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Cliffe Castle Museum

On a chilly March day in North Yorkshire we decided to check out a local museum – The Cliffe Castle Museum in Keighley. I must confess to having low expectations, and it was my husband’s idea to go there at all. However, I completely loved it. Having lived many years in London the obvious place to liken it to was the Horniman Museum, that great museum jewel of south east London. It too is eclectic, with stuffed animals, minerals, costumes and art, but it also has something the Horniman lacks which is a number of rooms in which the family lived. These are resplendent in the style of a wealthy Victorian family abode. I love this kind of thing: fabulous curtains, huge chandeliers, a kind of glimmering and grand cornucopia. I think I must be a interior designer manqué, and in view of my taste that might be for the best.

Cliffe Castle exterior

Cliffe Castle exterior

One of the most arresting pieces in these rooms is the malachite fireplace. Fabulously gaudy, ridiculous in that it could never function (the malachite would be destroyed by the heat), it came all the way from Russia and was made for the Great Exhibition. Love it or hate it, it is undoubtedly a show stopper and you have to marvel at the workmanship, and the opulence and indulgence that it represents.

cliffe castle malachite fireplace

Cliffe Castle malachite fireplace

cliffe castle drawing room

Cliffe Castle drawing room

Other bits of the museums I loved included the section on Victorian work/crafts: brick making, agriculture, blacksmithing. I remember working with brick clay at Camberwell – it is very caustic and you need to wear gloves, but it fires to different tones and is good for big sculptural pieces.

The stuffed birds and animals are good if you like stuffed birds and animals and I do – you never get that close to them otherwise. Upstairs there is a small pottery display which I loved – but I would wouldn’t I? And then I went onto the circular balcony/gallery to see the paintings. I had low expectations to be honest, probably just a few boring old daubs – how wrong was I! There is the most wonderful exhibition: “Lost Houses of the South Pennines - paintings by Kate Lycett of grand Victorian houses that have now bitten the dust There is a board telling you about the house, who lived there, when it was built, and what ultimately happened to it. Beside that is a picture by KL of the house. But the pictures have a surreal quality, they are done in a mixture of inks and acrylics and the inks have a brilliance which combined with touches of gold give the pictures a fairy tale quality. They are stunningly beautiful – and I am obviously not alone in thinking this as they have all sold bar one. It is like she has captured the glory and brilliance of these houses when they were first built – when they were someone’s dream home. For some reason I only photographed details – I think because I like the details so very much and they relate to my own work and love of pattern. There are a few other paintings – probably the permanent collection which date from the mid 20th century and which are also excellent. And to top it all I ran out of time and didn’t get to see the section on stained glass and Keighley in the past – both of which I am sure I would love!

painting detail

Detail of painting by Kate Lycett

So looking forward to going back to this jewel in the Yorkshire crown just as soon as I have a free weekend when my garden doesn’t need me.

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