Archives for posts with tag: Victorian Garden design

​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.

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

Looking towards the drive from Dark Lane at dusk, in January

The evenings are getting lighter now, the days longer. A couple of weeks after Christmas I stood about half way along the Dark Lane path and sketched this view across the field at about 3.30 in the afternoon; now I can walk up there at the same time and catch the sun while it’s still behind the treetops and casting long shadows over the field. There are snowdrops and crocuses, buds on the trees and birdsong everywhere. 

There’s also an awful lot of mud. It can’t be helped; we’ve had a lot of wet weather, the diggers and dumpers have churned up the lawns where work is continuing, and removing all the shrubs from the terrace borders has been messy. It’s getting better –  new plants will be going in soon, more land drains have been repaired which should improve the places that have always tended to get soggy, but there’s still a lot to do. 

High-vis jackets brightening up a landscape full of mud

As we’re coming to the end of winter and looking forward to spring, I  thought it would be a good time to look back at what’s been done as well as what’s still to do – so here’s a round-up of the stories I’ve recorded so far and a hint of what’s to come. 

Demolition of the car park wall

It all started last summer with the careful demolition of part of the car park wall, and then work began in the main site on the top terrace behind the car park; the old glasshouses were taken down, the animal enclosures removed, and the site was prepared for new building. A lot of earth moving went on at this time, with plenty of impressive heavy machinery and the viewing windows in the security hoarding were much appreciated – by me, as I could now see what was going on and sketch it – and by small children and dogs, who could look through the low level window (now unfortunately missing after the Christmas storms). Small boys loved the diggers; dogs were more interested in the rabbits

Digger and dumper seen through one of the viewing windows

Some interesting things were found during the demolition and the digging of trenches and foundations, some of which will eventually be on display in the museum, but in the meantime I was able to sketch them and wonder about their stories. 

Assorted metal objects found with the assistance of a metal-detector

After what seemed like a long time, building work started on the foundations for the glasshouses and a simply gigantic circular concrete container was set in place where the domed palm house will be (except instead of a palm, this will be be a Norfolk Island Pine); eventually the framework for the glasshouses started to go up and the dome and its cupola were carefully assembled and glazed, before being lifted by an enormous crane one chilly February morning, watched by assembled crowd of contractors, park and museum staff, conservation group members and Councillor Sarah Ferriby from Bradford Council. 

Glazing panels for the dome carefully wrapped in plastic and delivered on pallets

The elegant shape of the pond, following the exact contours of the original ornamental lake

The pond is a story in itself; being much more visible it’s been easier to draw – you can follow progress herehere and here – and the carved marble fountains which have been taken away for conservation work will soon be back. 

Dark Lane path behind the bandstand under construction 

With so much mud around one of the best paths for walking on at the moment is Dark Lane, along the top of the lower field – one of two completely new all-weather tracks. Other paths have been resurfaced and now new sitings for benches are being laid (- soon there’ll be completely new places to sit and sketch)… 

View across Airedale in January, with the afternoon sun fading fast

Right now there’s work going on at the pond, on the bandstand, on the flights of stone steps leading up from the lower terrace to the museum and on the glasshouses. Lots already acheived, but plenty still to do –  and many more discoveries to make and stories to 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 and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

Another landmark in the work on the top terrace – the framework for the central section of glasshouses has started to go up. This will be the circular, domed structure that will contain a Norfolk Island Pine planted in the most enormous container that’s already in place. (I sketched this at the end of a dark afternoon when the light was fading fast and I could see just well enough to make out what was going on.) 

Many of the plants that were in the old glasshouses were removed before the demolition and stored for safety, so some of these cactii and succulents will find their way back into the new planting schemes. But in the meantime, behind the scenes, a lot of work is going on to plan and devise what to plant and how best to arrange it. 

The Victorians were obsessed with ferns. There’s even a word for it – Pteridomania – they couldn’t get enough of them, and wherever possible they planted them in exotic and dramatic settings imitating a kind of romantic woodland, incorporating old dead roots and stumps of trees. (The oldest and most famous Stumpery is at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire and photographs of it show something weird and gothic, looking like something straight out of Middle Earth.) 

Rooteries are simpler, more natural, and less contrived. Last week Dan Palmer the Heritage Parks Officer put together a collection of roots and the odd bit of stump collected from uprooted bushes from the park hedges and planted a few ferns and other plants as an example of what might be done. I loved it – I think I even recognised the root from drawing it where it was lying outside during the previous week – and I just had to do a sketch of this sample Rootery. 

The planting schemes for the whole park still have to be finalised and it will exciting to follow; it has taken an enormous amount of research into the history of the original gardens and to source specimens of just the right kind. Only this week there was exciting news about rhododendrons…… but more about this another time!

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.