Regular readers of this blog will know of my ongoing research intersts in stately homes and country houses, and especially their fortunes post-World War II. I have also previously written of my particular interest in Thoresby Hall and its occupants, the Earls of Manvers, and espoecially the last Countess Manvers, Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont, an accomplished amateur artist who has left an unrivalled visual record of Thoresby in the 1950s and 1960s. And it is with Countess Manvers that the story turns to Cliffe Castle, her paternal home.
Cliffe Castle now houses Cliffe Castle Museum, under the umbrella of Bradford City Museums, complete with mummy and an impressive collection of fossils and minerals, but it originally started life as Cliffe Hall in the 1830s (designed by George Webster) and was first acquired by Countess Manvers ‘ paternal family, the Butterfields, in 1848. The Butterfields were major Yorkshire textile magnates, and Cliffe Hall was extensively remodelled between 1875-80 to serve as the family’s ancesral seat. Sir Henry Isaac Butterfield (1860-1934), Countess Manvers’ grandfather, transformed Cliffe Hall into Cliffe Castle through the additon of towers, a ballroom, wonderfully landscaped gardens including glass conservatores, and extensive, lavish refurbishing of the house. In the 1870s and 80s, Butterfield spends lavishly on the Castle, which becomes the family seat for a family whose members spend significant time away from England; Henry Isaac Butterfield, for example, spends most of the 1860s and 1870s either in New York (where he meets his wife, Jessie Ridgeway Kennedy), or in Paris, with much of the building work at Cliffe Castle supervised by his son, the fabulously named Frederick William Louis d’Hilliers Roosevelt Theodore Butterfield (!). Cliffe Castle, in its glorious heyday, reflects the cosmopolitan interests and connections of its owner, and even now, in its decline, there are very strong dynastic themes running through the house, with a pronounced emphasis on anything French (reflected in furnishings, paintings, materials), but similarly, there are paintings of Queen Victoria, there are Chinese silk screens, there is music everywhere- this is definitely a house where every object tells a story.
But it’s a story that while it may, arguably, start at Cliffe Castle, it then nevertheless moves to Thoresby, and this is where we return to Marie-Louise Roosevelt Pierrepont. Marie-Louise, Sir Frederick’s daughter, became Countess Manvers in 1941, and on assuming ownership of and residency at Thoresby, the history of these two houses intertwines. Most significantly, some of Cliffe Castle’s most distinctive and iconic objects and furnishings are moved by Countess Manvers to Thoresby, especially following the death of Sir Frederick Butterfield in 1943. By 1943, Cliffe Castle was in decline, but Thoresby, her marital home, afforded her the space to rehome and redisplay objects that had defined her paternal home. So much so in fact, that a significant part of Countess Manvers’ oil paintings and watercolours (held in trust at Thoresby), document the interiors of Cliffe Castle in the 1920s and 30s. Many of the objects depicted in these images can be seen again in the image she painted of the interiors of Thoresby Hall in the 40s and 50s, so she creates a truly unique record of these objects, and suggests the deeper significance of these material possessions to her own sense of self and identity. The objects, arguably, become ‘sites of memory’, and it is only by looking at Cliffe Castle, the mad, magnificent, glorious showcase for the Butterfields’ understanding of themselves, that the story of Thoresby can become fully told. Am I excited? Absolutely right I am. Am I looking forward to probing deeper? Try and stop me….