CRAVEN Museum is due on Wednesday ( July 10 )  to find out whether it has won the world’s largest museum prize – and £120,000. The winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2024 was revealed at a special ceremony at the National Gallery in London. Here, Will Abbott takes a closer look at the museum and the art gallery.

I went into the Craven Museum for the first time last Friday, having heard that it was nominated for the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year. I have been back a couple of times since to enjoy the venue.

The gazetteer of the Yorkshire West Riding book in Nikolaus Pevsner’s worthy architecture series, which I have been leafing through lately for tidbits, dates Skipton Town Hall to 1861-2 and calls it “restrained Neo-Palladian”; I approached that frontage coming up the steps, and left the drizzly afternoon outside to be indoors among the award-winning exhibits.

Indeed, Craven Museum has already won two recent accolades: the Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award 2023 and the Best Accessible Museum award, also in 2023. Founded in 1928 inside the Town Hall building, it remains unassuming in spite of its late success. There is the front desk and, opposite, a wall of gifts and souvenirs including postcards, polymer earrings by West Yorkshire-based Miss Hue Designs, and even half-kilos of “Pure English Honey”!

Venturing into the high-roofed, well-lit space, I saw two wheeled structures hanging from the ceiling. One was a penny farthing bicycle, and the other was a “haulage wheel,” used to lift heavy animal carcasses by rope, and coming from an abattoir in Old George Yard just off Skipton High Street.

The structure that sits beneath the bike and haulage wheel hosts a tin bath and an early-1900s “Craven Café” cart, and on its other side are holes curtained with brush through which the visitor is encouraged to put their hand to feel and guess what’s inside. I got one right – a fossil – but was stumped by the others, including a box which contained a dinky flat iron dating from the days of Queen Victoria. Houses had no electricity and the iron was warmed by the fire before use.

The what’s-in-the-box exercise engaged my sense of touch, always welcome in a museum – the kind of place where things can get a bit too cerebral. Craven Museum even lends out Sensory Bags, each containing a squish ball, magnifying glass, fidget spinner, ear defenders and more, perfect for enhancing the senses around the space and especially great for children and those with sensory needs.

The ground floor of the museum can be gone round in more or less of a circuit and spans Craven’s history from the palaeolithic period to the present day.

Beyond the Middle Ages, early modern period and Industrial Revolution, there is a section dedicated to Skipton during World Wars I and II. During the First World War, Skipton’s good transport links and drill hall made it almost like a garrison town, with many reservists (or Territorials) billeted in local schools and dance halls. There are touching photos, including of women porters at Skipton railway station, and Territorials parading on Broughton Road. It was interesting to learn that, during World War II, the government declared the cotton industry ‘of vital national importance’ and stopped Skipton mill workers from enlisting or being conscripted.

Fans of nature can study taxidermied moorland and river birds of the region, while literary buffs may be interested in a collection of Craven-related literature that includes a copy of Wordsworth’s The White Doe of Rylstone, whose action commences outside Bolton Abbey; issue #1 of The Yorkshire Dalesman (with a contribution from J.B. Priestley); and Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies – there is also, of course, Craven Museum’s very own Shakespeare First Folio. Meanwhile, specialists of the newspaper trade can admire the very letterpress that printed the Craven Herald and Pioneer until 1960 (well before the online edition was even thought of!).

Moving upstairs, the visitor is treated to a spacious gallery that from June 15 to September 2 hosts ‘Yorkshire’s Emerging Artists,’ a showcase of the artwork of 38 artists from, living, or studying in Yorkshire and featuring sculpture, painting, film, textiles and photography.

Highlights for me included Jonathan Little’s painted landscapes of Gargrave Bridge and Wharfedale, and Zoe Phillips’ supersized sycamore made of leather, realistically veined and capillaried and twirling gently on its hanger.

There was the surreal, in the form of Lucy Cross’s (LUCE) Parrot Found at Waterloo Station Won’t Stop Making Tube Announcements, a hung textile piece that does what it says on the tin, rather abstractly; and the breathtakingly realistic, as in Jamie Avis’s Happy Birthday, which captures either the aftermath or the prelude or the in-between of a birthday party, and depicts a woman sat on the sofa staring at her smartphone amongst modern décor, sitting balloons and an inflatable bubble-lettered “Happy Birthday” strung up over the window.

Visitors to the Museum are likely to look less bored than she does in the painting.

Craven Museum and Gallery are open Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 4.30pm. Closed Sundays. Admission free.