Skipton

Picture credit: James Greenwood

“The gateway to the Dales.”



Skipton is a small market town in North Yorkshire with a population of 14,623. It is located at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, making it a “gateway” to the area. The town is known mainly for, its castle, canal and wool-making heritage.

Skipton castle was built around 1090 by Norman, Robert Romille and re-enforced to keep out attacks from the Scots. It passed into the hands of the Clifford family during the 14th century and endured a three year siege in the English Civil war. After this conflict the castle was preserved by descendent Lady Anne Clifford, which has made it one of the most complete fortifications in the county. She died in 1676, the last remaining family descendant.

Nowadays it is a popular tourist attraction with plenty of history for visitors to discover. The roof and layout of the castle are largely intact with many rooms to explore including the banqueting hall, drawing room, kitchen and watch tower amongst others. There is also a shop, fun trails for children and conference facilities.

The Leeds Liverpool Canal runs straight through the centre of Skipton. Picture credit: Ian McKillop (IFY community)
The Leeds Liverpool Canal runs straight through the centre of Skipton. Picture credit: Ian McKillop (IFY community)

The Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which runs through the centre of the town was completed in 1816 and is 127 miles long. The stretch between Skipton and Bingley was one of the first parts to be opened in 1773 and would help transport limestone, coal, wool and cotton by boat. Nowadays, since the decline of heavy industry it has become popular with narrow-boating and leisure cruises. Several companies offer canal trips and boat hire, while others are privately owned. Starting at the canalside is the Millennium walk, which is a heritage trail that takes visitors past some of the town’s most important landmarks, including the castle, High corn mill and Caroline square, where there is a memorial plaque to Thomas Spencer, the co-founder of M&S, who was born here.

The Craven museum and gallery has a number of displays which explore the town’s social history, archaeology and art. A recent addition to this free museum is a rare copy of Shakespeare’s first folio, a collection of thirty-six plays published in 1623 and only one of 230 surviving copies in the world. Three of these are also on display in Stratford upon Avon, London and Washington DC. Other galleries include the Roebuck collection which were bequeathed to the museum in 1988 and another displaying costume art.

High Corn mill was built in 1310 and used to be part of Skipton castle’s estate. For many centuries it was the sole corn grinding mill in the town and double the size of its existing structure. Although some of its original features still remain, such as a medieval water wheel it now houses a combination of small businesses and retailers.

Aireville Park is a 20 acre green space, adjacent to the canal, which houses a children’s play area, putting green and football pitches. The area also holds several outdoor events in the town such as a bi-annual triathlon and the fake music festival.

The “Skipton Little Theatre,” was constructed in 1960 from converted stables. It is owned and run by the Skipton players and they stage five performances throughout the year. The theatre is very small, with a capacity of only 72 seats, some of which were purchased from the Leeds Grand Theatre in 2005. In acting circles this venue was famous because there was no passage behind stage for performers to swap sides and re-enter through the opposite wings. Therefore for many years performers had to go outside climb over the roof and then run through a hayloft to swap sides. Today, thanks to renovations, performers still have to go outside, but merely enter through the stage door at the back.

Every year Skipton hosts the Beacons festival, which is an outdoor weekend of music, food and art. There are several stages hosting a range of music performers from folk and acoustic to DJs and a headline act at the end of each day. There are also many art displays, workshops and an on-site theatre. The event takes place in August on the Funkirk estate in Skipton. Each year Aireville Park hosts a leg of the Fake festival tour, which is a pop concert made up entirely of tribute acts, supported by local talent.

Skipton has a multitude of traditional pubs serving hearty food with ale supplied by the town’s Copper Dragon brewery amongst others. The Strata nightclub is located on Keighley Road for those who wish to party the night away. Coffee and Clay offers visitors a unique experience in that they can have a coffee and paint their own pottery too. There are also many restaurants serving food from around the world. Skipton is also one of the few places in the area which has a traditional pie and mash shop.

Due to Skipton’s location at the foot of the Dales there is no motorway linking it to any other places; however a series of “A” roads will take you to towns such as Ilkley on the A65, Keighley along the A629 and the A59 which goes to Lancashire….

The town’s train station was built in 1847 with the coming of the railways to Yorkshire. It was moved three-quarters of a mile along the line in 1876 and has remained here ever since. The important location of Skipton at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales, serving the rural villages that lie within it made the station one of the busiest in the area. Its four platforms include services to Leeds, Bradford, Morecambe and Carlisle, the latter route linking to the famous train journey starting at Settle.

Skipton’s new bus station was opened in 2009 and has eight stands, which carries passengers to several destinations including Keighley, Leeds and Burnley. The town is also a centre for the Dalesbus service, which transports both tourists and residents alike to places, such as Settle, Ingleton and Malham.

Higher education is covered by Craven College, which offers courses in subjects such as Countryside management, teacher training and computer science to name but a few. The town also has two single sex grammar schools, Ermysted’s Grammar for boys and Skipton Girls high for girls, plus one unisex institution called Aireville school.

Skipton has a multitude of sports clubs, ranging from three cricket clubs to rugby union and football. The Tour de France was also enthusiastically welcomed through its streets on the first leg between Leeds and Harrogate. There is also a multi-purpose sports centre and public swimming pool in the town. The Skipton triathlon held at Aireville park, includes a 400m swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run and is the largest in Yorkshire.

One of Skipton’s most notable achievements was when it scooped the best high street award in 2009, beating off competition from more famous ones, such as Portobello Road and Kensington in London. The cobbled streets and emphasis on independent retailers make it a unique shopping experience. Independent jewellers, boutiques, outdoors shops and butchers thrive alongside some better known chain stores for custom.

Skipton has a long tradition as a market town. Picture credit: Colin Smith
Skipton has a long tradition as a market town. Picture credit: Colin Smith

 

Skipton market opens four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and is a long held tradition in the town, dating back to 1204. Traditionally the owners of the castle must grant permission for the market to be held four times a week in the town. Once a hub for animal trading from the surrounding Dales, the street stalls now offer a vast range of goods from meat, cheese and vegetables to DVDs, jewellery and flowers. Many of the traders set up their trading areas or “setts,” from scratch as there are no fixed stalls.

Skipton, the “gateway to the dales” set at the foot of the national park is one of the most pleasant towns in Yorkshire and continues to attract traders and tourist alike.


 

Industry grew up around the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Picture credit: Public domain.
Industry grew up around the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Picture credit: Public domain.

 

Skipton’s first settlers were sheep farmers from around the seventh century and the settlement was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Its name derives from the Anglo Saxon word for “sheep town” and the lands around Skipton were given to Norman noble, Robert de Romille. He built the town’s large Castle around 1090 to enforce Norman rule and defend the town principally against the Scottish. Meanwhile the establishment of a market and trade fairs granted by King John in 1204 made it become the principle settlement at the foot of the hills we know today as the Yorkshire Dales. The entire town revolved around its market with people coming from miles around to sell their produce and stay in the coaching inns, which developed around the high street. In 1310 High corn mill was constructed and is one of the oldest in the county.

In 1309 Skipton Castle passed to the Clifford family and had a major role during the English Civil War. It was at the centre of a three year siege and by 1645 was the last Royalist stronghold in the North, before its surrender.

The town of Skipton grew in wealth and size due to the opening of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in 1773. The lockless stretch between Bingley and Skipton was the first section to be opened in order to transport lime to its neighbouring towns and the woollen mills of West Yorkshire, which were starting to develop. Wool had always been present in the “sheep town,” but now with the canal it could export its wares by boat. Woollen and spinning mills, such as Belleview, Sackville and Firth shed sprouted up alongside this new canal and the town became a thriving industrial centre.

During both the World Wars Skipton had a prisoner of war camp, which held captured German officers and soldiers at Raikeswood during the first and Overdale camp during the second, the latter of which is now a caravan park.

As the woollen industry declined during the 20th Century and the mills closed down, Skipton turned its attentions to tourism. In 1954 the countryside to the north of the town, The Yorkshire Dales was given National Park status and so Skipton became the unofficial “Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.” The tourism industry is now the most dominant part of the town’s economy. The Leeds-Liverpool Canal, once the hub of industry is now popular with narrow boats and for recreational use. The well-preserved castle is also a popular attraction, and one of the most complete examples of a medieval fortification in the county. The town has also developed some service industries too in the shape of the Skipton Building Society which is now one of the town’s major employers and fourth largest bank of its kind in the sector. Skipton has always benefitted from its location, at the foot of the highest ground in Yorkshire, making it a trading hub for livestock and produce at its market, which still takes place four days a week. Its location on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal also helped to create the wealth in which the town enjoys today and in the future.




In 2009 Skipton High Street won the best street award, beating off competition from Kensington and Portobello Road in London no less.

Thomas Spencer, one of the partners of M&S was born in the town.

Skipton Castle was the last Royalist stronghold in the North. Despite a three year siege during the Civil War and it being “slighted” by Oliver Cromwell (destroyed so it could not be used as a fortification) it is still one of the best preserved Norman castles in Britain.

The full name of the town is Skipton- in- Craven