Yarndale, the History of Textiles and Skipton Auction Mart

We could never have imagined we’d be looking back at ten years of Yarndale when the tiniest seeds of an idea were sown way back in 2010. Researching another event focussing on sustainability and the viability of sheep farming when the cost of shearing each sheep was £1 and the price paid for that fleece was around tuppence, it became clear something needed to shift. And what better way to shine a light on the brilliance of this sustainable resource which grows so well in this area, than a wool show in Sheep Town? 

Skipton, in Craven, is a brilliant location for an event to showcase wool. The town is what it is today in part because of wool. Sheep farming has always played a large part in Craven’s textile heritage. The name Skipton is derived from the Old English words “sceap”, meaning sheep and “tun” or town, so of course it’s just right that Yarndale would take place in Skipton. And where better to base the show, than the Auction Mart?

The natural environment in Craven in the Yorkshire Dales provides good conditions for sheep farming. Because of this, sheep have been raised in Craven for their fleece since before the arrival of the Romans. In Medieval times Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory also grazed their sheep in the fields here. Sheep farming could be very prosperous. Fountains Abbey made three times more money from selling wool than anything else it produced.

After the sheep were sheared, people used a weighted stick, known as a spindle, to spin the soft fleece into a long thread. The threads could then be woven together on a loom to make a warm fabric. This weaving often took place in the home.

This all changed during the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s. Craven’s abundant supply of water made it the perfect place for new steam-powered textile mills. Many owners of water-powered corn mills switched production to textiles. Alongside wool, cotton weaving also arrived in the area.

By the 1800s, new mills with steam-powered machinery would switch between weaving wool and cotton depending on which gained the most profits. New large spinning frames and power looms meant production increased at great pace. The Leeds Liverpool Canal, completed in 1816, also meant that coal and raw cotton could easily be transported in, and finished goods could be transported out.

The Auction Mart

Skipton has always been an important market town in Craven where agriculture and textiles came together. Cattle markets took place on Skipton High Street up until 1906, when they were moved to Jerry Croft behind Skipton Town Hall.

2002.430: The cattle market on Skipton High Street in the 1890s © Craven Museum & Gallery

Livestock would be sold at open air markets like these through bargaining, which could often be a lengthy process. In response to this, regular auctions also began to take place from 1886 onwards. By the end of the 1800s, the Auction Mart on Broughton Road had been built and was a popular place to sell sheep and cows. After the end of World War Two, the Cattle Mart Company and the Auction Mart Company finally merged.

In 1990, a new, more modern site was built on the outskirts of Skipton to continue trade. The Auction Mart still functions on this site today and is now also home to the Mart Theatre and other creative events including Yarndale. 

Each year, we welcome visitors from across the country and around the world to our weekend celebration of the brilliance of wool in all its forms. Since the very first show in 2013, we have raised awareness and funds for our chosen charity with our Worldwide Creative Projects. People from around the world have sent knitted and crocheted items to form a display at the show. 

This year’s challenge was to create colourful crocheted or knitted chain bunting in any colour with 10 links representing 10 links for our 10th Birthday! To date, we have received nearly 4,000 links. 

This year, to celebrate our tenth birthday and the textiles heritage of Skipton, we partnered with Skipton Town Hall and Watch This Space to bring woolly workshops to Skipton for everyone to join in. 

Throughout this series of short creative sessions we have been sharing skills and teaching simple knitting and crochet techniques to make a splendid chain bunting display to welcome visitors to Skipton. 

Some of these sessions were run at Broughton Road Community Centre, just along the road from where the Auction Mart was built in the late 19th Century. Further sessions were run at Skipton Town Hall, right next door to where sheep used to be sold in Jerry Croft in the early 20th Century.  

This weekend, visitors travelling to Yarndale by train might notice these places. Key places marking the history of the area. The Yarndale buses from the station will pass the old Auction Mart site on Broughton Road, (now Morrisons supermarket). Then on, up to the top of the High Street, where on the right, the Town Hall is the first site for our fabulous display of chain bunting. And at the show, in the current Auction Mart, visitors will see a huge installation of bunting which has been linked together with chain bunting sent by people from all over the country and around the world. All coming together to celebrate and enjoy the wonders of wool and making. 

Which is what Yarndale is all about.  

Skipton Town Hall is the hub for Culture & Heritage in Craven with an exciting programme of Events and Performances throughout the year. 

We aim to inspire and enrich the lives of our audiences through unforgettable experiences, innovative learning and rural outreach programmes. We strive to make Arts, Culture and Heritage accessible to all, and to provide every member of the community with opportunity to participate. 

Watch this Space is a Heritage Action Zone project funded by Historic England. It is about looking at spaces (any spaces) differently and asking how they might be used to support, encourage, and build the creative and cultural sector in Skipton. The project enables collaboration between artists, new skills to be learnt and ideas to be tested – it gives the ‘space’ for people to explore. 

With thanks to King Cole for the yarn.