The Whitworth History Blog – Pt 2 – The Opening of the Whitworth in 1891

Whitworth History Blog

Continuing the the Whitworth History Blog, bringing you historical facts, articles and stories associated with the Whitworth Centre and Sir Joseph and Lady Mary Louisa Whitworth.

The Whitworth Institute was formally opened almost 129 years ago on Tuesday 6th January 1891.

In the first instalment of the History Blog we brought you an extract of an article from the Long Eaton Advertiser of Saturday 03 November 1888, two years earlier, describing the plans for the Institute.

So, in this article we will fast forwards two years to the Opening evening presided over by one of the Trustees of Sir Joseph Whitworth's estate, Mr Christie. Lady Mary Louisa Whitworth, widow of Sir Joseph was in Cannes, France and unable to attend the opening of the Institute, but she sent a letter to be read out.

An article was published in the Derbyshire Times the following Saturday describing the evening and Mr Christie's speech including Lady Whitworth's letter. The full transcript of the newspaper article including the letter are included later in this article. Here are some highlights:

Lady Whitworth sent a letter which arrived on the day of the Opening and which was read out by Mr Christie. Remarkably in 1891 it appears that a letter posted in Cannes on the 3rd January could arrive in Darley Dale three days later on the 6th. Over 230 people from the local community attended the Opening, with food laid on by eleven of the 'Ladies' of the Darley Dale area.

Despite being Trustees of Sir Joseph Whitworth's estate, the Opening was the first time that Mr Christie and Mr Darbishire had seen the building. They are referred to as co-devisees, a term used to refer to those distributing an Estate at that time.

It is stated that Sir Joseph had not completed his plans for the Whitworth Institute before his death. It was for Lady Whitworth and the other Trustees to interpret his objectives into final plans, reflecting his intentions to leave such a gift to Darley Dale.

At this opening the Hotel (now Barrington's) and the Cafe were not constructed and these followed at a later date. Notable was the intention to create a refreshment room in the style of a coffee tavern of the day. Also planned were school buildings!

Lady Whitworth in her letter talks about the plans, ultimately carried out, to put the Institute into the hands of trustees as a public institution. Nowadays it is a charity with Trustees appointed by the Parish Council.

Lady Whitworth also mentions her intention for the portraits of Sir Joseph and herself to be hung in the Whitworth, presumably upon her death. They did find their way into the Institute and now hang above the grand staircase to the Ballroom.

Please have a read of the full article, it harks back to a different era, and for those of us who care deeply about the future of the Whitworth Centre, it is a welcome reminder of why we work to ensure we protect this legacy, and in Mr Christie's words "... continue for centuries to be grand memorial to Sir Joseph Whitworth, the centre of life and light, where everything that was good, where everything that could contribute to make one's own life happy, which might help to make it useful and profitable to themselves and neighbours might be pursued..."

The following article is a transcript (which includes original spelling and sentence structure):

THE WHITWORTH INSTITUTE AT DARLEY - The Derbyshire Times 10th January 1891

A social evening was given in the Whitworth Institute, at Darley Dale, on Tuesday evening last. Tea was provided in the Bath Room, to which upwards of 230 sat down, the following ladies presiding the trays:- Mrs. Davenport, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Walker, Mrs. Henry Holmes, Mrs. Dawson, Mrs. Murdoch, Mrs. Deeley, Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Cockeril, Mrs. Herbert Smith, and Mrs. Arrow Smith.  After tea adjournment was made to large hall.  The Rev. Atkinson occupied the chair, and among those present were Mrs. Christie, and Mr. Darbishire (Devisees of the late Sir Joseph Whitworth), Mr. J. Dawson, Mr. J. H. Dawson, Mr. H. B. Taylor, Mr. Henry Dawson, Mr. Arrow Smith, Mr G. Lee, Mr. H. Deeley, C.C., the Revs. Johnson, J. W. W. Booth, and Clay.

The Chairman having suitably introduced the speakers, Mr. Christie addressed the meeting. He said it afforded him very great pleasure on this occasion to preside at that meeting the members of the reading room, and welcome them in the name of his co-devisees into the beautiful and might almost say the noble building. (Applause).  The building itself had been the subject a good deal of remark in the papers and among people in the neighbourhood.  Some had probably wondered what it was going to be and had sometimes read in the paper that there was something very mysterious about it. Every one who had seen the building would naturally wonder what it was intended for and the aims and objects of those who built it and as that was the first time Mr. Darbishire and himself had been present within those walls and as he had the pleasure of seeing there not only a large number of members of the reading room but very large number of young people of Darley he would take the opportunity of saying a few words to them as to the aims of the debusees in building that institute what they hoped would be and would become in time come. But first let him say that he had just received a message from Lady Whitworth. (Applause.) Lady Whitworth had taken great interest in Mr. Darbishire and himself in the progress of the buildings and she was equally interested the welfare of the people of Darley and she exceedingly regretted that she was not able to be present there on the Occasion in that splendid edifice.  He had few minutes before coming there received a letter from her with a request that it should be read to them. (Applause).

Hotel Beau Sejour,


3rd January, 1891.

Dear Mr. Christie.

As you tell that you are going to take part in the annual gathering of the members of the Reading Room and their friends and neighbours on the 6th, I should like to put in an appearance with yourself and Mr. Darbishire at this the first meeting in the new Whitworth Institute.

My Dear Husband was after planning some Gift of the kind to Darley Dale the hope that in a building arranged for the purpose, good accommodation should be provided for the Reading Room and its connected classes, and for similar use other local agencies and by these and other means the intellectual and social cultivation of the district, and especially of the rising generation might be permanently assisted.  He never completed his plans, for he was never satisfied that they were as perfect as he desired.  It has been the privilege of his legatees to work out at least the form of building in which that beneficent design may perhaps gradually take shape and be developed.

So far we have built the Institutes with which our friends and neighbours are already familiar.  

Our scheme will not complete until we have added a convenient hotel and refreshment rooms, to carried on on the lines of what are called Coffee Taverns, and in due time we hope large and convenient school buildings, and moreover have laid out and dedicated to the use of the Whitworth Institute, a considerable extent of land between it and the railway for cricket, football and other healthful recreations (not forgetting skating on  an ornamental pool the lower grounds).

It will no doubt take some time before all these works are completed, and before we can decide upon and settle the exact mode of arranging for the conduct of the Institutes, and for finally placing it in the hands of Trustees as a public Institution.  In the meantime we have done our best to make the present building not only convenient, but handsome, and such as we trust our friends and neighbours will enjoy, and their successors after them for generations to come.

It is a matter of great regret that I cannot now be present, and take part in what may be called the opening of the Whitworth Institute at Darley, but I beg you will, for me, congratulate the friends who are there its commencement, and express to them my most sincere good wishes for their welfare, and for the success the Institute for many years to come.  

I have thought making a present to the Institute for the commemoration of the real founded and shall be obliged if you will communicate to the meeting my promise to place in the Hall the portraits Sir Joseph Whitworth, and if I may be allowed, also that of myself, which now hang at Stancliffe.  I cannot spare these yet, but in due time they shall handed over.  It will be a pleasure to me to think of the Hall their future destination.

I am, Dear Mr Christie,

Yours very truly,


And having read that very interesting and admirable letter from Lady Whitworth let him say to them as she had already some extent said in the letter that they desired that building to looked upon as a gift to Darly Dale from Sir Joseph Whitworth. (Applause.)  Sir Joseph himself for many years contemplated erecting institute and reading room, and he had, in his life time, even gone so far as to consider plans for the purpose.  He intended to build not very far from the lodge at Stancliffe.  But like most eminent men had the defects of his good qualities and he never could consider anything absolutely perfect.  It was in this way that he obtained his great reputation as a mechanic and a maker of guns. (Applause.)  He had this disadvantage that he was never satisfied as to how best anything could be done and so it was with the Institute.  He could never satisfy himself as to what was exactly the best plan and accordingly it was never built in his life time but left to his legatees to build afterwards. (Applause.)  Now with regard to what that building should be and was intended to become, their aim was to provide in that building a centre for everything that could promote the physical, moral, social and intellectual welfare of Darley Dale and its inhabitants —(applause)—and more particularly of the young people. They wished to encourage the young by healthy amusements providing for them physical moral and mental development.  They wanted in fact in the building to afford those who were not well supplied with wealth some were, those things which the rich were able to provide for themselves.  They wanted to provide club accommodation, to have every amusement which the rich could have for themselves, every intellectual advantage in the way of libraries, books, and lectures, everything, in fact, that could contribute to make life not only pleasant but profitable. (Applause.)  They had provided rooms like those of any public institution, in which they could meet together for concerts, lectures and entertainments, billiard rooms and play rooms, and he hoped in addition sometime to have workshops and class rooms.  The cottage hospital already built had been a source of special interest to Lady Whitworih, where the physical effects of sickness and accident were removed as far as they possibly could be.  In the Whitworth Institute he hoped in the provision of the baths that they had not only provided for the health and cleanliness of the body, but also for enjoyment, for bathing combined the whole of these.  It was of a great satisfaction to think that these objects had been so successful as they would appear to have been during the time they had been used experimentally.  The result had proved a decided success, and it was gratifying to them to find that the baths were not one whit to extensive, but rather there was difficulty in finding accommodation for those who wished to use them.  He was very much pleased, and Lady Whitworth was particularly pleased, to hear that not only men used the baths but the women also in the ample accommodation and provision that had been made for them.  He hoped next summer that a still greater number of persons would make use of them, and that they would continue to be of the greatest possible benefit.  He hoped they would enter into the full enjoyment of the billiard room, library and reading room, boys' room, and such of the other rooms as they required.  He thought he might fairly congratulate the committee of the reading room the great success which they had already achieved. (Applause.)  The members had increased very much in number, as was naturally to expected, and had taken full advantage of the benefit of the Institute. The lending library would no doubt be more used than before, and he believed that very shortly night school classes and music classes would be commenced. They were originally indebted to Mr. Taylor for their first reading room, a gentleman who took the greatest interest in everything that was for the good of Darley Dale. (Applause.)  They might not always agree with the opinions held by him but nobody who lived in Derbyshire took a deeper interest the welfare of his neighbours or was prepared to make greater sacrifices of time and money than Mr. Taylor. (Applause.) He had to deliver to the members of the reading room a message which whenever he had met them on previous occasions where he had been more accustomed to meeting them had invariably given them. It was the best wishes Mrs Christie for their happiness and prosperity, and accompanying it a gift of books such as she had been used to giving them. (Applause.)  Besides several volumes of Dickens' works which she was specially desirous to present them, there were several works on natural history by Sir John Lubbock, and a book on grasses, which he believed would be both interesting and useful.  It was extremely important for those who lived in the country to understand the different kinds of grasses.  Another subject of great practical utility was wood carving. Mrs Christie was anxious, and he was anxious too, that classes should held for the teaching of this subject.  There were few things that were more adapted for study, combining as it did pleasure and profit, than wood carving.  The generality of those present would have to live in the country most of their lives.  Now there was great tending for young people in the country to leave the country and go to the towns.  They seemed think that life in the country was dull , and would very much more interesting in the towns.  One of their aims was to relieve to some extent the dullness of a country life, to form tastes which should mike life in the country as cheerful as life in the towns. (Applause.) He hoped that not very far in the future subjects of special interest and practical utility would be more and better taught in all schools even than they had bean hitherto, such as for instance drawing, carpentry, wood carving, and simple metal work.  These were things which every boy ought to learn something of, and of a character calculated be of great use to himself and make his life a great deal more enjoyable afterwards. (Applause.)  They hoped to have these subjects studied to some extent within those halls and that they would help them particularly in helping them to establish a museum of natural history. (Applause.)  They could have specimens of every kind natural product of Darly Dale and the neighbourhood, in geology, mineralogy and natural history.  It was for them, the people of Darly to do this and for them to supplement it with texts, models, diagrams, and by elementery lectures on natural history, mechanics and chemistry.  He was very glad to say that Mr. Darbishire had already arranged for a course of lectures on the geology of the district by Mr. John Mellow. (Applause.)  He hoped those present that evening would attend those lectures, from which they would derive a great deal of benefit, and learn to see that valley and that district in a more interesting light.  He could assure them that in studying nature they would receive a great deal valuable assistance from Mr. Darbishire who was himself an ardent student. (Applause.)  But while their arrangements with respect to the carrying on of that institute were tentative and temporal they maintained in their hands the entire control of the rooms, and while they would be delighted if the members of the committee would make much use of them as they possibly could they still retained in their hands the right to use them for any other purpose.  They would also be exceedingly pleased to receive any applications from any person to make a really good use the rooms for any purpose. (Applause.)  In conclusion he expressed a hope that that that would be the first of many series of gatherings of a pleasing and profitable nature, that the noble building in which they were met might continue for many generations long after all of them present had passed away, and continue for centuries to be grand memorial to Sir Joseph Whitworth, the centre of life and light, where everything that was good, where everything that could contribute to make one's own life happy, which might help to make it useful and profitable to themselves and neighbours might be pursued, that there generation after generation of the young people of Darley Dale might pursue that knowledge which in the words of Lord Bacon, “was the storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the good man's estate." (Loud applause.)

—Mr. Darbishire also addressed a few words of seasonable greetings to the assembly.—

The gathering shortly afterwards dispersed, and the remainder the evening was spent in dancing.

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The Whitworth History Blog, 2019