Archives for category: heritage

A new exhibition opens this week at Cliffe Castle Museum. Keighley’s War commemorates the end of the First World War, exploring some of the ways the lives of the people living in this part of West Yorkshire were affected by the fighting, the trauma and suffering, and the seismic social changes which were a part of the period.

It goes without saying that the First World War is not an easy subject to reflect on. History is full of dark times as well as moments that are easier to look back on – and this period in particular is full of things that are frankly terrible, a huge challenge to present it as the subject of an exhibition. But spending some time learning about the lives of our not-very-distant ancestors, the conditions in which they lived, the challenges they faced and the social changes that affected them is deeply worthwhile, and a compelling journey of discovery.

To offer this journey the museum has produced a clever, concertina-fold illustrated Trail that unfurls and becomes a guide-book to help visitors search out and find objects in the collections. Each one of these objects has a story to tell about the First World War – and I was asked to draw them to illustrate the guide.

Unsurprisingly, working on the drawings was an absorbing, challenging, and often disturbing experience. Getting to know something intimately by drawing it means that you literally get drawn in – and all these objects had a powerful effect on me. So I thought it would be interesting to share a bit about what this felt like and what I discovered – the story of the drawings, one at a time. Here are two; others I’ll write about in future posts.

The call to arms; Kitchener’s Men

Kitchener's Man armband

I had no idea what this was when I first saw it. A piece of stitched calico printed with the words ‘Kitchener’s Man’. I knew the famous recruiting poster of Lord Kitchener with his finger pointing directly out, with the words ‘Your Country Needs You!’ but I didn’t know that those early volunteers were called ‘Kitchener’s Men’, and because at first there weren’t uniforms to issue to these civilian soldiers they were given cotton armbands like this one to wear.

The men who joined up from a local district were often formed into single units which turned out to be an appalling decision. In their book ‘Kitchener’s Mob‘ Peter Doyle and Chris Foster describe how the idea of recruiting men into local “Pals” regiments – essentially all coming from the same community – was a tragic mistake when later these close-knit communities were devastated by the loss of their young men – fathers and sons, brothers and cousins.

The cover photo of the book shows recruits at Grassington Station proudly wearing their armbands – the Upper Wharfedale chaps leaving their home village on September 21, 1914, on their way to boost the troops of the regular army which had embarked for France on August 4. Massively outnumbered but with their murderous rapid rifle fire, they were attempting to hold off the hordes of German soldiers sweeping across Flanders and northern France.

As I sketched it I wondered if this armband could possibly have been worn by one of these men. They were on their way to the battle of the Somme, not knowing what awaited them in France……

Following the fighting from back home

Booklet, The Western Front at a Glance - WW1

This is not an especially rare artifact. You can still buy copies of this booklet on Ebay and elsewhere (different editions were published as the war progressed, at different prices) but what I was so struck by was the condition of this copy. It’s worn and dog-eared, well thumbed at the corners and cracked at the spine. Whoever owned this book must have pored over it daily, studied the route and the progress of – who? A husband? Brother? Son?

The drawing took a long time to do and I had the opportunity to immerse myself completely in the graphic style of the period – the colours, the fonts, the layout. And I kept thinking what a strange mixture of ideas it represents – on the one hand a kind of cheerful, eager, educational guide to troop movements and military events (it reminded me a bit of the I-Spy books we used to use as children) and on the other – a terrible reminder of what was happening day by day to the soldier in your family, so far from home.

Saying ‘No’ to War

As a counterpoint – and a different view of the events of 1914 – 18, the opening of the exhibition Keighley’s War coincides with International Conscientious Objector’s Day on the 15th May, a day marked this year by the Peace Museum in Bradford by a lecture called ‘Oh What a Lovely War-Resistance; music in opposition to war, 1914 – 18’. It’s easy to find recollections of heroism in acts of war; what’s not so easy is to remember the particular kind of courage it took – and takes – to refuse to fight and oppose military action. The Peace Museum is a unique celebration of the peace movement and its history, exploring the often untold stories of peacemakers and social reform.

More on exhibitions at both Cliffe Castle Museum and the Peace Museum in future posts………

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Working on the Animal Houses

Those who recall Cliffe Castle from years ago will remember there were always animals of one kind or another, and birds. Stories from far back in living memory tell of peacocks that roamed about and occasionally got into other people’s gardens and even into the classrooms of Greenhead School (before the days of University Academy Keighley). Going even further back some people remember a parrot, and someone told me the other day there were pot-bellied pigs. When I first came to Keighley there were chickens in a pen below the old playground. But the animals I remember best and loved the most were the guinea-pigs and the rabbits, and these buildings that I sketched earlier this month and which are still being finished will be their new home. I’ve been longing for them to return and it’ll be wonderful to have them back. (Birds will return to the aviaries, but which and when remains to be seen). 

Construction work on the animal houses

At the same time, at the other end of the glasshouse terrace, the café is being fitted out – at the moment still at the carpentry stage, counters, shelving, storage units – and this is tremendously exciting because we’ve all been waiting so long now since the old café closed. 

Work on fitting out the café

This new one will be so much better in so many ways. Wonderful views, much more comfortable, good hot cups of tea and coffee (and much more besides) – and dog-friendly, as the covered patio at the Tower House end of the terrace has an adjoining door, so that dogs and their owners can sit in comfort together, sheltered but apart from the main indoor café.

It’s cold in the park these days (today it snowed) and not easy to sketch outside. My fingers get stiff, and recently I’d been struggling with a painful finger and thumb on my drawing hand that wouldn’t straighten, which is now thankfully much better due to a cortisone injection. For a while I was sketching in a whole new strange and wonky way, but things are getting back to normal. 

Until the café opens the glasshouses are still not open to the public either as this requires an on-site presence, so it’s even more eagerly awaited, and for now all we can do is to peer through the windows, admire the cacti and watch the carpenters at work. Me, I’m looking forward to somewhere warm to sketch from – that, and a good hot cup of tea. 

At last the long awaited day for the re-opening of the restored park at Cliffe Castle finally arrived, last Sunday, and with fanfares and trumpets (well, a brass band)  we celebrated in style. 

The glasshouses have been decorated with birds from the 12 days of Christmas made by children from early-years age groups in local schools. I’d been dying to sketch them because they’re just gorgeous – and they look wonderful nesting among the succulents and ferns and flying overhead. Outside the Oompah band were playing with gusto in sub-zero temperatures; my fingers were almost too stiff to draw.

Along with hundreds of visitors, against a background of snow we heard speeches from dignataries, watched a costumed pageant of Cliffe Castle past present and future, listened to a children’s Christmas choir, and cheered when the Dome House was declared open as a golden ribbon held aloft by two stilt-walking fairies was ceremoniously cut. 

These stilt-walkers never stopped smiling and unbelievably showed no sign of feeling cold, even when waving their wands and standing around holding the ribbon. There was such a crowd I couldn’t get a good view for more than a few seconds at a time so I took photos – but they turned out to be extremely hard to draw. It’s very disconcerting looking up at someone who’s about 10 feet tall, and my brain must have stubbornly refused to accept this and wouldn’t let me get the foreshortening right, so they don’t look anywhere near as lofty as they should. Their costumes were so beautiful I had to do a bit of sketching from my photographs later but still got them out of proportion. And don’t ask what happened to the face of the fairy on the left….. 

The birds in the glasshouses include two gloriously chubby French Hens with outstretched wings that look extremely happy among the cacti – they were attracting admiring looks and smiles from everyone who passed them. They’re just irresistible. The immaculate Victorian costume and the stunning hat were from the pageant, thankfully indoors in the warmth of the Castle. 

The Keighley Christmas Carol was an ingenious way to present the past, the present and the future of Cliffe Castle – the children did a wonderful job of portraying the Butterfields. This is Henry Isaac Butterfield himself – or ‘HIB’. I couldn’t sketch fast enough to catch all the scenes….

So now the park is officially open again (even though there are still things to be finalised). The half-finished café opened for the day with a sign on the door saying ‘Opening Soon’ and was overwhelmed with customers. There was a real sense of catching a moment in history here; the children who played such a big part in the celebrations will be the ones who use the park for generations to come and who’ll look back and remember this day as the start of a new era at Cliffe Castle, and I will never forget it. Sketching the Oompah band on the glasshouse patio under the Tower House with fingers so cold I could hardly hold the pen, I felt suddenly and overwhelmingly happy to be part of this space suddenly alive and filled with people for the first time. I found myself grinning like the Christmas tree fairies.  

The covered patio at the Tower House end of the glasshouses is a wonderful space for performances – and sketching (I was drawing the band). The building in the background with the striped roof is the unfinished structure of the animal houses and the stripes, astonishingly, are where snow had slid off very decoratively in alternating sections, which is an unexplained mystery and something I shall have to investigate……

Back in the summer while work on the restoration project was still in the building phase, children from several primary schools in Keighley put together a collection of objects – newspaper cuttings, coins, stamps, things they’d written – to seal up inside a time-capsule to be buried under the Norfolk Island Pine beneath the dome in the glasshouses.

Time-capsule for burial in the glasshouse

Ingeniously constructed from sections of drainpipe it looked very impressive, but it didn’t get buried at the time as the glasshouses were then still a building site. However last week it was carefully placed in a hole dug and prepared for it, and covered over and completed with a stone plaque instructing that it should not be reopened before June 2067.

I Iove time-capsules. When my sister and I were children we used to write notes and hide them in the house whenever we could. Not long ago one turned up behind the bath panel where it had been walled up for 50 years, and the current owners of the house were delighted with it and managed to contact us and send it on. The whole idea of walling something up or burying it so that at some distant time it will be discovered and explored by someone living in the future feels a bit like time-travel, and it fascinates me. All through the excavation and demolition phases of the restoration at Cliffe Castle we were hoping that we just might unearth a buried or hidden message, a Butterfield time-treasure purposely concealed – but nothing came to light. 

Milk-bottle and coins unearthed

There were things that had been dropped by accident or thrown away – a milk-bottle, a couple of Victorian coins, jugs and jars and pieces of pottery and numerous mysterious rusty metal objects that were hard to identify, and all their stories remain tantalisingly untold.

Rusty bits and pieces

All this got me thinking what I would put in a time-capsule if I were to make one now, and it would certainly be drawings, or whole sketchbooks. I often feel that sketches are frozen moments in time, almost like fossils. They record the moment something happened and how I saw it, what it meant and how it felt – something that passed through me and ended up on a piece of paper.

Clearing paths after laying tarmac

During the path-laying phase every day ended with a lot of clearing up with brooms and shovels, and since drawing people moving is so difficult but such fun I tried to sketch this action, and mostly with disastrous results. This time I think I caught something – but not without absurd anatomical mistakes 

Guiding the dome into place

The delicate operation of guiding the dome into place on top of the glasshouse. It was a hugely challenging thing to draw because the crane was so enormous, there was so much going on and it all happened fairly quickly – but I couldn’t miss the chance to see what I could get on the page. I certainly remember what went on better from having sketched it – even if this meant focusing on some things and missing others. 

I suppose you could say that this whole project, Drawing The Work – and the posts on this blog – are a kind of time-capsule, except of course that they’re not buried or hidden; the posts will stay here for anyone to see. 

Visitors to the park at the Heritage Walk

Some of the visitors at one of the Heritage Walks, listening to Claire pointing out features and explaining the building work. I love sketching people when they’re engrossed in looking and listening because they’re unselfconscious and much more interesting to draw. 

The work of the restoration is now almost finished, and from now on, my sketching will be more about life in the park rather than the work of restoring it. A big celebration to mark the completion is going to take place in the park and museum shortly before Christmas on December 10th. The exhibition of Drawing The Work goes on in the museum until January, and we’ve produced greetings cards using a selection of my sketches which will be on sale at the Christmas celebration and in the museum shop.

My Cliffe Castle posts here will now mostly be under the heading Life In The Landscape, and I’m looking forward to a whole new programme of sketching possibilities. Hope you’ll follow me on the adventure! 

View from the glasshouse terrace

View from the glasshouse terrace

There are still things to do, but at last the sloping terrace in front of the glasshouses is no longer a building site full of heaps of reserved topsoil and piles of hardcore and gravel. This view that I sketched a couple of weeks ago is now already a thing of the past; now the carefully raked surface that was a glowing tawny and russet brown in the afternoon sunshine has been covered with turf and is a beautiful green lawn.

The diggers are mostly gone, and I miss the excitement of their sheer bulk, their lumbering unpredictable movements and the colour and animation they brought to the site. There are many things I regret not documenting better, and I wish I’d drawn more of all the different kinds of diggers and dumpers and cranes that have come and gone, all with their own specialities and peculiarities. I find all of them exciting.

Digger on the glasshouse terrace

Digger on the glasshouse terrace

I haven’t drawn any of them with the care and attention they deserve, either – and neither have I learnt anything about hydraulics or the engineering of heavy plant (I love the use of the word ‘plant’ when it refers to machinery – as when you see a sign saying ‘Plant Hire’ and you know it’s not about renting a rhododendron, or my favourite traffic-sign that warns of ‘Heavy Plant Crossing’. I would have loved to have seen a sign in the park saying ‘Heavy Plant at Work’. Wouldn’t that have been something.)

Plants of the more usual kind have begun to appear in the glasshouses and I hope to get the chance to see more of this soon – I just had the briefest glimpse through the door the other day. Cactii, succulents – all kinds of soft beguiling colours and strange and exciting shapes. At last architecture and planting is coming together, and what’s been just a vision and plans on paper is becoming something real…..

Trial planting of ferns for a 'rootery' in the glasshouse

Trial planting of ferns for a ‘rootery’ in the glasshouse

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’ve been following progress and sketching whenever and wherever I could. I’ve called the project Drawing The Work, and my sketchbooks and watercolours are now on display in Cliffe Castle Museum until Christmas. 

The best parties are the ones that are not necessarily the most spectacular, but all you remember is having fun and enjoying the day! 

Sketchers preparing for a behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Unexpected fun – Sketchers preparing for a privileged behind-the-scenes tour of the unfinished glasshouses

Museum sketching in the Conservatory - Gina Glot's drawing of the carved marble urn

Museum sketching in the Conservatory – Gina Glot’s drawing of the carved marble urn shaped like a shell

I was so busy meeting people at the Garden Party last Sunday that I didn’t get a chance to do any sketching, but luckily there were others who did! At long last I had the chance to meet up with sketchers who until now I’d only known online, through Yorkshire Urban Sketchers and Sketch That Leeds. For them it was a chance to enjoy the action, to see some of the things I’ve been sketching in the park all year, to explore and draw in the museum – and to get a behind-the-scenes look at the still unfinished work when they were taken on a tour of the glasshouses (hence the hard hats). 

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum

Sketchers from Sketch That Leeds, drawing dancers in the museum. (Note the vital piece of equipment peeping out of the bag; I thought for a minute Helen had brought along a little friend but the weather was a bit variable – we all came prepared)

Sketching the action

Sketching the action (I never got the chance to see the drawing so I don’t know if the fellow in the foreground who looks about to dash in and join the dance got into the picture too….)

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Meeting Sketchers at lunchtime in the Lodge

Joe Bean's sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

Music in the park; Joe Bean’s sketch of the jazz trio playing outside the Conservatory

The tour of the glasshouses was an unexpected extra and although no-one got a chance to sketch there, everyone realised what an exciting place it’s going to be from a sketching point of view. The views are going to be magnificent and the buildings themselves are going to be even more wonderful when they’re planted up with ferns and succulents and cacti and the Norfolk Island Pine. And of course, there will be the café! 

Mel Smith Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses

Mel Smith the Parks Manager showing Sketchers the glasshouses – standing on the terrace that will be in front of the café

In front of the café

The open end to the café glasshouse row

At the end of the café row of glasshouses the structure will be a covered roof, with no walls – so you can sit or stand there sheltered from the weather but still enjoying the fresh air and with uninterrupted views across the lawn to Cliffe Castle and Airedale

And the exhibition of Drawing The Work is now open in the museum, in the Breakfast Room next to the Conservatory – a long glass cabinet displaying my sketchbooks and drawings, accompanied by some of the objects in the sketches, watched over by Queen Victoria’s beady eye…. 

Display in the Breakfast Room

Sketched objects, and the objects themselves

Display cabinet with drawings

It’s humbling to see my work on show alongside the extraordinary objects and works of art in the museum. There are some wonderful things in this room and it felt quite startling to come into the museum and see my drawings and sketchbooks next to the things that I love to sketch! Over on a table in the corner are the four facsimile sketchbooks next to a welcoming sofa where people can recline in comfort and browse the books, under the gilded chandalier in the marvellous surroundings of what was the Butterfield’s everyday dining room. I love this mixing up of the past, the present and the future – and I’m so enjoying being able to share my sketchbooks like this. I look forward to meeting more of the people who like me are fascinated by the way history unfolds in front of us day by day – and to more urban sketching! 

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.

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.

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.