On April 21 1969, a public meeting was held in Skipton Town Hall with Dr Arthur Raistrick in the chair, at which The Friends of the Craven Museum was officially formed.

The museum had been in existence since 1928 and volunteers had been enormously important to its running since then, but the volunteers had not belonged to an official group and the formation of the Friends was an effort to formalise the situation.

The museum itself had come into existence through the sheer hard work and enthusiasm of a group of people mostly belonging to local organisations such as the Craven Naturalists and Scientific Association, the Mechanics’ Institute and adult education organisations such as the Friends’ Adult School and the Worker’s Educational Association (WEA). Several important collections were already in existence, including the archaeological remains from the Elbolton cave excavation, the Craven Herbarium and the Tiddeman collection of reef knoll fossils. These enthusiasts wished to find a permanent home for these collections which, with other items of interest, would form the basis of a local museum. So, on October 6 1928, the new museum was opened by Sir Henry A Miers, president of the Museums Association.

At first the exhibits were housed in a room at the present library and the new museum was the responsibility of the Craven Museum and Archaeological Society. It had a committee and a group of trustees which included many of the local worthies of the time and with Mr J F N Dufty, a master at Ermysted’s, as the recorder. However, it soon became obvious that if the museum was to continue to grow and survive, it would be desirable if it was run and supported by the council, so in 1934 it was officially handed over to Skipton Urban District Council.

The people who had put so much effort into forming the museum worked tirelessly as volunteers, expanding the collection, collecting and cleaning artefacts, preparing displays and working alongside the attendant, and this situation continued for more than 30 years until the council gave permission for the formation of The Friends of the Craven Museum. Under the chairmanship of Dr Raistrick and with Richard Harland as secretary and Walter Walker as treasurer, the organisation had a membership of more than 100 within a few months. They organised open sessions so prospective members could be shown around the museum and see what jobs needed doing and where they felt they could be useful. They applied for, and were granted, charitable status and affiliation to the Mechanics’ Institute.

One of the main achievements over this period was the expansion of the collection of items in the museum. Members had their “ears to the ground” for items such as redundant industrial or agricultural equipment which was due to be scrapped, old minute books from local companies, items from shops changing hands etc, and each time there was something of note acquired it was followed by an article in the press to further raise the profile of the museum and persuade the public not to throw away anything which might prove a worthwhile contribution to the collection.

The physical collection of some of the larger items which members acquired needed a huge amount of organisation and effort. One such item was the Derbyshire ore crusher, a relic of the lead mining industry from the late 18th century found abandoned in Wensleydale.

Volunteers trundled the four-foot-diameter heavy iron wheels over open moorland and carried rollers and fittings large distances to a waiting van for transport to Skipton. There, it was painstakingly restored and found a special place in the museum where it was demonstrated to the public at an open night in 1970.

Sometimes it was necessary to find co-operative farmers who would lend a tractor and, on occasion, allow part of a wall to be dismantled and rebuilt in order to gain access to redundant machinery.

Meanwhile back in Skipton, members of the Friends met every week to help with other vital jobs. At that time the store for the museum was in part of a redundant chapel on Chapel Hill and shelves were installed, the items in store were cleaned, checked, often repaired and listed so they could go on display when needed.

The Friends were responsible for many of the displays which were regularly changed, especially when the window next door to the library – known as Wildman’s window – became available and exhibitions as varied as costume and stuffed birds were on show.

For those who did not wish to be so physically active, there was always the job of labelling exhibits, a slow task done by hand before the days of computers, and some members simply enjoyed the regular talks and outings organised by the group.

Over a period of years individual members researched and wrote leaflets on various items in the museum to be sold to the public. These included topics such as dolls, miners’ tools, sewing machines, clocks and watches and lead mining in the Dales. Copies were distributed to all the schools in the district as part of their objective of using the museum as an educational asset, and much time was spent finding the best way to provide handling objects for local schools.

In those early days there was a strong interest in archaeology and in 1971, under the leadership of Dr Raistrick, members worked on the excavation of Rilston (Rylstone) Tile Works. The kiln uncovered proved to be a Scotch kiln and specimen tiles and bricks were collected for the museum.

Talk of a new museum had started even before the formation of the Friends and it finally came to fruition on December 11 1973 when Mrs JB Coulthurst OBE JP opened the new museum premises in the Town Hall, the place it still occupies today, the museum having been funded by the Coulthurst Trust. There was much work to be done and after the move members set to with their usual enthusiasm to give whatever help was needed. A new curator was appointed, Miss J Harding, as previously the curator had been the chief librarian. An assistant was also appointed, David Williams, whose principle expertise was archaeology, and members of the Friends helped him on several occasions at excavations, most notably with the clearance of a well in Kendall’s Yard, an exercise which also involved members of Craven Pothole Club with ladders and a pump.

In the 1990s the Friends embarked on another big enterprise, which was to publish a book of old photographs, “Around Skipton in Craven in Old Photographs”. These were images collected by the Friends and the book was such a success that it was quickly followed by a second collection, “Skipton and the Dales in Old Photographs”. The royalties from these books has enabled the Friends to give some financial support to the museum for specific projects.

So, over the years the Friends of the Craven Museum have continued to support the museum, though in these days of greater professionalism that support has taken a rather less physical role than dragging machinery across the moors and helping to dig out a well!

Several members still offer support by documenting artefacts – but now on computer. They also help at family events in the museum and recently the Friends have helped financially with the purchase of a rare set of mediaeval coins found at East Marton and now on display in the museum.

An exciting programme to mark the 40th anniversary starts with a demonstration and talk on “Mud and Fire” by experimental archaeologist and master potter Graham Taylor. This will take place in Skipton Town Hall Annexe at 7.30pm on Wednesday October 14. Tickets are available from the museum at £5 or £6 on the door. Other attractions this year include a Call My Bluff evening using objects from the museum collection, a demonstration and talk by Peter Brears, the food historian, a talk by county archivist Keith Sweetmore and a talk on Fred Dibnah’s Chimney Drops by local man Alan McEwan.

New members are welcome and although the annual subscription has increased from the original 5 shillings it is still a very affordable £7 which includes all the lectures and other benefits of being a Friend as well as offering an opportunity to support our unique local museum.