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Two Memories of Cynthia Rymer About Watery Happenings on Hetton and Wash Fold Becks 

This page contains, firstly, Cynthia's memory of the infamous 1979 flash flood on Hetton Beck.  She then describes what happened on sheep-washing days, which took place each summer on Wash Fold Beck in Rylstone. 


This procedure was described in more depth in a Times Past article, written in 2007 by Cynthia on sheep washing in Rylstone and Hetton (and Cracoe), and the relevant sections are then reproduced below her more memoir. The Hetton portion of the article is included here because it contains photographs of how sheep washing took place on local streams.

Flash flood in 1979


On the 13th June 1979, a Flash Flood occurred near Hetton Bridge when the level of water in Skirsegill Beck rose rapidly in a matter of minutes.  Two cars were washed off the road and over into the beck.  The first car with Mr. Sam Stokes still inside it came down on the flood tide as far as the bottom of Rymer’s garden.  Mr. Stokes, in danger of drowning, was persuaded to climb into the back seat.  There, after a terrible struggle he managed to secure the rope thrown to him around his body.  He was then hauled to safety by Peter Rymer and Donald Carlisle and landed on higher ground, literally at the end of his tether. The other car, having been left parked by the roadside, came to rest against a tree.


Photographs taken by Walter Stoney from Farlands Hetton, looking down on Hetton Bridge on the boundary between Rylstone and Hetton parishes.

Sheep washing days in Rylstone


The first Saturday in June was earmarked as 'Sheep Washing Day' for Rylstone farmers.  On the previous Friday, Tommy Shuttleworth and other helpers would go to the barn to collect the stout wooden boards used to dam up the beck, having already asked permission of Mr. Norman Carr.


In the 1940’s Norman Carr farmed Manor Farm, Rylstone (a tenanted farm belonging to the Duke of Devonshire) and the Dub was on his land.  The site of the Dub can actually still be seen on the left side of the lane from Rylstone to Norton Tower, where the lane widens considerably before rising more steeply towards the gate into the Norton Tower field.


Tommy’s father, John, made sure that the boards were securely in place.  Besides housing grooves in the stone at each side, there was also a groove in the bed-stone across the bottom of the beck.  A large sod would be cut and dropped into place in the bottom groove, after which the first board would be brayed into place.  Then followed the placing of the other boards, one slotted on top of the other and held tightly by hessian sacking which had been first soaked in water.  Sometimes, clay would be gathered from the nearby tile kiln pasture to further prevent any seepage.


As this was just a small stream and if the weather in May had been particularly dry, it sometimes took longer than overnight to make the dub deep enough so that sheep could not reach the bottom with their feet.  Shuttleworths could wash their sheep (about 150 Mashams) in a day, but Carrs, with more sheep grazing the fell took three days to wash theirs.  John Lord of Lodge Farm Rylstone washed his sheep here too.


It was easier to back the sheep into the water rather than try to drive them in, when they could swim out of reach.  In order to control their movement, a metal garden rake would be used to grab into the sheep’s wool and give a firm hold of the animal.  After the washing of the sheep the lambs would be driven through the water.  Tommy viewed their aquabatics with some amusement as they would leap up high on all four legs landing (much to their surprise) one after the other into the water.


After clipping, about ten days later, the washed fleeces were wrapped into individual bundles, each one with the inside of the fleece showing and then collected by a lorry which took them to Bradford.  Originally, a better price was given for a washed fleece, but the last cheque received by Mr. Shuttleworth had money deducted from the price of each fleece, which they then preferred to buy unwashed.  Men came from Bradford and complemented on the high quality of the fleeces, and would have time to make a personal friend of the farmer, thus maintaining a link with farming families and the wool buyers over more than one generation.


Sheep washing days were regarded by the local children as one of the highlights in the farming calendar.  They gathered around the dub to watch the animated scene taking place before their eyes and anticipating a swim for themselves when all the sheep had been through the water (no Aireville Pool or Long Ashes Leisure Centre were available to them in those days!)  Usually, they were careful to behave when near the dub, otherwise they would be lifted by the scruff of the neck and thrown into the water after the sheep - as one boy once was.

Below is reproduced the article from Times Past in 2007 on sheep washing by Hetton farmers in Hetton Beck above Skirsegill Bridge, and by Rylstone farmers on the smaller Wash Fold Beck in Rylstone, by permission of the Local History Group. 

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