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Rare Shakespeare folio goes on display in Skipton
Skipton folio. Copyright: Craven Museum and Gallery
The Skipton Folio was left to the museum in the 1930s

A rare edition of Shakespeare's plays is to go on display in North Yorkshire after decades hidden from view.

Craven Museum & Gallery in Skipton has owned the first folio for more than 70 years but only recently received enough funding to mount an exhibition.

The "Skipton Folio" was published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, and is believed to be one of only 49 copies still in Britain.

The display, featuring a voiceover by Sir Patrick Stewart, opens on 25 March.

It has been funded by Renaissance Yorkshire and a bequest from a private individual, Mrs Edith Stead.

Sir Patrict Stewart. Copyright: Ian West/PA Wire
The new exhibition features a voiceover by actor Sir Patrick Stewart

Sir Patrick , who will talk visitors through the history of the first folios and Shakespeare's plays, said: "I'm a Yorkshireman, but I'm a Yorkshireman who has, for the past 55 years, devoted much of his life to acting Shakespeare.

"It was my first theatrical love and has remained so throughout my life.

"And so to find that our county now has, and has had for several decades, in its possession a first folio of Shakespeare's plays, albeit not complete, is very exciting to me.

"To have this significant, perhaps the most significant book in the English language along with the King James Bible, on display in Skipton is a marvellous thing and we must all be very grateful to those people who have made it possible."

Pages missing

The exhibition also explains why Shakespeare first folios are important and how one came to be in the museum's collection.

This will be the only first folio on public display in the north of England.

Circa 1600, English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616). Original Artwork: Engraving by B Holl, after a print by Houbraken. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty ImageS
Only 49 copies of the first folio remain in Britain

It is believed that only 750 copies of this first folio were printed and today only about 230 survive, with fewer than 50 in the British Isles.

It is regarded as the most important book in English literature.

For decades the museum thought the folio was a second edition until Dr. Anthony James West, who was compiling a list of all the first folios from around the world, came to Skipton in 2003 and confirmed that it was a first folio.

The 'Skipton Folio' is in far from perfect condition, with all of the comedy plays and the book's title pages missing.

It was bought in the early 1900s by a local businessman, John James Wilkinson.

The Wilkinson family were originally cotton mill owners who ran Primrose Mill in Embsay from the 1850s. They also expanded into tobacco manufacture and had a grocers shop in Skipton.

John James died in 1919 and, having never married, left all of his possessions to his sister Ann. Included in these was his imperfect Shakespeare first folio. When Ann died, in 1936, she left the book to the museum.

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