of Leeds leased the estate for grouse shooting. He managed to get the farmers to agree to a system of "Levancy and Couchancy", apportioning grazing rights according to the fodder production of each farm. While this might have settled things temporarily, the situation unravelled.
In 1860 Richmond County Court heard the first of many cases brought by one Harkerside farmer against another on a charge of "dogging"; chasing sheep off their grazing using dogs. In 1870 there was an Arson case brought against Henry White for unauthorised heather burning. Remanded in custody, White was only freed by the testimony of his neighbours who gave him an alibi.
In 1872 Francis Garth tried to settle the matter by producing a written agreement but while several farmers agreed, the eight tenants of Rev. John Winn refused to sign thereby creating two clear factions. The situation deteriorated into a full-scale feud.
In 1873 the pro-agreement tenants staged a "demonstration" by deliberately herding 200 sheep from the moor and along the road towards an area of grazing habitually used by their opponents. They were stopped by Thomas Hutchinson his allies, and an altercation ensued. Two days later Wilson White and his allies repeated the exercise having drafted in the support of the local constable. This was High Noon on Harkerside and resulted in six further litigations. The local press had a field day.
The situation was only resolved when a Stinting Committee was finally convened, chaired by Francis Garth, the Hero of Harkerside.
This brief summary captures, I hope, the main points of the talk but does not reflect the painstaking detail which Will was able to bring to his subject. The talk was accompanied by some beautiful slides of the landscape and many ancient photographs of the protagonists. It is hoped that a publication will be produced when the research is complete; something to look forward to.
Photo's thanks to the late James Kendall