Although I’ve been on a number of the Discover Huddersfield walks this year, I’ve so far managed to make it on only one of those organised by Calderdale Heritage Walks. That took place on Sunday the 15th of September 2019 and was titled Cliffe Hill – The Walkers and Others. Although the walk has been part of the programme for several years, the popularity of the BBC series Gentleman Jack meant that this year’s group was somewhat larger than those that assembled for previous runnings of the walk.
We assembled in the churchyard of Lightcliffe Old Church (of which only the tower remains intact) and it was quickly decided to split us up into two groups so as not to overcrowd any of the sites we’d be visiting. I joined the group that was to first visit Cliffe Hill, the home of Ann Walker before and after her marriage to Anne Lister. Much of the original grounds of the house are now occupied by a school, while the house itself, while mostly unchanged externally (resulting in its use by the BBC for the filming of Gentleman Jack), is now occupied by two families.
The residents of the house had laid on tea and home-made cakes for us, and were on hand to answer any questions we might have about the building, its gardens and its history with photographs and old plans. We were also allowed inside to look at some of the rooms used by the BBC to film the series, and to explore the gardens and the outside of the stables and other service buildings (some of which now make up part of one of the houses).
Having said our goodbyes to our very accommodating hosts, we returned to Old Lightcliffe Church to hear some of its history and view some of the graves with connections to Ann Walker and the characters featured in Gentleman Jack. The Friends of St Matthew’s Churchyard, Lightcliffe have carried out a lot of research into the people buried there, and were able to tell us how the real people differed from those portrayed in the TV series. Ann Walker was buried in the church itself, and the exact location of her grave following the demolition of the main part of the church is uncertain, however a marker has been placed close to where the grave is believed to be.
We next took a short walk up the road to visit Lightcliffe New Church, which was built some decades after Ann Walker’s death. The church is very pretty inside, and allowed us to have a well needed sit-down, while our guides told us all about its history and features.
Our final portion of the walk took us to Crow Nest Gatehouse. As per the BBC series, Crow Nest was home to the Walker family simultaneously with their residence at Cliffe House, although the gatehouse was another building constructed after Ann Walker’s death.
The gatehouse was later the residence of Sir Titus Salt, the founder of Saltaire and Salts Mill. He added his crest to the building, and also paid for the construction of other, public, buildings in the area. I was very taken with the gatehouse, although we only had permission to assemble outside it and look out over the adjoining lands to where Crow Nest once stood.
Our tour over, we wandered back to our homes and cars; I was too tired to visit the enticing pub across the road from the old churchyard, but fully intend to make a return trip and sample their lunch menu. I also plan to revisit Shibden Hall on a day more suited to photography than my last visit, so I can learn more about Anne Lister.