Origins and early history of the Literary Institute
The Institute was built in the 1860s by public subscription at a cost of £257 2s 7d, to provide a venue for residents (in practice men – though the constitution did not exclude women) to meet. Many Swaledale villages had such institutes originally built to provide adult self-education opportunities. Its historic importance and iconic design has been recognised in its Grade 2 Listed status.
The upstairs room had, for many years, an important educational function with a library of books and a daily newspaper—hence the name of the building. Membership was by subscription. Over time its role has changed. It continued to have a social role, with the installation of a billiards table and darts board. Muker Silver Band, which was formed in 1897, had originally practised in a small room elsewhere in Muker, but its growth in the 1920s led to it using the lower room for practice. This room was also used by a bank for visiting services until the mid-sixties. It was also, for a short time, the base for IT services providing remote access to key services.
The growth of other opportunities for social and educational activities in the Dale led to the decline of the main upstairs room as a social venue. So, about twenty years ago, it was decided to turn this upper room into Muker Silver Band’s permanent base where they store their instruments and music and practise twice a week.
The ground floor room continues to be used for occasional meetings, including Muker Parish Council and Muker Show committee. It also houses a small exhibition of historic photos of Muker and videos about the iconic barns with background music by Muker Silver Band and is open most days to visitors.
Major repairs and refurbishments were made to the building a few years ago with financial support from the Richmondshire Community Opportunity Fund. This included reroofing, pointing of the gable end, electrical upgrading, repairs to all windows and painting throughout as shown in the gallery below. The Yorkshire Parks Authority has supported the building through provision of an external interpretation panel and of a video box and posters focusing on the iconic barns (or, as they are locally known, the cow ‘us). There are ongoing plans to continue with the refurbishment to the downstairs room and in particular to develop further the exhibition of historic photos and videos and complement it with an exhibition of local artefacts relating to the social and economic history of the village. There are also plans to make the exhibition more accessible by building an access ramp.