Built on land donated by the Calverley family the Oulton Institute and Harold Hall have been an integral part of village life for over a century as a place for meetings, sports and social functions. Initially the Institute was a single storey building with three rooms. In one of them villagers could read newspapers as most people could not afford to buy their own. Another room was used for billiards.
A site on the corner of Fleet Lane and Aberford Road, which was later used for the War Memorial, had been originally favoured by the Calverley’s land agent, John Farrer, but he was overruled and the site on Quarry Hill was chosen. A public meeting to discuss the plans was held in July 1892 under the chairmanship of Thomas William Jewison, a doctor who lived with his widowed mother at The Elms in Oulton. He had been born in Rothwell where his father, surgeon Christopher Jewison, practised medicine. At the same meeting the headmaster of Oulton school, Ernest Boothroyd, was appointed secretary of the organising committee. He lived at Myrtle Cottage and was also a member of the Oulton-with-Woodlesford Parish Council.
The Lord of the Manor, since he had inherited it from his father in 1868, was Edmund Calverley and it was his daughter, Gertrude Mabel Brooke-Hunt who laid the foundation stone for the Institute on 24 June 1893.
The cost of the first building and furnishings was £803 with £493 donated directly by Edmund Calverley. The rest came from a bazaar and various entertainments, including a garden party held over a weekend at Oulton Hall in June 1893 which raised £240. Construction took just six months and the Institute was opened on 28 December 1893 by Sybil Isabella Calverley, the niece of the former Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who had married Edmund’s eldest son, John Selwin Calverley, in 1888.
A management committee was formed and it held an annual meeting, usually in February. Over the first few years its members appear to have come from a cross section of the community. Amongst them was Benjamin Wood Higgins, an architect and surveyor whose father had been a stone merchant, builder and contractor. He lived at Willow Cottage and had a family of ten boys and two girls. Two of his sons, Ernest and Rowland, were killed in France in 1918 just months before the end of the First World War.
Doctor and dentist Francis Percy Roesch James from Worcester joined the committee in 1896. He lived at first at Springwell Grange and then moved into Oulton House marrying Gertrude Maude Heaps, a cousin of Thomas William Jewison who left him £2650 when he died in 1900, a tidy sum worth more than £150,000 today.
Thomas Murtland, who had moved from Northern Ireland to become the tenant of Greenland Farm, was the first treasurer. Other members included oil merchant Tom Batt who lived at Beech Grove; asylum attendant Wilkinson Inman; teacher Edward Jowitt; joiner and Woodlesford church organist Walter Lockwood whose house and workshop was on the corner of Quarry Hill and Aberford Road; George Mirfin Abbey, a traveller for Bentley’s; Armitage quarry crane driver John Thomas Kaye; council labourer William Flockton; and gardener William Poole who lived on Farrer Lane.
Another member was solicitor’s son Philip Saltmarshe Marsden from Wakefield who was a lodger at William Poole’s house for a while. He worked for John Farrer who lived next door. Whilst in Oulton he met and married the daughter of the managing director of Bentley’s brewery, Edythe Mildred Hoyle. They lived at Whitkirk where he was the land agent for Lady Meynell Ingram at Temple Newsam.
After three years another plot of land was donated and a large hall, ante-rooms and a caretaker’s house were built in 1896. It was named “Harold Hall” in memory of Harold Walter Calverley, the eldest son of Edmund Calverley’s sister, Ellen, who had married her cousin, barrister Charles Stuart Calverley, a well known Victorian romantic poet. After growing up in London and an education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Harold had died suddenly at the age of 31 in 1895. Ellen laid a foundation stone on 24 June 1896 and the hall was opened by her on 1 January 1897.
The new building cost £1,578 with £1,185 coming from donations including £750 from Ellen Calverley. Her surviving son, John Grosvenor Calverley, paid for the furnishings. Income raised from letting out the rooms averaged £27 per year.
As the population and prosperity of the area increased more facilities were needed and it was decided to build another storey on top of the old Institute building. Work started in the summer of 1912 and a large new room for billiards and games was quickly added. The largest room on the ground floor was then used for suppers and for meetings of groups which were too small for the Harold Hall.
The extension cost £860 and the contractors were: Stainer Brothers of Rothwell, bricklaying and masonry; Harold Stainer, Rothwell, joiners and carpenters; John Dobson, Hunslet, plasterers; William Atkinson, Kirkstall Road, slaters; W. Ward, Rothwell, plumbers and glaziers; J. Stott, Oldham, hot water engineers; A. & G. Barker, Rothwell, painters and decorators.
It was named the Grosvenor Room after ancestors of the Calverley family who had lived in the area as far back as the 18th century and possibly earlier.
A grand opening ceremony and bazaar took place on Wednesday 30 October 1912 attended by the President of the Institute, Major Horace Walter Calverley. He had inherited the family fortune on the sudden death of his brother, John Selwin Calverley, at Oulton Hall just after Christmas 1900. Since 1902 he had lived in London and at Down Hall in Essex, inherited from his mother’s brother, although he regularly travelled north to keep an eye on the Oulton estate which was still earning a substantial income from the coal mined from underneath it.
In a speech John Farrer said he was extremely pleased in having the honour of asking Major Calverley to open “the fine room.” He was greatly delighted because the ceremony was “the crowning point of a splendid effort.” His recollection was that the first part of the Institute was built following the formation of a committee which had met at Oulton school in 1892. One of its members was Rev. Atherton Gwillym Rawstorne, Vicar of Oulton who had become the Bishop of Whalley in 1909.
John Farrer raised a laugh when he said that a few years later the young people said they needed additional rooms. “We have nowhere to dance,” they remarked, and they also wanted a room to play games. “Some of the men had to wait a month for a game of billiards!” he joked.
Major Calverley said the Grosvenor Room completed a fine institution. Most of the money had been raised and it was a true Yorkshire saying that “where there was a will there was a way.” This had been so in this case and it was really wonderful how the money had been secured.
Referring to John Farrer’s assistant, Edward Haslegrave, who had told him that they needed another billiard table, he too provoked laughter and applause when he said there was one at the hall that could be brought down and put into use. He said he had not come across another village where they possessed such a fine Institute as they did at Oulton. There was more applause when he congratulated the Oulton cricket team for winning the Rothwell & District League. A vote of thanks was proposed by Edward Haslegrave and Ernest Boothroyd.
Others at the ceremony were: Mrs. Lowther of Swillington House; Rev. Ernest Huntington Dykes, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Leeds who had been Vicar of Oulton: Rev. Alexander Henderson, curate of Oulton; Rev. A.J.E. Irvin, Vicar of Woodlesford; Councillor John Hirst of Rothwell; Miss P. Hepper; Mrs. Philip Saltmarshe Marsden, Whitkirk; Miss Appleyard of Wakefield; and officials and members of the various committees.
The bazaar raised at total of £106 8s 9d. It included stalls for china, fine art, toys, cake and confectionery, a cafe chantant, houpla and darts. Sisters Mary and Elizabeth North from Manor Farm won first and second prizes in a needlework competition. A concert was given in the Harold Hall by a choir from Rothwell Church School and the Leeds All Soul’s Dramatic Party performed a one act play called “A Bad Penny.” Instrumental music was played by Walter Poole, piano, Harold Stainer, flute, Fred Stainer, cello, and William Whitworth, violin.
Saturday night dances at the Harold Hall, mainly organised by sports clubs and church organisations like the Girls Friendly Society, were a regular feature of village life in the inter-war years. They mostly featured Tom Noble’s Dance Band which was widely known throughout the West Riding. It also played at venues like the Town Hall and the Astoria Ballroom in Leeds. The line-up was: Tom Noble on piano; Albert Lunn, trumpet; Fred Noble, drums; Tommy Oakley, clarinet and violin; Stan Crossley, double bass; and Herbert Noble, violin. Admission was 2 shillings and sixpence, “half a crown” in old money, and usually included a sit down boiled ham supper.