The Harrison Collection: See inside Yorkshire treasure trove of antiques as owners search for a new home

One of Yorkshire's most significant collections of historic artefacts is under threat of homelessness due to the modernisation plans of a museum where it has been on display for the past 12 years.

Back in 2010, retired farmers Richard and Edward Harrison signed a long-term loan agreement with the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton-le-Hole and donated 10,000 antiques dating back to the Elizabethan age to form a permanent exhibition.

Yet an indefinite display clause was never inserted and the museum's trustees have now decided to refresh the exhibits and have 'evicted' the Harrison Collection, which is housed in a purpose-built room named in its honour.

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The brothers, who used to keep their eclectic range of social history items in the attic of their remote farm near Pickering before they downsized to a flat in Kirkbymoorside, now face a bill of thousands of pounds to put the collection in storage if they cannot find another museum to accept it within the next four months.

One of the issues the brothers and their trustees face is that the collection is not endowed with any money or specialist display cabinets

Only around a third of it is on public display and there are a further 20,000 items already in storage - including clothing worn 300 years ago.

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Advising the Harrisons is Gill Garbutt, a family friend who remembers visiting the collection at the farm when it was laid out in old shops, Beamish Museum-style.

"There was never an agreement that the building would remain the collection's life home, and the new trustees have decided to implement other ideas, new displays and make more varied use of the space," she explained.

Edward Harrison with a cricket bat from the game's early days in the 1770s

"The brothers are in their 70s now and this is their lifetime's work. They began collecting when they were little boys when their father would buy them antiques as Christmas presents. They are real characters who can tell the story of every single item. They had a private museum at their farm arranged into little shops - but it just grew and grew.

"When they moved to their flat, a trust was set up and the museum gave them a dedicated space. If they had paid a peppercorn rent this wouldn't have happened, but that clause was never there. The museum has every right to make this decision and the managers have been very fair."

The list of pieces on display in temperature-controlled cabinets is extraordinary. There are numerous Victorian and Edwardian relics, and even a medieval wheel from a castle that would have been used by dogs whose motion turned the meat spits. There are 19th-century chocolate moulds from the Terry's factory in York and old apothecary equipment from a chemist's shop.

"We've had interest from a small museum in Knaresborough so hopefully something will come of that. The problem is that the trust has no money and the collection does not come with any, or even the cabinets. It will cost the brothers thousands to put it into storage. We need to find somewhere new for it to go, and it is better that the public can see it.

A letter bearing a 'penny black' - one of the first types of postage stamp

"It was popular with visitors but it has been 10 years now and the museum is moving with the times. It's one of the biggest collections in North Yorkshire and it is the Harrisons' life and soul."

The Ryedale Folk Museum said: "The decision was made by the trustees of Ryedale Folk Museum last June (2021) not to seek a renewal to the loan of the Harrison Collection after the 10-year loan period came to an end on 31 July 2022. This decision was communicated to the trustees of the Harrison Collection Trust shortly afterwards, providing them with 13 months' notice to make alternative arrangements.

"Since then there has been a short extension to the loan agreed, for reasons of practicality on both sides. The Highlights of the Harrison Collection exhibition, which has been on display since August 2012, will remain on display until 31 August 2022, with the items due to be removed from the museum site by the Harrison Collection Trust by the end of October 2022.

"The trustees of Ryedale Folk Museum expect to use the exhibition building to display its own permanent collection through a programme of temporary exhibitions. These exhibitions are likely to focus on 'local life' with different themes and stories about the area, although at this stage no specific programme has been agreed.

Retired farmers Richard and Edward Harrison have spent their entire lives building up their collection of historic items

"The trustees assessed the future of the Harrison Collection against a range of factors. This included the museum’s Collection Development Policy, which is a policy requirement of all accredited museums. This policy sets out the themes and priorities for future collecting and rationalisation. The trustees concluded that the Harrison Collection does not fit with the criteria (including objects on loan), as the majority of the collection does not relate to the local area. The trustees also considered the impact on museum storage, resources, care and conservation requirements and what the future aims of the museum are."

The museum's chair Philip Holt added: “After a decade of displaying the Harrison Collection, we have decided that the loan should end as planned and the collection to be returned to the trustees of the Harrison Collection and Edward and Richard Harrison. We are privileged to have had the Harrison Collection, but the trustees feel that it is time to focus on the museum’s own collection and move forward with new projects.

“The last 18 months have been particularly challenging due to the public health crisis and while I feel very optimistic about the future, the first priority is to secure the museum’s future. This is coupled with ambitions laid out in a new 10-year strategy, which puts a greater emphasis on working with communities and local people. My fellow trustees and I believe that the decision to return the loan of the Harrison Collection will help the museum to open up new opportunities for growth and deliver greater public benefit.

“I would like to thank the trustees of the Harrison Collection and Edward and Richard Harrison for the kind loan of their items, and we wish them every success with their own plans for the future.”

What's in the Harrison Collection?

- Elizabethan 'roundel' plates

The entire collection consists of thousands of items, not all of which are on public display

- Jars, shelves and chemist's equipment from an apothecary's shop

- Chocolate moulds from Terry's of York

- 18th-century bone alphabet sets used in schools

- Shop signs and contents

- Clothing that has never been on display

- Sewing equipment

- Victorian food tins and sugar bowls

- Laundry board from Haddon Hall in Derbyshire

- Dog wheel from a castle

- Surgical tools

- An 18th-century cricket bat

- The first postage stamps - known as 'penny blacks'

A burial urn dating back to the 1500s