A Window to be Proud Of: Cliffe Castle’s Grand Staircase glory

One of the things many visitors comment on when they visit Cliffe Castle is the spectacular stained glass window.  Daru Rooke, Museums Manager North agreed to write a post for the blog about the window.

He writes:

During the 1870s and 80s Cliffe Castle underwent a major transformation under the ownership of Henry Isaac Butterfield. Beginning as modest Cliffe Hall, Henry Isaac spent a decade extending and elaborating his family home finally renaming it Cliffe Castle to match its new grandeur.

The centrepiece of his medieval- inspired entrance hall was the Grand Staircase, embellished with an elaborate balustrade and marble columns and backed by a vast stained glass window that filled the whole height of the building.

View of Stained Glass Window from the bottom of the Cliffe Castle stairs.
View of Stained Glass Window from the bottom of the Cliffe Castle stairs.

The window was created by the Leeds based firm of Powell Brothers who began their career as church decorators. Responding to an increasing demand for painted glass in the 1870s Powell Brothers developed a large practice; the Cliffe Castle Window is one of their earliest secular commissions.

Close up of the Powell Brother name in the window.
Close up of the Powell Brother name in the window.

As originally designed the window was a complex combination of ornate canopy work and portraiture. At the centre of the window is a family group showing Henry Isaac Butterfield, his deceased wife Mary Roosevelt and his son Frederick Louis all in Elizabethan costume which matched the Tudor inspired Castle. Behind them is a fruiting tree suggesting the developing Butterfield family dynasty.

Left (standing) Henry Isaac Butterfield.  Center (seated) Mary Roosevelt,   Right (standing) Frederick Butterfield
Left (standing) Henry Isaac Butterfield. Center (seated) Mary Roosevelt, Right (standing) Frederick Butterfield

Above them is a stained glass interpretation of Raphael’s Madonna and Child which represents Mary Butterfield’s Catholic faith while panels of armorial glass show her descent from the Earls of County Mayo.

Madonna & Child
Madonna & Child

In the remaining panels were once portraits of Henry Isaacs’s family and of the French Imperial family with whom he was familiar. Correspondence in the Butterfield archive shows that Powell’s were sent family photographs to ensure that the likenesses of the portraits were all correct.

Unfortunately the coming years were not kind to the window or to Henry Isaac’s family. Henry’s nephew Freddie was killed in a train accident in America, his niece Jennie died in childbirth and the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, died of assegai wounds when fighting in the Zulu wars. Very soon the window must have appeared more as a memorial to the departed than the celebration of a dynasty in the making.

Some of this feeling may have influenced Sir Frederick Butterfield, Henry Isaac’s son and heir. When Sir Frederick made his will in the early 20th century it stated that the painted pictorial glass throughout the building should be destroyed at the time of his death. Although the upper panels and borders of the window were retained no less than nine panels were smashed and replaced by clear glass following his death in 1943.

Picture of  the window showing the clear glass that replaced the portraits
Picture of the window showing the clear glass that replaced the portraits

In the later 20th century the rebuilding of Cliffe Castle to create a museum for Keighley opened the staircase block up   to the elements and the window tracery began to suffer serious erosion and water ingress. Wrought iron pins used to fix masonry joints began to distort and twist the structure. The areas of blank glass damaged the balance of the window and spoiled the setting of the remaining painted work. Both visually and structurally the window was compromised.

In 2015 the Museums and Galleries team began working with The Friends of Cliffe Castle to develop a funding project to conserve the window. Working with groups like the Friends of Bradford Galleries and Museums and the Swire Trust the museum has now found the funds to enable the conservation project to take place.

We hope that work will begin in late Spring 2017 and we very much look forward to unveiling a window that does justice to the original maker and designer and also to the family who commissioned it later in the year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *