Meltham Hall

Undated postcard of Meltham Hall.

Undated postcard of Meltham Hall.

Meltham Hall is believed to have been built in 1841 for William Leigh Brook following his marriage to Charlotte Armitage. Although the architect is unknown, but we do know the 25 acres of grounds were landscaped by Joshua Major of Leeds. William Leigh had previously lived at Thornton Lodge at Crosland Moor and was the son of James Brook.

Sadly Charlotte died in October 1847 after giving birth to their second child, James William Brook. In what must have been an emotionally charged day, Charlotte was buried at St. James and James William was baptised.

William Leigh soon fell in love with another woman. Unfortunately it was Charlotte’s sister, Emily – in other words, his own sister-in-law. Whilst that might not seem too scandalous today, at the time it was unlawful to marry one of your in-laws under the 1835 Marriage Act and was regarded by the Anglican Church as being akin to incest. However, there was a loophole – if you got married in another country which allowed it, the marriage would be deemed valid in England. It was not until the introduction of the appropriately named Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907 that it became legal in this country.

And so it was that William Leigh and Emily travel to Denmark where they married on 7 June 1850. He had three further children with his second wife.

In the autumn of 1855, William Leigh and Emily set off to visit “the principal cities and baths of Germany”. En route, the couple stayed briefly in Switzerland where there had been a recent outbreak of cholera. By the time they arrived in Frankfurt, Emily was showing symptoms and died within a few hours. Distraught, William Leigh telegraphed back to England with the news. His brother Charles Brook (junior) and Emily’s brother Edward Armitage then set off to meet him at Cologne. Sadly, William Leigh had also contracted the disease and it seems the two men arrived at Cologne shortly after his death.

The controversy over his second marriage rumbled on and came to a head the following year when William Leigh and Emily’s youngest son, Charles Armitage Brook, died. Under the terms of the Will, the question of what should happen to the boy’s share of the inheritance became highly problematic. The question the lawyers grappled with was were the three youngest children legitimate in the eyes of English law given the fact it was unlawful to marry an in-law. After a lengthy case, Sir John Stewart judged in 1858 that Danish law could not trump England law in this instance, and therefore the two surviving children from the second marriage had no claim over the disputed share of the inheritance.

It should be said that throughout this period, members of the Brook family fully supported William Leigh’s second marriage and campaigned for a change in the law.

Returning our attention back to Meltham Hall, there were of course five children who had suddenly been orphaned by the death of their parents. Charles Brook Jnr and his wife Elizabeth, who had no children of their own, moved from Wood Cottage to Meltham Hall in order to look after their nephews and nieces.

The next resident of Meltham Hall was Charles’ cousin Edward Brook who had moved in by 1869, as Charles had purchased the Enderby Hall Estate in Leicestershire and retired there.

The Hall was one of the destinations on the traditional Whit Sunday walks, where Sunday school children would parade through the town and visit the houses of the great and the good of the district to receive gifts and treats. For example, in 1876, around 450 children walked through the Pleasure Grounds and onto Thickhollins where James William Carlile presented them each with a penny. The Meltham Mills Brass Band then accompanied the children to Meltham Hall were Edward Brook also gave them each a penny. Then on to Harewood Lodge, where Miss Brook distributed oranges. They then trooped along Meltham Mills Road to Wood Cottage, before returning to Thickhollins where refreshments will given before Carlile who allowed them to run freely and play in the grounds of the Hall.

Following Edward Brook’s retirement to Hoddom Castle in Scotland, Thomas J. Hirst took up residence at Meltham Hall. Tragedy struck the Hirst family in April 1905 when their 8-year-old daughter Dorothy Josephine Hirst went out riding on a pony. The pony stumbled and she fell, but her dress caught in the pommel of the saddle. The started pony then bolted and poor Dorothy was dragged upside-down along the road. By the time a group of workmen were able to stop the animal near Netherton, Dorothy had died.

Following Thomas J. Hirst’s death in 1927, his wife Esther Frost Hirst remained at Meltham Hall until her death in April 1944. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, Mrs. Hirst had gifted the hall to Meltham Urban Council in her Will. The council then advertised the lease and attracted attention from both Huddersfield Corporation and from the West Riding Country Council who wished to use the hall as a maternity home. However, the subsequent formation of the National Health Service saw the plans abandoned.

Instead, it was David Brown Tractors Ltd. who leased the hall in 1950 as a staff dining room and social club for £300 per year.

Historic England Listing

HUDDERSFIELD ROAD (south side). Meltham Hall.

Large detached residence. 1841 with late C19 addition to east. Built for William Leigh Brook. Hammer dressed stone with ashlar dressings. Deep ashlar plinth. Hipped slate roof. Two storeys. 3-bay entrance and garden fronts, 4-bay side elevation. Bay divisions are marked by giant pilasters with capitals with anthemion decoration. The pilasters are coupled on the side elevation. Broad ashlar eaves band and cornce surmounted by balustraded parapet with dies over pilasters, rounded on entrance and garden elevations, and in the form of triangular pediments on side elevation. The garden front has central ground floor bow with balcony over. Sash windows with glazing bars, in architrave surrounds. Side elevation has similar windows to 1st floor, those to ground floor having paired pilaster surrounds. Entrance front has central door with later, very elaborate porte-cochere of cast iron and glass. Venetian window to 1st floor. The only interior feature to survive is the central stone staircase with decorative cast iron balustrade.

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