An essay contributed to the Commons Knowledge Resource Bank – a joint project by Newcastle Law School and Lancaster University History Department to build up a store of knowledge about common land in England and Wales, past and present. This essay has also been published online by the University of York Archaeology Data Service Grey Literature Library of unpublished fieldwork reports at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/greylit/details.cfm?id=34757.
Rights of common on the Swaledale moors of Grinton, Harkerside and Whitaside, focusing mainly on grazing rights on Harkerside Moor during the period 1855 to the present day. By Will Swales (May 2013)
The moors of Grinton, Harkerside and Whitaside lie cheek-by-jowl, in line from east to west, along the south side of upper Swaledale. The southern boundary of each is the watershed with Wensleydale and the northern boundary is marked for the most part by the wall dividing the heather from the patchwork of enclosed pastures and meadows that descends to the River Swale. Each moor and its adjacent enclosed land once formed a township of the same name, and the three townships formed the greatest part of the current civil parish of Grinton. The only village in the parish is Grinton, which lies below Grinton Moor.
All three moors together with the whole of the township of Grinton and most of the enclosed lands of Harkerside and Whitaside were owned by Bridlington Priory from about 1120 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Rights of common granted to the priory’s tenants were recorded in numerous grants and transactions contained in the priory cartulary, a copy of which is preserved in the British Library and was transcribed in the early 1900s.  At the Dissolution, the lands were seized by the Crown and then in 1599 they were sold, in one lot, as the manor of Grinton minus its lead mines on the moors, to a London goldsmith. He promptly re-sold the enclosed land to the tenant farmers who occupied it. Having no doubt earned a substantial return on his investment the goldsmith apparently abandoned any claim to ownership of the remaining moorland.
Thus the new owners of the enclosed farm lands helped themselves to grazing and other resources of the moors, and no doubt routinely exceeded any rights of common that had been previously recognised by Bridlington Priory. The lead mines were legally operated by an established northern mine owner under a lease from the Crown. But during the troubled political times of the 1600s the mines fell into decline and abandonment, so a couple of the farm owners seized the opportunity to start working them, without bothering to obtain a lease from the Crown. In the late 1600s numerous complicated court cases ensued, resulting in the Crown re-asserting its rights. Out of this, an opportunistic Crown official secured a lease to the lead mines and also registered his personal ownership of the manor, or more accurately reputed manor, which then comprised only the moors, after purchasing it from a dubious claimant to the title among the local farmers. 
During the 1700s the ownership of the manor became separated from the lease of the lead mines as each was sold on to different people. Thus by the early 1800s the manor, which still consisted only of moorland, had become principally an asset for the sport of grouse shooting. It was owned by a West Riding coal magnate who in 1816 built a grand mansion of a shooting lodge in a commanding position on Grinton Moor, above Grinton village. It was called Grinton Lodge. In 1855 the manor was sold to another West Riding coal magnate, who was John Charlesworth Dodgson Charlesworth, of Chapelthorpe Hall, near Wakefield. He was aged about 40, had vast wealth, and pursued the lifestyle of an aristocrat. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of the West Riding and would serve as MP for Wakefield from 1857-59.
When Charlesworth bought the moorland manor he knew that he had to share its resources. All the enclosed farm land below the moors was held by numerous other owners, and was worked in units averaging 20 to 30 acres. In Grinton and Whitaside there was a mixture of owner-occupied and tenanted farms, while in Harkerside it was notable that all the enclosed land was occupied by tenant farmers whose landlords were people based elsewhere and in two cases were churches of other parishes.  Just as the owner-occupiers exercised rights of common on the moors, presumably so did the tenants, by assignment from their landlords, although at this stage it all must have remained an unregulated free-for-all.
Charlesworth also had to share parts of the moors with a lead-mining consortium, which at that time excavated the ore veins in six sets spread across all three moors and beyond, all under a single lease from the Crown. The sets were known collectively as the Grinton Mines. However, here, as elsewhere in Swaledale and neighbouring Arkengarthdale, the once-plentiful veins of lead ore had been virtually worked out. The major investors had long-since gone, leaving the lease to locals who were without the funds to make the old workings efficient, and were motivated primarily by the hope of finding new veins. 
The census of 1861 gives an indication of the struggle. It showed that in the civil parish of Grinton the number of men with occupations related to lead mining had fallen slightly from 67 a decade earlier to 55, but significantly 20 of them declared for the first time that they were also farmers. These were family men who had managed to make their homes in the smaller tenanted farmsteads that were dotted around the enclosed lands below the moors. They each had a few acres of pasture and meadow, and no doubt liberally exercised their landlords’ historic rights to graze livestock on the common moorland.
John Charlesworth started to take whatever opportunities arose to bring the rights on the moors under his own control. In 1862 he bought the freehold of Swale Hall and its 66 acres of enclosed land, which was the biggest farm below Harkerside Moor.  The tenant farmer was allowed to remain, and apparently was also allowed to continue enjoying the rights of common on the moors.
By the 1871 census there was a recovery in the numbers employed in lead mining in Grinton parish, to 65, but most of those with farming income as well continued to declare dual occupations. However, the writing must have been on the wall for the lead industry because from this time onwards workers and their families started leaving the dale in large numbers. Numerous family histories demonstrate that most headed for the expanding industrialised urban centres of the West Riding or followed the Iron Rush to Middlesbrough. For those who remained there was a new imperative to do their best to scratch a living from the land, which included taking the fullest advantage of the moors. Abuses of the common clearly became rife, as evidenced by the decision in 1872 by six of the tenant farmers of Harkerside, including the tenant of Swale Hall, to attempt to regulate the stinting on the moor.
They formed a committee and drew up an agreement that they clearly intended would be made between all those who claimed rights of common. It expressed the need for regulation because: ‘Harkerside Common has for sometime past been greatly oppressed and surcharged as well by persons having right of common thereon as by others having none, to the damage and prejudice of other persons having right of common.’ 
The agreement stated that the grazing rights would be divided into stints or gaits within which the number and type of animal to be grazed was specified. The number of stints or gaits to which each farmer would be entitled would be calculated in line with the relative size and values of the farmsteads as stated in a survey made back in 1844 to determine the apportionment of rents in lieu of the tithe. That survey provided precise detail as to who owned the enclosed land, field-by-field, and who occupied it, whether as owner or tenant farmer. 
The stinting agreement did not contain any reprise of the tithe survey, or any calculations for the numbers of stints or gaits derived from it, so presumably the signatories to the agreement were required to leave it to the stinting committee to work it out. The committee also had powers to amend the rules as required, and to punish any party in default of the rules by withdrawal of rights. The common-holders were required to contribute money to fund the appointment of a herdsman for the common and to fund any prosecutions against ‘any person who takes ling, rushes or grass or in any way trespasses or infringes upon the rights of the commonholders.’ The signatories bound themselves, their heirs, executors and administrators in the sum of £50 for faithful observance of the covenants in the agreement.
It’s interesting that the agreement made no mention of the owners of the farms, who were technically the owners of the rights of common. It also seems odd that the tenants made the agreement without involving the owner of the moor, although it might be thought that the tenant of Swale Hall was acting as Charlesworth’s agent in the matter. Alternatively, perhaps the tenants commissioned the lawyer to draw up the agreement in despair at the lack of any response to the problem by the owners and the lord of the manor. Whatever the reason, the non-involvement of the owners might explain in part why there was apparently a disappointing response to the agreement. The copy preserved in the North Yorkshire County Record Office was signed by the six tenant farmers who formed the committee and apart from them by only two others. That’s eight signatories out of 16 tenants identifiable as working the enclosed land in Harkerside just a year earlier, at the time of the 1871 census.
Significantly, the signatures missing from the agreement included those of all six tenants of the largest owner of enclosed land, W E M Winn, of Askrigg, and another tenant who had the same surname as two of Winn’s tenants. It seems likely that Winn’s influence was at play. Perhaps he was concerned that the stinting agreement would devalue the rental income from his farms, and so he instructed his tenants not to sign. No record has survived to indicate the success or otherwise of the agreement, but the issue of regulating Harkerside Moor would be raised again at a later date.
The main local economic event of the 1870s was the escalating slump in lead mining. The directors of the Grinton Mines consortium were struggling to meet the cost of driving exploratory levels to search for new veins, and even where they managed it they found little or no viable ore. Their lease from the Crown expired in 1876, which was an obvious tipping point. They declined to renew it. They sold their mining equipment to John Charlesworth, who in 1877 also bought out the mineral rights from the Crown for £4,000, thus obtaining absolute control over any future mining ventures within the manor. There were apparently no takers for a new lease, and so lead mining on the three moors ceased. 
John Charlesworth died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son Colonel Albany Hawke Charlesworth. He seems to have taken a greater interest in Grinton Manor than his father, which was just as well given the socio-economic changes taking place. The census for 1881 shows that all those in Grinton Parish who had previously declared dual occupations in lead mining and farming now described themselves solely as farmers. The total number of men employed in lead mining in the parish had dropped from 65 a decade earlier to just 24, and these must have been men who now worked in mines outside the parish.
Perhaps it was recognition of the need to rebalance the local economy that led Albany Charlesworth to become concerned to regulate the productivity of the moors, not just as good shooting grounds but also as a sustainable resource for the farmers of the enclosed lands. Whatever the reason, in 1883 he oversaw a new agreement concerning the stinting of Harkerside Common, which for the first time recognised the interests of all parties – his own, the farm owners, and their tenants. The more comprehensive nature of this agreement has all the appearance of a document designed to correct the fundamental shortcomings of its predecessor. 
It was pointedly headed ‘Agreement by owners for regulating the stinting’ on what was described as ‘West Grinton and Harkerside Common’. The existence, or not, of a place within the township of Harkerside called West Grinton had been a point of debate since the 1600s. Fortunately the reference in the agreement was nothing more than an acknowledgement that the distinction was recognised by some people. In practice the agreement was just about Harkerside Common. It was obviously a thoroughly professional attempt to resolve the issues of regulation once and for all. An updated survey of the value of the farms and houses of the commonholders had been commissioned, and based on these valuations new calculations were made to determine a new apportionment of the stinting rights.
The agreement stated that the commonholders could have up to 900 sheep gaits or stints in total, in which one gait or stint meant grazing for one barren sheep. As usual there were different calculations per gait or stint for lambs, and young or mature cows and horses. The owners were permitted to let the rights to any resident and ratepayer of West Grinton or Harkerside, i.e. essentially their tenant farmers. The apportionment was expressed in a detailed table written into the agreement stating the names of all the owners and tenants, the acreages, values of land and houses, and the number of sheep gaits to which each owner was entitled. It revealed that the common extended to 1,525 acres while the adjacent enclosed farmland totalled 405 acres, split between 10 owners who had all let the farms to a total of 16 tenants.
The new regulatory committee formed by the agreement comprised Colonel Charlesworth, presumably in his capacities as both the owner of the moor and of some of the enclosed land; four other leading owners including James Clarkson Winn as successor to W E M Winn; and five tenant farmers. It was agreed that Charlesworth and the other owners could be represented at meetings by their agents, who could also vote on their behalves. The committee was given authority to appoint Pasture Masters as well as herdsmen. Finally it was agreed that nothing in the interpretation of the agreement should be taken to lessen or prejudice the rights or interests of the lord of the manor.
The apportionment table in the agreement shows that Charlesworth, in addition to his ownership of the Swale Hall Farm, was also by then the owner of another house and couple of acres in the midst of small cluster of dwellings in Harkerside. Together these possessions entitled him to 141 sheep gaits on his own moor. Afterwards Charlesworth continued his father’s policy of acquiring enclosed farm land whenever the opportunity arose, and his progress can be seen on a copy of the 1844 tithe apportionment that was over-written sometime in the period 1884 to 1891 with changes to the names of the owners and tenants. It becomes clear that by that time Charlesworth had added another small farm in Harkerside, of 22 acres, and the 165-acre farm of Low Whita in Whitaside. 
From this point onwards it becomes appropriate to describe Charlesworth’s total holding of moorland and enclosed land in the area by its modern name of the Grinton Estate. While lead mines around Swaledale and Arkengarthdale continued to decline and close, in 1887 Colonel Charlesworth was persuaded by speculators to grant a new lease to extract lead from the moors across the Grinton Estate, and even to invest his own cash in the venture to the extent of becoming its largest shareholder. It did nothing to halt the collapse of the industry. Workers continued to flee the dales, and the census of 1891 showed that over the previous 40 years the total population of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale had more than halved from 6,762 to 3,109. 
The new Grinton mining company failed to produce anything worthwhile and was dissolved at the end of 1895.  Lead mining would never be resumed on the Grinton Estate, and it continued to decline in the rest of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale until the last of the mines closed in 1914.  That was also the year in which Colonel Albany Charlesworth died. He was succeeded by his son Albany Kennett Charlesworth, known as Barney, who married in 1923 and signalled his special interest in the Grinton Estate by setting up his permanent family home at Grinton Lodge.
Either he or before him his father, or both of them, continued the process of buying enclosed land when it became available. It is known within the living memory of the current farmers of Harkerside that by the end of the Second World War at the latest the Grinton Estate had acquired all the farm land of Harkerside and probably most of it in Whitaside. During the war Barney Charlesworth was made an honorary colonel and became aide de camp to Field Marshal Alan Brooke. He was killed in February 1945 in a plane crash on his way to the Yalta Conference – the meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin that was held in the Crimea to plan the post-war organisation of Europe. In June 1946 Barney’s only son David was killed in a motorcycle accident while serving in the army in British-held Palestine.  Later the same year Diana Charlesworth, the grieving widow and mother, sold the Grinton Estate to a partnership of Captain William Parlour, an auctioneer and well-known game-bird shooter from Croft-on-Tees, and Jack Colling a leading racehorse trainer from Berkshire. 
From this point onwards the story of the Grinton Estate commons is enhanced by the reminiscences of a prominent Harkerside tenant farmer, Harold Brown. He was born at Swale Hall in 1936; a year after his father had taken over the tenancy there to add to the tenancy of the neighbouring Scarr House Farm, which Harold’s grandfather had taken on in 1897. Today, Harold is in partnership with his son Paul and together they farm the lands of Swale Hall, Scarr House, and other adjacent land extending to more than 200 acres. Harold is a doyen of the dale. Having been chairman of Grinton Parish Council since 1975, he is also the parish-council member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, of which he is also a former deputy chair and the current chair of the planning committee.
Harold Brown recalls that Parlour and Colling quickly parceled up and re-sold the assets of the Grinton Estate. They sold Grinton Lodge to the Youth Hotels Association, which has run it as a hostel since 1948; they sold the fishing rights along the south bank of the River Swale to a fishing club at Thornaby-on-Tees; and while keeping the small Summer Lodge Moor at the far west of the estate for themselves they sold the rest, including the three commons of Grinton, Harkerside and Whitaside, to Lionel Brook Holliday, an immensely wealthy Yorkshire industrialist and racehorse owner.
Holliday, having become a director of his family’s dyes and chemical works in Huddersfield as far back as 1901, came to prominence during the First World War through his expertise in the manufacture of explosives. His firm was nationalised, and Holliday used the money he was paid by the government to start a new chemicals factory in Huddersfield. L B Holliday and Co. grew to become an international operation and remained in business until 2001.  At the time of purchasing the Grinton Estate, Holliday was in his 60s and was focusing most of his time on his passion for horse racing. He had acquired four studs – at Copgrove near Ripon, two at Newmarket, and one in Ireland. It has been said that he was one of the leading stud masters of the second half of the 20th century. He lived at Mount St John near Thirsk, where he clearly enjoyed the country life. At different times he was master of five fox hunts in Yorkshire, and obviously must have also enjoyed the grouse shooting on the moors of the Grinton Estate. Holliday was known to be difficult and aloof. Allegedly one of his favourite drinking toasts was ‘Here’s damnation to the working man.’ 
Under these circumstances it was perhaps fortunate that the post-war government introduced greater security for tenant farmers under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1948. The farmers also benefited from another statute aimed at stimulating much-needed increases in food production. The Hill Farming Act of 1946 introduced subsidies that not only rescued livestock farmers from destitution but positively encouraged their development. Harold Brown and his neighbour Ruth Prescott at Harkerside Place both report memories of the 1950s being a time of vibrancy for the farmers of Harkerside. Ruth, née Dinsdale, is the third generation of her family to farm on Harkerside, her grandfather John Dinsdale having raised himself from the status of workhouse orphan to become a farm servant and then a tenant farmer sometime around 1920.
Ruth recalls her late father, William Dinsdale, reminiscing that in the 1950s there were 13 smallholding sheep farmers in Harkerside, which was not much different from the 16 listed in the 1883 stinting agreement. Ruth also remembers her father regretting the passing of the era of the Charlesworths who he remembered as being good landlords who cared about the tenant farmers. Harold Brown also recalls up to 13 small farmers in Harkerside in the 1950s. By this time in Harkerside it was the tenancy agreement that determined grazing rights on the moors rather than any historic rights of common, since all the farms were owned by the Grinton Estate. Perhaps it was concern about over-grazing on Harkerside Moor that led to the Brown’s tenancy agreement being amended at some unknown time to include rights to graze additionally on the moor above Grinton village. Harold recalls that in the 1950s his family’s flock was one of up to six grazing on Grinton Moor.
Lionel Brook Holliday died in 1965, and the estate was inherited by his son, another Lionel Brook Holliday, known as Brook to distinguish him from his father. He was saddled with massive death duties that forced him to sell major assets. The first to go was one of the Newmarket studs, followed soon afterwards by the Copgrove Estate near Ripon, including its stud farm. But he retained the Grinton Estate. 
A financial squeeze was also being experienced by Brook Holliday’s tenants in Harkerside. The government’s measures to counter post-war shortages of food had proved so effective that they had started to produce surpluses that depressed prices at the farm-gate. It became plain to most hill farmers that future viability would depend on achieving greater economies of scale, and so began a period in Harkerside when gradually, as tenants died or moved away, the vacant lands were absorbed into neighbouring tenancies. It was during the 60s that William Dinsdale at Whitbecks Farm took on Harkerside Place and moved into the house there, while in the same decade Harold Brown’s father added the land of the neighbouring Dyke House Farm to his tenancy.
In 1968 the government began the process of registering the ownership of common land and rights of common. The register for Whitaside Moor, which became final on 1 October 1970, detailed the rights of eight commoners. The moor must have been previously stinted because all the rights for grazing were expressed as sheep gaits, amounting to 526 in total. Three of the commoners were owners who lived away from the dale and had tenanted farms in the enclosed land adjacent to Whitaside common. Between them they were entitled to 478 sheep gaits, which presumably were assigned to their tenant farmers. Three other commoners were farmers sharing the same surname, all from Low Row which is just across the Isles Bridge on the other side of the River Swale opposite Whitaside. Between them they were entitled to 24 sheep gaits. The other two commoners were Muker Church School, in the next parish up the dale, with rights to 19 sheep gaits and to cut turf, and an owner from outside the dale who had land with rights to five sheep gaits. 
The register for Grinton Moor also became final on 1 October 1970. It was curiously recorded under the name of ‘Grinton Moor and Harkerside Moor (part)’, which is odd because the registered plan shows the designated area of the common contains no part of Harkerside Moor. Although only slightly smaller than Whitaside Moor the rights of common were very modest by comparison and quite different in character. James Kendall, whose great grandfather had been the tenant of Swale Hall before it passed to the Browns, was one of seven commoners to register rights on Grinton Moor when registrations were invited in 1968.
Today he still farms, as he did then, at Woodyard, on the opposite side of the River Swale just outside Reeth. He explains that Grinton Moor had never been stinted and so when the registration of rights was invited it was a question of commoners staking a claim for whatever they believed had been theirs and their ancestors’ rights by custom and practice. James’ late father had two cottages in Grinton village, and on this basis had habitually grazed two horses and up to 50 ewes and followers on Grinton Moor. James inherited the cottages and so claimed the right to continue his family practice. Since there were no objections the claim was confirmed. Ever since, James has been sure to place 50 ewes on Grinton Moor every summer, these days benefiting additionally by qualifying for a payment from the government.
None of the other six commoners with rights registered on Grinton Moor are still alive, but it’s assumed that all of them did the same as James Kendall and simply claimed whatever they believed had been the practices of the past. The owner of the Old Vicarage in Grinton village had rights confirmed to graze 30 sheep and, like James Kendall, also to shoot rabbits and take peat, ling, bracken and stones. None of the other commoners on Grinton Moor claimed any rights of pasture or shooting, or to take stones, but all had rights confirmed to cut peat, and some of them also had rights confirmed to take bracken and ling. They were the warden of Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel, the owner and occupier of Grinton Post office, two other Grinton villagers who were both tenants of their properties, and a Grinton village property owner who lived in the neighbouring parish of Ellerton Abbey. 
Harkerside Moor was the only one of the moors in Grinton parish in which all the rights of common had been acquired by Grinton Estate and so registration presented the perfect opportunity for the estate to dispense with the rights and officially de-classify the moor. Thus in 1970 Brook Holliday raised an objection to the moor retaining its status as a common. At a hearing of the Commons Commissioner at Richmond in 1978 no counter argument was presented by any party, and so the objection was upheld. The moor, which had previously been allocated the Common Land number 201, was de-listed from the Register of Commons. 
Throughout the 1970s and 80s the consolidation of farm tenancies in Harkerside continued. William Dinsdale at Harkerside Place added the farms of Bleak House, Deer Park and Plaintree, and Harold Brown added lands to the west of Grinton village known as Blue Ball. Stubbin Farm, which for a time was run for Grinton Estate by a manager, was merged with Ivy House Farm, and then later was let to a tenant. By the 1990s the 13 small farms that had existed in Harkerside in the 1950s had been rationalised to just three – Swale Hall, Harkerside Place, and Stubbin. By this time the total number of sheep being farmed was also significantly reduced, as was the extent of grazing on the moors. Harold Brown had ceased to exercise his tenancy rights to graze sheep on Harkerside Moor, preferring to use Grinton Moor where he had tenancy rights for up to 300 sheep. On Harkerside Moor William Dinsdale exercised tenancy rights to graze 196 sheep, and his daughter Ruth Prescott recalls that the tenant of Stubbin at that time could graze up to 180 sheep there.
Brook Holliday gradually sold off several more of his inherited assets, and in 1995 he sold the Grinton Estate for a reputed £2.5 million. The new and current owner is William Peel, 3rd Earl Peel, a descendant of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, and whose family seat is near Masham in Wensleydale. He is currently Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, a member of the House of Lords, a deputy lieutenant of North Yorkshire, and vice-president of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.  In the same year that he acquired the 5,000-acre Grinton Estate he also sold the 32,000-acre grouse moor of Gunnerside higher up in Swaledale for a reputed £9 million to an American businessman and yachtsman, Robert Miller. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 2005 Lord Peel emphasised that his purchase of the Grinton Estate was more to do with his passion for conservation than with any realistic expectation of a commercial return on the investment. 
However, it’s generally considered that under Lord Peel’s stewardship the grouse moors of the Grinton Estate have been managed more commercially and more professionally than at any time previously. And the tenant farmers understand well enough that on moorland there is a conflict of interest between the management of birds and sheep. Consequently, as Ruth Prescott recalls, when the tenancy of Stubbin Farm changed hands sometime around 2003 the opportunity was taken by the Grinton Estate to remove the rights to graze sheep on Harkerside Moor from the new tenancy agreement. The current tenant runs sheep entirely on the farm’s enclosed pasture land.
So now Ruth Prescott is the only farmer who grazes sheep on Harkerside Moor. The 196 sheep she is permitted contrasts sharply with the 900 allowed by the 1883 stinting agreement; a maximum that probably remained, albeit through tenancy agreements rather than rights of common, until as recently as the 1950s. Next door, Harold Brown and his son Paul run a total stock of up to 600 lamb ewes and 70 single-suckler cows in Harkerside. The 300 sheep they graze on Grinton Moor form the only flock that’s present there the whole year around.
Both farms’ grazing rights are now dependent on the continuation of their tenancies, so should breaks in tenancy occur in the future it is possible that these rights could be removed, and thereafter grazing would be confined to just the 50 sheep run during the summer on Grinton Moor by right of common, by James Kendall and his descendants or successors in ownership of the two cottages in Grinton village. A future with no sheep on any of the moors is entirely foreseeable.