LOVERS of picturesque Wharfedale are being urged to help solve a mystery surrounding the unearthing of an old longbow in a disused chapel in the heart of the Dales.
The ancient bow, initially thought to be an English longbow, has been discovered near Bolton Abbey in beautiful Wharfedale.
The discovery was made beneath floorboards in the unused chapel of The Priests House, part of the Grade I listed Barden Tower complex, near Barden Bridge, Burnsall, N Yorkshire.
It was built and occupied by Henry Clifford , Yorkshire‘s “The Shepherd Lord” of legend.
Now a well-known restaurant with medieval banqueting facilities, run by Leeds restaurateur Debbie Leathley and husband Steve, the Priests House is the extant and thriving part of the ruin of Barden Tower, which dates back to at least the 16th Century.
The six-foot tall bow – which is in remarkable condition, but minus the drawstring - was found by head chef Mark Finch beneath floorboards of the old, deconsecrated and disused chapel, which lies beneath the restaurant.
Attempts to solve the mystery of the bow have so far involved actor Robert Hardy – Siegfried Farnon in BBC TV’s All Creatures Great and Small - a respected authority on the history of the longbow, among others.
However scientific testing by the Royal Armouries in Leeds have turned initial assumptions on their head, creating an even more puzzling picture for the historical detectives just when they thought they were on target with their assumptions.
The bow has been identified as a bamboo bow from the Chota Nagpur region of Central India, a type which was commonly used by the hill tribes in days gone by.
“Exactly how this ended up in rural Yorkshire hidden away for perhaps hundreds of years is a complete mystery and one with which we would like so help. Is it evidence of the extent of the ancient trade routes or perhaps a gift brought back from abroad? I guess we will never know but we’d like to appeal to readers to help solve this curious mystery.”
Steve and Debbie are supporting the Bolton Abbey estate, English Heritage and local planners in developing an appraisal for converting the disused chapel into a prestigious new function venue and dining space which would sit in spectacular scenery above Barden Bridge and the River Wharfe.
It was whilst tidying up the ancient disused chapel in advance of a visit that the bow was unearthed.
It was found purely by chance beneath floorboards close to the altar of the ancient chapel, which had been boarded-up, and which was being used as a storage area.
Author , businessman and medieval history consultant Peter Algar, from Horsforth, author of the highly-respected The Shepherd Lord novel, was called in by Steve and Debbie to help shed light on the find.
He says all early indications seemed to point to it being a bow of medieval origin.
“We initially thought it might belong to one of Yorkshire’s best known local heroes. The legend of Henry Clifford, the so-called Shepherd Lord, is very well known in Yorkshire, especially around Skipton and the rural areas of the Dales and into Lancashire. But significantly, he has an important link with Barden Tower.
“Henry lost his aristocratic father in the War of the Roses and, as heir to his estates in Skipton and surrounding areas, fled into the wilds of Yorkshire.
“He was unsuccessfully hunted down by Edward IV as a result of some bad blood between the then ruling Yorkist faction and the local Clifford family, who lived at Skipton Castle.
“As a result, he was brought up as a shepherd boy in the wilds of Yorkshire before he was eventually restored to his estates much later under Henry VII.
“Steve and Debbie consulted me on the strength of my novel, The Shepherd Lord, which is a ‘reimagining’ of the legend. But what is certain is Henry Clifford’s connection with Barden Tower and the Priests House – and the mysterious chapel.
Peter, from Horsforth, Leeds, who is widely respected for his knowledge of medieval Yorkshire history, says:
“Barden Tower was a traditional hunting lodge, in fact the nearby Forest of Barden was used as hunting grounds in the 15th C. Henry Clifford, after his restoration to his estates following his life lived in the wild, rebuilt it and made it his principal residence.
“He needed a place of calm so that he could re-connect with his rustic upbringing and – given he was illiterate – get an all round education. In fact, he had the chapel built under the mezzanine of the Priests House for this purpose.
“He used the tall towers as an observatory to look at the night sky, under the expert tuition of the Prior of nearby Bolton Abbey. When he was a boy, he was fascinated by the night sky, an interest fostered by the solitude of tendjng his flocks on the fells.
“It is under the floorboards of the chapel, a room untouched for over a century, that the longbow was found.”
Debbie Leathley, from Pudsey, Leeds, who run the Priests House restaurant with husband Steve in 2004, says:
“This building is quite fascinating, we never know what we might stumble across next. Today it is an ancient Indian bow, yesterday a ghost playing the piano, and tomorrow? Who knows? What I can say is that if the restoration of the chapel does go ahead then I am sure we will uncover something else of interest“
"The bow is over six foot tall and preserved in a dark coating. It is one piece flat bow and differs from that of a traditional longbow, which has rounded limbs that are circular or D shaped in cross-section.
“It was likely used for hunting, as Barden used to have its own deer park, or perhaps for target practice as archery was very popular in past times.
“It is hand crafted and the bowyer knew what he was doing as he left the knots in when shaving the bow staff to maintain its strength. It must therefore have taken a reasonably strong draw weight.
“I consulted Robert Hardy is an acknowledged expert on the longbow and who was consulted when a large cache of bows like these were discovered in the hold of the Marie Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship.
“Under the auspices of the Towton Battlefield Society, and recommendation from our resident archeologist, Tim Sutherland, it was agreed to take it for dating and expert analysis to the Royal Armouries at Leeds.
“It looks more like a hunting bow than war bow but the people I have spoken to say it is certainly significant and has got one or two people baffled. Even if not from the period, it’s an important find for Yorkshire and the region.”
* More info on The Priests House can be found at http://www.thepriestshouse.co.uk/
* George Peter Algar’s personal history of The Shepherd Lord and associated novel can be found at www.theshepherdlord.com. Peter writes under the nom-de-plume of George Peter Algar.
* If anyone can help solve the mystery, they can contact either Peter or Steve at their respective web sites.