‘Our Common Heritage’ exhibition by Westmorland Dales (YDNP)

27th May  – 18th June

This exhibition was the result of collaboration by the Westmorland Dales (Yorkshire Dales National Park) with the local community and was inspired by oral histories collected from some of the commoners and members of the farming community involved with Westmorland Commons.  

The gallery display included information and photographs documenting the history of the commons in the Westmorland Dales and the breeds of livestock running on the commons, particularly the Rough Fell, Swaledale and Herdwick breeds of sheep and also the Fell pony, a native rare breed that can be found grazing the commons in Cumbria.  An interesting selection of farming bygones was also on display.  The exhibition illustrated how the rights to graze livestock on the commons has for years formed an integral part in the running of small family farms adjacent to the fell, playing an important part in the management of flocks and food production.  It also showed how the emphasis of current environmental schemes is shifting the focus from productivity to biodiversity and public access.

 Visitors had the opportunity to listen to recordings made within the last twenty years giving an insight into farming life – some memories including pre-mechanised farming  and experiences of  living in farmhouses that had no water or electricity.

There was a full house for the preview evening when many of those who had taken part in the recordings (or their family members) were in attendance .  They enjoyed the WD presentation, food and a good chance to catch up with farming friends and neighbours for a craic.

The opening of the exhibition coincided with Shap Farmer’s and Makers’ Market.  Added interest for visitors was provided by Ian Grisedale, Jonathan Capstick and Hugh Harrison who brought examples of  Herdwicks, Rough Fell and Swaledale sheep respectively.   A variety of handmade sticks , crafted by Harold Mason, were also on display.  Bill and Isobel Potter, from the Greenholme stud were on hand to chat about Fell ponies and Viv Lewis and John Rowland were there to represent the Cumbria Commoners Association.  Indoors Nicola Estill from WD, provided a ‘make your own sheep’ craft activity for children, June Hill demonstrated rag rug making and Chris Stewart demonstrated wool spinning.  The Old Courthouse Knit and Natter group exhibited some of the items that they have made.

There was a good attendance for the ‘Wild Wool Heritage’ talk by June Hill. June has a life-long interest in sheep, wool, spinning and knitting.  Her enthusiasm for wool was evident as she gave a whistle stop history of wool in this country bringing the subject to life with various objects she had brought with her including a stone spindle whorl dating back to Roman times.

Members of the Old Courthouse Writing Group enjoyed visiting the exhibition and some produced poetry inspired by the themes.

The final special event was a coffee morning was arranged by the Fell Pony Heritage Trust which was very well supported.  Visitors were interested to see the exhibition and many of them then went on to visit the Greenholme Fell ponies at Stoneyghyll. 

The ‘Our Common Heritage’ exhibition was made possible with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  It is on display at Appleby Tourist Information Centre until 16th September.

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