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Cliffe Castle Museum - Keighley

Location: Keighley (well signposted from all directions))
Features: Quaint and interesting local museum, fantastic grounds, great place for a picnic.
Facilities: Toilets, shop, picnic area, cafe.
Entry Charges: Free
Website: Official Website

Cliffe Castle There aren't many reasons to visit Keighley, in fact there's an awful lot of good reasons to stay away, but Cliffe Castle is a definite reason to visit. It's one of those venerable museums that have collections dating back to the 19th century, a time when museum curators didn't see their job as being to patronise us all.  A time when things were collected because they were interesting and educational, not because they are worthy and correct.

The museum itself is a very grand millowners house with wonderful gothic features. The staircase and the stained glass on the stairs alone are worth going to see, and several rooms internally have been "recreated" to show the opulence of the house in its prime. But when you have a gem of a building like this, it shows an absolute lack of appreciation of its grandeur to allow people to park directly outside. You might as well just leave the wheelie bins there.

Anyway, once you've navigated the traffic nightmare that is Keighley in the rush hour, park up and chill out in the quite magnificent grounds.  The museum was opened in 1959, but inherited local collections going back a hundred years before that.

As you walk in a suite of rooms have been created in the style of the late 19th century; and they really are magnificent. Huge ornate chandeliers, life size egyptian statues, oil paintings in gilded frames and basically as much conspicuous consumption as enormous wealth could buy in the late Victorian era.

Cliffe Castle Then it all gets a bit confusing. There's a major display on the geological history of Airedale, and another corner of the museum where it tries to be a sort of industrial come folk museum, documenting the decline of local industries such as pottery and clog making. That's pretty good, and it even has the last handloom Weaver's loom. All good, nicely laid out and interesting. And safe, very very safe. Keighley is now unrecognisable from the place it was even twenty or thirty years ago, and surely the change in population and the change in the nature of the town over that period  is exactly what a local museum should be covering?

The rest of the downstairs is devoted to a massive gallery that was closed for renovation when I went. That's a shame, because if it's still as it was a few years ago, it should contain an amazing display of stuffed wildlife the like of which you won't see outside the Natural History Museum. As it was, when I went the only stuffed animals on display were a Yorkshire Terrier and a Lamb with two faces!

Upstairs is reached (if you're not disabled) by climbing an incredible staircase with a huge stained glass window. It's a bit spoiled by the tatty carpet, but then it is a free museum so funding must be a bit of a problem. And the upstairs collections are pretty varied and esoteric. There's some beautiful stained glass, much of it rescued from local chapels that have been demolished or turned into mosques; there's a display about the history of the museum; there's a display about the war years in Keighley; and there's basically all kinds of other local stuff that just doesn't fit anywhere else. Not terribly well organised, but interesting, quirky and worth looking at.

Cliffe Castle After that there's the grounds. I don't know how many acres they cover, but they're extensive and were all landscaped in the 19th century. They're very well kept too with great views over Airedale. Bizarrely in one corner was a large enclosure with a few rabbits in it - don't know what that was all about.

At the back of the house up a hill is the cafe. I couldn't sample the delights on offer as it was closed mid-afternoon when I visited, as were the glass houses with an interesting looking cactus collection. And finally, crammed into a corner were a few small enclosures with canaries and parakeets. Poor things barely had enough room to flap their wings. It's time that sort of thing was ended - either build a decent enclosure or let them go.

Which does remind me that when I visited as a child there used to be Peacocks wandering round the grounds - didn't see any, but I do hope they still have them.

Comments (2)
Cliff castle is now repoened and is a fantastic museum. Starting with the old stately house rooms, moving through a local, social and geographic history. There is a superb mineral and fossil collection. All is topped off with a Keighley curios section.Entry is free, although donations are welcome. Overall well worth a visit.
posted by toothman 13/03/2011 18:33:44
What a biased horrible write up, are you a racist? Keighley is a great place, many beautiful buildings and the main town to serve Haworth. Maybe you're the person who sells Golly doll from a shop in Haworth's Main Street.
posted by joe lewis 24/08/2011 18:01:41
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