History of the Museum

The Start of the Collection

The beginnings of the Dales Countryside Museum go back to 1941, when artist Marie Hartley was working with writer, Ella Pontefract. Horne’s Private Museum at Leyburn was closing and with great foresight, Marie and Ella attempted to prevent an important collection from being distributed beyond the Yorkshire Dales.  They bought thirteen lots at the sale, one of which contained the packhorse collar with seven bells. Another was a jug that had been used at wedding love feasts in the Dales for 200 years. They also purchased several knitting sheaths. Here began the unique collection that we see today.

Over the years, other items were purchased and donated, and together these provide an excellent impression of all aspects of  life in the Dales.

An image of a knitting sheath from the Dales Countryside Museum Collection

A wooden chain-type knitting sheath. The top section contains an inlaid glass panel behind which is the inscription – “when this you see remember me and love me in your mind, Francis Morland June 21st 1829”. Marie and Ella purchased this knitting sheath at the auction of Horne’s Private Museum.

Following the tragic death of Ella in 1945, Joan Ingilby joined Marie  and they spent their time researching the Dales knitting industry and writing The Old Hand-Knitters of the Dales. This resulted in them creating  a fantastic collection of knitting sticks that can be seen in the Museum today.

In early 1960s, Marie and Joan decided that they ‘would record in book form all the old ways of life in the Dales on the farm and in the home’. Their pioneering work included the production of photographic records of Dales people at work. The collection of artefacts began in earnest, and Marie began to provide drawings of the acquired objects for their books. Many of the artefacts held here at the museum are illustrated or described within Marie’s books, such as Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales (1964). Farm sales and craftsmen’s workshops were both sources of objects.

Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby sitting at a table in their study at Coleshouse, Askrigg, studying a map of the Yorkshire ridings.

By the late 1960s, it had become widely known that Marie and Joan had created an unofficial museum in their home and the donation of objects by local people continued. They also kept detailed records created for the acquired objects. The stock book and card index provided information on the provenance of individual items, increasing their significance and value by presenting a historical picture of life in the Dales.


With so many objects, storage now posed a problem. In The Origins of the Upper Dales Folk Museum (1984), Marie and Joan recalls:

We had a small barn with a cart shed and a loft in the corner of the garden. The large farm implements were jammed into the cart shed, and the smaller items were packed in cartons in the chamber above. Also we had a house near our own which we let but retained two back rooms – a back kitchen and a bedroom. These two rooms became a sort of museum

Marie and Joan recognised the need for continuity and, ultimately, to protect the collection from being dispersed beyond the Yorkshire Dales. Two museums offered to house the collection, but their offers were politely declined because Marie and Joan were adamant that the collection would stay in the Dales.

In 1972, Marie and Joan offered it to the then North Riding County Council (now North Yorkshire County Council). After many years in storage, a collaboration occurred between the National Park Committee (now the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) and the County Council, which resulted in the purchase of the former Hawes Joint Station Yard and its buildings at Hawes. The council offered the Goods Warehouse as premises for a museum in 1977.

The disused goods warehouse at Hawes Station in 1967 before it became the Upper Dales Folk Museum

Official Opening

The Upper Dales Folk Museum finally opened on 30 March 1979, seven years after the collection was given to the County Council. An official opening took place. In attendance were Colonel Jackson, Mr W. E. Lockwood (then chair of the Library, Archives and Museums Committee), county councillors, Miss Hudson (the mayor of Richmond), and several museum curators. People who had donated bygones over the years were also invited.

Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby at the official opening of the Dales Countryside Museum in 1979


The Upper Dales Folk Museum was renamed the Dales Countryside Museum on 19 October 1990. The museum was transferred from North Yorkshire County Council to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority in 1997.

A redevelopment project was undertaken in the late 1990s. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, European funding and individual charitable trusts. The extension to the original railway buildings was constructed between 1996 and 1997. This included the creation of a new reception and shop, an education room, meeting room, collection store, event space and a temporary exhibitions venue. The project also included the refurbishment of the Goods Warehouse (housing the current museum displays), and the addition of a mezzanine floor to provide more exhibition space.  

Further space was created through the use of converted railway carriages. Railtrack volunteers laid a short piece of track at the museum, enabling the locomotive and railway carriages to be brought to the site. These were stripped down to house displays and interactive exhibits and are now a significant part of the museum tour. The redeveloped museum was opened to the public in 1998.

The project ‘A Rich Seam: Lead Mining and Textile Heritage’ is the museum’s latest development. It started in 2017, when the museum was given a total of 860 objects by the former Yorkshire Dales Mining Museum in Earby, including mining wagons and tools. The mezzanine floor in the Goods Warehouse was extended to create a new textile gallery. This also allowed the extension of the mining display on the ground floor to accommodate part of the new collection. Also, in 2019, museum volunteers completed the reassembly of the Old Providence Mine Ore Crusher (a water wheel and double roller ore crusher) on the museum’s north platform.