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.
Morley's Prime Minister
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.
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