Morley may not be the grandest town in the country - but it has got one of the grandest town halls. Take a look! It's glorious - and what a statement of municipal confidence in a town which then had a population of, according to the 1891 census, just 35,000.
Morley got its charter of incorporation as a borough at the end of 1885. The new borough council quickly got on with building a town hall. A competition was held for design - the foundation stone was laid in 1892 - and on 16th October 1895, the Morley-born Home Secretary, H.H. Asquith, came to open the building (the photo below was taken on that day).
It's a Grade 1 listed building and said to bear a resemblance to Bolton Town Hall - though the more obvious comparison is with neighbouring Leeds, where a bigger town hall but in similar style was completed in 1858.
So much for the outside. But inside? Even grander! A revelation. Sixteen exquisite pieces of stained glass, most sponsored by individual members of the council, were unveiled in 1902 - and they are there still along with a white marble bust of Queen Victoria, a black marble bust of Asquith and a wonderful staircase.
The council room was closed, but I was able to take a peep into the Alexandra Hall - still in regular use (I see Wayne Fontana is playing there soon). And on the balcony, there's an extraordinary piece of stained glass - I couldn't get proper access, so I've lifted a couple of photos from the web -
H.H. Asquith returned to Morley Town Hall in 1913 when he was made a freeman of the borough. He left Morley when still very young and moved from Yorkshire when he was about eleven. The family worshipped at the Rehoboth chapel on Dawson's Hill - the chapel is long gone, but the crowded and overgrown graveyard remains. I found the gravestone of Asquith's mother Emily, who died in 1888 aged sixty and was obviously keen to be buried back in Morley - though not alongside her husband.
The memorial - not in the top picture, but centre above right - reads 'Also of / Emily Willans / Asquith / widow of / Joseph Dixon / Asquith / who died in London / December 12th 1888 / aged 60 years'. On the other side is an inscription to 'Joseph Asquith of Morley' who died in 1855 aged 77, and his wife Esther.
And on a personal note - my father, a Liberal (like Asquith) was a member of Morley Council for a few years at the close of the 1950s. My grandfather was chairman of Gildersome Urban District Council for quite a while until its absorption into Morley in 1937. He was a JP and chair of the local magistrates' bench when the Queen came to Morley Town Hall on 28th October 1954.
This is the view looking out of Morley library - it has a wonderful art house aspect, not often I capture an image which has something special about it.
And Morley? Well, as this photo suggests, it's an old mill town. Morley, just south of Leeds, is where I was born. I've not lived here for more than forty years, but of late - perhaps age, my father's death, all sorts of stuff - I've been drawn back. The other day, I stopped here for an hour and discovered - perhaps rediscovered, but if I did know once I had forgotten - the majesty of Morley library.
It's a Carnegie library - built with the financial support of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish businessman and philanthropist. He funded the construction of approaching 2,000 libraries in the United States and more than 600 in Britain and Ireland. And judging from this wonderful building - with a striking tiled lobby (Burmantofts tiles, I was told) - which stretches over three floors, these were substantial libraries befitting the ambition than underlay his generosity.
Hall Caine was one of the most popular novelists and dramatists of the era. According to Wikipedia: 'Writing fifteen novels on subjects of adultery, divorce, domestic violence, illegitimacy, infanticide, religious bigotry and women’s rights he became an international literary celebrity, selling ten million books. Caine was the most highly paid novelist of his day. The Eternal City is the first novel to sell over a million copies worldwide.' So it sounds like he was quite a catch to open the library - and Morley was on a roll at this time ... Morley-born Herbert Henry Asquith was Chancellor of the Exchequer and became Prime Minister two years later.
Morley achieved borough status in 1886, and a few years later its remarkable - and magnificent - town hall was built. It still stands, just a stone's throw from the library, though Morley was absorbed into Leeds back in 1974.
The library lobby has a wonderful mosaic floor featuring Morley's coat of arms, devised when it became a borough. The legend 'Industria Omnia Vincit' translates as industry conquers all - you can see why that might appeal to the millocrats who were the dominant political force in late Victorian Morley.
And the emblem - well, top row a couple of cannon balls to represent the civil war battles of the 1640s fought in and around the town, and in the middle a cotton boll (this puzzles me, Morley was part of the heavy woollen district - Lancashire was cotton). Then a shuttle representing textiles which at this time was Morley's defining industry. And below a shove and pick to reflect the small coal mines which dotted the town and adjoining villages, and which by this date were starting to peter out.
This same splendid coat of army features on stained glass in the doors on the library's first floor. A classy touch! And that floor is also now home to the community archive and local history collection. On this version you can see more clearly the ram's head representing the woollen industry - alas now all gone (though a few of the mills, and rather more of the chapels, remain). Below is an aerial view of the town from 1922 from an excellent history and planning document.
Once upon a time, E.P. Thompson taught extra-mural classes at the library and made good use of a stout oval wooden table in the reading room. I asked if it was still around. There's a solid wooden table in the computer room upstairs, but it doesn't quite fit the bill.
In 1964, Thompson commented of his Morley classes: 'Within living memory ... it seems, miners have worked lying down in eighteen-inch seams, children have been in the mills at the age of nine, urine has been collected from pub urinals for scouring, while the brother of one of the students still uses teazles to raise the 'nap'. It is difficult to believe that the industrial revolution has yet occurred in Morley, and next year's syllabus (in the later 19th century) will seem like a tour through the space age'.
There are wonderful design touches to the library - no wonder it's a listed building (and, happily, well used). What a bobby dazzler!
One-hundred years ago yesterday, the last Morley man (alright, the only Morley man) to become Prime Minister lost office. Herbert Henry Asquith was also the last man to lead a single party Liberal government. The photograph above shows Asquith opening Morley's distinctly grand Town Hall in October 1895 - by which time he had already held the office of Home Secretary.
To tell the truth, Asquith's links with Morley were fairly tenuous. He was born in September 1852, and his childhood home was Croft House, which still stands. It's a 'solidly built dwelling of dark Yorkshire stone', in the words of Roy Jenkins, Asquith's biographer. His father was 'a minor employer' in the local woollen industry - he inherited Gillroyd Mill, it seems - but died in his mid-thirties, leaving four young children. The family were Congregationalists and regular attenders at the Rehoboth Chapel which stood close to Morley Hall.
The young Asquith only spent a few years of his life in Morley - he was six or seven when the family moved, shortly before his father's death. He had only the vaguest memories of the place: attending chapel stiffly attired, and leading a children's procession around town to mark the end of the Crimean War.
His association with Morley was sufficient to make him guest of honor at the opening of the Town Hall. There's a primary school named after him. And the first big road project of Morley Borough Council - between Morley and Gildersome - was named Asquith Avenue.
The Liberal tradition he represented still finds a foothold in some corners of the West Riding - but not Morley. This was the constituency which Ed Balls contrived to lose (to the Tories) in the last election.
Below is Gillroyd Mill in Morley as Asquith would have seen. The mill dated from the 1830s and was rebuilt over five storeys in 1860 - this drawing shows the new mill a few years after it opened. Gillroyd Mill closed in 1966 and has now been demolished.
The Rehoboth Chapel on Dawson's Hill had a similar history - built in the 1830s, with the last services in the 1960s. It too is now demolished, though the graveyard survives - it's where Asquith's mother and some of his siblings are buried.
I've been on a sentimental journey back to Gildersome and Morley, the corner of West Yorkshire where I - and my father - grew up. This locality, just outside Leeds, was once part of the Heavy Woollen District. The Whiteheads had a mill in Gildersome - though producing fine worsted cloth rather than heavy woollens. It was called W. Whitehead & Sons - Willie Whitehead was my great-grandfather.
The journey, and this post, has been prompted by the recent death of my father, Arthur Whitehead, at the age of 91. He worked for a while in the family mill, and lived for much of his life in Gildersome.
The inscription reads: 'In Loving Memory of Eunice, dearly beloved wife of Leonard Whitehead, who died March 5th 1919 aged 31 years'.
Leonard was my father's uncle - Eunice died five years before Dad was born. Leonard later married Eunice's sister, Agnes.
Their nephew - Geoffrey Crowther, Baron Crowther of Headingley - was editor of the Economist for almost twenty years.
On Morley's skyline, alongside the Town Hall, another building dominates - the burnt out ruins of St Mary's-in-the Woods. It wasn't the parish church but non-conformist. There's isn't a C of E church in the town centre - though the place is stuffed full of grand non-conformist chapels, many still in use.
My father died earlier this month at the age of 91. I've written this tribute for the Morley Observer in West Yorkshire - I'm posting the piece as submitted, along with some memory-rich photos:
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!
Arthur Conan Doyle
Boundary Street Estate
Burston Strike School
China In London
'Cohen The Crooner'
Curious Kentish Town
Dorothy 'Dorf' Bonarjee
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Fiction As History
George E. Harris
India In London
Lost And Starving Dogs
Marques & Co.
Museum In Docklands
Riff Raff Poets
Sir Frederick Sykes
Spanish Civil War
Stairway To Heaven
Steptoe And Son
Vale Of Health