Archives for category: Watercolour Landscape

Squeeze stile, Beechcliffe Enclosure, Cliffe Castle Park

If you make your way through the avenue of cherry trees to the bottom corner of the Sports Field (part 2 of my slow walk with a sketchbook around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park) you come to a low wall which would stop you in your tracks if it weren’t for a carefully constructed gap. I don’t know the names for things like this, (being not originally from Yorkshire) and I have to look them up, but I think this is a squeeze stile – wide enough for people (and dogs) to pass through but too narrow for livestock (though true squeeze stiles are a lot narrower at the bottom and wider at the top, and the wall is higher) – presumably this gap is there just to allow the path to continue on down the bank to the Beechcliffe Entrance below.

You scramble down the bank and arrive on the paved surface of the main path that enters the park here through a gateway between tall stone pillars. If you carry on by climbing up the opposite bank, the perimeter path continues across the grass and alongside the wall, but if you look up the slope to the left there’s a landmark that’s hard to miss. In fact it’s clearly visible as you drive along the Skipton Road and for years I used to wonder what it was.

Watercolour sketch of the site of Beechcliffe House

The terraced rise which was the site of Beechcliffe House, bought by Henry Isaac Butterfield in 1875 to add to the Cliffe Castle estate. The house was eventually demolished in 1962 because of extensive dry rot and replaced in 1968 by a purpose built centre for elderly people which in turn burnt down in 1996.

It’s immediately obvious that this must have been the the site of something – the telegraph pole alone would tell you that – but it’s not clear what, and once you get up the hill and stand on the flat terrace at the top things get even more intriguing because there are raised planted beds (abandoned), a ring of standing stones, and at the entrance to the site beneath a stand of bamboo is a marker stone engraved with the words Keighley Garden of Life. The ring of stones is a lovely place – slightly mysterious as you come across it unexpectedly and there’s no indication of how long it’s been there, or why.

Watercolour drawing of the Keighley Garden of Life

Standing stones on the terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure. The site was briefly taken over and re-landscaped by a community project, the Garden of Life, in (I think) 2014, when the stone circle was built and other features were added (which are mostly now gone).

These stones in fact are a good example of how a place can be different things for different people. I often used to wonder if this spot was much visited but during just one hour of drawing I saw crows perching on them, small children clambering over them, dog walkers passing between them and families using them for photo-opportunities. There must be all kinds of other visitors both human and animal coming here at different times of the day and night.

Photo-opportunities in the Garden of Life

Photo-opportunities and gatherings in the Garden of Life

This part of the park which is known as the Beechcliffe Enclosure is layered with history, most of which isn’t obvious until you prowl around. Then you stumble upon things like a cast iron drain cover where you wouldn’t expect one, traces of the foundations of a buried wall, a hole that looks like a collapsing well cover (or another kind of drain) a pair of cast iron gate posts standing rather forlorn and crooked and without a gate – and a lot more. Like this…

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

I can’t help getting excited and then increasingly curious about these sort of things. Mysterious objects and buried history with an oblique meaning just demand investigation and sketching the things just intensifies my curiosity.

I know that Beechcliffe House itself was a very substantial building with more than 28 rooms, and the property included a coach house, stables, and a cottage – though where all these buildings were exactly, and how the boundaries and access roads and paths and entrances were arranged is more than I can work out – it requires the serious study of old maps and archive photos and the historical record and that’s a compelling red-herring that for now I have to resist.

The whole of the Beechcliffe Enclosure is perhaps about half the size of the Sports Field, but it’s so packed with interest that it’s too much to cover in one go. Some of this will have to wait until the next installment when I’ll be making my way north through the lower half towards the entrance nearest to Utley…

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

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

The site of the pond before excavation. Click on the picture to view a larger image.

Work has begun on the site of the pond, and knowing it was going to start any day now I sketched a panoramic view of it before work started. It’s a long, lozenge shaped area and before any clearing or digging began only the shaped edging stones that formed the rim of the round pond gave a hint of what lay beneath. Just a few of these were visible, close to the path.

This is not the first time I’ve sketched this part of the park; in October last year I recorded the trees that were going to be felled as part of the conservation project and three of them stood here, on the site of the pond. There were others, including a redwood, that went earlier but unfortunately I missed the chance to sketch them before they came down.

My understanding of the history of the pond is murky and incomplete – though hopefully it may become clearer over time. To get a better idea of what the site must have looked like at the time of the Butterfields I copied a plan from the 1870s in my sketchbook, and found myself with more questions than answers.

Historic plan of the pond, with questions and mistakes. (The path should be shown going all the way round the perimeter.)

It seems likely there was a fishpond here in the gardens of Cliffe Hall, the house that later became Cliffe Castle, and this pond was transformed into what was really a small ornamental lake around 1878, when the Butterfield family were doing an extensive programme of building, remodelling and landscaping. There was a fringe or border of large rocks mixed with decorative planting, and four magnificent carved marble urns on plinths that stood along the edge facing the house. (I’ve seen a photograph).

Later only the central, round part of the pond was filled with water, and up until the 1950s this would have been deep as it was referred to as a swimming pool, but the whole structure fell into a state of disrepair and at some stage must have been partially filled in and made much shallower – to the depth that’s now been uncovered – which would explain why reminiscences include memories of people falling into it when drunk, or of children wandering into it, and not coming to harm (as far as I know). Please, if you have any stories you’d like to share, or if any of these facts need correcting – do leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

The round central pond revealed – quite shallow but with the bottom intact and not broken up. The hole presently being dug out at the side of the round pond is going much deeper.

Excavation and removal of soil from the pond, with diggers and dumpers.

The large shaped edging stones and the huge ornamental rocks that were used to construct the rock garden that filled in and covered the site in the 1980s have been removed for storage and conservation, and diggers and dumpers have been excavating. 

There’s a lot more to do here before the whole site is properly excavated and cleared and it’s fascinating to watch – and clearly visible as the work is going on behind wire mesh screens. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next!

Postscript: this post was amended on the 15th August to include the sketch map with notes.

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 and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website.