A MARBLE statue which once graced Cliffe Castle in Keighley is back in the historic building – after a 64-year absence.

It was originally thought that the life-size piece, the Madonna and Child, had been auctioned off with other fixtures and fittings.

But after years of searching for the 'missing' statue, it transpired the work of art had been donated to St Anne's RC Church – just a stone's throw from Cliffe Castle.

The piece was spotted by chance by a sculpture historian, in the grounds of the North Street presbytery.

Now after negotiations between the church and museum, the statue has returned 'home'.

"When we went to have a look at the statue outside St Anne's we recognised it straightaway," said Daru Rooke, the Cliffe Castle-based area museum manager.

"In 1950 the then owner of Cliffe Castle, Countess Manvers, had a three-day contents sale.

"It was believed the statue had been auctioned off, so to find it all those years later was absolutely bewildering. We were over the moon."

Once the significance of the piece was recognised, it was restored and moved indoors to help protect it.

"Parish priest Canon Michael McCreadie has been extremely supportive and thanks to the church's generosity the statue is now back at Cliffe Castle in our Victorian Winter Garden," said Mr Rooke.

"The effect of the light on it is beautiful. It's amazing."

The Italian statue was bought in the 1870s by textile millionaire Henry Isaac Butterfield, whose family lived at Cliffe Castle for over a century.

He is thought to have converted to his wife Mary Roosevelt Burke's Catholic faith, and several artworks in the house – representing the Virgin Mary – reflected this.

Research now indicates that the statue was presented by Countess Manvers, Henry Isaac Butterfield's granddaughter, to St Anne's as a keepsake.

Canon McCreadie told us: "When we learned about the history of the statue we were very happy for it to go 'home' to Cliffe Castle.

"I saw it being installed back in the castle and it looks splendid. People from the church and a much wider area can now go along and appreciate it."

Coun Susan Hinchcliffe, Bradford Council's executive member for employment, skills and culture, said: "The story behind this statue is fascinating and it is great that St Anne's Church agreed for Cliffe Castle to have it back.

"This is the second work of art to have been returned to Cliffe Castle in the last year. The first was a portrait of Queen Victoria, which was found after a 20-year search."

The Queen Victoria painting had originally been bought for the castle in the 1880s, but was thought to have been lost during a contents sale.

It was spotted purely by chance in a Nottingham antiques centre.