Among the many people fighting to save the Red House is Dr. Stephen Caunce, author and formerly of the University of Leeds and the University of Central Lancashire and once curator of the Red House Museum. Here is his appraisal of why it’s so important to preserve the Red House and its cloth-making heritage:
“I was the curator of Red House in the 1980s and helped turn it into a community-based institution, something I am still very proud of. From the start I was also impressed by the unique history of the house and its site, and their value as an educational resource for giving insight into our textile heritage. The house and its site were not only the home of the Taylor family for about four centuries, but also their place of work as they built up a business in a typical setting. I know of no other site which has survived intact as Red House has, something recognised by its listing as grade 2*, which I believe puts it in the top 6% of English properties for historical significance.
Even after a sale in the early twentieth century only superficial changes were made, and not only do authentic outbuildings survive, but we know from a trial archaeological dig that the gardens lie over an amazingly intact outdoor work space. Add to that a location in a village which was left largely alone after the rise of water and steam-powered mills in the valleys around it, so we can recreate the medieval and early modern landscape with ease. It is part of a rare cluster of other old houses, including many examples of working-class dwellings from the 18th century onwards. Finally, it was always unofficially operated in conjunction with nearby Oakwell Hall, and I have always said that if this was formalised both properties would get a huge boost as they are different parts of one story.
It also has a particular value since the Taylors epitomise the path of rural industry locally up the time of the factories. Many museums humanise history by inventing families to personify what happened over the years. There is no need for that here. The Taylors had arrived in Gomersal at least three centuries earlier, and developed a small farm into a place where cloth was made and marketed, and they steadily prospered from combining a small farm running away beside the house and the loom in typical fashion. We know, for instance that in 1660 the main bedroom housed not only a bed, but also a loom with cloth being made on it, as well as stores of oats, wheat, barley and beans.
The house itself was built around 1660 next to their original dwelling, which disappeared soon after. A few decades later the front was remodelled to reflect their rising status – a similar process to the one Anne Lister initiated at nearby Shibden – but it was superficial. The traditional gables remain at the rear, and the room layout changed little. Even their involvement in the financial crash of 1826 was entirely representative. It temporarily bankrupted them, and her father, Joshua, swore to pay back every penny, and unlike their modern equivalents, he lived up to this pledge. His daughter Mary was not only a pioneering feminist, but she became the best friend of Charlotte Bronte after they met at school. Her novel Shirley includes the house and the whole family with only the names changed because she saw that they represented Yorkshire manufacturing so well. Since moving into university teaching, I have drawn on all this for many different, and very successful, talks, and for academic publications about the industrialisation process in northern England, which can be seen on my website.
By 1987, during my time as curator, an independent guide aimed at families breaking motorway journeys praised Red House as a ‘lively museum,… packed with schoolchildren… filling in worksheets, looking at the exhibits really carefully and enthusiastically and generally enjoying themselves – just what a museum should be’. After my time, I know that the museum continued to be steadily improved and its displays extended, making it popular locally both for itself and for its activities and events. The community engaged with it, and a ‘friends’ group worked hard to make visits even better. However, I feel it has never had the national recognition it deserves, even though academic understanding of the industrial revolution today stresses that it was an affair of many families like the Taylors rather than individual geniuses and their wealthy backers.”