As of 2016, the New Forest township, which adjoins Arkengarthdale in North Yorkshire, has an estimated population of just 10 people, one of the lowest in the entire county. The only settlements here, are a few hamlets consisting of isolated farms which dot the wide, open moorland that, as you can guess from the name, was once covered in dense forest when this area was first settled. One of these farms that definitely isn’t contributing to the paltry population figures, is the weathered cluster of buildings that constitutes the lonely farmstead of Holgate.
Although it now consists of 3 farmhouses (with 2 repurposed as barns) and associated outbuildings, Holgate was once a small, but thriving community with as many as 7 dwellings within it’s boundaries. In 1841, 26 people were living and working here, some obviously farming, but others took on more varied professions such as dressmaking, shoemaking, mining and schooling. The main farmhouse of Holgate (or Hallgate as it was known back then) can be dated to 1741 with the others dating to around the same period according to a local historian, although the adjacent ‘Shepherd’s House’ features a datestone above the door engraved with ‘1632’, suggesting the this feature was appropriated from some earlier dwelling previously on-site. I also saw mentioned in an article that there exists the scant remains of a drover’s inn – not enough for me to spot though, as on my visit I didn’t see anything that I could identify as such.
Holgate House was originally the home of wealthy yeoman Leonard Spenceley and Elizabeth Hutchinson, both of whose initials are engraved in the stone above the front door – not much is known about them though, and, in 1861, the Spenceley family name disappears from census records, despite the fact they seemed to be doing well just a few years prior having raised children and overseen the management of the sizeable estate. This is probably down to shoddy record keeping or some other boringly benign reason, rather than anything sinister or mysterious, so I’m keeping the alien and ghost conspiracy theories shelved for now unless someone spots a Grey or something hiding in one of my photos somewhere.
The population of Holgate had declined to just 7 at the beginning of the First World War and from what I can tell, none of those that remained were farming the land. This is possibly due to the difficulty in doing so – much of the Holgate estate consists of what is known as ‘intake’ land, which is essentially moorland that has been thoroughly worked and treated with lime to increase it’s fertility, with an aim to replacing the typical moorland flora with meadow grass, which is much more suited for sustaining cattle. This is however, a very labour intensive process, and is a constant battle to stop the moor encroaching once again, on the treated fields.
Sometime in the mid-20th century, farming at Holgate was taken up once again, most likely due to the advent of labour saving machinery and the arrival of electricity to the region until eventually, at some point in the 1990s, the final residents called it quits and left the farm to fend for itself. There was a brief flicker of hope for renovation in 1999 when Sir Anthony Milbank – inheritor of the Barningham Estate (of which Holgate is a part) announced plans to revive the farmstead in the Daily Telegraph, however these never came to fruition, and instead it’s been left to crumble, until someone with the will (and the substantial amount of cash required) to resurrect it comes along.
For more information on Holgate, the Teesdale Mercury has an excellent article on it’s history, much of which I’ve paraphrased here.