Craven Museum and Gallery: The rural Yorkshire Dales museum that boasts Mouseman furniture and a first edition Shakespeare collection from 1623

EVER since Craven Museum and Gallery was founded in the autumn of 1928 by local groups who wanted to bring together a number of existing collections, it has devoted itself to telling stories of the Dales and its people.

The words of those who have lived and worked amid the breathtaking scenery of one of the loveliest parts of Yorkshire are woven through its wide-ranging and eclectic collections, embracing a rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays from 1623 and the furniture created by one of the most beloved craftsmen of them all, Robert Thompson, the Mouseman, whose carved mice became his trademark.

The museum’s home for the past 50 years has been in Skipton Town Hall. Its place at the heart of the community is fitting, because so many of its collection of about 60,000 objects have been donated by the residents of Craven and their generosity has helped to tell the story of the area over the course of centuries, from prehistoric and Roman times.

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It was just such generosity that brought the museum what it calls Craven’s National Treasure – the First Folio. It belonged to local businessman John James Wilkinson, whose sister, Ann, bequeathed it to the museum in 1936. It is one of only about 235 copies known to exist worldwide, and until 2003 was thought to be a much less rare Second Folio from 1632. But research proved it to be true First Folio, and it has been on permanent display since 2011, the museum having the distinction of being one of the few places where that is the case.

A penny farthing hangs from the ceilingA penny farthing hangs from the ceiling
A penny farthing hangs from the ceiling

An act of generosity also gave the museum its collection of Mouseman furniture. Craftsman Robert Thompson was born in 1876 and lived in Kilburn, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. He created his signature trademark of a carved wooden mouse whilst working on a church screen, each there to represent "industry in quiet places”.

Harrogate collector Kenneth Hodgson was so passionate about the Mouseman’s furniture that he went without holidays to save the money to buy it, and the museum has him to thank for its collection.