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Life at Higher Fleets in 1947

These are the memories of Mrs.Catherine Verity of Fairview, Hetton, of her previous life at Higher Fleets, Rylstone. They were recorded by Cynthia Rymer.


My husband’s family first moved to Higher Fleets about 90 years ago from High Scale, Wigglesworth.  Mary and Lily were both born at High Scale Farm, but their son William and third daughter Amy, were born at Higher Fleets.  In those days, Higher Fleets was a mixed farm with sheep, milk cows and horses to do the heavy work.  The farm covered about 75 acres, but more fields were added over the years.


In 1947, Catherine Swales, a farmer’s daughter from Nidderdale, married William Verity and came as a bride to Higher Fleets, while Mr. and Mrs. Verity senior moved to Embsay where they enjoyed a long retirement.


By 1947, electricity had not arrived at Higher Fleets and the 16 or so milk cows were milked by hand in three small shippons just above the house. Milk from each cow was poured in turn through the cooler to lower the temperature before it drained through into 12 gallon milk kits. The kits were heaved up onto the milk stand which stood by the roadside near the farm gate. The milk wagon called about 10 am, collected them and transported them to the dairy.  Originally, Mr Verity senior carted his kits by horsedrawn milk float to Rylstone Station (by the level crossing opposite Cracoe Cricket Field) where the morning train transported them to the Craven Dairies in Leeds. The Verity children (now four in number) hitched a lift in the milk float on school days and then walked on from the station to Cracoe School.


At that time, the down stairs rooms at Higher Fleets had flagged floors and the living room was dominated by a huge iron fireplace with a back boiler going right through the wall to the adjoining shed. As well as hot water for the house, when the fire in the grate was roaring , the tap in the shed provided hot water for calf feeding and the washing of buckets and cans etc in the slopstone in the shed.  In the absence of electricity, tilly lamps provided the light in the house. The side oven of the large fireplace was used for baking until a Calor Gas stove was purchased from Dugdales of Settle.

Mrs. Verity remembers that wash days were really hard work, the hot water from the tap being insufficient for their needs. She had a large wash tub on legs, which she filled with hot water from the set pan. There was a hand operated lever on the tub which moved the paddle to agitate the water and washing – hard work, especially on a hot summer’s day!  Before the advent of the wash tub on legs, a dolly tub was used with possers, rubbing boards, block soap and elbow grease. Washing was pegged out on the line in front of the house, using wooden dolly pegs (bought from travelling gipsies). On wet days, the clothes were draped round the fire on the clothes maiden or festooned on the rack, roped up to the ceiling and close to the hot fire. Flat irons heated on the fire were used for ironing.

There were no skirting boards in the whole house and the bedroom floors had a distinct slope to them. Candles were used to light your way to bed.

Mr. and Mrs. Verity’s son, Stuart, was born at home after a very difficult birth and the then District Nurse (Nurse Donelly) had to fight to revive him – no specialise treatment in hospital in those days.  Bottles of Cow and Gate milk were made up before going to bed and placed in a HAY BOX by the cot where they were kept warm ready to feed the new baby through the night.

The stable for four horses was right next to the sitting room from where you could plainly hear the horses moving about. There was a door from the stable to the croft and when the horses were let out, one of the sheepdogs would often leap up onto a horse’s back and ride round the croft looking for all the world like a circus act.

To the right hand side of the house stood the coal house which held five tons of coal, delivered to Rylstone Station by train and carted up to Higher Fleets. There was an outdoor three seater toilet and also a cooling house where milk was cooled. One kit of milk could be carried on a hand cart called a 'Dandy', which had two large wheels with a small platform between on which the kit rested, held by a chain. The cart had a single central shaft and could be pulled with an effort. In muddy wet weather it was easy to get the loaded cart bogged down. Mrs. Verity often pulled the Dandy down the croft from the shippons to the cooling house, then back again for the next kit.

In the 1940’s, the cows were milked by hand with the milker seated on a wooden three legged stool, the bucket between his knees. Later, engine driven clusters were used which were fitted to the cows’ teats. 

In the 1960’s, a new shippon for 40 cows was built and the milk was drawn through a pipeline into a bulk tank which held 250 gallons. The meal store was close by. A tractor cleaned out the shippon by pushing the muck straight out into the midden.

When electricity came to Higher Fleets, life on the farm became much easier.

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