Cliffe Castle, Nouveau-riche

I recently called at Cliffe Castle, a rather fine Victorian mansion at Keighley. It is now a council-owned museum, which, to its credit, is free to enter. Within, one is treated to a fine collection of geological and taxidermical exhibits as well as some grandly furnished Victorian rooms. Although museums have a habit of accruing artefacts from elsewhere, the downstairs portion of the house is particularly opulent, cluttered with elegant fixtures, furnishings and fabrics. Much as I admire it, I still thought it bordered on the vulgar.

The place was originally the home of a Victorian millionaire and textile manufacturer, Henry Butterfield. The family’s commercial industrial portfolio included wool textile mills, as well as shipping that took British goods around the empire and beyond. The original name of Cliffe Hall was changed to Cliffe Castle, and additional features were added to the mansion to add further aggrandisement. I suspect that this ‘new money’ wished to show off, to demonstrate that its owners had moved out of the middle class and into the upper. The decoration certainly appears more aristocratic than many genuine aristocratic piles; despite the snobbery, manufacturing and trading were more profitable than farming and leasing land. These lavish interiors were an earnest attempt to demonstrate their owners’ social mobility, or, more likely, to conceal it. Perhaps genuine blue-blooders sneered and scoffed at Cliffe’s magnificence, in private, at any rate.

Worldlings measure themselves by the cost of their cars, houses and clothes. This is why so many branded garments are worn and hugely powerful cars are purchased, despite their being subject to the same speed restrictions as the bangers and rustbuckets their drivers are pleased to overtake. People brag about their holiday destinations on social media, and show off the latest colour schemes inflicted on their suburban semis. Yet the Christian is to be known for his or her humility, service and kindness. We live our lives to impress the God of heaven, not the neighbours, the relatives or the local elites. God cares little for chandeliers and couches, but for good deeds, gentle spirits and saving faith. Such a life would fail to impress the fashionable and the sophisticated, but about their approval, the true believer cares little. 

…but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave. Matthew 20:26b-27