In the late 19th century Braystones was a peaceful hamlet close to the Cumberland coast with views out across the Irish Sea. It was here that William Henry Watson built a tower to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Half a century later, the view would change dramatically: were one able to climb the tower today the eye would be first caught by the great mass that is the Sellafield Nuclear Plant.
The last decades of the 19th century saw a passion for all things rustic in the garden – seats, arbours, bridges, and above all summerhouses. For as it was said in 1870, a garden summerhouse of some sort was ‘desirable, and indeed almost necessary’.
In 1752 the architect James Paine provided plans to remodel New Grange, Walter Wade’s seat in open country outside the then town of Leeds. The views were ‘most beautiful and extensive’ and the dramatic ruins of the cistercian Kirkstall Abbey were included in the prospect. By the end of the century the Wades no longer resided at New Grange, and the house was let before appearing on the market on a number of occasions. In 1829 George Robins, famed as the the man ‘of auction renown, who made a great fortune by knocking things down’, offered the estate for sale and with his usual hyperbole stated that it was ‘uniformly accounted THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURE NEAR LEEDS’. His newspaper advertisement went on to describe the Terrace Walk as ‘incredibly beautiful’ with a ‘Panorama’ of THE VENERABLE ABBEY OF KIRKSTALL AND ITS MASSIVE RUINS’.
New Grange was purchased by the Leeds banker William Beckett in 1832 and renamed Kirkstall Grange. Beckett was an eminent man in Leeds and entertained luminaries from the aristocracy, the church and the mercantile world at his home. He had however set his sights on hosting the most important personage in Britain: Queen Victoria had agreed to preside over the inauguration of the new Town Hall in Leeds, which was scheduled to open in autumn 1858, and Beckett hoped she would stay at Kirkstall Grange.
In preparation for this event Beckett remodelled the mansion, and erected this monument at the end of a walk in a plantation that became known as Queen’s Wood. Although the arch is now engulfed in trees, at the time of its completion it was on the edge of the woodland with a vista to the abbey. The arch may have been built out of fragments from the rebuilding of the house and it was decorated in the same Minton tiles that were used extensively in the new Town Hall. The lettering reads: TO COMMEMORATE THE VISIT OF QUEEN VICTORIA TO LEEDS SEPR 7 1858 FOR THE INAUGURATION OF THE TOWN HALL.
Beckett was to be disappointed. His ‘large house party’ did not include the monarch, who chose to stay elsewhere.
Kirkstall Grange, now better known as Beckett Park, is a campus of Leeds Beckett University. The arch is grade II listed.