A decision to remove a literary treasure – one of the greatest books in the English language – from Skipton at the time of the Tour de France has stunned councillors.

The Shakespeare First Folio, gifted to Skipton in 1936 and on display in Craven Museum and Gallery, is to be loaned to the City of York.

In return, from March 26 to July 14, the museum will display two gold bracelets which were discovered in a stream bed in Towton and are usually housed at the Yorkshire Museum.

The decision to remove the Folio when the biggest global cycling event comes through Skipton has been branded as a missed opportunity to capitalise on a potentially huge captive audience.

The race’s Grand Depart will pass along the High Street on the first leg of the competition on Saturday, July 5, en route from Leeds to Harrogate. The following day it runs from York to Sheffield.

Craven councillor Robert Heseltine (Ind) said: “It beggars belief that the jewel in Craven’s crown and the history of the nation will not be in Skipton when this major event arrives here. I thought it would have been an opportune time to promote it in Skipton as a priority rather than in York.”

The Folio is one of only five copies on permanent display in the world.

Coun Heseltine was also critical that the decision was made without councillors having a chance to express their views. His criticism was echoed by fellow Craven councillor Ken Hart (Ind).

He said: “It should stay in Skipton. We are trying to encourage more admissions to the museum and this would have been an ideal opportunity. Now that’s been missed.”

Skipton mayor and district councillor John Kerwin-Davy (Ind) said it was a foolish decision and one which should have had input from councillors.

“This is a missed opportunity to showcase the museum by revealing this hugely important exhibit to a wider public,” he said.

However, council bosses say it is a chance for Craven’s history to take centre stage at the Yorkshire Museum, one of the North’s largest and most prestigious museums.

“The Folio will take the place of Richard III’s head in the Medieval Gallery and become the museum’s main marketing attraction for the spring/summer season.

“Thousands of visitors will be flocking to Yorkshire as the countdown to the Tour continues so this is a unique opportunity for Craven’s museum and the Craven area to be kept in the public eye,” said a council spokesman.

Craven District Council leader Coun Chris Knowles Fitton (Cons) said it was an amazing opportunity for visitors to York to find out about Craven’s First Folio.

He added: “We feel proud and privileged to display two of Yorkshire Museum’s latest archaeology acquisitions.”

The Iron Age bracelets were bought at the end of last year with the help of public donations and are thought to have belonged to someone extremely wealthy, probably a member from the Brigantes tribe.