Behind the scenes at the Dales Countryside Museum

By Lauren Hunter, one of three University of Leeds Students taking part in the project

After meeting Harriet and Rob at University last month during an information session about an upcoming project with the Dales Countryside Museum, today was the day that we were finally able to travel up to Hawes and find out more about the museum and its local area.  There was a definite sense of adventure as we left Leeds and its skyscrapers behind and headed for the Yorkshire Dales, with only a tube of Pringles and Google Maps to sustain us on our journey.  Seeing the change in the landscape, as monotonous motorways and A-roads gave way to winding country lanes, was refreshing and fuelled our curiosity.  As soon as we crossed the boundary into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, there were animals, and lots of them: sheep and their skipping lambs, dairy cows, hairy horned cows, and the occasional horse. A particularly handsome spotted one caught my eye near Leyburn. The vehicles sharing the road with us changed from cars and lorries to Land-rovers and tractors.  Dry stone walls, often crumbling, lined the road and marked the boundaries between fields. There were trademark barns, and views that suddenly unfolded before us: we were travelling along a tree-lined road one minute and presented with a glorious vista around the next corner.

Howgills by Sedbergh

I had visited Hawes when I was a child, and upon entering the town, the stone with which the buildings are constructed seemed familiar.  The building in which the Dales Countryside Museum itself is housed incorporates the traditional and the modern:  it is a converted railway station, but has contemporary additions such as the modern entrance which is bright, well-lit and welcoming. It reminded me of spring, with its fresh colours and the art exhibition featuring floral-themed prints.

19th Century books in Dales Countryside Museum


We met Rob and Harriet in the Museum’s Research Room, which at first felt like a job interview!  (However, this may have been because we had been discussing these during our car journey)!  We sat around a huge, solid wood table and got to know more about the project and what was expected of us.  I realised that we have a lot more creative licence within this project than I originally anticipated.  There is a lot of scope to include our own ideas, and we discussed how we might follow these through and display our work in the final exhibition.  There are also many opportunities to write, for example as part of blog posts concerning the project and our experiences of working within it. We also discussed how we might broaden our experiences and gain more insight into the lives of farming families and their work: for example, by walking in the local area and attending farming shows in order to meet farmers and see their work in action.

We were also introduced to the exhibition space which will display the end result of the project, and we spent some time standing in the vast empty space throwing out some ideas about how we could go about constructing the exhibition.  We considered how we might present the material to the public in appropriate forms, and what formats would be best suited to display the variety of material.  For example, we considered the historical progression of inventions in farming implements, a feature containing the views of local children on farming, and the creation of complementary visual art.  It’s all about how to use the light and space to maximum effect.

Dales Countryside Museum exhibition space

One of our final stops was the Museum Store.  An area usually closed off to the general public, it is a real Aladdin’s cave, full of historical treasure.  There are ancient and fragile Anglo-Saxon artefacts and even human remains.  We could easily have spent all day in there looking in all the brown, pencil-labelled boxes, but that’s not what today’s visit was about.  Finally, we looked at some of the treasures in the Research Room itself.  Hundreds of rare and precious books, complete with leather binding and watercolour paintings, are stored in locked glass-fronted cabinets and date from the 19th century and earlier.  The medieval-style illumination on their pages was amazing, and the images were crystal clear, despite their age and fragility.

As we said goodbye to Rob, Harriet and the Museum staff and emerged into the sunshine, we took a walk around Hawes and visited a local pub for an early evening meal. We thought about our experiences of the day.  We all agreed that we had much more freedom to follow our own ideas and interests within this project than we had originally believed, and looked forward to our next visit to Hawes and the interviews we will be arranging with local farmers.  We stopped at a high point just outside Hawes on our return journey, to photograph the amazing scenery.  I will definitely return soon, as I don’t think I have yet soaked up all Hawes has to offer. We were all tired out by the time we reached home:  we had travelled almost 200 miles during the course of the day! It was well worth it though, to see the space which our exhibition will occupy, and contribute to the process of planning and decision making.  As I sit at my laptop and write this during the ensuing evening, I am left with a feeling of anticipation and excitement that I will soon be recording and preserving real history, and helping to present the traditions of the Yorkshire Dales to a new audience in fresh and stimulating ways.

'Costume of Yorkshire' detail

 ‘Costume of Yorkshire’
Written by George Walker in 1885, Costume of Yorkshire illustrates clothing worn by people in different professions across the county at the time, with accompanying text providing an explanation. The book is bilingual, with text in English and French.

About the Author

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Voices and stories of farmers in the Yorkshire Dales 2016 - 2017 give a glimpse into farming and landscape in this National Park; a Heritage Lottery Funded Project with additional support from The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority's Sustainable Development Fund.

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