Echoes of the past: Helping the needy at Royal Albert Institution

The Royal Albert building, pictured at a time when it was supported by fundraising
The Royal Albert building, pictured at a time when it was supported by fundraising

The Royal Albert Institution was established at Lancaster in 1864 for the care, education and training of people who in a 1930 subscriptions booklet I have were described as feeble minded.

The Royal Albert building shown in this week’s photograph was built between 1868 and 1873 and when it opened in 1870 it was almost completely run on voluntary subscriptions and charitable donations. In those days it was the only institution of its kind in the North of England which admitted free patients. In 1930 there was a Brighouse branch of the Halifax District Ladies Association which would collect monies to support the Royal Albert. The President of the Brighouse ladies was Miss Rayner, who at that time lived in Garden Road, and along with the District Treasurer Lister Brook collected from all parts of the borough. The Brighouse public would subscribe as little as two shillings and the more affluent members of the community would often give as much as three guineas.

In 1930/31 the ladies had collected £91 15s 6d which as part of the £738 that had been collected since 1923 was a large sum in those days.

Looking after people financially who were for one reason or another not capable of looking after themselves has been going on for longer that most people would realise. There were of course the generous handouts from some of the well off families who owned mills and businesses in the community.

I recall many years ago a lady telling me when she lived in Bailiff Bridge as a child, a quick calculation and that was pre First World War, she would often have to visit Sir Algernon and Lady Firth at Holme House to collect an envelope of money. It wasn’t until she was much older that she was told what it was for. The Firths were very well respected mill owners at the turn of the century and looked after their retired employees and their families exceptionally well. For those not fortunate enough to receive this type of help there was always the Halifax Union who paid out financial relief.

In 1898 there were almost 350 people, or paupers as they were described in those days receiving relief in the Brighouse Borough area. Most of these received little more than a few shillings per week which in some cases had to feed and clothe a family of eight.

There were over 30 people in this area who were described as lunatics and were confined to the West Riding Asylum in Wakefield, three were in an asylum in South Yorkshire, two were in Menston and just one was in the Royal Albert. The list of those unfortunate people from the Brighouse area who were forced to reside at the Halifax Union Workhouse is lengthy. There were people employed in each area to see to the paupers and were called Overseers of the Poor. In Brighouse that job was entrusted to Thomas Butterworth and Goldthorpe Broughton; Clifton it was Charles Ingham and Benjamin Sutcliffe; Hipperholme it was Abraham Turner and James Bentley; Norwood Green and Coley it was Joseph Sunderland and Joseph Carter and in Rastrick it was Abraham Brewer and Richard Thornton.

The Royal Albert Hospital, as it was later renamed, closed in 1996 and since then the building has been used as the Jamea Al Kauthar Islamic College, an academic establishment aiming to educate girls over the age of 11 in a safe, secure, happy environment. From its original 60 girls it now has 400 residential students on its roll. The students attend Islamic theology courses in the morning in the college, and in the afternoons travel to Preston Sixth Form College to study other subjects.