Keighley Mechanics Institute & Free Grammar School

Back to History Home Page


The photo above is of of D Mitchell's blacksmiths and think it must be at the start of the engineering firm Dan Mitchell & Sons Ltd on Parson Street which survived certainly into the 1960's,  in a copy of the Keighlians magazine for 1964, the centre spread showing images form the Boys Grammar School this one is entitled "A beginning".

Below 1804 

Report and Date.—17th Rep., p. 772, MS. 402, date 1827.

Foundation.—Deed of J. Tonson, 1716, for endowment of usher to teach such children as should come to be taught in the free-school.

Governors.-2 trustees.

Patrons.—Trustees, parson of Keighley and upper schoolmaster have right of appointing and removing said usher.

Income.—£40 15s. rent.

State, &c.—School-room adjoining the upper school appropriated for instructing younger children of inhabitants until fit to be placed under the upper master. Office of usher vacant, and children taught by an assistant until expenses of certain repairs are paid.

Schoolmasters we have come across in the Parish register:
William Harrison 1592. Nicholas Jackson 1605. Barnard Taylor 1615.

Doug Thompson writes on the KBG web site that he believes a school was present some thirty years prior to the Free School.

John Drake, by will, March 27th, 1713, gave all his Lands and Buildings, in Keighley, towards the maintenance of a Schoolmaster, for instructing the children of the town and parish of Keighley aforesaid, in the English, Latin, and Greek tongues without any other reward. "Mr. John Green, in the Parish of St. Saviour's, in the County of Surrey, gave £100., to be settled on a good and sure Freehold Estate of inheritance, for and towards the said Free School, so settled, or intended to be settled, by the said John Drake, in the sure and good foundation for the purpose for ever. November, 1715.
John Drake was also licensee of the Lord Rodney. The Free Grammar School in Cook Lane built in 1716 and in use till 1854 when it moved to the Mechanics Institute.
Mr. Jonas Tonson, of Exleyhead, in the Parish of Keighley, in the County of York, left (1716) £100. to be settled on a good and sure Freehold Estate of inheritance, for and towards the said Free School, for an Usher in the sure and good foundation for ever.

"On August 20th, 1716, four of this town laid the four corner stones of the present school. Milo Gale, the Parson, that to the right in front. Mr. John Denbigh, a commission officer, that to the left at the south end. Mr. Richard Harper, that of the same end, to the west; and Mr. George Beanlands, that of the north end towards the west, being the present schoolmaster. Every one of which, depositing for the masons one shilling on his stone, wished prosperity to the building, and Timothy Rhodes, with his two men, proceeded in walling."

Reports from commissioners School Property.—Houses and about 4 acres of land, 2 and 1/2 acres of which are building land. Income in 1867, 271/. 18s. 8d. gross, 176/. 12s. net. Building good; no residence. John Drake, 1713, devised to trustees two small estates for the maintenance of a sufficient, unmarried, and qualified school master for teaching children residing in the town and parish of Keighley, in the English, Latin, and Greek tongues, free and without any reward or stipend whatever. And in case he shall marry, neglect or refuse to perform his duties, or shall become scandalous in life or conversation, the trustees are empowered to remove him, and to place another person in his stead. 
Later it goes on to say, - The trustees evince great anxiety to preserve for the institution its traditional character as a " Free Grammar School." But they have so administered the trust as to defeat their own object. The school is not free, and it is not a grammar school. At present it performs no work which would not be as well, if not better, done at one of the elementary schools of the town; and it attracts to itself no pupils except of the class for which those schools were intended. The trading and professional classes in Keighley want a good school for their sons, and the grammar school ought to furnish them with secondary education of a superior kind; but it cannot fulfil this purpose without a radical change of plan. An entrance examination would exclude from the school all who merely require elementary teaching. A sufficient staff of masters qualified to give instruction of an Schools. advanced and scholarly kind, would gain the confidence of the public; and fees ranging from 6/ to 10/, and graduated according to age only, would be willingly paid by those residents in Keighley who are at present the most destitute of the means of instruction for their sons. 
Taken from History, gazetteer, and directory, of the west-riding of Yorkshire 1837 The Free School, in Keighley, was founded in 1713, by John Drake, who endowed it with a garden and house, occupied by the master, and several houses and about 7a. of land in Keighley, now let for £162 a year. The master receives a yearly salary of £110, and has generally about 50 free scholars. The school is free to all the children of the parish, for English reading, as well as for Latin and Greek. Adjoining it is a Preparatory School, kept by the usher, who receives as his salary, the rents of a house and 1acre of land, at Exley-Head, and of a house and 15 acre of land, at Ponden, now let for £40. 15s. a year. This provision for an usher, was made by the will of Jonas Tonson, in 1716. He is chosen by the trustees, with the consent of the rector and schoolmaster, to instruct the younger children of the inhabitants, in English, until fit to be placed under the upper master.

Taken from Keighley Past and Present THE LOWER FREE SCHOOL The lower Free School, or, as it is sometimes called, the Usher School, was founded by Mr. Jonas Tonson, and first built at Exleyhead, on the site now occupied by the parish workhouse. But it appears at a vestry meeting, held June 30th, 1739, it was agreed to take the old school-house, at Exleyhead, for the use of the poor, at the yearly rent of forty shillings, which agreement, or resolution, was sanctioned by the names of the following parishioners :—
John Moorhouse. John Sharpe. David Brigg. William Clapham. John Roper. Robert Sugden. Joseph Wright. John Binns. James Greenwood. Richard Pighells. Richard Rawling. Richard Moore. William Hartley. William Paget.
The present school was built by subscription, with the approbation of Mr. Drake's trustees, on land adjoining the Free Grammar School. Though the original endowment was only £100., this sum appears to have been so far augmented as to produce, at the present time, about £40. a year. Mr. Tonson, who resided at Exleyhead and was called by Parson Gale "an old fanatical Presbyterian," was one of Mr. Drake's trustees who so obstinately opposed him, which may be deemed a sufficient reason for the Parson's neglecting to notice his charity. Mr. William Bell Sewell, Surgeon, Mr. Jonathan Anderton, and Mr. John Carter, are the present trustees, 1857, and Mr.
 William Plummer, Schoolmaster.

Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine - Volume 111
No children of the professional men, or of the better shopkeepers, were learning in the school. No boy was learning Greek, or had learnt it there for years. Latin was professed; but only a very few boys were found to be doing it. "Not one of them was far enough advanced to write out from memory the inflexions of a noun; and only two could construe a simple sentence in a book of elementary exercises." The reading of English was worse in this school than in the ordinary elementary schools. "Very little progress had been made in arithmetic;" the best boys being unable to go beyond proportion. The scholars came to the school very ignorant, and without preparation. The master was single-handed, and was unable to classify his scholars properly. "He frankly said that the National and Wesleyan schools in the town possessed advantages in the shape of pupil-teachers, and of regular organisation and inspection, with which he could not hope to compete." In short, the Commissioners found that Drake's foundation, while pretending to maintain a "free grammar school" in the town of Keighley, was really squandered in providing an unnecessary, an unpopular, and a bad elementary school.
Proceeding to Tonson's benefaction, the Commissioners found that the connection of this foundation for an "usher" with that of Drake for a "master," had "been lost sight of." It was managed by a separate body of trustees, and was employed in paying an old, incompetent, and feeble man to teach some twenty little children in a dilapidated building in the centre of the town, at a payment of 2d. a-week. This building was a part of the old grammar school not sold, or otherwise utilised, when the new school was built; the remainder being converted into a blacksmith's shop. The master was the son of a former head-master on Drake's foundation: the scholars were a few rude little boys from neighbouring cottages. "Nobody," said the Commissioners, "pretends that this school is of the smallest use, except to furnish an annuity to a respectable man whose claims are of long standing." In short, just as Drake's foundation had become a bad little elementary school, so had Tonson's foundation become a bad little infant school. A detailed account of the condition of these foundations, and of the causes which had brought them to that condition, will be found in the 9th and 18th vols, of the Reports of the Schools Inquiry Commission. It is not wonderful that the men of Keighley had come to regard their grammar school endowments as of no account in the educational resources of their town. They had long despaired of their doing any real educational work; and indeed, in making their calculations for the project of a trade school, they had confidently reckoned on the continued inefficiency of their grammar school. But a surprise was in store for them. In the spring of 1870, as their Trade School buildings were drawing to completion, the Endowed Schools Commissioners notified to the people of Keighley that they proposed to reorganise their educational endowments, according to a programme of which the following are the main outlines.

The boys grammar school was in Cook Lane, Tonson's preparity school was close by. John Drakes endowment had increased from £25 in 1718 to £162 in 1851. Jonas Tonson's £100 legacy worth £40 a year. At the time Free School usually meant free from control by the Bishop. But Drake had mean not only free from the Bishops Diocese but free of payment from the students for Latin & Greek. Between 1859 &  1860 a new school as built costing £300.

The Mechanics Institute having no rooms of it's own when founded in 1825, used rooms at Free Grammar school to hold meetings & store their library there. 1835 they were able to open their own premises. It had a large hall above for concerts & public meetings & cottages below. Due to demand in 1849 the cottages here turned into class rooms. Enthusiasm continued to grow,  the decision was made in 1866 for a  new bigger building.
Relationships between the school & the Institute had always been good, in the start the school had made room for the Institute when it was without funds, now the Institute would find room for the school who were now poor of funds. 

Middle photo by Allan Smith July 1968. Demolished Easter 1970. 

January 1825 a meeting was held at John Farish home inviting like minded people to join them to establish a library.

February 1825 a meeting was held at the National School to establish the Keighley Mechanics Institute.

The founders were: joiner John Haigh, tailor William Dixon,  painter John Bradley, and  reed-maker John Farrish
‘a few poor men wished to establish a library and were assisted in the initial stages by tradesmen of slightly better position, an ironmonger acting as secretary and a pawnbroker as friend and adviser’ (Tylecote, 1930: p. 60)

KEIGHLEY.—An attempt has been made to establish a Mechanics' Institution here. We are happy to learn, that the number of members in this Institution has increased to upwards of forty, that the middle and higher classes of the town begin to take an interest in it, and that a public meeting is contemplated, in the week after next, 'to establish it in due form. 1825

More information can be found in "A History of Keighley" by Ian Dewhirst. Chapter four. & a little more insight in to the characters John Farish & John Bradley in Ian's book "Gleanings from a Victorian Yorkshire"

John Farrish 1785-1858

Born in Macclesfield, heald and reed maker. He arrived first in Haworth  as a wool comber then later found work as a heald & reed maker in Keighley he took a cellar dwelling in the town for him  and his family. 

The first meetings were held in his home.

A tablet was erected in Utley cemetery  by his pupils and admirers in grateful remembrance of his many virtues as a teacher and friend.

Copyright  Bradford Museums and Galleries

John Bradley 1787-1844 

Architect and portrait painter.
Top left Airedale Heifer. Middle Stockbridge corn mill. Top right Walk Mill. Bottom left Corn mill. Bottom right Keighley hovels.

Copyright  Bradford Museums and Galleries

Some of his paintings still survive, he was said to have taught the Bronte children to draw.
William Dixon

William Dixon 1791- 1860, the  son of Edward Dixon, a Tailor of Water Lane. Edward must have encouraged education to his children, daughter Ann became a teacher & after Edwards death she and sister Elisabeth, also a teacher continued to live in Water Lane. Edwards son also called Edward, moved to Warwickshire and became a draper. William is in the Baines's Directory and Gazetteer Directory of 1829 for Keighley, Tailor, Diskson William, Beck street. William moved to Lincoln around 1929. 1841 census shows him in Leeds, occupation cap maker. 1851 living in Blind Lane,  Keighley & a change of occupation to Mechanic. After Williams death his wife & son George move to Leeds, the occupation of George is School Master. 

John Haigh Joiner. So far we have no information on this man, we hope to correct this sorry state of affairs and find out more about him.

Mechanics' Institute has been built on ground given by the Earl of Burlington 

The mechanics institute had 309 members in 1851, with 2127 volumes in the library.

In 1834 the newspaper reported the  grand event of the laying of the corner stone, many of the town dignitaries attended.

Part two

Part three



Rev Brontë became a member on 8th April 1833. He gave a lecture here entitled "The influence of circumstances".

Drake & Tonson

The Free Grammar School built in 1859 in Strawberry Street, was in 1871  renamed the Drake & Tonson School & now open to girls, it was suggested that if boys wished  to continue with an education that they attend the Trade School which was about to open in the basement of the Institute. 


The mechanics' institution was founded in 1825, and in 1870 a new building, involving an expenditure of nearly £20,000 was erected by public subscription; an additional wing was built in the year 1887  
The New Mechanics would be built at the corner of North Street & Cavendish Street with three entrances, North Street for the hall, Cavendish Street to Art school, the Library and Conversation room where papers could be read and chess played. Another in the basement to the classrooms. The third door which was closed off in the 1900's was approached by a flight of steep steps. The foundation stone was laid by Isaac Holden (not yet knighted) on 12 December 1868, and the place was opened by the Duke of Devonshire on 30 September 1870.

Designed by the famous Bradford architectural partnership of Henry Francis Lockwood and William Mawson.
The tower was an imitation of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
A large showy Gothic building, with tall narrow arches with taller and steeper gables. It is of stone, solid in structure, and has cost over £12,O00. The architects are Messrs. Lockwood & Mawson. The scheme of the institution is that of a tolerably comprehensive industrial college for adults of both sexes, and a trade-school for boys; and the building provides amply class-rooms, in addition to a handsome lecture-hall, exhibition, reading, and conversation rooms.


The news paper report of the opening from 1870 Part one || Part two || Part three || Part four

The photos below were provided by Allan Smith

Below, the bridge was demolished March 2012

An example of some of the events
 taking place there in 1871

1892 The New Clock presented by Prince Smith of Hillbrook to honour is father 

Lord Hartington took part in the laying of the stone for the extension 1886

Keighley and District Photographic Society.—Ordinary meetings, first and third Thursday in each month, October to March. Place of meeting, Mechanics Institute, North Street, Keighley. Secretary, John Gill, 27 Highfield Lane, Keighley.




The American annual of photography were using the building in 1892


Once every year a round of dances, known in Keighley as 'Cons', were arranged. 'Cons' was short for 'Conversazione'. The Conversazione, held on four nights of winter at the Mechanics' Institute


Below from the Keighley News 1962/1963

From the Keighley News 24 Dec 1966



Mechanics Institute fire
In the early hours of March 4th 1962 fire broke out after the Saturday night dance. The clock in the tower stopped at five to four. Water from the fire hose's froze on the walls in the bitter cold night air, yet across the road shop windows were cracking from the heat. The clock town was restored, and it and the shell of the remains stood until 1967 when it was demolished.