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Eskdale Common

Eskdale Common

Eskdale Common: rough fell land in the heart of the Lake District. The surface is dominated by rock outcrops and waterlogged, peaty soils, with small patches of bracken on drier ground. Traditional management practices exploited a range of resources: low-grade summer grazing; bracken as a thatching and bedding material and as a cash crop for potash; and peat for fuel. The building on the right is a ‘peat scale’, one of the small structures built on the waste in which dried peats were stored, to be taken down to the farmstead across the winter. (Photo: Angus Winchester). Click on image for larger version.

Eskdale from Birker Moor

Eskdale from Birker Moor

Eskdale from Birker Moor: a landscape dominated by the unenclosed Lakeland fells, which survive as common land. The study area of Eskdale Common stretches up the slopes of Sca Fell, the high peak in the distance. (Photo: Angus Winchester). Click on image for larger version.


Pasture rights: traditional division of the common

Eskdale: traditional division of the common for grazing purposes

This photograph of Eskdale has been marked to show the traditional division of the common into areas for separate uses: the cow pastures on the lower slopes behind farmsteads, the sheep heafs on the higher fells, the pasture of Burn Moor (traditionally reserved for ‘geld goods’), and the freehold area known as the Lord’s deer ‘fence’. The division of the common was set out in a manor court award of 1587, known as the ‘Eskdale Twenty-Four Book’, which remained a guide to use of the common into the twentieth century. For a map of the information presented in the 1587 award, follow this link: ‘Eskdale pasture rights, as laid out in 1587 Award ‘. The map shows the cow pastures (stippled), Burn Moor (vertical hatching), and the sheep heafs (numbered A to J) on the higher fells. The map was first published in Angus J. L. Winchester, Landscape and Society in Medieval Cumbria (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1987). For more information on the 1587 award and historical context, see the ‘Historical Overview’ paper on the Cumbria Case Study page. (Photo and map: Angus Winchester). Click on image for larger version.


Close-up of peat hut, above Boot

Close-up of peat hut, above Boot

Lying with a group of disused peat huts or ‘peat scales’ above the hamlet of Boot, this one has been kept in good repair, and shows how the structure once worked. This is an example of one of the more developed types of peat hut (earlier versions were simpler single storey buildings): an embanked track leads to the upper level opening where recently cut (and partially dry) turves would have been unloaded; the dry turves were removed via the lower level opening (see Winchester, ‘Peat storage huts in Eskdale’). Peat was an important and carefully protected resource in Eskdale, and – in its heyday – the manor court controlled how and where it was cut, restricting commoners to specific peat mosses, and instructing on how the turf ‘tops’ must be replaced. Peat was still being cut in Eskdale into the mid twentieth century. (Photo: Eleanor Straughton). Click on image for larger version.


Grouse butt, below Brat’s Moss

Grouse butt, below Brat's Moss

Eskdale common boasts a variety of historic structures and landscape features, showing the different uses to which the landscape was put, and the different communities involved. This is one of a series of grouse butts (low stone enclosures which provided cover for the shooting of game birds) running up to and over Brat’s Moss (between White Moss and Eskdale Moor), almost certainly made for the lords of the manor who had rights to all game on the common. Grouse butts were designed to resemble a natural cairn or group of stones and are often barely visible above the surrounding vegetation. It is not clear when these butts were made, but it is possible that they date from the building of Burnmoor Lodge (below), in the nineteenth century, when the lords of the manor were investing in their shooting interests. (Photo: Eleanor Straughton). Click on image for larger version.


Burnmoor Lodge, looking towards Burnmoor Tarn

Burnmoor Lodge, looking towards Burnmoor Tarn

Burnmoor Lodge was built in the nineteenth century as a shooting lodge for the then lords of the manor, the Lords Leconfield, who had rights to game in the surrounding fells. A keeper would have been resident in the lodge, a significant presence and guardian of the lord’s interests in this relatively remote area of common. The construction of a lodge suggests that the lords hoped to reap greater benefits from their game rights at this time, whether for personal use or as a means to generate income from shooting parties and leases. Documentary sources show that the lodge and shooting rights were leased to the shipping magnate Thomas Brocklebank in the early 1870s. A difficult relationship developed between Brocklebank and the commoners, as their different interests in the common’s resources and vegetation (such as heather) came into direct conflict. Today the Lodge is used by walking groups and is in private ownership. (Photo: Eleanor Straughton). Click on image for larger version.


Burnmoor Tarn

Burnmoor Tarn

This photograph shows Burnmoor Tarn and surrounding pasture on a bright day in late spring. Providing relatively sheltered grazing, and with the benefit of abundant fresh water, Burnmoor was where the larger ‘geld goods’, cattle and horses, were traditionally sent for the summer months. Rules of access to Burnmoor for the communities of Eskdale, Miterdale and Wasdalehead were set out in the 1587 ‘Eskdale Twenty-Four Book’ – see map above. (Photo: Eleanor Straughton). Click on image for larger version.

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