Upper Swaledale history featured in new exhibition at the Garden Rooms at Tennants

Richard Alderson, also known as Neddy Dick, playing a set of stones from the river Swale chipped to form musical notes. Photocredit: SWAAG (Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group) via the Alderson Family History Site.

Years of research into the history of Upper Swaledale and its communities features in a new, free exhibition at the Garden Rooms at Tennants in Leyburn.

Swaledale: Hidden Histories opens today and runs until August 27.

The exhibition will reveal stories and snapshots of the lives of Swaledale’s inhabitants and trace the fortunes of some of those who left the dale.

The research for the exhibition as compiled by local genealogist Derek Wallace.

Whilst most written local history generally focuses on the over-arching stories of an area and its inhabitants, research in archives and documentation can bring back to life the stories of long-forgotten individuals.

Wills, title deeds and other legal documents give valuable insight into the histories of houses still inhabited today, as well as providing fascinating details of possessions and farming practices. Small details can bring those long forgotten back into our minds, many of whom are ancestors of those who still live in the area today.

For centuries Swaledale was largely unknown to the wider world, and indeed the compilers of the Domesday Book failed to record further than Reeth, declaring the lands beyond wasteland.

However, over the following centuries a complex network of families built up communities and villages, interconnected by winding tracks and footpaths.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries mining and farming became central to life in Swaledale, and it became more widely known; however, particularly in the late 19th century, it was romanticised by writers who portrayed it as remote and inaccessible as the Alps.

The exhibition aims to bring to life the stories of long abandoned buildings, chart the ancient families tied to the dale, and trace the life stories of those who took their chances in the wider world. It will also explore how religion, education, the environment, and economics have shaped Swaledale as we know it today and take a closer look at its unique dialect.

County Durham-born scientist Mr Wallace said: “Since moving to Wensleydale, I have developed a keen interest in the history of that part of the Yorkshire Dales known formerly as Suardal, Swardal but now Swaledale.

“In particular that more remote part of Swaledale beyond Muker and Keld as it stretches towards Cumbria. Without the interest of Tennants, the encouragement, knowledge, and support of residents of Upper Swaledale and beyond the seas, as well as the staff in the archives in Northallerton, Reeth and Richmond and my wife Barbara who suffered many long hours of silence, it would not have been possible to show the lives and times of these hardy, long suffering, sometimes forgotten but fiercely independent and proud people of Upper Swaledale.”

The exhibition is open Monday-Friday 8:30am-5pm, Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday 9am-4pm.