Bagshaw Museum painting
George Sheard 1835 - 1902

George Sheard was the fifth of six sons born to Michael Sheard and his wife Sarah Newsome. Like his father and grandfather before him, and three of his brothers, George became a manufacturer of woollen cloth. Richard the youngest brother went into cotton. Michael (1833-1911) was the only brother not to go into cloth manufacture. He was an architect (he designed the Central Methodist Church in Batley Market Place and laid out Batley Cemetery) and land agent to the Earl of Wilton.

As well as the woollen mill, George had interests in coal mining and also became director of the West Yorkshire Banking Company, the Economic Fire Insurance Co and the Yorkshire Boiler Insurance Co, and Chairman of the Dewsbury and Batley Tramways Co. In addition, he was a Borough Magistrate and Governor of Batley Grammar School.

By 1869 he, his wife Ann Whitworth and five children (Fanny, Charles, Michael, Percy and Florence) were living in some style at Oakwell House, an 18th Century mansion on the outskirts of Birstall. However, in 1875, he decided that he needed something larger and still more splendid and resolved to build it for himself. Keeping it in the family, George took a plot from the Wilton Estate on a 999-year lease and commissioned Michael's firm, Sheard and Hanstock, to design and build him a house that reflected the elevated social position he had attained.

Origins: Woodlands, A Private Home 1875 - 1902

The house was built in 1875/76 at a cost of £25,000, which would be over £2.5 million today. Named 'The Woodlands', it stands on high ground just off Upper Batley Lane and overlooks Batley from the north.

It is faced in rusticated Yorkshire Delph stone with Morley stone dressings and designed in a minimalist Victorian Gothic style with pointed first floor window arches, which lack any decorative tracery, and rectangular sash windows at ground level. Structurally, it is a set of boxes surmounted by steeply pitched roofs and a tall tower over the front door that is sheathed in copper and is visible for miles around.

The lavish use of oak and pine panelling inside helps to explain the cost of the house. The machined wooden panelling in the entrance and ground floor reception rooms was provided by Enoch Shaw & Sons of Bradford, selected from a catalogue and then hand finished.

As well as a comfortable place to live, the extravagantly decorated home was a physical declaration of George Sheard's success, wealth and social pre-eminence. George and his wife Annie played host to many prominent local families including, in 1882, holding a sumptuous fancy dress ball to celebrate their silver wedding. The 1891 Census records several resident servants as well as others living on the estate.

A fancy dress ball: Saturday 11th March, 1882

On the evening of 11th March 1882, the Sheards hosted an extravagant fancy dress ball to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary, the likes of which Batley had not seen before. Some 130 guests attended, representing characters throughout history from Robin Hood to the Old Woman who lived in a shoe.

A spacious gas-lit canvas tent was erected on the lawn and was reached from a covered archway leading from the library. The tent had a ballroom, decorated with flowers and exotic plants, and a supper room which accommodated all of the guests in comfort.

At 9pm, only an hour after the guests had entered the ballroom, an accident was averted when a Chinese lantern, hanging in the walkway, set the canvas on fire. Fortunately, the fire was quickly extinguished.

At 11.30pm, guests dined on salmon, lobster, ducklings, Guinea Fowl, champagne jelly and trifle. At 1am the ballroom once again opened and dancing was kept up until 3am. The Sheards also held a party for workers at their mill at Hick Lane.

Transformation into a public park and museum, 1911 - 1927

The Sheard family lived here until George Sheard's death in 1902, when the house was put up for sale at £3,000. It attracted no interest, possibly because its interior was too unusual and the site was comparatively isolated. Woodlands remained empty for several years until 25 March 1909, when 'The Woodlands' was bought by Batley Corporation for just £5.

It was planned that the estate would become a public park. The Earl of Wilton gave an extra 29 acres to the council to form the basis of Batley's public park - named Wilton Park. In 1909, local J.P. Walter Bagshaw agreed to furnish one room in 'The Woodlands' as a museum. Walter Bagshaw had run the family firm of J.Bagshaw & Sons from 1875. His cultural interests were many, he travelled widely, was the author of a book on photomicrography and gave lantern lectures on natural history. It was Walter's ambition to bring the world to Batley using objects and stories collected whilst travelling the world.

With the assistance and generosity of local people, who gave many objects to the new Wilton Park Museum, he completed three rooms with displays of textiles, biblical history and natural history.

The museum opened to the public on 4 October 1911, with Walter Bagshaw, now retired from business, as Honorary Curator. By 1924 the museum comprised 12 public rooms and had become the main source of recreation for the people of Batley and Birstall. Over the years these collections have helped to bridge the gap between cultures and local communities through discovery and understanding.

Bagshaw Museum - 1927 to present

Walter Bagshaw died in 1927 and, in recognition of his work, the Wilton Park Museum was renamed the Bagshaw Museum. His son Noel (1885-1949) and daughter Violet (1889 - 1993), were appointed Honorary Curators in his place and they continued their father's work, travelling widely and donating items to the museum.

The museum is a Grade II Listed Building and is now owned by Kirklees Council. Its displays cover local history, Ancient Egyptian collections, natural history and ethnography. A new Heritage Lottery funded extension was added in 1996 and is currently used as an education space.