Clitheroe Castle Museum: Meet the people showcasing 350m years of Lancastrian history

Back in the 12th century, the population of England stood at about three million people. Vertical windmills had just been invented and The Canterbury Tales was still 200 years off from being written.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 4:55 am
Clitheroe Castle

It was around this time that work also began on Clitheroe Castle.

Now a ruin, what remains of the early medieval construction dates back some 800 years and was once the caput of the Honour of Clitheroe, itself a huge estate stretching along the western side of the Pennines which belonged to the De Lacy family.

It remained in private ownership all the way up until 1920, when it was sold to the people of Clitheroe to create a war memorial. Today, it houses the award-winning Clitheroe Castle Museum.

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(From left) Miles Peachey, site supervisor; Claire Sutton, museum manager; and Matt Dawson, museum assistant at Clitheroe Castle Museum

Based in the former Steward's House, a Grade II-listed building originally built in the 18th century, the museum was originally opened in 1954, undergoing a £3.5-million refurbishment and redevelopment in the 2000s which saw a cafe and shop added. Owned by Ribble Valley Borough Council and operated by the Lancashire County Council, it officially reopened in 2009.

"I oversee the management of the museum on a day-to day-basis and then, behind the scenes, we do quite a lot of documentation work such as cataloguing and classifying objects and research," explains Claire Sutton, Museum Manager at Clitheroe Castle Libraries, Museum, Culture and Archives. "We've been able to undertake a huge amount of work in that area over the past year!

"I really, really do enjoy the work and every day is different because it usually brings different people with different interests through the doors," adds Claire, with the museum's social history collection containing some 5,000 items. "I studied history and have done quite a bit of local research, so the past has always been a passion.

"When you're able to find a nugget of information, it's absolutely great."

Claire Sutton, museum manager at Clitheroe Castle Museum

As well as an impressive geology collection, the museum is also home to smaller collections of pieces relating to natural history, period costume, and archaeology, including items recovered from excavations on the site covering 350 million years of local Lancastrian history.

Also on show is a handful of local art, with paintings on display dating back to the mid-1800s and featuring, amongst other things, a pair of portraits of a former Mayor of Clitheroe and his wife.

As was the case with every institution geared towards public interaction, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the Clitheroe Castle Museum severely.

The malaise was reflected across Europe; even when museums were open again to the public last summer, half reported a 25%-75% decrease in visitor numbers while two in 10 reported a drop in footfall of more than 75% (Network of European Museum Organisations).

Matt Dawson, museum assistant at Clitheroe Castle Museum.

With visitor numbers to the county having risen year-on-year for the previous five years, 2018 alone saw Lancashire bring in £4.41bn through tourism as some 69m visitors (STEAM 2018) made their way to the red rose county.

But the halting of the global tourism industry coupled with the discontinuation of school museum trip (which were reduced by 64% across Europe last year) but paid to such sources of income and footfall, meaning that the Clitheroe Castle Museum was closed until May 17th of this year, when it was finally able to reopen its doors.

They now also have an online booking system.

"It's a well-used local resource and we've very family-friendly," explains Claire, who has worked at the museum since 2016 and leads a staff of eight. "Since reopening, it's been really positive. We're Covid-secure and we're looking forward to having more schools in after the summer holidays - normally we get 5,000 schoolchildren each year."

"I think I can speak for the whole team when I say that we've missed the visitors because that's what we're here for."