Monday, 4 April 2011


An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Wilderness  Beck Grotto,
off Shortbank Road, Skipton

The Project is undertaken by the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group
under the direction of Susan Wrathmell, BA, MA, IHBC.
The Project is supported by Skipton Civic Society and the Middletown Community Association.

Summary Site History

No reference to the grotto has so far been found in published material; the only fixed date for its existence in the 1850 Ordnance Survey map, published in 1852.

Two likely dates for its construction are described in detail below:
·         1773-80 for Samuel Plummer who as headmaster built himself a fine house and made the gardens on the east side.
·         C1847 when money was set aside for work on the gardens.

The former date is considered more likely.

Background- the school and its setting

A late medieval chapel dedicated to St James was taken over by Ermysted’s school by 1570. The site would probably also have included a guest house, barn and stables.  During the Civil War the school was closed and the buildings used as a military base.  The school buildings were described as being in very poor condition in 1654 and it appears that little repair work was done in the following century.

Samuel Plummer was appointed headmaster in 1751 and remained until 1780.  He managed the school’s extensive estates and was involved in the proposals for the Keighley – Kendall turnpike road (Act of 1753).  In 1773 he sold school land and trees to a total of £560 to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company.  Some of the money was used for the erection of a new school house and outbuildings, with additional land purchased for a paddock and garden which was planted with flowers, shrubs and fruit trees. The date for the new house (now the Cross Keys public house) and the gardens is therefore probably between 1773 and 1780.

During the first half of the 19th century the grounds and school buildings were neglected, the Master continuing to live in his separate School House. A report of 1836 describes ‘very old’ school buildings which were made up of:
  •  a small schoolroom, 18 x 7m, and 3m (10 feet) high,
  • a room for the master and
  • five small bedrooms for boarders.

The old school buildings were rebuilt in two phases in the 1840s:
  • the school room was rebuilt to designs by Leeds architect Robert Chantrell;
  • the range linking to the Schoolmaster’s House was converted into a house for the second master.
In 1847 the bad state of the school garden was remarked on and £10 was set aside for cultivation.  The grotto with long flanking walls is shown on the 1850 Ordnance Survey map.
The old Grammar School site was redundant in 1876 when the new school building on
Gargrave Road
was opened.  The site was sold in May 1878, although the plan of the lots includes the gardens, no reference was made to the grotto.  Following the sale it appears that the gardens were left to go wild.

                  a)  To clear the debris in order to survey and record the surviving structure.
                  b)  To assemble an archive for the site, including an historical record.
                  c)  To investigate the historic garden setting of the grotto at a superficial level.

a)    To make a photographic and drawn record of the structure as it survives today and assess the evidence for its original form.
b)    Initiate further research into its age and significance.
c)    Monitor the continuing deterioration of the structure.
d)    To consider possible conservation options.

a)  A desk based assessment to confirm the historical record.
b)  A topographic, photographic and drawn survey of the grotto and its immediate       surroundings.
c) The work to include a detailed examination of the shell patterning following  removal of the moss.
d)  Examination and recording of the overall structure,   including the opening in the rear wall and any surviving floor at the base.          

The survey is due to take place in April 2011.  Reports will be lodged with the NYCC Heritage Unit, Skipton Town Council, Craven District Council Planning Department, Craven Museum, Skipton Reference Library, Skipton Civic Society, and UWHG.

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