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Post: Discover a hidden collection of musical stones at Cliffe Castle museum

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Discover a hidden collection of musical stones at Cliffe Castle museum

Did you know that rocks make musical sounds and can be made into instruments?  A rare set of heritage musical stones, known as a ‘lithophone’, is now displayed in the conservatory at Cliffe Castle museum for visitors to play. Re-discovered after years in storage, the stones were donated to the museum in 1906 by Henry Phillipson, who was the museum curator at the time.

Musical stones like these became very popular in the 19th Century, but few have survived to this day. The first set of musical stones dates back to 1785 when Peter Crosthwaite found six tuned bars in a river near Skiddaw in the Lake District. Another stonemason and self-taught musician, Joseph Richardson, later built a huge lithophone and toured Europe, giving royal command performances to Queen Victoria.

 There is some mystery around the Cliffe Castle set of musical stones, as we don’t yet know who made them. One possibility is William Till, who went on to make several instruments. One of his instruments that has some similarities to the Cliffe Castle instrument, made its way to the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The musical stones at Cliffe Castle are a type of rock known as hornfels, and you can discover more about this metamorphic rock in the museum’s extensive geology collection. 

This project has been delivered by Quarry Arts in partnership with Bradford Museums and Galleries, and has been funded by the Arts Council England Project Grants with further funding from the Cliffe Castle Support Group, Kala Sangam, Friends of Bradford Art Galleries & Museums, and Ilkley & District Round Table.

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