Archives for posts with tag: Victorian gardens

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: and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website.  

There’s a lot of groundwork going on right now behind the ten foot high security hoarding, and all that can be seen is the tops of the diggers that occasionally raise their heads above the level of the fence. But now, today, something else is visible from the lawn below the top terrace – the tip of a huge mound of topsoil that’s been gradually getting bigger and bigger as the top layers of earth are removed from various parts of the site and carefully carried to one side. The diggers deposit earth onto the heap and then tamp it down to give it a smooth surface so the rain runs off and doesn’t sink in and turn it into a mountain of mud. And lately we’ve had plenty of rain.
I crept alongside the wire security fence and into the bushes next to the tower to get a better view, and from there I could see the whole magnificent heap. The entire site is covered to a double spade depth with this dark, rich, beautiful soil, the work of generations of Victorian gardeners enriching and fertilising the kitchen gardens that occupied the terrace. Daru Rooke the Museums Manager is calling it ‘Butterfield Topsoil’.

I’m not the only interested observer to hang around the perimeter of the building site. Despite all the noise and disruption (during the last few days they’ve been digging drains, and hitting rock) I’ve watched a young rabbit that seems to be quite unperturbed by all the commotion and looks as if it’s actually interested in what’s going on. I first saw it last week when I was sketching the old toilet block, when I noticed it feeding in the grass above the playground and then hopping nonchalently about near the old building. It didn’t seem to mind me, and didn’t even worry much when a dog-walker went by with her dog on a lead; it just flattened itself in the grass for a moment or two.

This afternoon it was sunbathing in a patch of sun on the tarmac of the footpath just inside the security fence, only yards from where I could hear major earth moving going on. Is this sort of thing interesting to a rabbit? I felt reassured that it seemed so relaxed and comfortable, and enjoyed its company.

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.

More updates on the work, photos, plans, and background information at: and at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website.