Cliff House latest: New plans aim to restore arson-hit building

cliff house wortley 2
Under threat: The building was badly damaged by fire. Photo: Mark Stevenson

A historic former school building in Wortley branded a ‘death trap’ has taken a step closer to being restored – after fresh plans were submitted.

19th century Cliff House was left gutted during an arson attack on the empty property in March 2017, with only the external walls left standing.

But plans submitted to Leeds City Council this week would create an additional apartment in the roof space, with an extension to the rear. There would also be additional parking spaces to the front.

The Grade II Listed villa off Fawcett Lane is one of 18 buildings or monuments in West Leeds on the council’s Heritage at Risk register. It had been turned into seven flats before the fire.

Cliff House wortley
A mystery urban explorer who runs the Lost Places & Forgotten Faces Facebook page outside Cliff House last month.

The latest plans, by  Elland Road-based Priestley Homes, aim to ‘refurbish the shell’ of the building into flats. A design statement submitted with the applications states:

“The proposed development represents an effective re-use of a heritage asset badly damaged by a fire, and which has stood undeveloped and unused for three years. The scheme retains the integrity of the building
whilst allowing for an efficient re-use of the building.

“The costs of refurbishing the building and the Government’s promotion of the efficient use of land, have led the proposal towards 8 apartments instead of seven as previously approved.

“The design of the application proposal is very much in keeping with the original 2004 approval with the exception of the apartment on the roof.”

The plans can be read in full – and commented upon – here and here.

Housing plans

The Dispatch reported last month how Priestley Homes’ £3 million plans for seven houses next to Cliff House were also moving a step closer to reality after a number of conditions attached to planning permission were discharged by the council.

The housing development is due to help pay for the refurbishment of Cliff House, which saw much of its internal structure destroyed during the arson attack.

Last month a mystery urban explorer shared his pictures with West Leeds Dispatch following a recent visit to the site, off Fawcett Lane, labelling it a ‘deathtrap’.

Gutted: Inside historic Cliff House> Photo: Urban Explorer

Cliff House history

Formerly known as Western Flatts House, Cliff House was built in a restrained classical style by Joseph Cliff, an extremely wealthy Leeds businessman. 

cliff house wortley
Threatened: Cliff House in Wortley. Photo: Mark Stevenson

Mr Cliff was well known in Leeds for his business enterprises, and he was also a councillor for the Hunslet Ward. He was influential in establishing the Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery and Chapel in Oldfield Lane.

Between 1966 up until it closed on the 31st August 1998, Cliff House was known as Newcliffe House School, a community special school and a reform school for young male adolescents.

In March 2017, the house suffered a devastating arson attack which destroyed a vast majority of the interior. Investigations revealed that five separate fires were started in the upper levels of the property. 

The Dispatch‘s Mark Stevenson looked at Cliff House’s history here as part of his Mark’s History series looking at West Leeds buildings at risk.


  1. I. vIsited the house many times when it was used as a young offenders unit.
    It had the most beautiful ceilings, I asked the person in charge if I could bring my daughter in the evening, which he allowed me to do, I often tell people about the ceilings.

  2. I am the great great great grandson of Joseph Cliff and this makes me so sad that his legacy has come to this. I am sure he would be spinning in his grave to see the sorry state of his once beautiful house and grounds. If only I had the wherewithal to restore it !


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