To those people who are familiar and also those who are unfamiliar with Cottingley Town Hall, it is hoped that this brief history of the events leading up to its foundation, its growth and significance to the community of Cottingley will be of general interest.
In 1814, government provision for the education of children was non-existent. However, in that year, some unnamed Cottingley men recognised the need for local children to be given a formal basic education. To that end, the smithy at the foot of Main Street was rented from Joseph Hollings of Whetley Hill. Since, at the time, most of the poorer children worked for several hours on each weekday, the Cottingley school was to be open on Sundays only. It provided no more than a very general elementary education and was, in all probability, the only school it's pupils were ever likely to attend. The management of the building and school was administered by a Committee who resolved:-
The Committee shall permit and suffer the children of parents of every denomination, sect and party to assemble in the said schoolroom for the purpose of instruction by such teachers as shall be willing to labour gratuitously, the said teachers shall be persons of good moral character and shall not be objected to on account of his or her faith or principles(Obviously a 'Discrimination Act' was totally unnecessary in those days.)
As the nearest Church to Cottingley village was in Bingley, in 1815 the Committee decided:-
To permit and suffer the said schoolhouse to be open for the admission of preachers and ministers of all and every denomination.
This in effect was the beginning of the free, independent church which to the present day Cottingley Town Hall remains. It was evidently the hope that the preaching meetings, by drawing parents to the schoolhouse, would foster a strong community spirit. In this respect the Committee was not disappointed.
In 1836, the school was flourishing to such an extent that there was insufficient space available. Also, even in a country hamlet, smoke was a nuisance and the schoolroom had to be whitewashed often. So the Committee resolved that an extension be built. However, no action was taken until 1843. The village was then canvassed and sufficient funds were raised to enable the required extension to be built.
By 1852 the Sunday school was indeed flourishing and a need for further education was perceived, so a Mechanics Institute was formed where meetings were to be held on three evenings a week, both men and women being admitted. (No sex discrimination Act needed).
By 1859, even with the extension, the premises were unable to cope with all the demands made upon it and alternative premises needed to be found. The combined resources of the committees were insufficient to purchase land and build new premises and following requests from committee members, in 1863 Joseph Hollings donated the schoolroom and surrounding waste ground and William Busfeild Ferrand of Harden donated the waste land called Town Hill, the site of the present Town Hall.
In 1864 the building was erected, the stone being carted to the site by members of the committee, where it was worked by masons. The foundation stone was laid on Boxing Day 1863 and the opening of the completed building on 21st March 1865. At the opening it was explained that the intention was to carry on the work which had been commenced in the old schoolroom and Messrs Hollings and Ferrand were thanked for their generosity in making all the inhabitants of Cottingley freeholders. The new Town Hall was to belong to the people of Cottingley for ever.
In 1864 the Town Hall served a population of about 800. It cost £3000 and all the money required for the building work was raised by voluntary subscription. It is an imposing structure of Italian design and was officially opened by Lord Frederick Cavendish in 1865.
In 1915 the Jubilee Celebrations were held and a book written by Ellis Heaton mapped out the history of the building. This book has been reproduced and copies are available.It is also recorded here, (Cottingley Town Hall History) but you are warned that the document is extremely long.
In 1927 the cottages at the bottom of Main Street were sold to Elizabeth Fielding for £560.
The day school continued in the Town Hall for some years after Education responsibility was taken by the Government and it was not until 1933 that Cottingley at last got its purpose built school sited at School Street.
The preaching meetings continued in the new premises and in 1870 it was decided that these become the "Cottingley Christian Church".
The premises have been extensively utilised during this century and many organisations were inaugurated within its walls. At present, as well as housing the Church, it is used by the Scouts, the Beavers, the Women's Guild and, since January 1998, the Drop In Centre.
The population of Cottingley has increased ten-fold since the Town Hall was built, but the sense of community spirit which made it all possible has sadly diminished. It is only through the dedication and hard work of the all too few members of the Cottingley Town Hall Church that this important landmark in Cottingley's history survives. Without their efforts the building owned by all the residents of Cottingley would become an eyesore.
Read the 2015 Telegraph & Argus article about the 150th Celebrations 150th Anniversary Celebrations - T & A 13/3/2015
Read the 1965 Guardian-Chronicle article about reminiscences from older residents at the time of the Town Hall Centenary celebrations.
Read the original Trust Deed of Cottingley Town Hall.
See how being a Friend of Cottingley Town Hall is helping to preserve the building.