All posts by Heather Millard

Explore Cliffe Castle with 21st Century Technology

We asked our new Community Engagements and Events intern, Lucy to write this blog, and give you an insight into what she’s currently involved with….

She writes:

Hello, I’m the new Community Engagement and Events Intern at Bradford Museums and Galleries. I’ve only been here the sum of three whole weeks but already I’ve been given an exciting project to take the lead on. My task is to share the great news with all our visitors new and old that we are launching an immersive virtual reality tour of Cliffe Castle.

The home of Victorian millionaire and textile manufacturer, Henry Isaac Butterfield, has been meticulously scanned and brought to life in a digital immersive environment.

At Cliffe Castle on the 10th December, alongside the many other things to see at our Christmas event you’ll be able to take a virtual walk around the museum and explore areas that aren’t always easily accessible to visitors. Viewers can discover new facts about the collection by finding interactive tags attached to objects throughout the virtual museum.

A still taken from the VR tour
A still taken from the Virtual Reality tour

The VR tour company CONVERTS, who have scanned a number of Yorkshire museums and institutions, will also be on hand to tell you how they created the tour.

But if you don’t fancy leaving your house this cold December, you could take a tour from your living room. All you require is a simple Google cardboard headset and a modern smartphone to download the experience. Or alternatively you can view the 2D experience on a computer or modern tablet.

This is a picture of me modelling a Google cardboard headset, during a photo-shoot for our marketing. They’re very easy to assemble and use, I would describe the headsets as flat pack cardboard with Velcro fastenings.

Lucy modelling the VR headset
Lucy modelling the VR headset

Our new virtual reality tour is accessible for all. People who are unable to visit the museum can explore Cliffe Castle from the comfort of their own home. The VR tour will allow us to go out into the community and take the whole museum with us. I’m very excited about the potential of having a resource that provides inclusive access to collections, I am hoping to harness the VR experience across dementia cafes, schools and community groups that struggle to access the museum. As we move forward, I will be researching technology that can advance the accessibility of museums for all visitors.

Alongside the VR launch, Salma our Technical Assistant Trainee will be showcasing 3D printing processes that she is using to recreate objects from in-accessible collections that are too fragile to handle. Check back to hear more about this from Salma in the next blog!

After the launch of our VR Tour at Cliffe Castle on the 10th December, the experience will be made available to use at home.  (Editor’s note –  Now it’s live, here’s a link to go exploring with…  Do let us know what you think!)

LGBTQ+ symposium at Cartwright Hall

Jill, our Curator of Fine Arts agreed to write a post for us discussing the LGBTQ+ symposium we put on last month.

She writes


Photo credit: Jamie Fletcher. Still image from ‘Queer as in Queer’.
Photo credit: Jamie Fletcher. Still image from ‘Queer as in Queer’.

Last month we invited anyone interested in LGBT+ art and culture to join us at Cartwright Hall for a one-day symposium of talks. The purpose was threefold: to hear from six fantastic art industry professionals, to initiate a working relationship with them, and to begin a dialogue with people from across our local LGBT+ communities.

After a passionate introduction from Bradford Council’s LGBT+ champion, Councillor Richard Dunbar, the day kicked off with Jude Woods. Jude has many strings to her bow including experience of working with museum collections, and for us she facilitated a Queer interpretation of two paintings we have on display. By talking about how she considered the pictures to relate to Queer culture and asking people what it made them think or feel it really opened up a completely different description and interpretation to the standard label information. It made me realise we could offer visitors a richer interpretation of artworks by also providing an alternative label text. This is something with a low cost that we could try quite easily.

Charlotte Keenan MacDonald from National Museums Liverpool was up next speaking from the perspective of a curator of British Art and gave us an art historical context referencing Bradford’s most famous and also gay artist, David Hockney. With a well-established Homotopia festival in Liverpool they have experience of engaging LGBT+ audiences and they are actively acquiring the work of LGBT+ artists.

The remaining speakers were practising artists: Nadim Choudry, Phil Sayers, Jez Dolan and Debbie Sharp, each spoke to us about their own art, and in the case of Phil and Jez, this also included work they have done or are doing with museum collections. I really like and respect the work of each of these artists and we are planning to explore ideas of how we can work together in the future. I am particularly keen on working with contemporary artists and museum collections as I think you get interesting and new perspectives on historical objects and artworks this way which keeps the gallery displays fresh and communicates in a broader variety of ways to a broader variety of people.

Debbie concluded the artist talks with a short performance that no written description could really do justice to. Needless to say we were all completely captivated. When she stopped you could have heard a pin drop, it was a great way to end.

Before everyone went their separate ways we invited comments about the day and contributions on what people would like to see in the future. One common feeling among the artists was that they have been particularly popular this year as museums have sought to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial-decriminalization of homosexuality, but what happens next year? Does it all stop? For our part, in Bradford Museums we consider our engagement with LGBT+ art and culture just to be beginning. We made lots of new contacts and got lots of ideas that day. We established there is interest from our audience and a role we can play. We also recognised this event didn’t include people who work as it was held on a weekday day time, or young people who were noticeably absent. So there is much we can do which I’m looking forward to.

If you are interested in LGBT+ art and culture and have any particular artists or areas of history you would be interested in seeing more of (at any of the Bradford Museum sites) send an email to and mark them ‘for attention of Jill’.

Front of House: Cartwright Hall

A new Museum Assistant, Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, shares her first impressions of the Gallery as she starts as a full time member of staff.

Like many people I struggled to find a career I was genuinely passionate about. Early 2016 I took a job at Beverley Art Gallery, and although I have frequented many a gallery and museum I’m no connoisseur of art and I knew very little about how exhibition/museum teams operated. However I was ready for a new challenge and it happened to be the best move I’d ever made, I finally felt I’d found my call in life.

Cartwright Hall Exterior
Cartwright Hall Exterior

On one of my visits back home to West Yorkshire earlier this year I decided to take my daughter to one of my old stomping grounds – Cartwright Hall Art Gallery. There was a warmth that burned inside me as I gazed over the amazing building that stood before me. Inside, the galleries were just as bright and welcoming as ever, like I remembered them as a child.

As a child the sculptures and art works were a little over-awing. But now I could actually appreciate what Cartwright Hall was really about, what an amazing place!

Preparing for exhibitions
Preparing for exhibitions

Not only does it have beautiful galleries, it has fantastic architecture and glorious historic park surroundings. It has also opened up the minds of so many people with its cultural exhibitions; kept the artists of Bradford on the map with exhibitions like David Hockney and has engaged the public with joining in with displays and workshops. Most of all it brought a smile to so many people visiting.

Preparing for exhibition install
Preparing for exhibition install

I knew then where I wanted to be, I wanted to come home! I wanted to be part of the team delivering the service at Cartwright Hall, a place that had brought me some of my happiest childhood memories, and that’s where I am today.

I am looking forward to what Cartwright Hall has in store for 2018 and being a part of the team!

Butterfields & Cliffe Castle

You’ll be used to seeing my name pop on these posts – I post the entries, but it’s not always me that writes the content.

However, this week’s blog is focusing on the ‘day job’ for me.  I’m the Social History Curator for Bradford Museums and Galleries, and I’m lucky enough to be based primarily at Cliffe Castle, which has a fascinating history and an interesting family associated with it –  the Butterfields

One of the tasks I’ve been doing over the past year or so, is focusing on the incredibly generous bequest from Lady Rozelle Raynes.  Great-Granddaughter to Henry Isaac Butterfield, she was the last of the family, and when she sadly passed away in 2015, she remembered the museum in her will.   We talked in an earlier blog about the  Malachite Chimney piece, which she gave to the museum.  As well as the fireplace, she gave to the Museum any items that she had retained that had a Cliffe Castle or a Butterfield link

The  Raynes Bequest items include paintings, pieces of furniture, sculpture, books, documents, porcelain dinner services (over 400 pieces processed so far) and many other items, both large and small –  although the fireplace was probably the largest, and almost certainly the heaviest item to come back up from Thoresby!

Opening the boxes has been a bit like Christmas year round –  we’re never quite sure what will be hiding, waiting to surprise us, even when we think we know what the box will contain!

I wanted to share just a few things I’ve found interesting

Tucked in some documents, was this right to travel –  confirming that for quite a time, Frederick saw himself as American (he was an american consul in Ghent for a period time) – his citizenship came from his American Mother.  It gives us plenty of details about Frederick, but his travelling companions are merely listed – it was not seen as important to record their details!

This document permits Frederick to travel as citizen of the United States, along with  his wife Jessie, their daughter and a maid.

We’ve come across quite a lot of images of Marie Louise Pierrepont – Henry’s granddaughter , Frederick’s daughter and Lady Rozelle’s mother.  She has quite a distinctive face, which has proved useful in identifying her in photographs!

Marie Louise Pierrepont, (nee Butterfield) Countess Manvers as a young girl
Marie Louise Pierrepont, (nee Butterfield) Countess Manvers as a young girl
Mare Louise Pierrepont, Countess Manvers probably in the late 1920s, early 1930s

Perhaps the most touching things we came across however, were two small lockets tucked in the corner of a box.

Lockets are always a little exciting, because they so often contain images –  and these were no exception!  The top locket contained two photographs – one of a young Frederick, and one of Marie Louise Roosevelt Butterfield his mother

Marie-Louise and Frederick
Marie-Louise and Frederick

We’re not quite sure who that locket orginally belonged to, as it’s not any of the monagrams or crests we’re familiar with –  if anyone recognises it, please do let us know!

The other locket we realised however, probably belonged to Henry Isaac Butterfield.

Inside, we found a lock of hair, and a photograph of Marie Louise.   There is carved ivy on the back of the locket –  a symbol of fidelity and everlasting love.  So it is likely this locket belonged to Henry Isaac.  Whether it was commissioned before or after her death we don’t know, but the signs of wear on the outside of the locket show that it was frequently handed -and kept close.  To see those physical signs of his affection was very touching.

Having the opportunity to handle these objects and add to our knowledge of the family –  and ensure they are treasured in the future too – has been a real joy.  It’s times like these I really love what I do!

#Askacuratorday 2017

Ask a curator logo

For the past few years, our curatorial team has participated in the annual & international #Askacuratorday on Twitter.  Always good fun, it allows us to advocate to the world what we do, and share some of the exciting and entertaining stories that are associated with our sites and our collections.

As has become tradition, we started off by tweeting a picture of our supplies.  (Don’t underestimate the power of baked goods and a cup of tea/coffee in fuelling curatorial work!)

As ever, it provoked fun responses –  and the Rijkmuseum declaring an intention to visit!

Onto the actual business of the day!

This question gave us a chance to brag about the Malachite Fireplace at Cliffe Castle.

Turns out other people enjoyed the story as much as we did

We put out the annual plea for one of our ‘holygrail’ items  (if it’s lingering in your loft, do let us know…)

We hope they will –  as we were telling Haley Sharpe design, it wouldn’t be the first time things turn up out of the blue…

Thoughtful questions about how to engage with visitors emerged.

Questions to other curators at other institutions gained us mentions too –  confirming our audience appreciates what we do

And we never let the opportunity for a bad joke go on #Askacurator day….

(they never did confirm the size….)

We signed off at the end of the day, leaving some of the other participants still going strong….   If you haven’t yet come across the epic twitterbattle between the Natural History Museum & the Science Museum in London, I’d recommend looking it up.

It had us in stitches –  and proves, as we try to do every year that working in a museum is never boring…..

We’ll back on twitter again next year –   but every day can be ‘ask a curator’ day, just get in touch with us!

Trans-Pennine Harp Group

Music at the Museum: Cliffe Castle

Tony Carruthers is one of our Visitor Service Assistants at Cliffe Castle, and agreed to write a blog talking about his involvement the ‘Music at the Museum’ events we run there.

He writes.

What springs to mind when you think of Cliffe Castle Museum? The Pholiderpeton? The observational beehive? The stunning fireplace made from malachite and the suite of reception rooms preserved to show how the house would have looked in the 1800s? How about music concerts?

Well, from 2pm on Sunday 10th September 2017 we will be beginning our 3rd season of monthly concerts, known as “Music at the Museum”,  here at Cliffe Castle, held in the Bracewell Smith Hall. The season will be kicking off with a performance from The Haworth Band, and will continue throughout the year.

It may seem odd at first to have music concerts in the museum, but when you consider the history of Cliffe Castle it begins to make sense. The Butterfield Family were keen entertainers, holding regular balls in the Ball Room (where we now house the natural history collection), and inviting composers and musicians from across Europe to stay at Cliffe Castle. In fact, as you enter into the Working Landscapes Gallery in the museum, there is an enlarged photograph of Henry Isaac Butterfield and some guests, one of whom is named as Ricardo Vines, a Spanish pianist and composer.  Henry Isaac regularly commissioned works from well-known composers of the time, such as Emile Waldteufel, who taught Empress Eugenie of France to play piano. At one point Henry Isaac even had a piece of music written especially for Cliffe Castle, known as the Cliffe Castle Gavotte, composed by Francois Behr.

Cliffe Castle gavotte frontispiece
A scan of the frontispiece of the Cliffe Castle Gavotte

The Butterfield’s were also keen musicians themselves, as evidenced in one of the first rooms you see on entering the museum – in the first of the reception rooms, known as the music room, there can be seen a Cello, Harp, Piano and an interesting instrument known as a Harp-Lute.  Another Grand Piano can be seen in the Grand Drawing Room, opposite the Malachite fireplace.

In keeping with the musical heritage of Cliffe Castle, it was decided in late 2015 that we would begin holding a series of concerts, offering local community musicians and groups the opportunity to perform in the grand setting of the Bracewell Smith Hall. We began in December, with a carol concert from a local school choir. This seemed to be well received, and so from January 2016 we continued in earnest, initially staging concerts every two weeks. Some of the groups who performed in the first season included the Skipton Community Orchestra, the Haworth Ukulele Group (also known as H.U.G.) and Bingley based female voice choir Opus 44. We also had solo artists such as multi-instrumentalist Den Miller, and worked with local youth arts group Small World Keighley.

Haworth Ukulele Group’s first performance
Haworth Ukulele Group’s first performance

Overall the first season was deemed to be a success, with audience numbers growing steadily over the season and lovely comments being received

Sheer delight at witnessing live talent” ,

Listening to live music In a relaxed atmosphere and beautiful setting”

It lifts the heart on a cold day”

Performers enjoyed it too, with many asking to return to Cliffe Castle at a later date.

With such fantastic feedback and keen audiences, the go ahead was given for a second season, and so after a summer break we began again, this time on a monthly basis running from September until July.

We had learnt some lessons from the first season too, making sure to use the P.A. system to introduce acts and songs, as we found that single vocals can sometimes become lost in the space.

The second season continued to be a success, with increasing audience numbers. We had a few returning acts such as Haworth Ukulele Group, and others new to Music at the Museum such as vocal harmony group Voicemail Harmony and the Steeton Male Voice Choir, Windstruments, a 25-piece flute orchestra, and the Trans-Pennine Harp Group among the acts who performed.

We did however have a bit of a blip during the second season, with one act cancelling at quite short notice, leaving us hastily trying to find a replacement. Unfortunately this left some people disappointed, as some had travelled quite a distance to see the act. But from this, we have learnt a lesson, and with the popularity of groups wishing to perform at the museum, we now have a good list of people to contact who would be willing to fill in at short notice should something like this happen again.

Windstruments Flute Orchestra

The second season was once again deemed a success, with increasing audience numbers, great feedback and request to return from performers. The go ahead was given for a third season, and we actually began to take bookings around halfway through the second season. In fact, by the time the second season had finished in July, we had completed the bookings for the whole of the third season.

Trans-Pennine Harp Group
Trans-Pennine Harp Group

Looking forward to another season of concerts kicking off on the 10th September, we have some exciting acts booked. Some will be returning to the museum, such as the Haworth Band, who will be starting the season off for us with a Brass band concert.

In November, exactly a year since they last performed for us, Voicemail Harmony will be giving us another vocal harmony concert. We also have some big bands coming up, and by big I mean that there are a lot of them – we have the return of Skipton Community Orchestra in April, the 2 Rivers Swing and Concert Bands (each band has 25 members, plus a full range of instruments) in December and March, and finishing the season in July will see the return of Steeton Male Voice Choir, with a whopping 50 singers involved!

We’re also having some smaller groups with folk duo Otra in February, and singer and pianist combo Adare in June.

Below is the full list of dates for the third season, starting on 10th of September at 2pm in the Bracewell Smith Hall at Cliffe Castle Museum. Have a look and we hope to see you at some if not all of the performances for “Music at the Museum”.



10th September – The Haworth Band

8th October – Bradford Voices

5th November – Voicemail Harmony

3rd December – 2 Rivers Swing Band


28th January – Bradford Concert Band

25th February – Otra (Folk Duo)

25th March – 2 Rivers Concert Band

22nd April – Skipton Community Orchestra

20th May – Noteability Concert Band

17th June – Adare

15th July – Steeton Male Voice Choir

Helen Thornton – Cartwright Hall

In our blog series, we aim to give an insight into the many different aspects of the Museum and Galleries service.  It might be a curator talking about a collection, a conservator talking about a specific project they’ve been working on  – or in this case, our Museums Manager Central Helen Thornton agreed to write about her experiences this year at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery.

She writes:

In March I was seconded to work at Cartwright Hall from my role as Saltaire World Heritage Site Officer.

I’d worked in the Heritage Conservation Department of Bradford Council for 4 years, but before that I managed Leeds City Art Gallery. So I thought I knew what I was in for at Cartwright!

Cartwright Hall is having an exciting and busy year. In March we opened a temporary exhibition “Splendours of the Sub Continent: A Prince’s Tour 1975-6” working with the Royal Collection Trust from Buckingham Palace. This show was incredibly popular attracting 30,000 visitors.

As Gallery Manager my role was to work with the curator of the show to make sure we had everything in place for the installation and de-installation. During the show I worked with our Museum Assistant team at the front of house to provide an excellent customer experience.

As soon as “Splendours” came down we were straight into planning for two new permanent galleries – one covering “100 Years of Bradford Painters” and of course, the new “David Hockney Gallery”.


The Hockney Birthday Party event
The Hockney Birthday Party event

We knew the David Hockney Gallery was going to be a big deal for the whole of Bradford and we had lots of press coverage. A huge Birthday Party event was held 2 days after the Gallery was opened to celebrate David Hockney’s 80th. So I got involved in a very diverse range of activities from organising Vintage Buses, Birthday Cake and Dachshund shaped balloons!

A lifesized likeness of David Hockney – in cake!
A lifesized likeness of David Hockney – in cake!
Over 1,000 slices of cake were given out free to visitors to Cartwright Hall and Lister Park
Over 1,000 slices of cake were given out free to visitors to Cartwright Hall and Lister Park

We also re-located our Reception Desk to a much friendlier location and improved the appearance of our historic Gallery interiors.

As well as getting involved with exhibitions and events, the Manager’s role is to ensure toilets are clean, staff are well trained and supported, health and safety rules are followed, marketing is done, budgets are well managed and fundraising is done for that next exciting project!

I think that is what I love about working here – the variety, the challenge and the contact with visitors who come to see our shows.

Hockney Gallery blog

Jill, our Curator of Fine Arts, has been very busy recently with a rather large project and she’s agreed to write us another blog about her work on our new David Hockney Gallery!


She writes:

On the 6 July Cartwright Hall opened its doors to welcome the very first visitors to the David Hockney Gallery. Six hours’ worth of press visitors came during the day and then in the evening Bradfordians turned up in force to see what it was all about. And what is it all about? Well it is an intimate look at artist David Hockney and his work. It shows the art he produced as he trained at Bradford School of Art – work that no other public collection owns. It provides examples of the different medium he has used and introduces some of the recurring themes in his work, and it gives an insight into his family life through his personal photograph albums– albums that have never been seen in public before.

As with any event I was concerned that no one would turn up – that we would be left with the barrels of Hockney’s 80th Ale the Bradford Brewery had specially created for us and no one would get to taste the miniature fish n’ chips we had on order. But I needn’t have worried, in truth David Hockney is an internationally recognised and immensely successful artist who is well-loved everywhere but especially in Bradford because he was born and grew up here. At the age of 80 there are still plenty of people who remember Hockney and have recollections to share and I always enjoy hearing these. One lady, who had come on the bus even though she was approaching 80 herself, showed me these tiny little black and white photos of herself and David and recalled how he managed to get girls at Bradford College to knit long sections for him to add to the scarf he was wearing – the very same scarf he is seen wearing in the self-portrait in Bradford’s art collection (currently on loan to the Pompidou Centre, Paris). She laughed warmly at the memory, and so did I. It felt special to share in her encounters and I realised Hockney had obviously always been very charming.

On Sunday 9 July it was Hockney’s 80th birthday and as he was painting at his home in Los Angeles, later attending a drinks reception at the Getty Museum, here in Bradford we celebrated in our own special way with a big party in the park. Over 2,000 people visited the new gallery with more than 3,000 taking part in the celebrations throughout the day. You could have a go at drawing on an iPad, or dance at David’s disco (where you had to dress up like him before you danced) or speak to one of our Hockney character actors or add your contribution to the big communal drawing. You could look at the photo collage produced by artists working with people from a local care home or take a photo, as hundreds of people did, of our two birthday cakes that recreated two of Hockney’s artworks.

Happy Birthday Hockney by Handmade Parade/Ian Hodgkin
Happy Birthday Hockney by Handmade Parade/Ian Hodgkin

The climax of the day was a parade of people from the local community who had made their own Hockney-inspired costumes and followed behind a massive David Hockney puppet with his dachshund dog (Hockney’s amazing coat had been made by a local quilting guild). We all gathered in front of Cartwright Hall and sang Happy Birthday as loud as we could as we were filming it to send to David. He may have been many miles away but there was a lot of love for him at Cartwright Hall that day and I hope we introduced his work to a new audience of people who haven’t encountered him before. After months and months of planning it had all come together and the David Hockney Gallery was finally open for all to share. It was a really fantastic experience and one I shall never forget.

More Stained Glass at Cliffe Castle

Recent visitors to Cliffe Castle may have noticed a new addition to the window between our Grand Drawing Room and the Working Landscapes Gallery.

Nestled in the window, looking over the park are a rather lovely set of Arts and Crafts windows that we have recently installed.  We thought we’d use this blog to tell you a little bit more about them.

They were originally installed in the church of St James, Brighouse. When the church was demolished in 1970 they were acquired by Bradford Museums and Galleries and taken into safekeeping.

Window commemorating Marrianne Barber
Window commemorating Marianne Barber

The windows commemorate the life of Mrs Marianne Barber. Born into the Thackwray family of Knaresborough, Marianne married solicitor Joseph Barber in 1832. She had eight children and was widowed in 1862 when her husband was killed by a locomotive. It is thought that her children (who included the Venerable Edward Barber, Archdeacon of Chester Cathedral and Judge William Barber QC) commissioned the window in 1879.

The figures represent the interrelated religious ideas of Faith (left) and Hope (right) .

Figure representing Faith
Figure representing hope

The artist has shown Hope looking upwards with a rainbow behind her.

Figure representing Faith
Figure representing Faith

Faith looks towards Hope. She rests one hand on a marble column while her left hand is raised in worship. A castellated tower acts as a backdrop. The artist’s signature is at the bottom left of the Faith panel.

Artist's signature
Artist’s signature

In the Quatrefoil, Faith is shown as an angel bearing a staff in the form of a cross. The angel of Hope carries a shield decorated with an anchor.


Originally the Faith and Hope panels were positioned beside each other with the quatrefoil above. Display limitations at Cliffe Castle have required us to show the panels on the same line.

The windows were made by the firm of S. Belham and Co. of 155 Buckingham Palace Road, London, a company founded by Stephen Belham in 1865.

The window was designed and painted by Hugh Arthur Kennedy. Kennedy was an artist, playwright, novelist and journalist who studied Fine Art at the Slade School under Sir Edward Poynter. He wrote articles on stained glass (amongst many other topics) and worked with S. Belham and Co. and the well-known West Yorkshire designer J. Aldam Heaton who lived at Woodbank , Bingley.

The coloured, textured and marbled hand-made glass which forms the window was made by the celebrated glass and mosaic maker, Jesse Rust of the Lambeth Glass Works, London.

On the 6th December 1879 the windows were reviewed in the influential Victorian art magazine the Athenaeum. They described the windows as follows:

The drawing of the figures is strongly marked and the colour subdued. The works have been executed faithfully according to the true principals of glass staining and design in glass. There is repose and sobriety in the figures . . . and above all, sober, rich and jewel-like colouring of rare beauty.

In 2017 the windows were conserved and installed at Cliffe Castle by Jonathan and Ruth Cooke of Ilkley.

Funding for the project was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Revd Michael Belham, Miss Diana Kennedy and Mr John Atter (descendants of the manufacturer, the artist and the original donor’s family) and a conservation grant from the Glaziers Trust.

We’re also grateful to the families for providing us with additional information on the various individuals associated with the window.  Art is beautiful –  as are these fantastic windows,  but as a Social History curator, also having the stories associated with it makes, I think, for a richer experience!

The museum is also grateful for the encouragement and support of the late Dr Neil Moat, a passionate champion of the work of H.A. Kennedy and S. Belham and Co.

Cottingley Fairies

If you’ve visited Cliffe Castle since May, you can’t help but have noticed the exhibition Fairy Folklore that’s our big summer exhibition.  It explores superstitions, traditions, alleged sightings, and even the use of Fairy imagery in artwork, literature and even household appliances!

It’s an interesting show, and we’ve chosen to do it this year for a very specific reason.  2017 sees the 100th anniversary of the first two ‘Cottingley Fairy’ photographs, which were taken by Elise Wright and Frances Griffiths in the beck behind the house they lived in.  They’re not the only focus of the show, but it is a story that’s always intrigued me.  The ‘Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden’ have provoked debate for nearly a century, since they were first published in 1920 by the well known author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Most famous for writing Sherlock Holmes, a master of scientific logic, many wondered at his belief in something so fanciful.

Researching further into the story has been great fun and extremely interesting  As well as  reading various books on the subject I spent several enjoyable days immersing myself at in the archives held by Special Collections at the Brotherton Library at Leeds University reading various pieces of correspondence and related literature on the subject.  Being able to read the actual letters written by Arthur Conan Doyle, Edward Gardner, Elsie and Frances proved illuminating.  Exploring the village of Cottingley itself, to see the impact the story had has been interesting -there are road names like  Fairy Dell,  Titania Close and Goodfellow Close scattered through the village.

Road sign - Goodfellow Close
Goodfellow Close – part of a new development that backs onto the Beck

You can’t actually visit the part of the beck where the photos were taken, as it’s on private property but the glimpses I got were evocative enough!

A view of the Beck from by the Village Hall
A view of the Beck 

The pictures were taken when Elise Wright was 16, and her cousin Frances was 9.  Frances and her mother were staying with Elsie’s family in Cottingley during WWI whilst her father was serving in the army.  Frances attended a local school, whilst Elsie worked for Gunnings, a local photography studio ‘touching up’ photos.

Frances frequently got wet playing in the Beck behind the house on Main Street, Cottingley but claimed it was because of the fairies there.  Needless to say, the grown ups were not particularly convinced by the explanation, but the girls insisted that they’d prove it. The two borrowed a Midg Camera owned by Arthur Wright, Elsie’s father, who was an amateur photographer,  and went off to take some photographs…

On developing the photographic plates in the darkroom that Arthur had created in the cottage, he was rather taken aback to see fairies and gnomes in the two pictures.  Even so, the pictures remained a family joke until 1920.

Polly, Elsie’s mother attended a meeting  of the  Theosophical Society in Bradford on”fairy life” in 1920.  Although Polly had been initially skeptical of the photos, hearing a talk about fairy life as a reality, she changed her mind, and showed the two fairy photographs taken by her daughter and niece to the speaker. As a result, the photographs were displayed at the society’s annual conference in Harrogate, held a few months later. There they came to the attention of a leading member of the society, Edward Gardner and via him, to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who requested that Gardner investigate further, as Conan-Doyle was about to embark on a trip to Australia for a lecture tour and and was unable to visit or investigate himself.  The archives at the Brotherton include some of the correspondence between the two at the time.

Additional cameras were provided, and as a result three more photographs were taken, each purportedly showing fairies.   Gardner had the slides verified by an expert, Harold Snelling, who confirmed the negatives had not been tampered with.   In the Christmas edition of The Strand, 1920, Conan-Doyle publishes his article about the Fairies, calling it an epoch making event . Although the names of the girls are disguised (they are called Iris and Alice in the article) and the village was not named it didn’t take long for the real names and locations to be known.

An epoch making event
An epoch making event

The article was followed up by a subsequent article with the additional three photographs, and the publication of a book by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle in 1922 called  The Coming of the Fairies.   In it, he gave further details, and included an article by Gardner on the science of fairies and their classifications.  (which is good for a giggle!)

Reactions to the fairies were mixed.  Some believed adamantly that the fairies were indeed real whilst others, including Harry Houdini (the well known illusionist and a friend of Conan-Doyle) that they had to have been faked.  Houdini wrote:

‘’Messrs, Price and Sons, the well known firm of candle makers, inform us that that fairies in this photograph are an exact reproduction of a famous poster they have used for a year, to advertise their night lights.

‘I admit on these fairies there are wings, whereas, our fairies have no wings,’ said a representative of the firm to a Star reporter, ‘but, with this exception, the figures correspond line for line with our drawings’.

An entertaining piece of correspondence I came across in the archives was a letter from a lady in the 1970s that claimed that the fairies in the photograph weren’t real, but at the same time wanted to share her own fairy sighting  (a brownie near Myrtle Park, Bingley).

At the time of publication, the girls kept quiet, as they didn’t want to contradict or embarrass such an eminent man as Conan-Doyle when he was so adamant about the authenticity of the photos.  They later described the situation as one that had got away from them.   Interest eventually waned, Elsie and Frances both moved away –  entertainingly for me, I found that Elsie had moved  to just outside Nottingham, my home town, and Frances too had lived there briefly.

In the 1980s, both Frances and Elsie admitted that the photographs had been faked.  Elsie had copied out and enlarged the dancing fairies from the Princess Mary Gift Book (a fundraising publication in 1917), cut them out and mounted them on hatpins for the photography.

Fairies from Princess Mary's Gift Book
Fairies from Princess Mary’s Gift Book

Intriguingly, although Elsie claimed all five photos were faked, Frances still claimed that fairies did exist, and that the final photo of the five was real.  She would talk about in a book she wrote Reflections on the Cottingley Fairies

I have also been lucky enough to have been introduced to Elsie’s son, Glenn who was kind enough to lend us never before seen items for the exhibition – a wonderful drawing of Titania (Queen of the Fairies) dating from 1917 –  the year of the photos and a rather charming Gnome ornament, made in the 1970s illustrating her continuing love of art.

Titania, inspired by Midsummer Nights Dream and drawn by Elsie in 1917
Titania, inspired by Midsummer Nights Dream and drawn by Elsie in 1917


Model of a Gnome, created by Elsie in the 1970s
Model of a Gnome, created by Elsie in the 1970s

Also not seen before are a pair of photograph albums belonging to Elisie and Polly, which contain numerous images of Cottingley and the surrounding area.  They would be fascinating objects in their own right, regardless of their connection to the famous story – most albums of the era don’t tell you where or who they are depicting – most of the photos have captions, making them invaluable to the historian. Being able to look through them was a real thrill.

Elsie's photo album
Elsie’s photo album

That a hundred years later, people still debate the reality of fairies and whether or not the photographs were real is a testament to how the story captured the imagination of so many around the world.  I think it’ll continue to inspire art, literature and even films for years to come.

In the meantime, I think I’ll leave this blog’s final words to Elsie, as I think it rather apt .

If people wish to believe in fairies, there is no harm done.  And if people wish to think of us as a couple of practical jokers,  or two solemn faced Yorkshire comedians that’s alright too.  But the word liar is a rough word for a true or untrue Fairy story.