West Leeds Heritage at risk: Fire-hit Cliff House and a rich family history

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

Cliff House in Wortley is the focus of Mark Stevenson’s latest post in a series shining a spotlight on the 18 buildings or monuments at risk in West Leeds. The house was badly damaged in an arson attack in March last year.

In 1929 Leeds City Council received a gift in the form of Cliff House, also known as Western Flatts, from Stephen Cliff, one of Joseph Cliff’s 14 children. Joseph Cliff & Sons were brick manufacturers and along with the Burmantofts Pottery Company they formed Leeds Fireclay Company.

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Under threat: The building was badly damaged by fire. Photo: Mark Stevenson

Cliff House dates from 1846 and is noted for its staircase and mosaic floor where it is said a famous racehorse is buried. Between 1966 and when it closed on the 31st August 1998 the building was known as Newcliffe House School, a Community Special School.

Cliff house wortley
At risk: Cliff House in Wortley. Photo: Mark Stevenson

Joseph 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.

Walter Cliff offered land to the council to form Lower Wortley Recreation Ground (now Western Flatts Park) in 1902. His brother, Stephen, donated the house and grounds in 1929. The family believed in the creation of parks as beneficial to the health of work people.


  1. good to know. now in the health and well being of the kids can that there park over yonder from Cliff House have a refurb as its not fit for purpose for little toddlers to play on please.

  2. I worked at Cliff House in the late 80’s and was a Governor there until I moved away in ’96. It only became “Newcliff” House after the council re-organised special education in about 1990 (I think) and it became a day school. Before that it was residential. We looked after boys with severe behaviour problems, and I have many fond memories of the pupils, the staff and the building itself. Hope it gets saved!

      • Thank you for that information. Joseph Cliff was my great, great, great grandfather. We’ve been to see Western Flatts when it was undergoing work to turn it into apartments. If it is going to be demolished I would like the name and date stone which is over the main door. Obviously we are not able to go there at the moment or find anything out about it from the Council. I’m
        Hoping we won’t be too late to retrieve a bit of our family history.

        • Hi, really interested in your family history and the house. Do you have any information about the horse buried under the mosaic at the bottom of the stairs? What is the story? Did the horse have a name?

  3. I when to cliff House school back in the 80s I when when I was a 11 years old i am now 43 years old I had some good times there and some bad ones we Used to go to school on the Monday and come home Friday I was a full time border and we had to go to bed at 7.30/8 o’clock that was the bad bit about the school but yes I had some good time if I had to say with my hand on my hart it was one Ov the best schools I when to mr Rigby was the headmaster when I was there with his wife the matron Miss weird and miss panther with the house parents mr genders Mr Whitney mr Welsh Miss Dyson Mr Nunchins they was the teachers I only when past the school last week it looks so different without the school built on the end of the house I think they should bring back schools like this then the kids in the schools these days would not be half as bad as they are now

  4. Western Flatts was built by my three times great grandfather, Joseph Cliff. I’m hoping that the house is still standing and has not yet been demolished. There is a date stone over the front door, from memory 1848, along with the initials of my great grandparents, Joseph and Alice, which I would like to have so as to add to the family history I already have. We shall be going over to see it hopefully in the coming week and I will also be in touch with the Council to see what they can tell me. If anyone knows anything else I would be very grateful to hear it.

    • Hi Sandra
      Cliff house was built or rather completed in 1843 as the keystone above the door says”June 16th 1843, Joseph & Alice Cliff” and according to a family history by a cousin of ours in the 1970s was the date that they moved in. Of the 14 children 11 survived to adulthood and Stephen was the last surviving male child , he died in June 1928 and left the house to the people of Leeds. I am the great great grandson of Joseph (2nd) who moved to Scawby in Lincolnshire to run the Frodingham ironworks.
      It is such a pity that this once lovely piece of our history has come to this.

      • Thank you for the information provided on Cliff House. I grew up in Wortley but, apart from recognising the building as a remand home, I knew nothing of its history or of that of the Cliff family.

    • Sandra – I have just seen this article about Cliff House, what a shame such a beautiful house was allowed to rot. Joseph Cliff was the half brother of my 3 x great grandmother Hannah Cliff b. 24 Jan 1798. She was the daughter of John Cliff from his first marriage to Hannah Murgatroyd. As you probably know, Joseph’s mother was Christiana Clough nee Gaunt, John’s 2nd wife. Hannah Cliff married Benjamin Fawcett and their daughter Eliza was my g.g grandmother. Hannah died in 1838, a week after giving birth to her son Benjamin. Joseph Cliff was the informant on her death certificate and present at her death. He was living at Moorside, Upper Wortley at the time. I have the family tree on Ancestry.co.uk

      • Hello Margaret. I’ve only just returned home and read your post. Thank you so much. I need time to ‘get it in my head’ about half brother etc. The info I have is so sketchy before Joseph who had Western Flatts built. I see bits written on John father of Joseph and murgatroyd is a name mentioned along with Gaunt! I will get back to you once I’ve had time to digest it all. Thank you again.

  5. Hi Sandra ,
    I hope you get this ?
    I am too believed to be a relative to Joseph Cliff, this information was told to me by an Uncle a few year back but I have never researched it. I just wondered what history you had so I could maybe link up?

  6. Hi John
    Yes I have lots of history. Can you get a possible name from your uncle. I could then go through the list of all the children and maybe find a tie-up. I guess you’ll know the background of the family and their different businesses?

  7. Hi Sandra, Thanks for coming back to me. I was of the understanding we are related to Stephen Cliff some how? I am aware of the brick works and things like that my Grandfather was John Cliff born I think 1907 and his father was John Cliff who had a chain of barbers shops all in the Leeds area.My email is jbarrycliff@blueyonder.co.uk if you wish to contact me through there.

  8. Hi John and Sandra and all who may care to read this; I am Richard Cliff also a great great great grandchild of Joseph Cliff and have quite a lot of family history including the family tree. Cliff house was first occupied in 1843 according to uncle Grosvenor in his family history, and Joseph senior lived there until his death in1879 his son Joseph (2) lived in Scawby Grove near the steelworks they started at Frodingham , He was my great great grandfather. Stephen stayed at Western Flatts all his life until he died there in 1928, and Walter his brother moved out to Melbourne Hall near York . Both these men remained childless bachelors . There were 2 other brothers William and John but I am not sure of their history they do not seem to have been directly involved in the family businesses. There were seven sisters who lived to adulthood. I am not sure of the name of the racehorse that Joseph senior had buried under the mosaic in the hall but I think I have it somewhere, Walter certainly became a very successful racehorse breeder at Melbourne Hall. I would also feel heartbroken if the lovely house is to be destroyed and hope that if it is the keystone above the door can be preserved. on another note if the other old buildings are demolished you might like to save a brick they should all have our family name imprinted in the frog ( I have 2 already)!

  9. Thanks so much, Richard. I’m short of time today but look forward to reading your message more fully. And my apologies to Chris who I haven’t yet got back to regarding the name of the racehorse. I’ve spent hours looking through names of racehorses in that era but could not come up with anything that might be connected to Western Flatts. And John, who must be connected to our family but with the stuff I have got, we can’t find out where it is. I only have Joseph’s line and that is because of trusts which Stephen and Walter had drawn up. But back to you, Richard – I’m looking quickly at my family genealogical table and wonder if you are a descendant of Joseph born 1 March 1841 who died 9 June 1914? Or Joseph Tertius born 5 April 1874 died 24 March 1953? I see there is Richard Talbot Cliff born Nov 1935 could that be you? Look forward to hearing further and hope we can make a break-through!!

    • Hi Sandra
      I have also looked through our copies of the trusts and I am related via Joseph (2) and His son Reginald. I think John must be related to Joseph (1) via his brother John or his brother Isaac as there are very few male Cliffs in this line left. I have not found the name of the horse yet but I can remember my father talking about it and from what I recall it was Josephs favourite racehorse which won a lot of big races. If they are demolishing the building it would be nice to have that mosaic too or even just a small portion of it! But I am sure it is a listed building so will have to be preserved in some form. It is a pity the family does not have the funds left to buy it back and restore it!

  10. So Richard, I think I’m right in saying now that Joseph(2) your gt gt grandfather was brother to John, my gt gt grandfather. There seems to be 9 years difference in age. John being the older. Joseph (1) had Hannah, John born 1830 and died 1832, then John my gt gt grandfather, born the day after the first John died. Then came William, Emily, Clara, Joseph (2) Alice, Walter ,Martha I think, Katherine, Philip, Agnes, Stephen and Edward who died just short of 1 yr old.

  11. Sorry to Jane. It was you who asked about the racehorse. I wish I knew more but I don’t. I went to the house just as it was being made into apartments a few years ago and we were able to go inside. That mosaic floor was superb and the staircase too which curved around. As it was being developed we weren’t really able to see exactly how the rooms would have been but we were able to go up to the servants quarters, up the original stairs, and the rooms were exactly how they would have been then. And what a view from there.

  12. Hi Richard. So I think your gt grandfather was Reginald Bertram Talbot Cliff who is cousin to Byron Cliff my gt grandfather. Joseph (2) and John my gt gt grandfather were brothers. Then Reginald had one son, Stephen, your grandfather? He had two sons and I think you are one of Clive’s sons? I hope I’m right this time. I have a large painting of Byron Cliff which I think was done by his sister, then an oil of John who looks a real misery! I don’t have one of Joseph but one of my cousins has that. But I do have an oil of John, father of Joseph. My 2 times gt, John lived in different parts of the country and seemed to have something to do with a pottery in London and also Cheshire. His last home was Nesbit Hall in Fulneck, near Pudsey.

  13. Hi Sandra
    Yes you are right perhaps we may obtain our respective email addresses via these offices so as to communicate privately regarding this and other family matters? I would prefer not to go into any more family detail in public for security reasons! The racehorse that was Walters greatest was called “Success” but I am not sure whether this was the animal buried at Cliff house. My great grandfather Reginald was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres in September 1916 and his brother Grosvenor was killed falling off his horse while on active service in Belgium in 1918.

  14. Hi Richard. Yes I’d like to be able the exchange email addresses. It’s so good to be able to know more about our ancestors and how dreadfully sad to hear about Richard and Grosvenor. I’ll find out how we exchange email addresses.

  15. My name is Bernard Clarke. I went to Cliff House School in 1966. I have such great memories, which I still treasure. I walked up and down them stairs many a time. There you to be a yard at the back and even a gardener. Mr Mclenon was headmaster and his wife and his daughter. It was not a remand center when I went. Mr Richard Butt was a great teacher I’ve been trying yo trace but I can’t. He moved out to Hendley In Arden. I was there until 1976. Cliff House Changed my life.

  16. I was also a resident at Cliffe House and remember Richard Butt as a great teacher and football coach. My Name is Steve Young and I think I remember you Bernard Clarke ! (If you are a gent of African descent (who wore gold glasses) ), you could be the very same guy I was great friends with all those years ago. Please post if this is you, you were a good friend.
    Mr. Mclennon’s Daughter was a blond girl called Heather – I went into his private acommodation to watch the 72 cup final when leeds united beat Arsenal. I also had good friends there called Ray Henderson from chickenly dewsbury who had a sister called Julie – and Peter Whalley. Cliffe House had a party when Leeds United won the game, and Mr. Mclennon made Peter Whallley stand up on a chair and sing “Marching On Together”.Be great to catch up ! It was so long ago.


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