A walk with Sidney Jackson #8

Never take dry-stone walls for granted, although any walker in this area will see plenty of them. A great many miscellaneous materials will be built into the walls, often as small repairs. Since my own main interests are in industrial archaeology and geology I am on watch for bricks, iron-making slag, fragments of carved stone, fossils and glacial erratic boulders. I have never been lucky enough to see a ‘rack stone’, three of which are included in SJ’s drawing here.

In the March 1965 edition of the Archaeology Group Bulletin he explains that they obtain their name because their notched shape resembles the rack in a rack-and-pinion arrangement.

Such stones seem to have been reasonably common even if I have never encountered one. They can be built into cottages and boundary walls. The ones pictured were considered to have originally been fragments of a single stone over 6 feet long. SJ states that they were original part of a grain drying kiln but doesn’t explain exactly how they functioned. As I understand it the corn grains were dried on a heavy wool cloth suspended by poles over a low fire. The poles seemingly sat on groves cut into stones placed near the fire, and I assume the rack stones were upright Were there multiple levels of drying? I have seen Iron Age and Roman corn driers but these seemed to employ a stone drying floor, so I will not claim to understand exactly how the rack stones functioned. Can anyone help?

At first sight Bradford seems an unpromising place to grow wheat and barley, with oats being a more plausible grain crop. But in Heaton alone I know of three malting kiln sites and the survival of the place name ‘Whetley’ suggests that wheat was also grown. Corn driers must once have been quite common since the cool, damp, climate in northern upland Britain must have made outdoor drying of wheat prior to storage difficult. But as a child in sunny Sussex, nearly 70 years ago, I well remember ‘stooks’ assembled in the cornfields where the drying took place.

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