Archives for category: Archeology

​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.

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​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 in June and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Treasure means different things to different people. To me, anything that’s been buried and then rediscovered years later has a story to tell, and trying to unlock its history and understand what it is and how it got there makes it fascinating and uniquely valuable.

Intriguing old corroded metal objects dug up during the site clearance

These objects were discovered by metal detector while the top terrace was being cleared, before the diggers started work on the deep trenches for land drains and the foundations for the new buildings. As soon as I heard about their discovery I was dying to have a look and to draw them and I wasn’t disappointed – rusty, corroded, broken, and when I saw them, still encrusted with dirt – they all have a story. And if their full meaning is impossible to make out that only makes them more intriguing. It’s tempting to think of cleaning them up, but at the same time their present state is what they now are, and as the manager of the museum Daru Rooke puts it, ‘their mystery is tied up in their corroded uncertainty.’

Some of them are not in fact all that old (there’s a 2p piece there somewhere) but others are obviously from earlier times. Looking closely I could identify nails (some I thought possibly horseshoe nails) and a squashed thing that looked as if it might be silver – perhaps the tip of a cane? Others looked as though they were brass, but I couldn’t work out what they might be. 

Since my sketch they’ve been thoroughly examined by the museum staff and the collection includes ’19th century nails and brads; a disputed umbrella ferrule/ crushed cartridge case and some non specific fixings.’ So the squashed thing could be a cartridge case. I hadn’t thought of that. (I think I prefer umbrella ferrule…) And a brad, for those – like me – who are not familiar with the technical specifications of nails, according to the dictionary definition is: ‘1 : a thin nail of the same thickness throughout but tapering in width and having a slight projection at the top of one side instead of a head. 2 : a slender wire nail with a small barrel-shaped head.’

Very strange rocks dug up from the site of the old pond

Unlike metal, limestone doesn’t corrode. Bury it, and it won’t be very much changed when it’s dug up again, and these extraordinary rocks were unearthed  when the pond site was excavated. They weren’t entirely unexpected as they appear in old photographs, firstly making a craggy sort of edging around the original pond, and later forming the structure of a rockery when the pond was filled in. But perhaps no-one expected them to be quite so wild and strange, the way eroded limestone can be. They’ve now been removed from the site to be stored, ready in due course to be reassembled around the pond and this should be interesting. Another milestone to look forward to!

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information at: https://m.facebook.com/Cliffe-Castle-Heritage-Lottery-Bid-304048249751094, at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.