Thursday, 25 November 2010

Visit to the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes

I visited the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, North Yorkshire, on a Sunday jolly with my mother last weekend. I am very interested in the history of the Yorkshire Dales and the local countryside, and I hoped that this Museum would satisfy my interests. I was not disappointed; the enormous collection of objects relating to life in the Yorkshire Dales range from Romano-British coins and milestones to local children's toys dating to the Victorian era.

A small selection of the huge collection of farming equipment
The Museum is arranged chronologically, beginning first with the archaeology and history of the Dales from the Prehistoric and Roman Periods and concluding with a piece on modern farming practices and the impact of the current economic conditions on the local farmers. The Museum was officially opened in 1979, and is located in the Victorian buildings which once functioned as Hawes Railway Station. A superb use of space employs an old train as an exhibition area for the history of the Railway and the social history of the area, including a case on the tradition of countryside sports and Victorian pastimes. 

The exhibition in the main building snakes around the large gift shop and is designed to allow the visitor to experience different local working situations, such as life in coal mine, a Victorian pharmacy, a milk farm and a ropeworks. Though the building does not look particularly large from the outside, the layout of the exhibition makes full use of the internal space with a mezzanine floor and connecting rooms.

Image of the train converted into an exhibition space at the Museum

View of the reconstructed Victorian pharmacy
On the whole, the objects are well labelled and there are also extended descriptions where required. I was also impressed with the use of audio recordings in some of the scenes, including a description of haytiming during the early 20th Century, and an interactive touchscreen which detailed the history of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Unfortunately we visited on a rather quiet day; the Museum frequently holds events for families and interested visitors including dry stone walling, spinning and weaving demonstrations, and rag rug making, and I would very much like to return for an event in the future. Though the Museum is somewhat off the beaten track, I highly recommend a visit for a fascinating and unusual day out. 

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Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

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