Wednesday, 25 January 2012

More Precious Than Rubies - Red House Museum

Last week, Kirklees Council made public its budget proposals. 

In addition to the recently publicised reduction in the opening times of Museums and Galleries across Kirklees, the proposals now include the complete closure of Red House Museum in Gomersal.

If these proposals are passed, Red House would be closed in September and the buildings sold - not necessarily as a museum.

Red House was built in 1660 and was the home of the Taylor Family until 1920.  It has important Brontë connections and is now furnished as a home in the 1830s when Charlotte Brontë was a frequent visitor.  Red House, the Taylor family and the Spen Valley area were all featured in Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley.  

Also on site are the recreated 1830s gardens, the restored Barn which illustrates the numerous Brontë connections in the area and the renovated Cartsheds which houses the 'Spen Valley Stories' gallery.

Last year the site received almost 30,000 visitors and was recently awarded its second Sandford Award for the quality of its heritage educational services for schools.  The site is an important asset for Kirklees and local businesses as a tourist destination which attracts visitors from all over the world to the area.

Unlike Council Services which can be cut and reinstated in better economic times, if the proposal to close and sell the site were passed an extremely important part of Spen Valley's heritage would be lost forever.
Richard Wilcocks writes:
So the Communities and Leisure Service department of Kirklees Council is recommending that the Red House Museum in Gomersal should be closed down in less than nine months. Just like that! Once again, a local authority is calculating that a short-term capital gain and a removal of dedicated museum staff is going to make up for the loss of one of Kirklees’s few tourist attractions, which is much more than a museum and a learning centre. It could be put on a list of national treasures. It is important not only for those dismissed in the official impact statement as ‘Brontë enthusiasts’ (note that these come after the local businesses in the sentence) but for anyone who believes that the most fitting memorial to Mary Taylor, a highly significant historical figure, not only because of her lifelong friendship with Charlotte Brontë, is the museum situated in her house. Perhaps that should be national memorial – let’s move beyond the parochial.

I well remember a book launch of about a decade ago, held in the Red House grounds: Joan Bellamy, who was at the time a member of Brontë Society Council, had just published More Precious than Rubies, a title which has Mary Taylor, Friend of Charlotte Brontë, Strong Minded Woman underneath it. All present were complimentary about Red House, its exhibitions and the expertise to be found within its red-brick walls, and they were not just being polite. It was described as a great aid for those concerned with education – and if proof is needed that the place is still a great aid, look online at this document. Explaining her title, Joan said that it could easily apply to the museum as well, which she greatly admired.

Now the treasure could be sold off – apparently, one quick-off-the-mark developer has already suggested that the seventeenth century building could be converted into very desirable flats, and that a chic little bistro could be put into it as well.

The Council Cabinet are to meet on 7th February.  There is to be no public consultation but they are inviting 'public dialogue'.  The whole set of proposals – including overviews of the council spending and the approach of each directorate – is available on the Council website .

Comments can be made on the website, via a local Councillor or by e-mail to

Brontë Society Chair Sally McDonald is busy writing letters about this, and plenty of other people (no, you don’t have to be a Society member) are using their keyboards to send emails. You as well? Letters to newspaper editors, protests to local MPs, messages to local radio and television – you could affect the outcome. The list below is not exhaustive, so please include your own contacts. You don’t have to be resident in Kirklees. Or England.

BBC Look North –

Calendar – ITV Yorkshire –

Radio Leeds –

Yorkshire Post –

Yorkshire Evening Post –

Huddersfield Daily Examiner –

Batley & Birstall News –

News Editor of Spenborough Guardian –

Mirfield Reporter –

News Team at Morley Observer –


Cristina said...

Hi Richard,

We have started a petition online:

Richard Wilcocks said...

Thanks Christina! Excellent idea. I'll make that into a link above.