From Russia to Cliffe Castle…

If you’ve visited Cliffe Castle recently, you may have noticed a few changes taking place to some of our reception room displays. We’ve been busy welcoming back a number of items to Cliffe Castle that left when the Castle was sold.

Cliffe Castle museum began its life as the palatial home of Keighley born businessman, entrepreneur and man of the world Henry Isaac Butterfield . He redeveloped Cliffe House, as it had been known in the 1870s and 1880s, transforming it from a relatively small house into the much larger and grander ‘Castle’, which included adding in castellated towers, a ballroom, billiard room and a new library. All of this formed a suitable backdrop for a wonderful collection of artwork, sculpture and furnishings that Henry was amassing.

Cliffe Hall, the precursor to Cliffe Castle
Cliffe Hall, the precursor to Cliffe Castle

From Italy came old master paintings and elaborate carved giltwood mirrors and chairs. From France came exhibition clocks, carpets, luxuriously upholstered chairs and chandeliers. From America came modern paintings and pianos. From Spain and Germany, came portaits and marble busts.  Henry Isaac was always keen to buy up objects with Royal, Imperial or romantic provenance, and the Castle showed off Byron’s candlesticks, Napoleon III’s china and glass and souvenirs of Marie Antoinette.

Cliffe Castle in the 19th Century
Cliffe Castle in the 19th Century

From Italy came old master paintings and elaborate carved giltwood mirrors and chairs. From France came exhibition clocks, carpets, luxuriously upholstered chairs and chandeliers, from America came modern paintings and pianos and from Spain and Germany came portraits and marble busts.  Henry Isaac was always keen to buy up objects with Royal, Imperial or romantic provenance and the Castle showed off Byron’s candlesticks, Napoleon III’s china and glass and souvenirs of Marie Antoinette.

Cliffe Castle's interiors
Cliffe Castle’s Enfilade of Reception rooms-  complete with added Henry Isaac!

After Henry Isaac’s death in 1910 the Castle became the home of his son Sir Frederick. He stripped out some of the more ornate furnishings and wall coverings, but much of Henry Isaac’s collections remained.

By 1950 the Castle was owned by Sir Frederick’s daughter Countess Manvers. Her marriage to Gervase Pierrepont meant she was was living at even grander Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire and she decided to sell Cliffe Castle.
The building was bought by Sir Bracewell Smith, who gave the building and the park to the people of Keighley, to be used as the Museum for the town.

Prior to the sale of the building, many of the original fittings were sold at a four day auction.  There were nearly a thousand lots and  included everything from the garden deckchairs to Byron’s wineglasses. However, there were a significant number of items that were moved down to Thoresby Hall.

Thoresby was even larger and grander than Cliffe Castle, and so the items that traveled down found a suitable new home. When you think of moving things from a house, you normally think of objects like chairs, tables, ornaments, paintings – and those did move. However the item that this particular blog is going to focus on is something you might not think would move at all!

It’s a large green Malachite fireplace – and we’re going to tell the story of the journeys it’s made over the years…

It formed the centrepiece of Henry Isaac’s drawing room and was also something of a legend. Cliffe castle staff told the story that its fittings were solid gold and that it had been won by Henry Isaac in a gambling match, all of which turned out to be nonsense.  We think the story of the fireplace is interesting enough in its own right.

It was commissioned in the 1840s by Prince Anatole Demidoff whose family owned the Russian malachite deposits in the Urals.

Demidoff had villages full of craftspeople developing ways to create decorative items from the malachite which is difficult and poisonous to work. These objects were to form the centrepiece of the Russian exhibit at the Crystal palace and the Prince’s chimneypiece was illustrated in the Official catalogue of 1851.

From the Crystal Palace the chimneypiece moved to the Palazzo san Donato in Florence where it was set up in the prince’s salon Louis 18th. After the prince’s death and that of his brother the contents of the Castle were sold at an epic art auction attended by people like the Rothschilds the Vanderbilts and the Butterfields. Henry Isaac bought busts, tapestries and the chimneypiece which went straight into his newly re-fitted Drawing Room at Cliffe castle.

His grand-daughter painted the fireplace as it was in the Grand-drawing room –  a painting we are lucky enough to now hold in our collections

malachite firplace grand drawing room - countess manvers
The Malachite Fireplace in the Grand Drawing-Room, Cliffe Castle

Research showed that the fireplace was one of the items that Countess Manvers removed it to Thoresby in 1950.You can see another painting by Countess Manver’s depicting the fireplace installed at Thoresby Hall here.

Thoresby itself was sold in the 1980s (with a further sale of contents), so we were unsure what had happened at this point. The staff at Thoresby (which is now a hotel) were very helpful and reminded us that the house had been a ruin when they took it, with several chimneypieces stolen. They were sure it was lost.

However…

When Lady Rozelle Raynes, Countess Manver’s daughter, and Henry Isaac’s Great-granddaughter invited one of our colleagues to her bungalow in Nottinghamshire for tea, they were amazed to spot a familiar item in her sitting room.There with a massive log fire blazing away in a modern hearth was the elusive Cliffe Castle malachite chimneypiece. It had survived!

Sadly, Lady Rozelle died last year, but we were remembered in her will, which stated that the chimneypiece was to be given to the museum, along with a number of other items that had originally come from Cliffe Castle. We were extremely honoured to be remembered in such a way.

As you can imagine, dismantling it, moving it and bringing it back to the Castle was extremely complex and cost over 11 thousand pounds (which was all externally funded) but now visitors can see it in all its ‘grandeur and magnificent savagery’.

Heather (Curator) and Dale (Collections Officer) looking at the fireplace as it's being re-installed © John Ashton
Heather (Curator) and Dale (Collections Officer) looking at the fireplace   © John Ashton

 

Close up detail of the lion © John Ashton
Close up detail of the lion © John Ashton

 

The conservation work that took place on the fireplace once it arrived back will be the subject of a blog post later this year – do look out for it!

The malachite chimneypiece truly is a fantastic piece. Nothing like it can be seen outside St Petersburg and more than anything it sums up the magical quality of Henry Isaacs original vision.

We hope reading about its journey – which took it from Russia to London to Italy to Yorkshire to Nottingham before it came back up the road to Keighley, might be inspire you to come and see it for yourself!

fireplace back in drawing room
Malachite Chimney piece, looking magnificent once more, back in the Grand Drawing Room, Cliffe Castle. © John Ashton

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