I know it’s full of potentially scary animals, smelly, muddy, and you probably forgot your wellies, but it’s one of the best places to look at, and think about, built environments.
Traditionally, even modest domestic houses were usually part of their own built environment, with outside toilets, fuels stores, wash houses, kennels, sheds, stables, and other outbuildings that grade imperceptibly into genuine farm buildings. Even today, those people who still live in a house, on a piece of land, may have vital outbuildings such as garages, workshops, and garden sheds, which though small, are of immense significance - particularly to the ritual life of the male.
These are some of the reasons why archaeologists, particularly those trying to understand ancient built environments, should take a good look at farmyards:
- In the British Isles, a secure well-constructed built environment is an essential requirement of any mixed agricultural system.
- It is essential, as archaeologists studying agrarian economies, to think about the relationship between building and agriculture.
- It is important to think about buildings and structures as part of a group with individual, but interrelated, uses and functions.
- Farmyards illustrate the close relationship between architectural form and building function and the importance of ergonomics in efficient buildings.
- Farm buildings also usually have often a multifunctional role and adaptable elements and, in a contemporary context, illustrate change of use.
- The importance of orientation and aspect are highlighted in the layout of buildings.
- A practiced eye can read a set of farm buildings, each building, in its utility and capacity, intimately reflecting some aspect of the farm’s economy.
‘Brunskill Farm’, showing the arrangement of buildings on small un-mechanised mixed farm of c.1800, a typical family farm of the period. 
Brunskill Farm is a group of specialists gathered round a yard or fold. This faces south, with the larger buildings concentrating on the north and west sides, protecting it from the prevailing winds. We will go through each of the elements in turn.
The farmhouse faces east and away from the yard, with its back to the wind. The north- and west-facing sides of the farmhouse may have fewer and smaller windows, and the rooms at the back of the house will be colder, and more likely associated with food storage and preparation, as well as other activities associated with the farm.
The shelter shed is covered space open to the fold yard where cattle shelter and can be conveniently fed, away from the elements. Control of the feeding environment cuts down wastage rate, and helps ensure an equitable distribution of fodder. The loft space over the shelter shed can be used to store feed and bedding.
Barns are a useful enclosed space, technically not required during spring and summer, which could be used for a variety of other functions, such as sheep shearing. One aspect of historical barns is the inclusion of ‘owl’ holes to allow access for barn owls (right), which were encouraged to live in the barn for help in pest control.
The granary is a specialised building to store grain. It is normally raised to protect grain from vermin and damp, and usually well ventilated to aid drying and discourage mould. On Brunskill Farm, the granary is over the cart and shelter sheds. Positioning the granary over the tall, open-fronted structure of the cart shed is a common option, providing security and ventilation to the floor. Positioning over the stable, or as part of the house, are also known from historical contexts. Security is a key consideration for a granary, not just a good standard of weatherproofing and building quality, but also a strong door and bins and chests for storage, loose grain being harder to steal than grain stored in sacks.
Access to the manger or hayrack at the front of the animal is required, as is access to the rear to remove muck and replenish the bedding. The cow house at Brunskill Farm has 2 rows of stalls with a central feeding passage and two further passages for mucking out, each with its own door.
Stalls have to be large enough to allow access to replenish bedding, feed and water, and to allow the animal to lie down. Lofts storing bedding and hay help insulate the cow house, which traditionally has a low ceiling and few windows, thus retaining the animals' heat. Cow houses were warm places, and in some configurations of farm buildings, domestic accommodation would be situated above.
Water supply and drainage can be an important consideration in agricultural buildings, and a water supply in the yard is a vital feature. Figures on the left illustrate the amount of water provision recommended for modern stock. 
The stable is used to house working horses, especially in poor weather. In common with other buildings, hay and bedding may in stored in a hayloft in the roof space. The value of horses has led to stables being characterised as having strong doors. They tend to be more open and well ventilated than the cow house, and may require space for harness and tack.
The pigsties at Brunkskill Farm are a low roofed building, large enough for one or two animals, with a larger pen defined by a robust wall, with a trough for feeding. Pigsties usually occur in multiple units, and would be used to house pigs when farrowing and in the winter months. Pigs are an important component of the traditional mixed farm that can eat all manner of foodstuff often unsuitable for other animals, and the ability to scavenge, and subsist in woodland on acorns and other mast, was an important part of their value.
Loose boxes provide a flexible space for animals of various kinds that need to be sheltered or separated, perhaps for reason of sickness. On Brunkskill Farm, the chickens were accommodated over the pigsties, and there would also be suitable provision for firewood, coal, timber and a range of specialist tools and equipment.
By the time Brunkskill Farm was built, around 1800, a good strong door and bolt was about the limit of security required to protect the farm's assets from predators, but in the previous centuries, a farm would look more like a small castle, such was the threat from predation from neighbouring human beings. The North Pennines had always been too close to the Scottish border, an area where the traditional means of wealth creation was to take someone else’s.
In the next article we will look at the dire state of Scotland in the Seventeenth Century, and consider how this affected the built environment.
Sources and Further Reading:
 R W Brunskill, 1999: Traditional farm buildings of Britain
and their conservation, (Nb. Yorkshire mixed farm p 34)
 R. C. Warmsley, 1960: Rural Estate Management. The Estates Gazette, London. p 367