31 March 2000

OLDDOOR WITH A DIFFERENCE

THE DOOR of the Old Smithy at Bolton Abbey, near Skipton, which commemorates in an unusual way, generations of sheep farmers and their horned flocks, is about to become a tourist attraction.

Prior to 1971 the building was a flourishing blacksmiths shop where horses where shoed and, among many other things agricultural, a large number of branding irons or horn burns were made. Primarily these were used for marking sheep with the owners initials and also wooden tools.

Whenever the blacksmith made a new iron he heated it up and used the wooden door as a test bed to ensure the letters were accurate. Over the years it became covered with hundreds of brands, of different types and sizes, burned into the wood.

Without such identification on their sheeps horns, moorland farmers would find it very difficult to sort out ownership on "gathering" days four times a year.

William Foster, for instance, who had 1000 horned sheep, had the initials WF as his brand; the Dales Bred Sheep Society had a circle containing a cross in two sizes, one for sheep the other for lambs. For marking tools and equipment the Duke of Devonshires Bolton Abbey Estate had the brand DD.

From 1919 until it closed, the smithy was run by the family firm of Woods in conjunction with the village garage. A family member, who still lives in Bolton Abbey, recalls the branding irons being tested on the door.

"Letters such as A and &#42 look the same either way round but B and D dont. The air was often blue when this was overlooked and a mirror image had been made," he says.

The Old Smithy building became a well known café up until 1997. Now it has been completely renovated and, with its horn burn door as a feature at the entrance, it will once again be catering for hungry and thirsty tourists.

Tom Montgomery

Tea-room talking point: The old door now carries a coat of new paint but the branding iron marks burnt into

it are still

clearly visible.

Inset: A branding iron – and the marks it makes.