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Datestones on old buildings in Craven, Bowland and Upper Wharfedale

Michael J. Slater and Mary Slater

October 2013

Our area is well-known for having old buildings with a datestone, often with initials, sometimes ornate, over house doorways, barn entrances and archways. They are seldom found in such concentration in other parts of the country. Several booklets provide much information on many datestones found in the area and the website provides many more examples (without pictures). However, these sources are not complete. An approximate definition of the area of interest in this note is Craven, Bowland and Upper Wharfedale roughly within a 15 mile radius of Settle. The area is currently defined by what photographs have been conveniently collected so far.

Dr Jan Rhodes spent time taking photographs of dated doorheads when she lived here in recent years; these are in North Craven Heritage Trust archives and have now been scanned electronically. They have not been researched to establish family names - that is for other interested parties to do! Other photographs have been located in the Museum of North Craven Life archives (at the Folly in Settle) (e.g. Harrington collection), M. Clarke of Austwick provided Austwick photographs and we have added our own collection. An attempt has been made to fill gaps but there is no guarantee that full coverage has been made since many are not accessible to the public. Datestones inside buildings have not been photographed but are known to exist.

The photographs in the collection so far range from 1602 to 1900 with a very few later ones to indicate that the practice has not yet died out and of the 522 examples over half are in the date range 1660 to 1730, with a peak period of 1670 to 1690. One example in Kettlewell is dated 1590 but it appears to have been re-cut. Quite remarkably no two are exactly the same (c.f. 1693 Giggleswick, 1695 Stackhouse and 1702 Rathmell) and it is difficult to categorize them. They are not always in their original place and may not be original and cannot be guaranteed to be the date of the building itself. Rather they may record events such as a marriage or of alterations made to the building. They are placed on buildings great and small - manor houses, halls, houses, cottages, barns. Public buildings are excluded from this collection; these are mainly of late date. It would be useful to have other evidence for the age of a building - the type of windows, the layout, roof structure, stonework - to consider alongside any datestone.

In order to make visual comparison the types were tentatively placed in categories with some examples illustrated here, i.e.

Boxes, Plaques, Single Pendant, Double Pendant, Triple Pendant, Lintels, Decorated Lintels, Unique

It appears that they were carved individually without reference to a style book but with similar features copied from other local examples. A particular mason probably carved some of the few very similar examples (e.g. double pendant 1678 Langcliffe, 1679 Horton (Studfold), 1681 Langcliffe, 1678 Stainforth; elaborate double pendant 1707 Long Preston, 1707 Giggleswick; triple pendant 1687 Holden, 1683 Long Preston, 1694 Settle). Perhaps the houseowner designed his own datestone. We have little knowledge of local stonemasons in the period of interest apart from Thomas Kidd of Skirethornes, Threshfield 1679 (will at Borthwick vol. 58 fol. 538).

In the name of God Amen I Thomas Kid the elder of Skirethornes in the township of Threshfield in the county of York Freemason …

together with Mark Scott

Petition of Mark Scott and Thomas Kidd, masons who worked on repairing Kettlewell Bridge, against their supervisors (Quarter Sessions Rolls (Wetherby) QS1/15/1/6/5 1676 at Wakefield repository)

and James Butterfield of Settle 1635 (will at Borthwick vol. 42 fol. 599)

In the name of God Amen the second day of May one thousand six hundred thirty five I James Butterfield of Setle in the county of yorke mason …

Most examples have initials (two, three, four or more) and date, some only a date. Care has to be taken in reading the numbers (1 and 7, 0, 6 and 9 in particular) and the letters, noting that I is used for names such as Isabel, Jeneta and John. The number 1 and letter I are sometimes written in the same way with an X superimposed. The family name initial is often separated or is repeated in a set of four initials - but not always. The example at Swinden Hall, 1657:



is at first confusing but is presumed to be:

May the 16 EW and HW

where the W is the family initial.

Many examples have 6 or 4-pointed crosses in circles or the stylized chi/rho Christian symbol (1668, Wigglesworth; 1673 Gisburn; 1669 Giggleswick). In two cases the circles in numbers 6 and 9 contain crosses (1695 Long Preston; 1707 Long Preston). Four have hearts inscribed and nine depict animals, birds, trees (maybe tree of life) and flowers (1694 Grassington; 1715 Wharfe; 1587 Pleasington; 1602 Langcliffe;1673 Bordley; 1684 Wray; 1702 Malham). The meaning of many of these symbols is generally unclear.


The pictures in date order and a list of places and types are available for inspection on the North Craven Heritage Trust website They are subject to copyright. Although a total of 522 datestones has been listed, 122 of these are on private property and are not accessible to the public. Otherwise the remaining 400 can be seen from public paths. Several datestones have decayed in recent decades so that dates or initials can no longer be identified; photographs and drawings made in earlier years have to be relied upon, but some of the drawings have proved to be inaccurate. The stone varies in type; a complex design in sandstone may have taken seven days to execute with fire-sharpened chisels (information courtesy Hardwick Hall, National Trust) and so was an expensive item.


A comparison has been made with similar collections from South Lonsdale made by Emmeline Garnett and with the Lake District (Portsmouth University Geography Department). The date range and the late 1600s peak period is essentially the same, except that in the Lake District a Victorian revival is evident, perhaps linked with tourism. However, the designs found in our area of study are generally more complex and attractive than elsewhere.


It would be of great heritage value if a more complete set of photos could be achieved over a wider region. It is suggested that anyone who can look at the website examples and is willing to check their own neighbourhood for datestones not noted here, and able to take digital photographs can send it or them by email to us for inclusion in the collection. Any added notes can also be incorporated. Notification of completed checking and surveys of places will also be very helpful. The job is really too large for one individual to accomplish but as a joint project it becomes feasible. Do please help!


The collections of Dr Jan Rhodes held by NCHT and Mr Cyril Harrington held at the Museum of North Craven Life (courtesy Mrs Anne Read, Hon. Curator) have made this project feasible.

Sources of information

Horton-in-Ribblesdale - the story of an upland parish.1984. The Horton History Group, publ. NCHT.
Doorways in the Dales. 1986. Barbara Hutton and Joyce Martin, publ. North Yorkshire and Cleveland Vernacular Buildings Study Group.
The dated buildings of Bentham. 2000. Emmeline Garnett and Margaret Green-Hughes, publ. NCHT.
Take a closer look at Settle. 2000. Phil and Rita Hudson, publ.Hudson History of Settle.
Stainforth - stepping stones through history. 2001. Stainforth History Group.
Austwick - a historical walk around the village. 2011. Sylvia Harrop, publ. NCHT.
The dated buildings of South Lonsdale. 2007. Emmeline Garnett, pub. Centre for North-West Regional Studies.
Architectural features of the Settle District. 1911. Gordon Sanderson, pub. Percy Lund, Humphries and Co., London.
Homesteads of the Yorkshire Dales. 1979. J. Walton, pub. Dalesman.

Datestones types

Datestones map

Map of datstone coverage

Datestones slideshow and listing

Click here for a slideshow of the datestones

Click here for the datestones list in order of type

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