Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Snowdrop gardens

The gardens at Goldsborough Hall are known locally for their display of snowdrops in February and are open on just two Sundays for public viewing. On the first Sunday this year there was more snow around than snowdrops, so I chose to visit the second Sunday. It was a day that promised sunshine but, in the end, disappointed, even though it was quite mild. The massed snowdrops are very pretty though I think I prefer them when they are interplanted with more colourful species like the hellebores below. 

Monday, 20 February 2017

Goldsborough Hall

Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough, is a Grade II* listed building that dates back to Jacobean times, the early 1600s. Built by Sir Richard Hutton, a prominent lawyer who became High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1623, it was for many years a family home, eventually becoming part of the Harewood estate in the 1750s. It was the home of Mary, Princess Royal, after she married the 6th Earl of Harewood in 1922. She was the daughter of King George V and Queen Mary and the King and Queen are known to have stayed here many times in the 1920s.  It was a school during WWII, then reverted to a family home and later became a nursing home. In 2005 it was sold again and once more reverted to a family house, though now the owners host weddings and corporate events, accommodating guests in luxurious rooms. 

They have also replanted the neglected gardens, which are open to the public on a few days each year as part of the National Gardens Scheme. It raises money for charity (and provides retirees like me with an endless source of pleasant outings!)

The surrounding estate and village bear all the hallmarks of an English country house estate, although the village was auctioned off in 1952, ending 1000 years of estate ownership. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Lightness of being

I've not read Milan Kundera's book (yet) though I love the title: 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being.' For some reason it came to mind when I opened the curtains the other morning and saw the fog. My bedroom window overlooks trees (such joy!) and the gorgeous, though currently naked, copper beech looked delightfully ethereal, framed by the holly tree that is nearer to my house.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Birds

Leeds is one of those cities that very much repays 'looking up' beyond the obvious at eye level, to take in the detail of the buildings, both old and new. It also has a wealth of public sculpture. There's a notable bronze flight of birds by Lorne McKean on the side of one of the office buildings in City Square. Nearby, I spotted these two bronze birds, though I can't find out if they are by the same artist.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Leeds Central Library

Leeds Central Library is, in my view, a 'must see' building for anyone interested in architecture or history. It is a Grade II* listed building, built between 1878 and 1884 as a library and municipal offices. You can read detail of the construction and decor on Wikipedia. Parts of the building - even the stairwells - are extremely ornate, with beautiful Victorian tiles, lovely stained glass, parquet and tiled mosaic floors. As is clear from the photo above (one of the stairwells), each level is treated differently, with a wealth of detail in the plasterwork and balustrades. Some of the pillars are made of 380 million-year-old red Devonian coral reef and you can see fossils in them. Stunning! 

The original reading room, a vast and beautiful space with a tiled, barrel-vaulted ceiling and exquisite tiled walls, is now the Tiled Hall Café, worth a visit in itself. I've never managed a decent photo of it because it's just too huge, but the pictures below pick out some of the tiled detail from the building. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Gone up in the world

Looking east along The Headrow. The roofs of the Library and Art Gallery in the foreground left, and the war memorial.

I took my camera to the top of the clock tower of Leeds Town Hall.  Yes, lugged the heavy thing up all the steep spiral stairs. Despite it being a very dull, grey day, the views were still fabulous.

Looking south towards the rail station. The tallest skyscraper (skyline, on the left third) is Bridgewater Place, 112m high. 

Looking northeast, with the white Leeds Civic Hall tower on the far left.
The odd green bulge just right of the two cranes is the new(ish) Leeds Arena (concert venue)

Looking west. The green space on the left is Park Square.

Looking north west, with the Leeds General Infirmary (hospital) - old and new buildings - dominating the right side of the photo.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Victoria Concert Hall, Leeds

Leeds Town Hall has at its centre a large concert hall, dedicated to Queen Victoria who formally opened the Town Hall in 1858. These days it hosts anything from rock concerts to the renowned Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. The most glorious feature of the hall is the huge and ornate pipe organ, still used for recitals. The hall itself, with double tiers of seating, is richly decorated in a style that would be considered OTT these days, with lots of gilt and carvings, and liberally sprinkled with mottos like 'Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain'. The only jarring note, perhaps, is the 1930s Odeon-style lights, installed to replace the original Victorian chandeliers.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Leeds Town Hall

Leeds Town Hall is a magnificent edifice. It was built between 1853 and 1858 (about the same time as Saltaire) to a design by a young architect called Cuthbert Brodrick. Commissioned by Leeds Corporation to make a statement about the wealth of the city, which by that time because of the Industrial Revolution was an important industrial centre, and to symbolise civic pride and confidence, it over-ran its budget (nothing new there!). It was felt by some to be an indulgence at a time when there was huge poverty and need among the working classes. It towered over the city, being the tallest building by far from 1858 until 1966, when a skyscraper office block was built. 

I joined an interesting guided tour of the Town Hall, which took us into the concert hall, an original law court, old prison cells in the basement and right up the tower to the parapet by the clock faces. It must be a bit of a nightmare to maintain these days. Parts of the interior are a bit tatty and there is work ongoing on the exterior, so that the front is currently hidden by sheeting (with pillars painted on, as seems the way these days!) 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Crown Green Bowls

Good to see the two Salts Sports Club bowling greens being well-used, after the destruction caused by last year's floods (see here).  Crown Green Bowls is, I think, a sport particular to the north of England, played on greens that have a slightly raised centre (the crown). A player bowls a jack (the yellow ball here) to wherever they like on the green. Players then take turns to bowl their own balls (woods) as close as possible to the jack. Whoever gets nearest gets a point. The first player to accumulate 21 points wins. The jacks and the woods have a bias that means that you can get them to turn in two different directions depending on how you bowl them. I know there are many similar games (boules, flat green bowls and even curling) but using a bowling green with a raised crown is what differentiates this version.

When I took this photo there appeared to be a competition going on. There were several teams of players all using the two greens at once. It all looked quite complicated! Players mainly appear to be retired and those folk I know that play are quite passionate about it. Many play on until a ripe old age. A bit of exercise and a lot of socialising is a very good thing.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Tulip time

I love it when tulips start being on sale in the florists again. There's something so rich and voluptuous about them. The ones I've bought recently have been these multi-coloured bouquets. For some reason, perhaps the variety or that they must be 'forced' indoors as it is still so early in the season, they seem to stay upright and don't flop over as they mature, which is a pity as I also like the random floppiness effect of dying tulips. Nevertheless, I'm pleased with this bunch - both in real life and in my photo.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Butterfields of Cliffe Castle

The Victorian owner of Cliffe Castle, Henry Isaac Butterfield (see above), was a wealthy industrialist whose family originated in this area. They had woollen mills locally and extended their business interests to America. In 1854, Henry married Mary Roosevelt Burke, a relative of Theodore Roosevelt. (He was 35 and she was just 16.) They actually lived mostly in France but that didn't stop Henry from expanding his mansion here and later his son Frederick used it as his principal home. They gave lavish and very formal dinner parties, as was fashionable at the time. The house was stripped of personal assets when it was sold to Keighley Corporation in 1949 and ceased to be used as a home. However, descendants of the family have recently bequeathed some of the furniture and fixtures back and they have been reinstated, among them the amazing green malachite fireplace shown below. Some of the downstairs rooms are arranged much as they would have been when the family used them. They are very ornate and packed full of precious items, as most well-to-do Victorian homes were. The photo above, taken in 1895, is almost life sized, sited through a door, and it all very much gives the impression that this is a home and the family are gathered in the conservatory (the 'Winter Garden') for a photograph!

Cliffe Castle's main entrance

Friday, 10 February 2017

Cliffe Castle

I'm loving being retired and able to visit all sorts of interesting places during the week. I'm determined to make the most of the many free attractions locally. One such is the museum called Cliffe Castle in the nearby town of Keighley. (Say that: Keethley!) I thought I'd written about it before on this blog but I can't find any posts... an omission indeed, as it is a very interesting place packed full of exhibits.

It has to be said that the building isn't the most attractive, to my eyes anyway, and the surrounding park has seen better days. It has some lovely trees but little else to recommend it. The local council have invested recently to improve the interior of the museum and, judging by the work going on, they are putting some effort now into the grounds, so things may improve.

Cliffe Hall was originally a mansion, built around 1830 in the ornate Gothic revival style beloved of the Victorians. It was bought in 1848 by the Butterfield family, who had been renting it. Henry Isaac Butterfield set about extending and transforming it by adding a ballroom, towers (one later demolished) and a conservatory, renaming it Cliffe Castle in 1878. Henry's granddaughter eventually inherited the mansion. As she had married and become the Countess of Manvers, she lived in an even grander home at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire. Many of Cliffe Castle's furnishings were taken there. She really had no need of the Keighley property. She eventually sold it to Keighley Corporation in 1949 and it became a museum.

Thursday, 9 February 2017


I had to smile at this little grey squirrel in the woods. It saw me coming and froze, splayed upside down on the tree trunk. (How do they hang on like that?) I suppose they operate on the same basis as my two year old granddaughter when she plays Hide and Seek: 'If I stay perfectly still and close my eyes so I can't see her, she can't see me...'

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Woodland scenes

A morning walk through Hirst Woods... Slightly disappointing in that the promised sunshine never broke through. Nevertheless, a light mistiness is attractive in woodland, emphasising the separation between the trees.

Everywhere was terribly muddy, though I don't recall that we've had a huge amount of rain recently. I do get a bit fed up of cleaning my boots!

Apart from a handful of dog-walkers, I had the woods to myself and enjoyed watching the squirrels and birds in the quiet and stillness. I saw lots: a variety of tits; blackbirds, lovely speckled thrushes; a beautiful jay and a cute little treecreeper, as well as the ubiquitous magpies.  None of them stayed still long enough to photograph but just seeing them was pleasure in itself.