A Community Project

Sharing with the Town
What does the Women's Land Army, Turner, Roman cooking pots, Grimbald Crag and the Old Manor House all have in common...?!
Answer - they all feature in the exhibition OUR KNARESBOROUGH OUR STORIES to be held on 28th and 29th September at COGS (Centre on Gracious Street). 

This exhibition aims to raise awareness of the potential for a new Town Museum and Art Gallery in Knaresborough and give a taster of what it could be like....

Town Museum and Art Gallery for Knaresborough

A Town Museum and Art Gallery is sorely needed in Knaresborough. Knaresborough has a rich multi-layered and unique history but its story is not being told. Local children miss out by not finding out about their local history and Knaresborough’s artefacts are being scattered and worse lost. Visitors do not fully engage with and enjoy the town’s cultural heritage because the Court House Museum (the only local museum) can only offer a limited visitor experience because of site constraints. Currently, the Court House Museum has neither the space nor the conditions to provide the appropriate environment for the type of treasures a Town Museum in Knaresborough could potentially display. A Town Museum could be transformative – boosting the local economy, encouraging investment and offering ample scope for the local community to become more engaged with their town’s wonderful heritage.

Nidd riverboat

Work has already begun on an inventory of artefacts and archives that help tell Knaresborough’s story. Several hoards (Roman and medieval) have been found in the vicinity of Knaresborough and these are either being displayed elsewhere or have been sold/dispersed partly because there has not been a suitable local repository for their safe conservation and display. Knaresborian artefacts including Neolithic axes, fine and rare Roman ceramic vessels and medieval coins are on display in other museums but not in Knaresborough. Local archive material which shines a light on Knaresborough’s social, military and industrial history are currently in public archives (in Leeds, Wakefield and Northallerton and elsewhere) and private hands. There are a significant number of local collectors who have photographs, prints, artwork and artefacts, some of whom have indicated they would be willing to lend if there was a Town Museum that could display them. King James’s’ School have a four-hundred-year-old charter signed by James I along with the original school rules but there is nowhere for these to be aired publicly in an appropriate and safe environment that would conserve the documents.


With its unusual geology, fascinating and unique archaeological and historical background, it’s local heroes and villains, it’s rich social and educational history, Knaresborough needs a significant museum to tell the Knaresborough story. It is also a town that has attracted artists for centuries including Turner (who visited and painted Knaresborough four times), William Cave, Buxton Knight, Francis Nicholson, and many many more as well as many contemporary artists and sculptors such as Joseph Baker Fountain, Edward Tibbs, Mark Sofiles etc. There is however nowhere in Knaresborough to showcase this work and an art gallery would complement and enhance a Town Museum.

An exhibition “Our Knaresborough Our stories” is to be held in September 2019 as part of a heritage based Knaresborough Autumn Festival organised by Renaissance Knaresborough. The exhibition aims to gauge interest in and support for a Town Museum as well as involving individuals, community groups and local schools who are lending artefacts and family mementos as well as sharing stories that highlight the history of their families affected by war, poverty, loss of employment in former industry and occupations as well as sharing the history of their homes. Already it is evident there is a significant amount of interest in Knaresborough’s cultural past and the idea of a Town Museum.

The former Girl’s School in Castle Yard would be an ideal location for and indeed has been mooted before as a potential site for a Town Museum. It is ideally located for public and private transport; is sited opposite the Castle and Court House Museum creating a “historic cultural zone” in the heart of Knaresborough, and 3 minutes walk from the High Street and Knaresborough’s historic market place. The building is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster – and is leased by HBC (a 50-year lease with 9 years left to run). It is currently sublet to a dance school and local scout group who use it on a part-time basis, while two-thirds of the building is rarely used. Internally it’s high ceilings, Georgian windows and large rooms lend themselves well to a heritage/cultural display space. It’s 2 and part 3 storey building with its pleasant York stone exterior has scope for imaginative improvements commensurate with a significant municipal building.

It is anticipated that a Town Museum in Knaresborough would have a significant impact on the local economy rebalancing the town so that visitors who are drawn to Mother Shipton’s Cave, Conningham Hall and Waterside (situated in the lower part of town,) would also be encouraged to visit the rest of town i.e. the High Street, the Market Place and the Castle area separated by Nidd Gorge. Empty shops and a lack of investment in recent years has made the High Street look neglected and shabby. The Museum, in conjunction with High Street improvements (also outlined in this bid), could be a catalyst for change, which would bring environmental, social, access as well as economic benefits. It would create an environment conducive to investment and make a Cliff Lift linking the lower and upper parts of town more financially viable. Visitors would have more reasons to visit and to extend their length of stay in the town, further boosting the economy, creating a potentially virtuous economic circle. The Museum would be an educational resource, and a source of pride for local people, creating opportunities for volunteering and capacity building in the local community.

Knaresborough cliff

Initial indications are that the proposal which has been proposed by Renaissance Knaresborough with Harrogate Borough Council’s backing would have the support of the Town Council, the Chamber of Trade, the Knaresborough Civic Society, local environmental and heritage groups, the Knaresborough Historical Society, the Knaresborough Archaeological group to name but a few. The project could provide plenty of scope for local community involvement through oral history projects, potential archaeological investigations, volunteering and school engagement opportunities as well as showcasing much work already undertaken by local heritage focused community groups.

Kathy Allday, July 2019

If you are interested in this exhibition, please have a look at this article calling for help!