Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Finishing the animal enclosures

Everywhere in the park things are taking shape and getting nearer to completion, and even though there’s still a lot to be done, every day there are signs that we’re in the final stages. The animal enclosures and the aviary have now been constructed and the back wall is clearly visible (with work still going on) behind the Grotto – which has now been fully cleared of its tangle of ivy, and has a smart new pair of Victorian style street lights. You can now see the steps of the aerial walkway that climbed from the cave up and across to the flower gardens behind the castle (I haven’t drawn these right, because in my sketch they don’t seem to end up in the cave as they should – the sunlight was very bright that afternoon and the shadows too dark for me to make it out properly). 

The Rose Garden

Beneath the bank of rhododendrons the rose garden has been planted with red and white standard roses in neat lines that look like something straight out of Alice-in-Wonderland, and dainty wooden slatted benches are appearing all over the place, all curvaceous and pretty. (Will they be comfortable? I’m not too sure about this, but time will tell.) 

Glasshouses

Glasshouses and dome

The glasshouses are still getting finishing touches but at least we can see them properly now the hoardings have been removed. A chance for me to try drawing the dome, and make a mess of it – I got all the elipses wrong and the proportions aren’t right either, even after a couple of attempts – but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to practise from now on!

Cherub on the north fountain

And at long last the fountains are complete, cherubs and all. I wish now that I’d had the chance to sketch the top bits before they were hoisted up and fixed in place because actually it’s quite hard to see all the detail, as they’re so high up – but they look lovely.

Cherub on the south fountain

Next Sunday is the Cliffe Castle Garden Party – not the official opening of the completed park as was originally planned (this will happen at a later date) but a chance to celebrate everything that’s happened so far, and with work going on at the speed we’re seeing now, there’ll be plenty more finishing touches ready by then….


More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

It’s now more than a year since work started in the park and we’re past the deadline for completion, but with a project of this scale these things can happen.

This means that the Grand Opening Event on July 30th has had to be trimmed down accordingly and won’t be the full-blown celebration that was originally planned; instead it’ll be a day of music and other attractions, re-titled the Cliffe Castle Garden Party. But for me, the fact that work is still going on means there are still interesting stories unfolding and lots still to record. 

Lowering the carved dolphin support onto the fountain base

The restored marble fountains are being put back together, and I caught the act of lowering the carved dolphin support and fixing it into place on the north fountain. These structures are like tiered wedding cakes – two great dishes one on top of the other supported by carved middle sections, topped off by carved cherubs (which had been badly damaged – one was missing a head, and the other was riding a headless goose. Or swan? You can see the whole post I did on the unrestored fountains here.) 

Fountain before restoration

Fountain before restoration in 2016

It was exciting to see the cleaned up dolphins back, and interesting to watch as holes were drilled in the marble so the whole piece could be pinned in place on top of the first dish with stainless steel threaded rods. The blue pipes that supply water up to the top of the fountain had to be carefully threaded through each section…but before that could happen the crane had to carefully raise and lower the thing into place. Guiding it into position was a two man job and the best way to grasp hold of it was generally one hand firmly in a dolphin’s open mouth… 

Drilling holes and lowering the dolphins into placeThreading water pipes through dolphins Quite tricky, as the dolphins all have to end up facing in exactly the right direction. 

Then it was all about making sure everything was level and perfectly upright…. and in a day or so the next section will be going up. Before long now we’ll see the fountains looking as they once were – and I can’t wait to see water spouting and gushing and overflowing! 

In the meantime I hope I catch more of these moments as the restoration story continues. It’s easy to miss – and often things happen before I know it and take me by surprise. This was a lucky day. 




More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

The beech tree in early autumn, in earlier and healthier times

The beech tree in early autumn, in earlier and healthier times. (photo: Sue Skinner) 

Throughout living memory, one of the most well known and well loved landmarks in Cliffe Castle Park has been the ancient and truly enormous beech tree in the lower field. It stood alone and magnificent; without competition from other trees nearby it had room to grow to its full potential and acheived a size and shape that was something to marvel at. It was beautiful in every season. 

Early spring (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early spring (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early summer (photo: Sue Skinner)

Early summer (photo: Sue Skinner)

Autumn (photo: Sue Skinner)

Autumn (photo: Sue Skinner)

Winter (photo: Sue Skinner)

Winter (photo: Sue Skinner)

Sadly the tree had been struggling in recent years and had reached the point where it was in danger of collapse, and with a tree of this size even falling branches can be dangerous; each massive branch was as big as a sizeable tree. Last week it finally had to be felled. 

Beech Tree felled (photo: Sue Skinner)

Beech Tree felled (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump and trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump and trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Stump (photo: Elaine Cooper)

Stump (photo: Elaine Cooper)

It’s never easy to have to see an ancient and well loved tree taken down, but anyone looking closely in recent times will have seen it was in trouble. In the words of Bob Thorp, Trees & Woodlands manager: “the signs indicating a potential catastrophic failure have been present for at least 5 years – only 20% of the crown was producing normal sized leaves and shoot extension, the other 80% of the crown struggled to produce even small leaves and practically no shoot extension.  The effect of this loss of vigour is the tree is unable to make and  lay down sufficient new wood to deal with  mechanical stress – when that happens the tree begins to collapse.”
The tree was in danger, and potentially a danger to anyone passing by. The cause of its failure was probably the fungus Meripilus gigantes, a parasite of beech trees that makes the top of the tree slowly thin out until finally it can’t sustain itself and will start to collapse. 

Fungus on the trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the trunk (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the ground at the root (photo: Sue Skinner)

Fungus on the ground at the root (photo: Sue Skinner)

Unfortunately I was away from Keighley at the time this happened – if I’d been there I’d have been sketching the whole process of felling – but this is an important event to record. It’s important to say our goodbyes and remember an old friend, so this has had to be a photographic rather than a sketched account – and it’s good to have a few pictures of the tree in all its glory at healthier times. 

Some of the timber has been saved, (a cross-section of the bole will be particularly interesting and hopefully may be displayed somewhere in the park or museum) and it may be possible to use some of the wood in a creative commemorative way – but all this is for the future. For now, it’s time to celebrate this wonderful tree and treasure our memories. 

Do you have pictures or memories of the beech tree you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments section below! 

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

The bandstand roof has been repaired. It required a full framework of scaffolding, ladders, and protective fencing (which made it a pretty interesting thing to climb on) and luckily I managed to sketch it one evening earlier in the Spring before the scaffolding came down. (I love drawing scaffolding). Then the front of the stage needed attention, and the steps, and various other bits and pieces…. 

Some parks have pretty, round, wrought iron Victorian bandstands. They look very nice and especially so with a brass band or a string quartet or a folk band playing in them. I know some people were hoping that the restoration project would include a Victorian design for the bandstand, but actually this kind of structure doesn’t necessarily enhance the music, especially certain kinds of music, or even make it very easy to hear. 

Because of its design – it is after all shaped like a giant megaphone – the bandstand does work really well from an acoustic point of view (as demonstrated by Philip Rushworth not too long ago, on a recent Heritage Walk, seen here) – and I love sketching performances in the park. The musicians are always really enjoyable to hear but also great to watch and wonderful to draw. 

Irish band concert on the bandstand

The bandstand is now ready to host performers again and this Sunday afternoon sees the start of the summer programme of bandstand concerts – starting with Hurricane Blue – who I sketched when they played here last year:

Hurricane Blue playing a bandstand concert July 2016

The sloping lawn is a perfect place to sit and listen to bands play

And there’s always such a variety of music in the bandstand programme – which is another good reason to keep the design of the stage as it is. How would a 6 piece heavy rock/symphonic metal group like Wolf 359 look (or sound) on a pretty little wrought iron bandstand? I sketched them belting out a fantastic set at last year’s Fresh Aire music festival (sadly not happening this summer, but hopefully scheduled again for next year). 

Fresh Aire 2016 Bandstand sets and spectator

The bandstand is such an important part of life in the park and will be welcoming performers and audiences all summer – including of course, at the Grand Opening Party on the 30th July when we celebrate the completion of the restoration and the re-opening of the park. 

Lots to look forward to! 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Back in April, the bank beneath the glasshouse terrace that stretches between the museum and the junction of paths at the top of the hill near the playground was planted with rhododendrons.* Just last week, a lot more planting started and the lawn in front of the bank is now laid out as planned (I’ll get to sketching all this sometime soon) – but the bank of rhododendrons got me really excited when I first saw it more than a month ago. As soon as the plants were in it looked lovely, but in only a few days some of the little bushes started to throw out buds which soon began to hint at opening, and at this moment they looked so extraordinarily exotic. It made me realise how the Victorians must have seen them, when these plants were new arrivals in England – there’s such drama and excitement about the way the buds prepare themselves as if they’re going to explode into something alien and unknown. As I sketched them I was wondering what they reminded me of and I found myself thinking not of plants at all, but more mythical things. They look like dragon’s eggs, about to hatch. 

Perhaps this isn’t quite as crazy an idea as it might seem. The rhododendrons that were originally planted all along this bank – and on the other side of the house as well, so the the building stood framed by an arc of glorious coloured blossoming bushes – all came from China, famously a land of dragons. And just overhead, clutching a weather-vane and gazing balefully across the lawn towards the Aire Valley is a more gothic, Northern type of dragon, hard to see clearly in detail because it’s perched so high up, but a landmark visible from all over this part of the park.  

A few days later the buds opened and spilled out in a riot of colour. I have to confess that I don’t often get this excited by horticulture, but all this was somehow so much more than I’d expected – I suppose I’d got caught up in the story as much as the drama and beauty of the flowers. 

For such a long time up until now the daily stories in the restoration project have been about chopping down, digging out, excavating and construction, and the landscape has been one of mud and frequently churned up grass – so the start of planting and the sight of these flowers seemed like a real celebration and the start of something new. There’s so much more to come! And already it’s possible to imagine what this part of the park will look like at the same time next year….. more beauty, and lots more stories. 

* For those interested in such things I asked about the varieties of different rhododendrons planted and they include Edith Bosley, Snow White, Mothers Day, Horizon Monarch, Mrs Lowinsky, Albert Schweizer and Delta. The ones I sketched are (probably} Horizon Monarch. 

POSTSCRIPT: it’s not long to go now until the Saltaire Arts Trail – the weekend of the 27th to 29th May – and I’ve sent in another entry to the Postcard Exhibition to be held in the United Reform Church in Saltaire Village – a drawing of a fantastically gnarled old root grubbed out during the relandscaping somewhere in the park. All the postcards will be on display and for sale (at extremely reasonable prices) with the proceeds going to The Cellar Trust – so if you fancy an original watercolour of a genuine Cliffe Castle root get along to the exhibition! 




More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

​Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Anything that comes to light during the digging and landscaping is exciting. Buried for who knows how long, even the plainest objects are mysterious. These were dug up some time ago from the site of the pond….. 

The broken pieces of ceramic are mostly bits of teacup and maybe a plate, and when you look closely they’re very lovely; where the glaze has cracked the surfaces are covered with an intricate spider’s web of delicate crackling. I enjoyed holding them one by one and gazing at them in the same way I sometimes look at pebbles; things that are at first sight quite ordinary can suddenly reveal themselves to be astonishing when you take the time to look. 

Whenever there’s digging going on (and there’s been plenty of that during the restoration project) everyone always hopes that coins will turn up; golden sovereigns if possible, or a Roman hoard or something of the sort, and this almost never happens. But these two coins were found in the lower field and everyone immediately wanted to know what they were (and if they were valuable). Not very, as it turns out – one is a penny, dated some time after 1860, and the other is less easy to identify because it’s so corroded, but because of its size (smaller than the penny) it could be a mill token – the currency mill owners sometimes used to pay their workers, who could then redeem them for goods in shops also owned by their employer (a strategy convenient and profitable for the owners but less so for their employees). 

The milk bottle immediately filled me with nostalgia as I remember the obligatory morning milk we drank at school which came in almost identical bottles. This one has Bradford Model Milk Co. Ltd Bradford moulded into the glass on one side and BOTTLE 1d DEPOSIT on the other – and it’s in perfect condition, with no chips or cracks. Who forfeited the deposit and dropped it or threw it away, and how did it end up embedded in the footings of the terrace steps below the Castle? 

These are not the first interesting objects to be dug up in various parts of the park during the restoration and I’ve written about some of the other finds, like these, before. They may not be as significant or as dramatic as some archaeological finds that have been made locally, but they have a story of their own, and it’s one that links us to the past in a tantalising way. Who was it that drank tea out of those teacups, and who dropped and broke them? What did that penny buy, and whose pockets and purses did it ride around in? And who was the last person to hold it in the palm of their hand before it was dug up near the site of the pond not long ago? 

All these finds will be on view in the museum in due course, taking their place amongst some of the extraordinary things found in the Aire Valley, some old and some really ancient. One of the most popular exhibits – with children, anyway – is a reconstruction of the giant three metre long newt Pholiderpeton Scutigerum Huxley whose fossilised remains were found in a mine-shaft and which are also on display. Impossible not to be amazed by this thing and marvel at what it must have been like, dragging itself on weak legs through the swamps and bogs of prehistoric Bradford, catching fish. I think it was the first thing in Cliffe Castle I ever sketched, and I’ve drawn it again as a postcard to go in an exhibition as part of  Saltaire Arts Trail (during the weekend of 27th – 29th May) to be held in the United Reform Church in Saltaire Village. These postcards will be on display and for sale (at extremely reasonable prices) with the proceeds going to The Cellar Trust – so if you fancy bagging an original watercolour of Pholiderpeton, get along to the exhibition and scoop it up! 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

​Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

After a long pause at the site of the pond when nothing much seemed to be happening, in the last couple of weeks things have really started to move. 

I hadn’t sketched in this part of the park for a long time, but I didn’t realise just how long until I looked back and found that it was back in the summer of last year. Things have moved on quite a bit since then, but there have been delays – mostly because of the complicated infrastructure needed for the workings of the pond and the two fountains – and for a long time there hasn’t been anything much to record. 

But all that changed recently when mysterious box-like brick structures started to appear in the pond itself, and then a great deal of digging and landscaping began all around the perimeter. Pipes were laid in deep trenches that seemed to be going in all sorts of directions. Mounds of topsoil were built up around the site and rockwork began to be laid along the edge of the pond itself – these lines of rock will define the edges of the pond and the path that will go around it. And then a large green cupboard the size of a small shed was installed, evidently full of electrical connections – the control centre for all the filtration and supply for the pond and both the fountains. I haven’t had time to study all this groundwork and infrastructure enough to be able to describe it or explain it properly, but I did manage to catch some of the work as it developed – and things are moving along fast. 

Looking more carefully at all the sketches I’ve done of the pond, I wish I’d thought of doing some drawings at regular intervals from a fixed point. What I’ve got is hardly an accurate record of how the landscape has changed – I can’t even work out if I’ve got the trees in the right places, though the largest ones are roughly where they should be. A landscape architect would have drawn this in a much more faithful and recognisable way! It’s just another of those things that I’m learning as I go along. 

The next exciting thing will be the return of the fountains, fully restored and ready to go back on their bases and have the water supply connected; there’s still a lot to do, but things are shaping up! 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

As part of the Grand Opening Event at the end of July, I’m excited to say that Cliffe Castle Museum are going to be putting on an exhibition of all my sketchbooks and drawings from the Drawing The Work sketching project! 

Kirsty Gaskin the curator has come up with a really clever plan for the exhibit – to have a static display with the drawings and sketchbooks behind glass with the pages turned over day by day, but also to make two facsimile sketchbooks for people to handle and look through. I think this is a real brainwave, and I’m so lucky to have the museum putting all this into action. 
I’m absolutely delighted about the exhibit because I hope it can demonstrate how sketching can be a really unique and exciting way to record a project of this sort – and I’d love to encourage more people to do it. It’s been interesting to realise over the course of the restoration project just how how my sketching has had unexpected benefits – not just for me, but also for the Conservation Group, the museum, for workers on the site and for visitors to the park (- I’ll write a bit more about this later on in another post as it’s something worth exploring). 

While I’m announcing things – I want to say a big thank you to Yorkshire Urban Sketchers and to the international Urban Sketchers movement for all their inspiration, support and encouragement, because without them I would never have started any of this, let alone been able to carry it through. 

The Grand Opening is on Sunday 30th July, and will be an extraordinary Victorian themed day with some amazing attractions – follow the link to the announcement on Facebook and more details will be posted nearer the time. Posters are already up in the park. Put the date in your diaries!  

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

​Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Tucked away beyond the Conservatory lies the Grotto… 

If you arrive at Cliffe Castle from the car park and make your way down the path towards the museum the first thing you come to is the mouth of the tunnel, dark and spooky; long ago the entrance was planted with ferns (which would have looked lovely) and more recently it was liberally draped with ivy which added to its darkly gothic tone. Up until now I have to admit that it gave me the creeps. 

But I’ve always found that drawing something is a good way to overcome any misgivings, and now I’ve sketched it from all sorts of directions I feel quite differently about it. 

As you come further down the path you realise the tunnel is part of a larger structure, a sort of conglomeration of rockwork that’s quite hard to describe. Most of the vegetation has been stripped off it and now you can see more or less what it must have looked like when it was first built and before it was planted – mostly with rhododendrons – and it’s very strange indeed. 

To understand it better it’s helpful to know a bit of its history…. 

In the late 1870’s when Henry Isaac Butterfield was executing his grand building and landscaping plans at Cliffe Castle, he employed a French stonemason Monsieur Aucante, a specialist in the field of ornamental rockwork to create a marvellous structure that would provide – 1. a cleverly concealed entrance by means of a tunnel, for tradespeople and goods to enter the house with their deliveries unseen by the family and guests;  2. an aerial walkway leading up to the flower gardens and glasshouses at the back of the Castle; 3. an intriguing rocky retreat rather like a natural cave, that would look eye-catching and romantic and serve as a cool place to sit in on a hot summer’s day; and 4. a striking piece of architectural landscaping that would shape the wonders of nature’s creation into something even more grand, and provide a support for an attractive natural display of flowering shrubs. 

Clearly Monsieur Aucante set about the task with skill and ingenuity, creating a striking feature with natural pockets in the rock to be filled with soil that would support plants, but it wasn’t until I was drawing the strange fluid shapes of this flowing convoluted limestone that I realised what I was looking at, and why it looks so strange. These swirling holes and curling channels have been eroded by churning water and pebbles – they’re exactly what you find for instance at The Strid – and they would have been formed horizontally, not vertically, which is what makes them look so odd in a vertical wall. It makes you wonder where exactly all this rock was collected from, and how it was extracted and transported from its original site, presumably by horse and cart. 

Nevertheless the skill of the craftsman didn’t stop there. Some of the stone has been worked – if you look closely you can see that the central pillar supporting the front of the cave is carved in the form of a tree trunk. Because it’s now closed off with locked iron gates you can only stand outside and wonder what it might have been like in its heyday, and speculate as to whether the bricked up wall to the right as you peer into the gloomy interior hides the beginning of the flight of steps that led up to the aerial path that wound its way to the gardens beyond. 

The whole place is a bit of a mystery. Although it’s referred to as the Grotto, this is one thing that it’s not; a grotto is a highly decorated, often shell-encrusted whimsy and this was never conceived as such a thing, but it’s hard to find a simple word to sum up what this whole feature is and the word Grotto has somehow stuck. And in a way it sounds right, I think, even though to be pedantic we should be calling it something else. Grotto. A strange, fantastical, weird place, full of possibilities and probably odd stories that we may never know. It deserves more attention and with some loving care, who knows what strange and beautiful things may develop in this rather forgotten corner? Only time will tell. 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.

​Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site back in June 2016 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can. 

From time to time the Conservation Group volunteers organise a guided walk in the park to give people a chance to find out a bit about what’s going on, and learn something of the history that’s the reference for all the restoration work – and last Saturday morning was a spectacularly beautiful day for a walk in the park. I tagged along and observed from a little way off, sometimes hiding behind a tree in the hope that people wouldn’t notice me sketching and get self-conscious.

Starting at the museum entrance where people gathered on the steps, we trooped around the corner to the Grotto behind the Conservatory to learn some interesting facts about this strange and rather neglected part of the park (it’s a weird feature and I’ve been studying it recently, intending to do a whole post on it; here’s a sketch by way of a preview) – 

Those who weren’t daunted by the damp gloominess of the tunnel obediently shuffled through it and out into the spring sunshine on the other side, and I got chatting to Councillor Zafar Ali from Bradford Council who had noticed me sketching and wanted to have a look. (We exchanged cards, and I ended up using his with a picture of him on it to cover up the drawing I did of Claire as she delivered her commentary at the Grotto. I’ve been trying to sketch members of the group whenever I get the chance and so far I’ve only captured her from a distance so I thought this was an opportunity not to be missed, but it was such an appalling drawing I had to find a way to get it out of sight. I’m determined to do better soon.)

The next stop was at the other end of the Castle at the children’s playground, a good place to sketch from a slight distance without being too obvious. By now Claire was really getting into her stride; I was really enjoying her commentary and it was obvious a lot of other people were too… 

Then it was down the hill to Dark Lane and across to the other side of the park by the Holly Lodge entrance, and I stalked the walkers as they wound along Dark Lane path and then crept up on various individuals in the crowd. 

Next the bandstand. This is always an interesting talking point as many people wonder why the 1960’s design is not being rejected in favour of something more Victorian, but the fact is that it does a really good job, acoustically, and what we want is a bandstand that works. So it’s getting a makeover – the roof has been repaired, and it’ll be made sound and spruced up. Philip did an acoustic demonstration – 

Last stop was the pond, and by now I’d filled several pages of sketchbook and run out of steam. The next Heritage Walk run by the Conservation Group will be on Saturday 29th April, starting at 11.30 – so if you fancy a walk in the park, put the date in your diary! 

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information here, and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.