Cliffe Castle Museum

Cliffe Castle Museum
Cliffe Castle Museum

Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley
Established ca.1892 as Keighley Museum. Reopened in 1959 as Cliffe Castle Museum.
Location Spring Gardens Lane, Keighley, West Yorkshire, England BD20 6LH
Type Heritage centre, Historic house museum.
Visitor figures 65,000 (2009)
Public transit access Keighley railway station; bus information from Bradford Interchange

Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley, West Yorkshire, England, is a local heritage museum which opened in the grand, Victorian, neo-Gothic Cliffe Castle in 1959. The museum is the successor to Keighley Museum which opened in Eastwood House, Keighley, in ca.1892. There is a series of galleries dedicated to various aspects of local heritage, and to displaying the house itself. Entrance to the museum is free of charge.


The history of the museum

It is believed that Keighley Museum was established in 1892, because that is when its first location, Eastwood House, Keighley, was purchased for the public.[1] In 1950 the local benefactor Sir Bracewell Smith purchased Cliffe Castle, and had it redesigned as a museum and art gallery for the people of Keighley.[2] The museum re-opened as Cliffe Castle Museum and Art Gallery in 1959.[1]

The Cliffe Castle building

The original Cliffe Hall was built by Christopher Netherwood between 1828 and 1833, and designed by George Webster of Kendal, a gothic revivalist. The Butterfields, a textile manufacturing family, bought Cliffe Hall in 1848. Henry Butterfield transformed the building by adding towers, a ballroom and conservatories from 1875 to 1880, re-naming it Cliffe Castle in 1878. He decorated the building with the griffin motif, which he had adopted as a heraldic crest.[3]

In 1949 the building and grounds were bought by Keighley Corporation with the assistance of Sir Bracewell Smith, a local benefactor who in 1955 paid for the conversion of the house for public use. The house had been gabled in the neo-gothic style, with tall towers each end, and great conservatories. In the interests of modernisation, the back tower was taken down, and the front one shortened. The high Flemish gables and other decorations were removed from the roof, and the conservatories demolished. The service rooms were replaced by the octagonal art gallery, which is a 1950s building. The exterior fantasy design was lost forever; however some of the neo-gothic interior has been recreated recently.[3]

The galleries and rooms

Entrance vestibule

The vestibule and staircase show the Victorian eclectic Gothic Revivalist taste. The hammer beam roof over the staircase imitates the 15th century, the staircase window the 14th century, and the vestibule arches the 13th century.[3]

The window was designed by Powells of Leeds. The top roundel features a copy of Raphael's Madonna and Child. All ten main lights of the window once contained Victorian figures in Tudor costume, but most of these were removed by Frederick Butterfield, to be replaced with clear lights or small roundels.[3]

Reception rooms

Great Drawing Room

In the vestibule and reception rooms are life-size portraits of Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie.

Working Landscapes gallery

This gallery displays local crafts and trades of the past. There is a video of clog-making which continued into the 20th century.[2]

Victorian agricultural tools.

Airedale gallery

The display shows how the River Aire was formed, and shows fossils of its earliest animals.[2]

Archaeology Area gallery

Besides the exhibits shown below, this display features the Silsden Roman treasure.[2]

Natural history gallery

This was once the Butterfields' ballroom, and this is where the white lace 1880s dress in the Costume gallery was worn.[5] It is now full of mounted animals and birds. There is a family of tawny owls and a birdsong display.[2] Sadly, the mounted emu given by Ilkley Museum in 1928 is no longer evident, but there are many other fine examples of the taxidermist's craft.

Victorian wooden barrel-vaulted and coffered neo-Gothic ceiling.

Molecules to Minerals gallery

This beautifully arranged and classified display was created in 1988,[6] and incorporates collections from several museums in the Bradford area.[1] It includes the cherished Ellison Collection, given by Ilkley Museum in 1928.[7] Very few of the collections are named in the display.

Some of the more glamorous specimens are from the Hinchcliffe Collection. This comprises 800 specimens from the Gem Rock Museum at Heaton, Bradford, bought with grants and public subscription from George Hinchcliffe in 1984. The display explains how minerals are different from rocks, and has sections about: mineral colour; streak; hardness; magnetism; fluorescence; fracture; chemical classification; crystal shape, crystallisation, chemistry and occurrence.[6]

There are over a thousand specimens here, including a display of glowing rocks. It is "still considered one of the best displays between London and Edinburgh".[6]

Sir Bracewell Smith Hall art gallery

This space was created in the 1950s, and is used for a series of exhibitions of artworks.

The Egyptians gallery

The display includes a mummy of an Egyptian girl of ca.250 bce, and covers the Ancient Egyptian belief in the afterlife.

Breakfast Room

This downstairs room acts as an accessible space for themes covered upstairs.[2]


This room contains no exhibits and is used as a teaching or activity room.[8]

Stained Glass gallery

This gallery contains some of the earliest William Morris stained glass in the country.[2]

Keighley Stories gallery

This gallery aims to tell the story of Keighley. It also, in passing, helps to retain a sense of local identity in the populace, who continue to return from far away to re-live the pleasures of their childhood by seeing again the exhibits which they remember from long-ago visits to the Museum. This is the gallery to which they bring their grandchildren. It is therefore a more important gallery than it might first appear. It includes the Keighley Hen Pecked Club's peace box. This is an adult-sized wooden rocking cradle, supposedly for soothing nagging wives instead of babies. It had humorous rules and was displayed in galas, but it is not known whether it was used. The club used to meet at the Royal Hotel, Damside, and was started by Henry Hargreaves Thompson, who was landlord in 1861. The pub became the Royal Oak in 1998.[9]

Bees gallery

Costume Gallery

Mansion to Museum gallery

This gallery, round the top of the octagonal Sir Bracewell Smith Hall, shows the development of the building from a Victorian private house to a contemporary museum. The "Chinese Chandelier", which held the wooden harpies below, once hung in Cliffe Castle.[10]

Local Pottery gallery

The displays here are placed in recognition of a past local skill, and a trade which was significant in the Keighley area.

Other aspects of the Museum

  • The Friends of Cliffe Castle is the society which has researched and supported much of the restoration and improvement to the Museum which has taken place in recent years. A leaflet about the society is available at the Museum.[11]
  • Education programme: School workshops and trails can be booked for Key Stages 1–3, and occasionally for adult and SEN groups.[12]
Cliffe Castle Museum.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Information from museum staff.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Leaflet: Cliffe Castle Museum, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d West Yorkshire Archaeology Service, Historic Houses of West Yorkshire: Cliffe Castle Keighley leaflet, 1995.
  4. ^ Querns are mentioned in a 1925 description of Ilkley Museum's exhibits (see Ilkley and its Museum 1892-1992 by Edwards and Shillitoe 1992, p.12); some items were handed over to Keighley museum in 1928, and there is no quern on display at Ilkley now.
  5. ^ See notice in Costume gallery.
  6. ^ a b c Memorandum from A. Armstrong (Natural Science Curator) to Museum staff, 17 May 2002.
  7. ^ Gavin Edwards and Denise Shillitoe, Ilkley and its Museum 1892–1992, (1992). (Available at Manor House Museum.)
  8. ^ As at May 2009.
  9. ^ a b "Vale n Dale: Public Houses, Pubs, Beer Houses and Hotels in Keighley". Royal Hotel Damside. Valendale. 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  10. ^ See label on wall of Mansion to Museum Gallery.
  11. ^ Leaflet: Friends of Cliffe Castle (available at the Museum).
  12. ^ Cliffe Castle Museum website: Education programme page.

External links

Coordinates: 53°52′31″N 1°54′49″W / 53.87528°N 1.91361°W / 53.87528; -1.91361 (Cliffe Castle Museum)

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