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Most troughs were built for watering stock and are found both within and along the edges of fields. They can also be found in the enclosures attached to field barns where they held water for over-wintering cattle. Many troughs are set into field walls so that they can serve stock in two fields; these often have a sandstone divider or bars across the middle, as with the trough pictured.
Troughs are also found alongside roads and tracks, often fed by a natural stream or spring, and sometimes by a piped or culverted supply. Roadside troughs will also have served moving stock but were primarily intended for horses.
Some troughs originally associated with other agricultural and industrial uses still survive in the Dales. Very large troughs were sometimes used in the process of retting hemp and flax (retting is literally rotting of the plant stems in order to help separate the fibres from the other parts of the stem).
The seals on many Helwith Slate troughs seem to have failed and there are large numbers of disused or dismantled slate troughs. Sometimes a divider or bars will be present in a wall, sometimes the stone trough will have been replaced by a galvanised one.