The last Home of Holgate

It’s hard to think that in twenty-first century England there are still places which can be considered to be truly remote, when for many of us it may seem such a small and over populated island. But once you venture beyond the main dales roads of the Pennines into the deep folds and hollows that make up its vast hinterland of fell and moorland you can still find abandoned cottages and farmsteads where the changing world, with all its economic pressures, has made it impossible to scrape out a living within this harsh environment. Holgate is one such place, what was once a busy little hamlet is now a collections of broken barns and houses left to the mercy of the elements.

Locked Door

The Locked Door. Fomapan 100 5×4 90mm Angulon lens, Salt Print.

The settlement of Holgate like many others in the dales was always a community on the edge. It existed within a marginal environment and to make a living the farmers had to scratch their fields and pastures from the moorland around them. This practice of enclosing and improving parts of the open fell was known as Intaking and it was the endeavour and hard work of farmers and labourers of Holgate and similar upland farmers that kept the wilderness beyond their dry stone walls at bay. But this was a working community and the farmers were supported by a host of professional people. Records from 1841 show that 26 people called this little hamlet their home including a schoolmaster,  shoemaker, mason, labourers and a dressmaker. Holgate together with Helwith and Kersey Green made up the New Forest township in the parish of Kirkby Ravensworth and in 1822 the parish records state that there were 67 people living within the 2,000 acres of common land and moorland, now only 10 people live and work in the whole area and Holgate itself is completely abandoned.

Broken glass

Broken Pane, Fomapan 100 120 6×9. Salt Print.

When you visit this lonely place in its advanced state of decay it’s hard to believe that it has been less than 25 years since the last resident locked their door and said farewell. It hasn’t taken long for nature to take its toll on the building. As you peer through open doorways and windows, as we did back in April, you can still see the remains of home comforts, a few sticks of old furniture, the fire places and kitchen stoves. The last house to be inhabited was Holgate house itself, built in 1741 the initials of its first owner the wealthy yeoman Leonard E. Spenceley are still proudly carved into the lintel above the front door, and until the 1990’s it was still a working farm. But now the roof slates have fallen rain water has seeped in and brought down ceilings. Moth-eaten curtains now hang in tatters from broken window panes, and soon it will be impossible for anyone to gain shelter in what was obviously once a grand little house.

The last Home

The Last Home. Fomapan 100 5×4, 90mm Angulon lens. Salt Print.

It was fascinating to visit and explore Holgate and soak up the gothic atmosphere of the decay, but always in the back our minds was the thought that this was once someone’s home. These places are time capsules showing us a glimpse of the past. But who knows how long they will remain until the elements finish the work they have started and reduce them to a pile of stone foundations.

A trip to Inkerman

Inkerman isn’t the kind of name you would normally associate with the small town of Tow Law high up above Weardale in County Durham, but the connections are there . In 1854 the Durham Light Infantry, known then as 68th Regiment of Foot nicknamed The Faithful Durhams, fought in one of the most important battles of the Crimean War. It took place on a freezing cold foggy day in November, and  it was said that the Durhams where the only regiment to have fought in their red jackets, since they alone took off their greatcoats during this winter battle.  Since that day the anniversary of 5th of November was celebrated by the regiment as Inkerman Day, so it makes sense to find the name of this distant battle here on the edge of the Durham coal fields.  

It wasn’t until Charles Atwood built his Iron works in 1840’s that Tow Law started to grow from  a tiny farmstead to town with a population of 5000 people. Six blast furnaces were built and they were fuelled by coal from the nearby collieries, such as Black Prince, Royal George and West Edward. The coal was not burned in its raw farm. Instead it was first turned into coke, by baking it in an oven to drive off the impurities. At the beginning of the industrial revolution this was done in beehive shaped brick ovens. Thousands of these were built across County Durham but very few of them survive today, and the last few stand beside the Inkerman Road.  

The morning I chose to visit the remains of the Inkerman Coke Ovens was cold and foggy which felt like the right kind of weather to visit this place. Now standing beside a coal yard, these strange conical structures look more like something that belongs to a Scottish Broch or ancient burial tomb than heavy industry. But as you peer inside one of collapsed ovens it’s clear to see the charred bricks, fused together by the extreme heat used during the oven’s firing. Maybe the coke made in these ovens produced the iron and steel rifles and bayonets used by the 68th on that day? The 1840’s also saw the birth of photography with Fox Tolbot announcing his discovery of the Calotype process, and it was during the Crimean War the new art form was used to document the conflict. So it seemed fitting to use some of Tolbot’s techniques to create my prints.

Inkerman Oven

Inkerman Oven.

90mm Schneider Angulon lens, F8. Fomapan 100 developed in Prescysol. Salt Print.

Inside Coke Oven

Charred Bricks.

90mm Schneider Angulon lens, F8. Fomapan 100 developed in Prescysol. Salt Print.

I used Randall Webb’s formula to create my salt prints taken from his book Spirit of Salt, if you see a copy get it, it’s a superb book!! As I was leaving the site I noticed an inscription carved into a wooden post

“For many hearts with cool ore chorred and few remember”

W. Owen

The words of the war poet Wilfred Owen seemed appropriate for this place.

Thanks

Graham