A FASCINATING exhibition linking the lives of those who lived through the First World War and their relatives who live on today in North Craven is underway at The Folly Museum. Rob Hawley takes a closer look.

IT'S amazing the stories that persist in families, handed down from generation to generation, those often half-remembered accounts of the exploits of past relatives.

Usually such tales of ancestors' lives never receive wider recognition, but remain as part of the lore of the family. But now The Folly Museum in Settle aims to give such accounts a much wider reach.

An exhibition of art, photography and poetry has opened - and will be on until the middle of July - which records the experiences of the men and women of North Craven who lived through the First World War, 100 years ago.

And, the inspiration for it all is the rich store of tales, and in some cases related objects, which local families possess.

The project began months ago, with North Craven folk coming together in local libraries to share their ancestors’ experiences, and to discuss the objects that have been passed down.

The resulting store of tales has inspired award-winning poet Ian Duhig, photographer Rob Freeman and artist Philippa Troutman to create a stunning multi-media presentation entitled 'Anthology of Silence'.

The obvious question arises: why 'Silence'?

The project team have an explanation: “Silence was a recurring theme. There was silence in the letters from those serving at the front who talked little of the war, as well as the silence in the Quaker meeting house where the Bentham conscientious objectors gathered.

There was the silence of Government departments against which the bereaved often struggled for any account of their loved ones' loss and the silence that followed the departing steam train which held so much promise for the mother whose son would never come home. Finally, there was the silence that followed the end of the war, manifested in the two-minute silence held every year on Remembrance Sunday and replicated in the silence of the men and women who returned from war and spoke little of their experiences; a silence that is finding a voice through the stories of North Craven families that are only now just being told.”

The exhibition is the culmination of a five-year project by the Craven and the First World War Project, in collaboration with Pioneer Projects. They were awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to explore the impact of war in the Craven District 100 years ago.

Last year's major exhibition at Craven Museum, Skipton, entitled Craven at War was a product of this. But the new exhibition in Settle aims to go further, using family lore at a starting point for artistic inspiration.

The stories represented are hugely diverse. One involves John Nelson of Settle who became Battalion Shoemaker to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. John was the grandfather of Dan Nelson who maintains the family tradition of shoe-making at the family shop in Duke Street, Settle.

Another story concerns William Wilkinson of Bentham whose time as a prisoner of war near Berlin inspired his own great-grandson to become a First World War historian.

Stan and Oliver Wilkinson are pictured at The Coach House pub in Bentham where their grandfather and great-grandfather, William - ‘Willie Wilk’ - was the landlord before war broke out, and when it was known as The Brown Cow. William was a Private with the King’s Own Light Infantry when he was captured on May 27 1918 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. William kept a diary about his experiences as a POW, which, 100 years later, inspired Oliver to become a First World War historian. He now works at the University of Wolverhampton as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and his recent book ‘British Prisoners of War in First World War Germany’ features stories of British POWs, including his great-grandfather.

A tragic account involves Edwin Clapham of Bentham, champion sportsman, killed by a German machine gun bullet aged only 20, just two weeks before the war ended.

Joan Clapham, whose late husband was Edwin Clapham's great nephew, is pictured at the war memorial with the memorial plaque that was given to Edwin’s family after his death. The Dead Man’s Penny, as it was known, was given to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. It was quite common for bereaved households to prominently display the plaque of their deceased loved one as a small domestic shrine.

All these tales have been reinterpreted in verse, paintings or photographs. One of Rob Freeman's truly haunting photographic images recreates the scene a century ago when the mother of Edward Carr Dawson, reported missing in the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917, would walk up the hillside behind Bleak Bank Farm, Clapham, every Thursday to watch the train come in. Her hope was that she would see her son walking across the fields towards home. In the modern image John Dawson, his brother Stephen and nephew Matthew stand on the same spot in tribute to their great-uncle Edward Carr Dawson and his grieving mother.

Photographer Rob Freeman, who has also led the Craven and the First World War Project over the last five years as Project Officer, explained: “This exhibition has provided an opportunity for local people to share with us their ancestors’ stories of the First World War, and also to be involved in discussions with other local families about the impact that the war had on the people and places of Craven.

“The Craven in the First World War Project has revolutionised the way we view the Home Front in Craven during the conflict 100 years ago. This exhibition at The Folly aims to build on that achievement.”

Poet Ian Duhig added: “I hope we have woven the cultural tapestry of this fascinating area a little more closely and given some indication of the riches of this area’s history.”

Anthology of Silence can be viewed at The Folly, Settle, until July 14.