James William Carlile was in London in 1823. His father, William Carlile, was a merchant who had business links to the Brooks of Meltham Mills. In turn, the Brooks invited John William to join the firm of Jonas Brook and Brothers in 1853 and he moved to Meltham, residing at Thickhollins Hall. In turn, he took his nephew, Edward Hildred Carlile, under his wing and he too joined the Brook firm and resided at Helme Hall.
Just like Edward and Charles Brook (junior), Carlile also bought himself a country estate to retire to — in this case, the Ponsbourne Manor estate, near Hertford.
It seems the Brook family’s benevolence towards their workers rubbed off on Carlile and in 1858 he co-founded a small public library and news room in Meltham. Unfortunately the newspaper reports fail to specify exactly where this was located, other than saying it was “in the best part of Meltham”.
It was presumably the success of the library and news room, along with his patronage of the Meltham Mechanics’ Institute, which led to him conceiving the idea for something much grander — an institute which would rather modestly bear his own name. As well as “THE CARLILE INSTITUTE” on the front of the building, you can also find “18 J.W.C. 90” above the entrance around the corner, showing that construction started in 1890.
The Carlile Institute was designed by architect John Samuel Alder of London and built my local stonemasons J. Moorhouse and Sons using stone from Crosland Moor. The total cost was reported to be between £6,000 to £7,000.
The building was formally opened on 16th October 1891, although sadly James William Carlile was unable to attend due to ill-health — instead his son William Walter Carlile (who was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Buckinghamshire) and his nephew Edward Hildred Carlile (of Helme Hall) represented him.
From newspaper reports, we know that Carlile was keen to foster a love of reading and it seems he likely selected the books for the institute’s library himself. He also gave specific instructions to the institute’s trustees on what type of books they should purchase in the future.
As we can see from this sketch, the architect planned a wing extending to the left which looks quite different to the existing one. For reasons that were not recorded by the local newspapers, this wing wasn’t initially built, as we can just about see from this photograph which taken soon after the Town Hall was opened in 1898.
The initial building reportedly consisted of a reading room, library and newspaper room on the ground floor, and a classroom and large lecture hall on the first floor. A detached two-storey building at the rear provided two further classrooms,although this was later connected to the main building. Furthermore, a row of five cottages (known appropriately as the “Carlile Cottages”) were also built behind the Institute, with one being occupied by the caretaker.
Within a few months of opening, regular events were being held on Monday evenings at the Carlile Institute. For example, on the 22nd February 1892, Mr. John Jaques of Liverpool gave a lecture entitled “From Ocean to Ocean” in which he talked about his experiences of crossing Canada. His talk was illustrated with projected photographs from a magic lantern.
Speaking of which, we happen to know that James William Carlile was the owner of an early magic lantern. When the railway branch line was being built to Meltham in the mid-1860s, there had been worries that the navvies would be “loose, wild, reckless [and] lawless.” In reality, they reportedly behaved themselves “in a quiet and orderly manner”! So impressed were they, that the Brook family invited all the navvies and their families to a substantial tea in the dining rooms at Meltham Mills. Afterwards, “[Mr] J.W. Carlile, Esquire, amused and interested the audience by exhibiting his magic lantern, and a very agreeable evening was spent.” Perhaps we should also note that that we’re not too far from Holmfirth, where James Bamforth specialised in producing magic lantern slides and later became an important early film pioneer. Today, Bamforth’s is perhaps best known for their saucy seaside postcards.
Returning to the Carlile Institute, we know there were regular concerts — sometimes involving choirs from local churches, other times more intimate events with two or three musicians and singers. Even members of the Brook family gave talks — for example, Mary Brook of Harewood Lodge gave an illustrated talk on her recent trip to Egypt in 1893.
The missing left-hand wing of the building was eventually added in November 1903.