Accessibility statement

Joseph Empsall


Supervisor/s: Dr Dav Smith & Dr Louise Cooke

Title: Characterising the Historic Farmsteads of the Lake District National Park and World Heritage Site

‘The historic farmsteads of the Lake District represent an important component of the World Heritage Site, with its inscription of 2017 stating ‘The stone-walled fields and rugged farm buildings in their spectacular natural backdrop, form an harmonious beauty that has attracted visitors from the 18th century onwards’ (UNESCO 2017). The broad aim of this project is to characterise the historic farmsteads of the Lake District National Park and World Heritage Site. There are many historic farmsteads and farm buildings that have been designated and individually studied within the National Park, but there has been little wider consideration of the differences in character for the distinctive valleys of the Lakes. The project will help to better understand their importance and contribution to the valued landscape in the Lakes, it will aid in the protection and conservation of unknown farmsteads and buildings of significance, and will help the LDNPA to manage change to these important assets.

The PhD project will work with and build upon existing datasets to create a comprehensive guidance tool for assessing the significance of historic farmsteads and their farm buildings in the Lakes. This includes data from the National Heritage List for England and the Historic Environment Record, as well as data from a vernacular building survey undertaken by Higgins in 1985. This data has never been collated, with little understood about the overall character of historic farmsteads in the Lake District. The work will involve undertaking a comprehensive survey of the historic farmsteads of the Lakes, considering historical development, farmstead formation, building typologies, materials, survivability, risk, and significance. In compiling this survey information, the project will develop an evidence-base through the development of a GIS dataset, which records the results of the field survey and integration with map-based recording of the historic character and survival of farm buildings. This will be used to enhance the LDNPA Historic Environment Record and National Heritage List for England, as well as to create a comprehensive guidance document on the historic farmsteads of the Lake District. The guidance document will be made available as an online resource for the general public, and would aim to help the LDNPA better understand these important heritage assets, which will be crucial for their protection and managing change in the future.’



‘I am a buildings archaeologist with a passion for understanding and interpreting historic buildings, and have been fascinated by old buildings from a young age. I pursued this passion by undertaking an undergraduate degree in History at the University of Huddersfield, followed by an MA in Conservation Studies (Historic Buildings) at the University of York. My interests in buildings expanded to digital heritage, where I undertook a Masters by Research project funded by XR Stories, through the University of York. This was titled ‘Stories in the Sky’ and centred upon digital storytelling and Park Hill flats, Sheffield. Following my MRes, I have spent the last two years working as a commercial Buildings Archaeologist, supporting public and private clients by producing Historic Building Recordings, Heritage Statements, Heritage Impact Assessments, and Structural Watching Briefs. During this work, I have been lucky enough to work on a wide range of fantastic historic buildings, from Grade I Listed World Heritage Sites, such as Cromford Mills, to non-designated Second World War structures. However, the largest proportion of building types I have worked on has been agricultural heritage, with much of this work located within the Peak District National Park. From my current commercial work, I have gained a strong appreciation and passion for agricultural heritage. They represent fascinating buildings, which often have strong surviving evidence for past use and human activity, and their traditional styles make an important contribution to vernacular settings.

Much like the Peak District, the Lake District National Park is home to a fantastic range of historic agricultural buildings. However, little is understood about the differing development and character for the separate distinctive valleys of the Lakes. I have lived on the eastern borders of the Lakes in Penrith for two years now, and spend most of my free time hiking the fells, swimming and paddle boarding in the lakes, and cycling the trails. While the Lakes has beautiful mountain ranges and lakes that make up a large part of its interest, the agricultural heritage makes a significant and valued contribution to the World Heritage Site. I am passionate about enhancing our knowledge of this resource, to help understand the overall contribution historic farm buildings make to the WHS.’


Cooper, C., Hadley, D., Empsall, J. and Wallace, J. 2021 Digital Heritage and Public Engagement: reflections on the challenges of co-production, Internet Archaeology 56.

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Contact details

Joseph Empsall
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor