AN interesting headline in the Craven Herald of 75 years ago, in January, 1946, caught my eye: ‘Skipton Castle ends wartime task’.

The castle it seems, had been used by the British Museum during the Second World War for the safe storage of 1,600 sealed boxes of manuscripts and books. During the war years, the people of Skipton decided because of the level of security - a guard slept every night in the room where they were stored - it was in fact the Crown Jewels that were in the castle, a rumour that persisted until the end of the war.

In the last week of January, 1946, ‘another secret of the war’ was put to bed, as a convoy of vans left the castle with their precious cargo, taking some of the nation’s treasures back to their home at the British Museum in London, reported the Herald at the time.

The removal of the ‘brown sealed’ boxes back to the capital was recorded by the BBC and was broadcast at the time on the Northern Newsreel - the then local news.

In an interview with Mr A J Collins, deputy keeper at the British Museum, the Herald revealed that Mr Collins had kept a ‘fatherly eye’ on the collection and as well as other museum officials had made several visits to Skipton during the war years to make sure everything was in order.

It had been January, 1942, that the treasures had come to Skipton. Museum officials had wanted safe shelter for part of the valuable archives endangered by the London Blitz. The oak-beamed banqueting hall of the castle, along with an adjoining room, was commandeered. Tiers of wooden shelving and air conditioning were installed to safeguard the manuscripts from the damp, and over the space of a week, between 50 and 60 tons of archives were stored.

Throughout the time they spent at the castle, the archives were never left unguarded. A watchman slept in the room with them every night and even on their return to London, every load dispatched by rail in sealed containers was accompanied by an officer of the museum, who travelled in the guard’s van.

Mr Collins told the Herald at the time that from time to time during the war years, documents from the collection had been consulted during their stay in Skipton, but none had been removed. Apart from one or two air raid alerts, there had been no untoward incident, which he explained ‘was what was expected and justified us in sending the collection here’.

Mr Collins went on to deny the claim that it had in fact been the Crown Jewels that had been stored for safe keeping in the castle, pointing out by then they were already back at the Tower of London after spending the war at Windsor Castle.

Following the removal of the archives, it was down to the Office of Works to dismantle the thousands of feet of shelving before the rooms could be handed back to the castle. And, not until then could the castle be open to the public, as it had been before the war.

Sebastian Fattorini, Lord of the Honour of Skipton Castle, tells me the archives were indeed stored in the banqueting hall, and there were two square steel funnels which pumped dry, warm air from a big diesel powered engine below.

Of the watchman who stayed overnight, he says: “Apparently he was so scared of the ghost stories he had been told that he used to have a few drinks before he bed down for the night.”

As for the rumour of the crown jewels, Sebastian says he always thought it was not true and a case of mixed messages. “This was because the family once had a replica set of crown jewels in our factory in Birmingham, in for repairs.

“The set is quite large and made up of about 20 to 30 large wooden boxes. Once repaired they were sent from Birmingham to London to be sold. Due to the weight the van looked overloaded and was stopped by police. The story goes when police asked what was in the van ? The driver proudly proclaimed “The Crown Jewels” I think this was in the 1960s or 70s.”

He adds: “However I have had it confirmed that Skipton Castle did look after bits of the Crown Jewels during the war and that the Crown Jewels were scattered throughout the country to stop them being captured in case of a Nazi invasion.”

MANY of us have been gripped by the new adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, much of which was filmed in Craven - including Grassington and Broughton Hall, and now it seems, viewers in the United States have similarly fallen for its soothing effects in these truly difficult times of the coronavirus pandemic.

The series proved to be one of the most successful ever for Channel 5 and a second series will be made, with filming due to start sometime this year, when coronavirus restrictions allow.

The six part series, with a Christmas special, has now crossed the Atlantic where it has been described by the mighty The New York Times as arriving in ‘an America in need of its own relief, amid a still-surging pandemic and wrenching political upheaval.’

One, viewer, commenting in response to the article wrote: “I’m watching it as a soothing balm after the terrorist attack on Washington. Episodes help my nerves in between news reports. It is wonderful, like a cold drink of water on a hot day. Recommend to Americans to help in this horrific time of Covid and terrorism.”

Another commented: “A Yorkshire dialect word that was in common usage in Herriot’s (and my) day was “shippon”, a noun meaning cowshed or byre. I once met a man who’s last name was Shippon; he was not amused when I told him what it meant.”

Other viewers however were less impressed, and picked up on a scene when Herriot left open a gate - scandalous indeed, and something our friends across the Atlantic pointed out a true countryman would never do.

THE Skipton based Principle Trust children’s charity delivered toys to children who spent Christmas at Airedale Hospital, and also to Bradford’s Children’s Services, which currently manages eight children’s homes.

It originally teamed up with the hospital, to help with its appeal for gifts, such as colouring books and puzzles, before expanding to help children in Bradford.

Kirsty Randell, matron for children’s services at Airedale Hospital said: “We are extremely grateful for the gifts provided by Principle and their supporters for our young patients. It’s not easy being in hospital at any time, let alone over Christmas, but these gifts and puzzle books will make all the difference to the children in our care over the festive period.

“An enormous thank you from all of us here at Airedale to everyone who has supported this appeal to give children in our hospital a happier Christmas. ”

50 YEARS ago, on January 22, 1971, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ was terrifying audiences at The Classic Cinema in Skipton. The cinema was also playing Coogan’s Bluff, starring Clint Eastwood. Over at the Plaza, it was El Condor, staring Lee Van Cleef and Jim Brown; and for the children, Alakazam The Great and the cartoon ‘The First Spaceship on Venus’.

Weightwatchers - now known as just WW - announced it was coming to Skipton and was staging a free open meeting for all those wanting to find out more at the ‘old people’s centre, Swadford Street.

Regular classes, it announced, would be held at the Swadford Street centre from the start of February, 1971.