LAST week marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare's First Folio.

Actors such as David Tennant and Judy Dench talked about the importance of the First Folio and how without it, some of Shakespeare's most well known plays may have been lost forever.

There are just four copies of the book on public show - and incredibly, one is in Skipton, at The Craven Museum, where is is kept in specially controlled conditions to preserve it for future generations.

In 2011 Hollywood actor, Sir Patrick Stewart, stopped off in Skipton, during a visit to the Dales, where he had a house at the time, when a recording was made of him reading from the book.

The First Folio - or more properly William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, and was published on November, 8 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

The text was collated by two of Shakespeare’s friends and fellow actors, John Heminges and Henry Condell. They worked from manuscripts and actor’s 'prompt' copies that are now lost, as well as earlier printed editions of some of the plays.

The First Folio includes 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, not all of which were published during his lifetime. Indeed, 18 only survive as part of the First Folio, including Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and The Tempest.

It also includes the most well known illustration of Shakespeare, produced by the engraver Martin Droeshoust, and is thought to be the only authentic portrait of Shakespeare in existence seeing as it was approved by people who worked on the First Folio and who knew the man himself.

750 copies of the First Folio are thought to have been printed in 1623, with around 235 surviving today.

It is one of four first folios known to be on permanent public display in the world, alongside copies at The Folger in Washington, the New York Public Library and the British Library in London.

It is difficult to put a price on the First Folios, but in July, 2022 a copy was sold in New York for $2.4million; while the record, for a complete copy is $8.4m, again in New York, Christies, in 2020.

Craven Museum’s copy of the Folio is unfortunately lacking it’s introduction pages, Shakespeare’s portraits and all of the comedies.

It was not uncommon at the time for Folios to be split up and rebound – indeed the binding on the Craven Museum copy is not original. But, it is still an incredibly rare example of an original First Folio, and is a star item in the museum collection.

The Folio went on to influence the English language in highly significant ways. Key phrases such as ‘rhyme nor reason’, ‘at one fell swoop’ and ‘too much of a good thing’ are all thought to have become popular through the works of Shakespeare - even if they didn’t originate from it. It is a internationally significant book, which is still being reimagined and reinterpreted today.

Craven Museum’s copy of the First Folio was owned by a man called John James Wilkinson, who the museum believes bought the book in around 1900.

John was the son of Richard Wilkinson, who was a successful cotton spinner and tobacco manufacturer in Embsay. The family owned Primrose Mill, which has been converted to homes. The family also owned a grocery shop in Skipton. The Wilknson family lived in Skipton at Burnside and the house still survives to this day.

John was a keen scientist and scholar, producing an important work on aquatic insects, and he had a strong knowledge of micro-photography. One of his obituaries after his death in 1919 stated ‘his literary tastes were keen and discriminating and he had the distinction of owning one of the first folios of Shakespeare’s plays’.

John took part in Yorkshire Geological Society excavations and was a member of the Craven Naturalists and Scientific Association in the late 1800s.

A lot of the founding members of Craven Museum were involved with these groups and were likely to have been friends with John. The Folio came to the museum as a bequest from John’s sister, Ann Richmond Wilkinson. Both John and Ann had no children, so the book was given to the museum for safekeeping.

When the Folio arrived at Craven Museum, it was checked by the museum’s first honorary curator, Francis Dufty, who taught at Ermysted’s Grammar School, Skipton between 1920 and 1938. He also kept a class museum at the school where he displayed interesting items brought in by students.

Mr Dufty believed the Folio to be a second, not a First Folio, and it was described this way in the museum’s accession register, the book where all items added to the collection are recorded.

The museum believes Mr Dufty was not a Shakespeare expert and he did not leave any notes as to why he felt the Folio was a second edition, not a first. However, his identification was used for many years.

In 2003, Shakespeare First Folio expert Dr Anthony West came to Skipton to take a look at the copy of the book and concluded that it was indeed a First Folio. Certain differences in the way it was published and page numbers helped that confirmation. It was put on display in 2011 and is now one of the only Folios on permanent display in the world.

Jenny Hill, museums and collections lead, North Yorkshire Council cultural services, said: "We are incredibly excited to be celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio at Craven Museum.

"Without the First Folio, we would have lost many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays – such as Macbeth, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar. We have been running a series of talks and events diving deeper into the history of the Folio throughout the year, giving our visitors the opportunity to learn more about this national treasure and how it came to be part of the collection here in Skipton.

"The Folio is on permanent display at Craven Museum and can be viewed for free throughout the year."