Dales Countryside Museum – January 8, 2015


The collections at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes are like a treasure trove and you hardly know where to start.

Liz Kirby is helping with redesigning the display of toys which is in one of the rail carriages beside the museum and the trail started at Janet Thomson’s desk. Above from left: Liz Kirby, Debbie Allen and Janet Thomson studying a list of toys. For more photos, including of some of the toys, click on the photo. 

Museum officer, Debbie Allen,  explained: “Janet is our most loyal volunteer.” For Janet has been working on the accessions database since 2008. Prior to that she and several other Friends of the Museum helped to label exhibits.

When an object arrives at the museum it is entered onto an Entry Form and given a group number before being assessed for the relevance to the collection. Fiona Rosher, the museum manager, explained that if  an object is to be “acquired” it is passed to Janet to be placed on the database and is allocated a unique number.

The museum uses the MODES database system and since 2008 Janet has been adding information into the “free text” box  on each record to give a fuller description of each individual object.

Janet said: “At the moment there are 7,339 objects in the database and I started from number one – going back and upgrading the descriptions.  I started just working on the computer but then found I had to go and handle the objects. It slowed things down.

“I was joined by Margaret Hartley. Originally we were coming once a month but we found we weren’t making enough progress so we came every Friday – and had lots of fun doing it together.” Since 2011, however, Margaret hasn’t been well enough to help and so Janet has plodded on alone.

She’s no nearer reaching the end because more boxes of objects have arrived, including from the now-closed mining museum at Earby.

Janet has that researcher’s love for having direct contact with the past. She pointed to a bookcase of old books and commented: “I thought they were much more accessible on a shelf than in a box. Some of them were school prizes and that is written inside. So there is a history of a person in a collection of books which have been donated. You wouldn’t know that unless you look at the books.

“I particularly like going through all the old photographs from a hundred years ago or even 50 years ago. There’s a collection of photographs from Leyburn that somebody  had collected from the 1950s. It was quite good fun going to look at the places now so I could say what the shops had become.”

The job of scanning all the photographs has been taken on by Marcia Howard. She told me: “I’m scanning the entire collection of archives photographs. I’m currently up to T so I’m doing Transport at the moment. That covers the Settle Carlisle railway and Wensleydale railway stations. The ultimate aim is that the photographs will all be available on line eventually. And there’s an awful lot of them.

“I’ve lived up here for about 16 years and I’ve been coming up for 40 because we used to have a holiday home in Hawes – and I’m learning so much more about the Dales and the people in it. Some of the tales written on the back of these photographs are wonderful. So I’ve often got a smile on my face. It sounds like a tedious job but it’s so fascinating that it’s not tedious at all.”

Soon she and Janet were sharing with me some of those great stories as they showed me the photographs. Yet more ideas for Now Then – the annual magazine of the Friends of the Dales Countryside Museum of which I am now the editor.

And just like Liz I will turn to Janet and that database for help in finding interesting objects in the museum. Janet had already prepared a list of toys for Liz that morning, and soon they were in search one particular box. Opening it up they found a traditional Yorkshire Knurr and Spell game on an old, well worn piece of wood. Janet explained that men would often play this game as they walked across the Yorkshire Moors.

L:iz had selected that box because she thought the Victorian brass tea set would be interesting but soon she was much more fascinated by the homemade toys and the Knockemdown set of  ninepins skittles made by the Disabled Ex-Service Men’s Industries after the First World War.

The skittles had obviously been the centre of a lot of fun in some Dales’ household – unlike Mr Turnip, “the children’s favourite television puppet” who was still in pristine condition. Mr Turnip became a celebrity in the 1950s after being created by Joy Laurey for a BBC television magazine show called “Whirligig”.

Among the home-made objects was a skipping rope made from old wooden spools and string, and a miniature chair created from wooden clothes pegs. There were also some board games including a well-worn Snakes and Ladders morality game.

This game originated in ancient India to teach children the effects of good deeds as opposed to bad ones. It became a favourite among the Victorians as Snakes and Ladders with its encouragement to do good to others and the dire penalties for participating in gambling (ruin), stealing (prison), laziness (poverty) and bad temper (murder). One of the longest snakes begins with Pride and ends with a Fall.

Once she had made her selection Liz then had to consider the design of the new exhibit. Stuart Armstrong,  a regular volunteer at the museum, was there in the afternoon to put in more shelves.  So when the museum re-opens in February there will no longer be a “Le Mans” line up of small bikes and trikes as Janet has described the old exhibit.

There will be more bikes at the museum by March – but they will be very modern ones. For Mike Appleby and Helen Pollard are moving their Stage 1 Cycles and Cafe business  (Firebox Cafe) from Askrigg to the museum. Nick is busy this month fitting out the rooms at the western end of the museum.


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