Recalling town’s first royal visit

Smith Art Gallery, Brighouse, pre-1912
Smith Art Gallery, Brighouse, pre-1912

It only seems like yesterday that I had my large exhibition at the Smith Art Gallery celebrating that the gallery was 100 years old.

But it is now eight years on and I have many happy memories seeing so many people attend and so many questions. The historical interest in our town has grown since then judging by the number of e-mails and telephone calls I receive almost on a daily basis.

This week’s featured photographs are postally dated 1908, a year after the new art gallery section was opened by Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria.

The gallery was paid for through the generosity of William Smith, who was in his sixth term as the Mayor of Brighouse.

His offer was met with universal approval throughout the town from both elected officials and on this occasion, and more importantly, the general public.

Once the plans had been completed by Mr Roger Flather Rogerson, a local architect whose name is still with us today in the form of Rogerson Square - a small residential area off Bonegate Road - all the necessary approvals for the library extension were granted very quickly.

People looked on with great interest as it was being built, but the inside was kept a closely guarded secret until the formal opening ceremony was completed. It was generally felt that someone of importance, someone who could be described as artistic, should be invited to officially open this welcome new development.

Consideration was given that perhaps Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, could come to carry out the opening. It would also be the first visit to Brighouse by Royalty.

But who was this artistic and talented member of the Royal family? A person who was to have the distinction of being the first member of the royal family to visit Brighouse.

An interesting council decision about this visit was that while all the council members hoped she would agree to come to Brighouse, the council actually voted against extending its hospitality to set aside £120 towards the cost of entertaining the Royal visitor.

However, Sir George Armytage, Bart the High Sheriff of Yorkshire and Lady Armytage had the honour of entertaining Princess Louise - and paying for it.

The visit was reported to have been very disappointing for all the local residents who stood along the route hoping to catch a glimpse of the Princess as she passed them through the town.

The princess came and went without any member of the general public seeing her. Even her opening speech was reported to be little more than a few sentences.

As soon as she arrived in her closed carriage then almost immediately she was off again.

It was a sad day for the public who having waited out in the cold and damp weather expected at least a glimpse of the Royal visitor but they didn’t. Whether she had heard about the council’s Scrooge-like decision we can only surmise.

Perhaps the town did have the last word with the Mayor refusing to see her off at the railway station, leaving that duty to the town clerk.

The two photographs show the art gallery packed with almost every inch taken with large ornate wooden frames displaying a rich selection of paintings.