Photo: Mark Stevenson

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

24 August 2018

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.

cliff house wortley 2

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.

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Tammi says:

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.

Mike Eslea says:

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!

Ajw says:

Martin wheelhouse

Sandra Wade says:

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.

Christopher Bradley says:

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

Sandra Wade says:

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.

Sandra Wade says:

Thank you for posting my comment of yesterday’s date. My preferred email address is the one just posted today.

John Cliff says:

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?

Sandra Wade says:

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?

John Cliff says:

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 if you wish to contact me through there.