The History Of The Dales Countryside Museum

After many years of hard work the upper dales folk museum finally opened on the 30th March 1979.

The beginnings of the Dales Countryside Museum go back to 1941 when Marie Hartley and her colleague Ella Pontefract heard about a local museum in Leyburn run by Mr Horne and his son was being put up for auction on the 5th of November in the market place in Leyburn. This museum had been in existence for over a hundred years.

Marie and Ella were very concerned about the break up and loss of local heritage and artefacts that this museum sale would bring about.

Mr Kit Calvert from Hawes was there for the sale. He was also concerned about the possible loss to the area of such an important part of our local and industrial heritage.

13 lots were purchased by Marie Hartley and Ella Pontefract that day and thus began the journey to the wonderful Dales Countryside museum we have today.

Once people knew that Marie and Ella were collecting dales artefacts they were very kind and donated many and varied items. They also continued themselves buying and collecting objects many of which were used for woodcuts and drawings for the numerous books that were written over the years.

One of the most important aspects of this collection as it grew was the keeping of a stock book and card index. This work was carried out by Joan Ingilby with the help of one of their friends the novelist Phyllis Bentley who had catalogued whole libraries in her youth.
They put down the date when the object was acquired, where and when it was used and by whom. Extra detail went on the card index. This is the strength of the Dales Countryside Museum. So much is of the history of items is recorded.

Some clocks from the Askrigg Clockmakers

With so many objects storage now posed a problem.
They had a small barn with a cart house and a loft over in a corner of the garden. The large farm implements were jammed into the cart-shed and the smaller items packed in cartons in the loft above.

Marie and Joan also owned a house near to their own which was rented out but they kept two of the back rooms in the house in which to store the smaller items. They purchased several kitchen tables on which to display the collection.

In the 1960s as more people became aware of the museum in Askrigg they were more than willing to donate articles to Marie and Joan as they realized what they were trying to achieve namely to preserve a way of life that was fast disappearing.

The work of looking after the exhibits, treating things for woodworm, rust, damp and restoration etc coupled with writing books and having a large garden to tend it became clear to them that they had to find a way of preserving the collection publicly.

In 1972 they decided to offer the whole of the museum collection to the then North Riding County Council.
There was no curator to contact, but under the county council there was a Library, Archives and Museums committee, and the contact with this was Miss D.M. Hudson, head librarian. She arranged for a group of county councillors to come and view the collection of 382 items.
The committee members came to look at the collection and also looked for suitable premises. Eventually the North Riding County Council agreed to accept the museum as a gift but that at the present time there were no suitable premises for the collection.

By 1974 the rooms were no longer available to store the museum and the whole collection was taken away and stored in empty rooms in the then offices of the Aysgarth Rural District Council at Hawes.
Miss Hudson sent up several library vans with the shelves removed and eleven librarians to man them, and they transported the whole lot to Hawes.

Meanwhile the reorganisation of county boundaries took place, and the North Riding became North Yorkshire. Under the new arrangement the curator of the Yorkshire Museum at York was appointed curator of the museum at Hawes which by the way was at this time, still in store.

In 1976 four years after donating the collection nothing had happened. Unfortunately at that time a clamp down on local government spending had begun and it it looked as though the whole project may fall through.

County Council Committee meetings are always reported in the press and the fate of the museum became national news. Would they or wouldn’t they find a home for the collection?

Two museums offered to house the collection but there offers were politely declined in the desperate hope that the collection would stay in the Dales.

In 1977 the Yorkshire Dales National Park bought the Station Yard and its buildings at Hawes and offered the goods warehouse as premises for the museum.

In order to provide basic finance towards the development of the Upper Dales Folk Museum the Yorkshire Museum sub-committee agreed to the sum of £2,500 being diverted from their minor work estimates for 1978-79. This sum attracted grant-aid from the English Tourist Board and financial assistance in relevant areas of the work was also received from the Museum and Art Gallery Service for Yorkshire and Humberside.

These two organisations co-operated fully in allowing the maximum possible help in the museum’s foundation. It could fairly be said that the museum was the product of this and wider collaboration with the Yorkshire Dales National Park committee, the museum’s landlords in a sense since it was their building, playing a very important role from the start.

The total cost of the first phase of development up to the opening stage was of the order of £10,000 – surely one of the best bargains that the county council have ever received – since approximately fifty per cent of the money was in the form of grant-aid.

The then Assistant County Architect in charge of historic buildings, Mr. W.T.C. Walker, produced an effective restoration scheme for the Goods Warehouse and was able to call on the co-operation of technical college staff and students in making window mouldings etc. to the original patterns.
In this and other ways he kept the costs down and his robust simple and apt style of approach provided the perfect background to the design of the museum and the displaying of the collection.

The designer, Mr. Roger Simpson, continued the theme and reducing fabrication costs to a minimum produced a lay-out in which the building and the objects harmonised well. He made full use of the two levels in the Goods Warehouse, and opted for wall boards with information on them for each section, and blown-up photographs to form backgrounds to the displays.

Marie and Joan supplied the information for the wall boards and negatives for the photographs.

After the museum’s opening a further English Tourist Board grant allowed for the installation of a new heating system – again with the co-operation of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the comfort of visitors, staff and the collection was assured.

On 30th march 1979 seven years after the collection was given the official opening took place.

It was attended by Colonel Jackson, Mr. W.E. Lockwood, then chairman of the Library, Archives and Museums committee, county councillors, Miss Hudson, the mayor of Richmond, and several museum curators. People who had given bygones over the years were also invited; it really was a wonderful occasion and a reunion of many old friends.
Excerpts from The Origins of the Upper Dales Folk Museum by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby

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