Having captured and catalogued more than two centuries of life in the Dales village that has been her home for 54 years, Eleanor Scarr could be forgiven for taking time out to reflect with quiet satisfaction on her efforts.
But as she surveys the transformed broom cupboard, measuring less than four metres square, which now houses hundreds of documents and photographs telling the story of Askrigg and Low Abbotside’s past, Eleanor’s mind is already on the future.
For the unique archive she has created with, she is keen to point out, help and input from many local friends and organisations, is still not complete.
“I’m looking for more material,” says Eleanor. “Especially relating to events in the parish over the years: flyers, posters, programmes. For example, we’ve got the programme for the 1935 Silver Jubilee of King George V, and there’ve been many more jubilees and events since then. I’d like as much as we can find – but only relating to Askrigg. I’m afraid here’s no room for any material from other villages.”
The archive brings under one roof in a purpose-built space a unique collection of artefacts chronicling the village history: records of the Askrigg Equitable and Benevolent Friendly Society, the oldest of its kind in the country, date back to its inception in 1809, with a ledger containing the names of every president over 230 years. The society’s documents have been collated by local historian and writer, Christine Hallas, and are also available to view on microfiche in the official archives in Northallerton.
Also in the Askrigg archive are replicas of the unique collection of the five village “scrapbooks” from 1965, 1977, 1990, 2000 and, most recently, 2015. The leather-bound originals are kept at Eleanor’s home pending eventual rehousing in the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes. The books record in detail the lives, work, hobbies and interests of every resident in the parish, with pictures and biographies.
The third major collection is of photographs gathered for the Millennium Photographic Exhibition, covering each decade from 1900 to 2000.
When the Askrigg Foundation cleared its three-storey building in Main Street to create affordable homes three years ago, hundreds of files were found stored on the top floor: mainly ledgers, accounts and order books from Banks’s grocery shop, which had been on the same site, and their mill selling cattle food in Pudding Lane, now Silver Street.
“We have catalogued all the ledgers and accounts, and details of what was taken by train from Askrigg before the line closed in the 1960s. There is too much for the archive so they are securely stored in the cellar,” says Eleanor.
The creation of an archive which reflects not only the vast array of activities and events that have taken place in the parish over the centuries, but also its many clubs and societies, has been a dream of Eleanor’s for years. But there were many obstacles to overcome, not least the question of where to house the material. The village hall – to give it its full name, the Askrigg Temperance Village Hall – built in 1906, was itself in need of renovation and the only obvious choice was the cellar.
“I thought about the cellar but it was too dark for the items that people would want to see – mainly the books, and photographs. I wandered upstairs and opened a door to something like a broom cupboard I hardly knew existed, and realised that was just what we were looking for,” says Eleanor.
The village hall committee, which was organising and funding the restoration work on the building, agreed to the walk-in cupboard being given a new lease of life as a village archive.
The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust gave a grant of £822 for the made-to-measure, dry-lined, shelving, carpeting, archive boxes, and hand-made oak sign for the door, and further funds came from the Friendly Society and a men’s club in the village.
“It’s been an ambition of mine for years to have a proper record of this amazing village and parish, and so many people and organisations have helped to realise it,” said Eleanor.
In due course, and with an eye to the future, she is hoping the toilets on the first floor of the village hall may be relocated downstairs, and the space refurbished as a reading room.
“Christine believes the quality and quantity of the material we have gathered would make an ideal subject for a masters student’s PhD. It really is a unique collection. We want to encourage people to see it for themselves,” says Eleanor.
For access by appointment to the archive, or to donate suitable historic material, Eleanor can be contacted on 01969 650 216 or email email@example.com.
Watching TV in the picture are, back row left to right: Leila Bell, Beryl Lambert, Lindsey Wilson, John Banks, Mervyn Wilkinson. Second row down: Jean Brenkley, Glen Cook, Cissy Bell. Third row down: Penelope Lomax, Mrs Fawcett, Dianne Lambert, David Hodgson. Front row: Susan Eastwood, Graham Percival, Bernard Percival. The picture was taken in Mrs Fawcett’s house, Now Lucy’s Cottage, Askrigg.