Whilst idly browsing the user-submitted photos on Geograph one night1, I spotted an image of this intriguing house which sits at the mouth of Deepdale – a tiny, cul-de-sac valley breaking off from Dentdale in the Yorkshire Dales’ Western territories2. I scoped it out in-person in April 2018 — nearly a full year before I actually got round to seeking entry as I’d forgotten to bring a decent torch — a necessity for getting halfway decent images as the lower floor windows are thoroughly boarded, shrouding it in darkness.
This farm’s name is somewhat unusual – houses in the Dales were often named in somewhat pure geographical terms3 – ‘East Gill’ for example would almost certainly be a location East of the nearest population centre, in or near a narrow valley4, through which a small stream flows. ‘Scow’ doesn’t seem to fit with this pattern at all, and the commonly accepted Old High German-derived definition of the word in use today – a ‘large flat bottomed boat’ doesn’t really work. Deepdale is many miles from the sea, there are no suitably large lakes nearby, and the beck that flows through the farm’s associated holdings is far too narrow and rocky for such vessels to navigate and I doubt the geography has changed that much since the name was bestowed. Another possibility comes from the Dutch word ‘schouw’ meaning ‘fireplace’— The house features 2 rather large examples at opposing ends, possibly they were architecturally significant enough to influence the choice of name? The most likely explanation I can fathom, is that the name was appropriated from nearby Scow Force, although as to the waterfall’s distant etymological origins, I’m really not sure.
Like many traditional Dales dwellings, the exterior of the Scow farmhouse shows faint traces of the limewashed finish that would once have been applied — a kiln in good order sits in the adjacent field, and it would have been here that limestone would have been burned to produce quicklime and scattered across the farm holdings to increase the fertility of the acidic soil characteristic of the region; or alternatively, mixed with water to form slaked lime, for the aforementioned whitewashing — as much a method of protecting the stonework, than as an aesthetic sensibility.
The front facade of the property also has an oddly disjointed feel — it would be totally symmetrical (discounting the outhouse) were it not for the lower right-hand window. ‘Almost symmetrical’ is another common trait of the vernacular architecture in the region that you pick up on if you wander through it as much as I do — As is the case at Scow, it’s usually an oddly sized window that takes the proportions out of whack, although it’s only now that I’ve actively noticed it enough, that I’m pondering on the reasons behind this odd design choice. Here, the irregular opening looks on to the kitchen, and is considerably wider than its neighbours and so I’m going to make an educated guess that the idea is to let in as much light as possible to what I suspect would have been the most well-used room in the house — kept constantly warm by the huge range inside and the extra illumination might also have come in handy for viewing food during preparation too.
I quickly set about finding a way inside, my means of ingress a long-broken window around the rear of the house that leads to a tiny, low-ceilinged room that I imagine was once the pantry and filled with a healthy supply of provisions for the bitter Winter months. Not so anymore, the stocks depleted or removed years back, and the only object inside being the remains of the board once affixed to the window to prevent exactly what I’d just done.
Upon entry I immediately sank into the thick layer of filth that carpets the floor of the old store and which continues through it into the rest of the downstairs quarters. The pantry door opens onto a dark, tiny space at the foot of the winding stairs, which stand in utter opposition to the austere exterior, resplendent in joyously bright, vivid shades of Green and Yellow — a constant reminder of Summer even in Winter’s darkest days. The surprisingly vibrant interior decor of many of these ancient Dales dwellings is something I’ve seen and touched on before (see Sarthwaite and the ‘Surfing Panda’ House), and more and more of the more-recently abandoned farmhouses5 seem to reinforce this pattern — probably a remnant of some 80s interior design trend which seems to have been enforced around the time many of them were abandoned.
I slowly made my way upstairs towards the brightness above, carefully testing the viability of the wood with each step — a wise move as it turned out — water had made it’s way into these higher echelons and rotted through many of the floorboards, and a misstep would have sent me hurtling straight down into the dark unknowns below. Though well-lit, the upper floor was totally devoid of any furniture6, but an interesting sight nonetheless — the windows up here were unobstructed, allowing light to filter through their grimy crust and illuminate the sunshine coloured walls of the two bedrooms which stand opposed as almost mirror images of each other, rather beautifully juxtaposed with darkening pockets of decay and disintegration – the plaster and paintwork gradually succumbing to the entropic forces of nature.
Heading back downstairs and entering the kitchen was perhaps not quite analogous to descending down to the depths of Hell, but probably more akin to entering some manner of adjacent dank and dark halfway-house dimension. I had to flick on my head-torch to see anything of note at all in the resultant fetid blackness as I squelched through the property’s nether-regions. The illumination brought into focus stacks of old furniture and appliances — late 70s era stock from the looks of them, which helps give a rough idea of when the premises was likely left to fend for itself.
As the beam from my torch bleached the walls with its harsh LED glare, I noticed the large, hanging forms of many resident arachnids pockmarking the stonework, closer inspection revealing them to be of a species I hadn’t seen before and later research gave me a match: ‘Meta Menardi’, the European Cave Spider — an elusive variety that as you can probably tell from the name, live almost their entire lives in the deep places of the Earth, and so it makes perfect sense for them to be found here in the ever-present blackness, snaring the hapless unfortunates unlucky enough to find their way in. Tracing light around the two lower rooms made clear the sheer extent of the infestation—there must have been at least fifty of them in plain view, clinging to their webs and the White globular egg-sacs suspended from every conceivable nook; slowly clawing at the air in response to the sudden dazzling briliance7, and that’s only the ones I could see —undoubtedly there were countless others seeking refuge in cracks and crevices I wasn’t about to go poking into.
Making my way into what was probably once the living room, straightaway I spied the best example of a wash copper I’ve seen yet — with even the usually absent lid still in place, along with some rusty farming equipment in the corner, the bones of some long deceased sheep strewn over the floor, and an old upright piano leaning casually against the wall subdividing it from the kitchen. I set about taking some documentative photos, careful not to pick up any errant hitchhikers dangling from the beamed ceiling and considered the place I’d found:
When exactly does a house cease to become a home? At some point an intangible line is crossed and the familiar becomes alien, and what was once a sanctuary becomes discomfiting to inhabit. I’m not exactly sure when that happens: Is it when the decision to leave is finalised? When the last piece of furniture is carried out? When the first pigeon moves in, or when the first roof truss smashes through the upper floors with no-one around to hear it? I’ve heard stories of evacuated peoples in war-torn areas, returning to the bombed-out shell where they once lived, speaking as if they still consider it their home —it’s different for everyone I guess—but I wonder how it was here at Scow? Did the last occupants have much attachment to this place? Was the move by choice or circumstance? Or was it instead rented out, and perhaps a more impersonal departure?
For small ruins such as these, answers are generally not forthcoming, however in this instance I might actually be able to take at least a partially informed guess as to what happened: Archival records reveal a few details about the house’s former residents who, from 1881 onwards, appear to have been mostly railway platelayers, signalmen and their families working the Settle-Carlisle Line that threads through the heights of East Dentdale. The last residents I can find traces for, feature in this account of 1950s life in the Dale: Jim Harper was apparently a signalman at the nearby (and now demolished) Dent Head Signal Box, and lived with his schoolteacher wife in Scow until he died in unmentioned circumstances whilst on duty. The year of his death wasn’t given, but further searching brought me to the now-defunct website of a company that once sold audio recordings of the Pennines Railways, and it appears as if Jim was actually interviewed around May-October time in 1967, for one of these8.
That potentially puts his death sometime between then, and the late 70s/early 80s when I believe the place was vacated. From thereon it’s pure speculation: Perhaps his widow was the last tenant, and carried on living here for a time until leaving the unpleasant memories behind, possibly someone else moved in for a short spell after — not everything can always be pieced together, and often all you can do is infer meaning from the remnants of what you find inside, and any small slivers of information that the infinite strands of the World Wide Web can provide.
- One of the methods I use for virtually scouting out anything interesting. Its search function is surprisingly powerful, although you’d be wise to pay attention to the dates images were captured – a lot can change in just a few short years, so there are of course no guarantees that what photos show is the current state-of-affairs.
- Not to be confused with Deepdale hamlet in Langstrothdale, nor the Deepdale near the medieval village of Wharram Percy in the Eastern region of North Yorkshire, or indeed the countless others undoubtedly strewn across the British Isles – It’s not exactly a unique moniker — The ‘John Smith’ of dale names!
- Often derived from Old Norse after the arrival of Scandinavian settlers in the 8th century
- That just isn’t quite large enough to elevate it to ‘Dale’ status.
- Many of the more long-term derelictions lie in utter ruins, and you’re often lucky if you find any walls left standing, never mind evidence of what colour they were!
- Another common sight I’ve mentioned in previous entries — the reasoning is simply to reduce the load on the floor, and in turn, the likelihood of it collapsing.
- The species is apparently photophobic except at a young age, where instead the opposite is true and they’re attracted to light presumably to help spread the population into new areas.
- Unfortunately, tracking down a copy might prove difficult with such a niche (and apparently now unavailable) product, so I’ve not had any luck on that front.