Archives for posts with tag: Keighley local history

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

28th March 2017

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 joined in 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 ornamental rockwork beside the Conservatory commonly known as the Grotto, to learn some interesting facts about this strange and rather mysterious part of the park. It was built in 1878 as part of Henry Isaac Butterfield’s great re-modelling of the house and grounds and designed to be part Gothic rockery, part summer house and part strategic tradesman’s entrance – it’s a weird and fascinating 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 slowly 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.

The next stop was at the other end of the Castle at the children’s playground. By now Claire who was leading the walk was getting into her stride; I was enjoying her lively commentary as she described the planning behind the restoration project and the progress so far, and it was obvious a lot of other people were enjoying it too…

Then it was down the hill to Dark Lane(some interesting history behind this – it’s the route of an ancient track from Keighley to Utley, with stories dating back to the Civil War. It was a right of way that was an annoyance for the Butterfield family who devised various ways to make it less visible and intrusive, and eventually got it closed by Act of Parliament). Then across to the other side of the park by the Holly Lodge entrance, and I watched the walkers as they wound along Dark Lane, which is being laid as an all-weather pathway along its original route beside the wall at the top of the Lower Field.

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, where there’s lots to learn. The original lozenge-shaped pond created by Henry Isaac Butterfield was altered many years later to become the deeper round swimming pool that still existed in living memory – until it too was filled in and covered with a rockery and trees. The site has been carefully excavated and both the round pool and amazingly the original Victorian pond were found to be recognisable and more or less intact – fascinating to observe as they emerged from heaps of earth and stone. The new pond will be a re-creation of the original, the same overall shape and in exactly the same spot, and landscaped and planted in a similar way to the Butterfield’s prized water-feature.

There will be other Heritage Walks run by the Conservation Group so watch out for news of the next one, and if you fancy a walk in the park, put the date in your diary!