Landscape Features



Books & Maps

Historic Maps

Picture Gallery


Contact Us


Joseph Foord (1714-1788)

Hydraulic Engineer

Joseph Foord (1714-1788) was a farmer, surveyor and engineer, born in Fadmoor on the Tabular Hills, and who is best known for constructing a series of water races that brought fresh water into a series of dry villages on the limestone hills.


Foord was born in Fadmoor on 13 July 1714, the third of four children of Matthew Foord, a Quaker and the land agent for Duncombe Park. When Joseph was twenty the family moved just under two miles to the south-west, to Skiplam Grange, on the opposite side of Kirk Dale. Foord continued to farm at Skiplam Grange after his father's death in 1744, inheriting his farms, some mills, and a share in some mines at Ankness, close to the entrance to Bransdale.

1744 must have been a traumatic year, for as well as the death of his father it also same him kicked out of the Society of Friends for having fathered an illegitimate child with Sarah Pilmoor (possibly a relative of his mother).

On 16 January 1746 Joseph married Mary Anderson of Kirkbymoorside. They had six children, although only two reached adulthood. In 1765 the family moved south to farm at West End, near Kirkbymoorside, where in 1779 Mary died.

Joseph himself died on 23 January 1788 at Fawdington (six miles south of Thirsk), in the home of his daughter Mary Flower, herself a Quaker despite Joseph's earlier disgrace. He had never been received back into the Society, and was buried as a non-member in their burial ground.

Foord was a farmer, surveyor and engineer. During his life he acted as the surveyor and commissioner for seven enclosure acts (between 1763 and 1776), and between 1780 and 1785 carried out a survey and valuation of the 29,000 acre Duncombe estate (he had to threaten Charles Slingsby Duncombe with court before he received his pay).

Bringing Water to the Dry Villages

In Foord's day many of the Moorland villages were dry - sitting high on limestone hills they had no easy sources of water, which often had to be carried up steep slopes. Foord realised that it was possible to construct gently sloping water races that could bring water from fresh water springs on the high moors to the north into these villages, and in around 1747 he constructed his first experimental water race. This ran for five miles and brought water into Fadmoor and Gillamoor.

Foord was able to construct his water races because of an unusual feature of the geology of the moors. To the naked eye Gillamoor and Fadmoor appear to sit on top of a steep sided plateau, rising above the surrounding countryside, and with steep slopes that would prevent water from reaching the village. However the entire area slopes gently up towards the north. Gillamoor is about 525ft above sea level. The northern, highest, tip of the tabular hill that contains the village is at Boon Hill, about a mile and a half to the north west. The ground at the base of Boon Hill is 650ft above sea level, and thus 125 feet higher than Gillamoor. Foord was thus able to construct a water course that could run downhill, while at the same time appearing to climb up the steep slopes below Gillamoor!

In 1757 the original water course was extended to Kirkbymoorside, and between 1759 and 1768 the network was extended to Carlton, Nawton, Pockley, Old Byland and Rievaulx, feeding water to the villages and to field ponds.

Foord's great skill was in the choice of route, which eventually saw him construct seventy miles of water courses, many of which remained in use through much of the 20th century. Large segments of the system can still be traced on the ground - the easiest place to find it is just below the car park at the top of Newgate Bank, on the B 1257 north of Helmsley. Look for a groove cut across the hillside, almost imperceptibly sloping downwards.