NGR: SD 8967 6743. In 1964 Arthur Raistrick the author, historian and archaeologist, stayed at Malham Tarn House, in North Yorkshire, and whilst there he conducted a number of archaeological excavations in that area, one of which was a rectangular-shaped Dark Age “priest’s house” or a “hermit’s hut” located on Malham Moor above the Malham Tarn Field Centre. This structure and a similar one close by, were built from the surrounding Limestone, and at the edges of a circular feature that might be an Iron Age enclosure? or something else. There were a number of interesting finds from inside the hut which were of Celtic-Anglian design-work. But it begs the question – just what was a priest doing living in a stone hut on a bleak high ridge of the moor well-over 1,000 feet above sea-level – in what must have been an often weather-beaten existence, although maybe he withdrew down to lower ground in the Winter-time where there would be more shelter from the elements. Arthur Raistrick (1896-1991) also excavated some prehistoric hut circles and, a possible Medieval chapel site upon Chapel Fell, although this structure later proved to be only 16th century. Unfortunately, there is no direct footpath up to the site.
Raistrick (1972) tells us: “On Malham Moor and within a few hundred yards of the Tarn, at SD 897674, a building was excavated a few years ago to which the name of ‘priest’s house’ has attached itself, and the features of this may reflect one of the more permanent Dark Age huts. It stands on a high shelf of the hills, about 1,500 ft OD, with a magnificent view across the upper Airedale country and over the moors of Bouldsworth beyond. The house is a rectangular building 15 ft by 9 ft inside, with two slender partition walls, one cutting off a room 8 ft by 9 ft at the south end into which there is an entry from outside at the south-east corner. The narrower room is divided by cutting off 3 ft from the south end. The outer walls are remarkable, made of a double row of limestone boulders up to 6 ft long and 4 ft wide, set on edge, making the inner and outer faces of a 6 ft-wide wall. The space between the large stones is carefully packed with smaller limestone boulders, but no gravel. The natural limestone floor of the rooms was carefully levelled with small stones, then covered with a layer of calcareous marl from the near-by Great Close tarn. There was a small hearth in one corner of the larger room and a large stone placed as a footing for a central post to support the mid point of the ridge tree. If timbers had been footed on the long walls which were about 3 ft high, they could have met on a ridge tree supported at the ends and mid point by posts, and would give a height to the house of more than 7 ft. The end gables could be made up with a thick turf wall or with wattle screening.
“Among the finds in the house was a cast bronze disc, head of a large pin, 1¼ ins in diameter with pierced ‘Celtic’ interlacing ornaments and traces of gold inlay, a simpler bronze brooch and buckle, and pieces of perforated bronze strip which could be the edging for a book cover, along with typical book ornaments. The house and material found in it are very like those excavated from the Anglian monastery which underlies Whitby Abbey. All this suggests that we have the little house of a seventh-or-eighth-century priest or hermit, but it was no doubt based upon prevalent tradition, built here in stone instead of timber.”
The priest’s house (site) is 300 metres (984 ft) north of Malham Tarn at the SE side of Malham Moor. The very beautiful Malham Tarn covers an area of 153 acres (619 square-metres) and it measures 1132m S-N and 1016m SW-NE. “Malham Tarn is Yorkshire’s second largest natural lake – the largest being Hornsea in East Yorkshire”, according to Eric Lodge. There is no direct path up to the site but a footpath at the edge of the tarn goes up further to the east towards Middle House.
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Lodge, Eric (Compiler), The Yorkshire Dales Official Guide And Handbook, The Yorkshire Dales Tourist Association, Grassington via Skipton.
Raistrick, Arthur, The Pennine Dales, Arrow Books Ltd., London, 1972.
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.