Freedom of the borough

THE highest honour a town or city can pay to one of its citizens is granting a person the Honorary Freedom of the Borough or City, a rare event in any town’s affairs.

A statistic that may surprise some readers is the number of persons awarded this - 11 times in Brighouse before our old Borough Council became part of Calderdale in 1974.

Since 1893 and the incorporation of the Borough this prestigious award was bestowed to: Alderman William Smith J.P. along with his wife Mrs Susannah Smith on March 22 1910, who gave us the Smith Art Gallery and the Smith Orphanage now the William Henry Smith School; Alderman Robert Thornton J.P. on June 28 1916, who along with a number of things gave his name to and including the Thornton Cottage Homes at Rastrick and Thornton Square and the clock on the Town Hall. On September 25 1943 the award was granted to four people on the same day: Alderman John Floyd Bottomley J.P.; Brigadier General Richard Edgar Sugden, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., T.D.; George Frederick Sugden J.P. and Joseph Ellis.

But where did the authority and criteria for such an award come from in the first place? The Council of a Borough may by a resolution passed by no less than two thirds of the members voting at a meeting of the Council which had been specially convened for the purpose and admit to be an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Brighouse. This is the highest honour which a council may bestow.

The last Freedom of the Borough event was held on Friday April 17 1964 when four Aldermen were honoured in this way. These were Alderman Gilbert Lawson MBE, Alderman Edwin Rigby Hinchliffe OBE, Alderman John Vincent Floyd Bottomley CBE, JP and Alderman Wilfrid Whiteley CBE.

At that special event Alderman Lawson was described as the ‘father’ of the Brighouse Borough Council which he had been elected to in 1929 and became an Alderman in 1937. He served on many committees in his years of office. His greatest work for the council was in the area of housing and was the Chairman of the Housing and Property Committee for 20 years.

As a young man he was a keen sportsman and was the captain of the Brighouse Harriers when the team won the Huddersfield District Junior Championship in 1913 and the Halifax District in 1920.

Alderman Hinchliffe was elected to the council in 1936 and then to an Alderman in 1945 and the Mayor in 1954. He also served on many committees but his specialism was education and working with the local young people.

Alderman Bottomley was the third generation of his family to be elected to the council. His family had a large manufacturing company in the Brookfoot which had employed generations of local people since the 19th century. He was elected to the council in 1936 and was the Mayor in 1944 for a period of two years. Throughout his service on the council he was actively involved with the finance and gas committees and was Chairman of the Gas Committee for 16 years until the function was taken over by the North Eastern Gas Board. He was a Justice of the Peace from 1950 and Chairman of the Bench from 1957. He like Alderman Lawson was a keen sportsman both as a tennis and badminton player. His CBE was bestowed on him for his public service and political duties.

The last of our four is Alderman Wilfrid Whitley CBE who before being elected to the borough council was the MP for the Ladywood (Birmingham) for two years from 1929. He was elected to the Borough Council in 1938 and was appointed an Alderman in 1945 and was the Mayor from 1947 until 1950. Although he served on many committees but was largely associated with the water and baths committee and was on the Calderdale Water Board.

I knew Alderman Whiteley through his various positions in his administrative connections in the brass band world. He was keen on many aspects of the arts, including the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival in Huddersfield. In 1950 he was invited to be the President of the Brighouse St John Ambulance Cadets.

Only recently I was given a presentation cup which is inscribed as the Wilfrid Whiteley Cup. This was one of the many awards associated with the North of England marching band competitions. The earliest date on the cup is 1959 and the last is 40 years later in 1999. Since this competition ceased to be held in Brighouse this award has been safely kept and is still with me.