What is 'turbary'?
'Turbary' is an ancient common right that allowed tenants to cut peat for fuel and to strip turf for other uses including repairing hedge banks and roofing. With relatively little tree cover in the Yorkshire Dales, peat was a very important source of fuel in recent centuries.
Turbary stones demarcate the boundaries of the peat cutting grounds. They show the limits of one commoner's (or more often group of commoners) rights on the ground.
What do they look like?
Turbary stones are simple in design. Generally made from roughly shaped stone, they stand up to a metre in height and frequently bear carved initials.
Many peat cutting grounds do not have turbary stones. This may be because they were originally marked in a different way, perhaps with wooden markers.
Where are they?
Blanket peat occurs mainly in the highest parts of the National Park with the deepest peats on the northern and western sides.
Peat cutting grounds can often be located through obvious place names, for example, ‘Burnsall Peat Pits’ in Wharfedale. The name ‘Moss’ is frequently associated with peat cutting grounds.
Poaching and permissions
The borders between turbary plots were often the subject of fierce disputes, particularly by the seventeenth century. This was because with fewer trees, the pressure on peat cutting grounds intensified.
Turbary poaching between manors could lead to hefty fines. However in some cases a village would pay an annual fee to its neighbour for permission to dig turf on their land.
Smelt mills and peat
Peat was also used in the mining industry, and became the fuel of choice in many smelt mills. Grinton, Old Gang and Surrender smelt mills each had substantial buildings for storing peat. Turbary rights could be held to cut turf for both smelting and for the roofing of the mine buildings. It is not known if turbary grounds associated with different smelt mills would have been marked by boundary stones.
How do they differ from boundary stones?
It is easy to confuse turbary stones with boundary stones that mark the edges of parish boundaries. Both types of markers are often very much alike. If a stone is off the line of a parish boundary, it is likely to be a turbary stone.