Travellers entering Northallerton from the north are currently greeted by a rough bit of boggy, scratty land with a collapsing cowhouse on it.

Soon, another swathe of houses is to sweep across the boggy, scratty land – but the collapsing cowhouse appears to be safe. On the planning application, it has had a bright red line drawn around it putting it outside the development zone.

Perhaps this is because it could be a historic cowhouse.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Northallerton is the capital of cowhouses, once having loads of small cowhouses sprinkled across its fields, like this one off North Moor Lane. Picture: Hannah Chapman

From 1640, Northallerton, as the county town of the North Riding, sent two MPs to Parliament. They were elected by the people who owned the biggest houses, or burgages, in the town.

But, over time, these burgages – nearly all of which were owned by the two principal families, Lascelles and Peirse – fell down or were converted into humble agricultural buildings, but they still retained the right to have a vote.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The cowhouse off North Moor Lane in North Northallerton appears to be save from development. Picture: Hannah Chapman

In 1739, a visiting historian wrote: “The great part of the burgage-tenures here front the street, and now exist in the form of stables or cow-houses, in which a chimney is preserved as the memorial of the right; others are let out to poor persons at a small annual rent, and many are totally ruinous and uninhabited.”

Because the two families owned the properties with a vote attached to them, for centuries nearly all of Northallerton’s MPs were Tories who were either members of the two families or connected to them.

The 1832 Great Reform Act swept away such corruption, and, in Northallerton, gave the vote to any man who occupied a plot of land that was worth £10-a-year.

As recent Looking Backs have been telling, William Battie-Wrightson then rode into town from Doncaster in the hope of winning it over for the Liberals. He based himself at Hutton Bonville Hall, just outside the constituency to the north, and bought up land which he divided into small plots. On each small plot, he built a cowhouse making the plot worth £10-a-year in rent – and, Mr Battie-Wrightson hoped, the man and his cow would be so grateful, they would vote for him.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The tumbledown cowhouse in Springwell Lane on the west side of Northallerton

Even 100 years ago, Northallerton was regarded as being highly unusual as it had so many small fields with small, brick out-houses on them.

“The early editions of large scale Ordnance Survey maps show many small buildings scattered across the fields around Northallerton, many of which must have been cow houses,” says Tony Robinson in Romanby, a member of the Yorkshire Vernacular Buildings Study Group who had clocked the cowhouses without knowing the possible political significance of them.

“They can still be found around the town. There is one, fast falling into decay, on the development site between Darlington Road and North Moor Road, and another on the site of the much criticised Sports Village allotment site was demolished a year or two back.

“There is a small one in Springwell Lane just off the Yafforth road, fast falling into decay, and there’s another on the Romanby-Yafforth road near Jeckelow Grange which was repaired a few years ago, and so presumably still has an agricultural use.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: The recently restored cowhouse near Jeckelow Grange, between Northallerton and Yafforth on the B6271

These sightings are on top of the cowhouse we featured a fortnight ago in the back garden of Marna and John Pacey in Brompton.

The small one in Springwell Lane looks as if it could be elderly enough to date back to Mr Battie-Wrightson’s day, whereas the ones at North Northallerton and Jeckelow Grange are larger and appear to be the same design with doors on the two long sides facing each other. These are both built on a field boundary and so must have been shared by neighbouring smallholders – did this make it cheaper for Mr Battie-Wrightson, who could build one cowhouse which was large enough to create two votes?

In 1832, the Northallerton constituency was quite narrow: it comprised Brompton and Romanby, but didn’t go as far east as Rishi Sunak’s manor of Kirby Sigston and on the west it was bordered by the River Wiske, yet we are getting reports of curious cowhouses beyond its boundaries: there’s another beside the B6271 to the east of Yafforth, near Scrat Hill, and it looks like much of Thrintoft grew from a cluster of small cowhouses.

Please send any further reports of curious cowhouses to – we could be on with this until the cows come home.