September 21st, 1921: a host of notable Accringtonians assembles in its finery to witness the opening of an exciting new cultural centre for the town.
It’s the day the Haworth Art Gallery first opens its doors to the public – a cause for celebration for Accrington folk, who would benefit from this most generous gift – the day on which the town, still recovering from the effects of World War I, marks the opening of its first public art gallery. And a day on which to recognise the remarkable people who had made it possible.
Because it’s also a day of sad reflection. The house and grounds, previously known as Hollins Hill, are the bequest of Anne Haworth, who along with her brother William had lived there for fewer years than they no doubt would have hoped.
The Haworths’ family wealth was created by their father Thomas, an engraver by background, who built and ran two thriving cotton mills in Accrington and later passed the running of the businesses on to William. Being from humble beginnings themselves, the Haworths were fair and sympathetic employers, who ran clean mills with good working conditions and were a close and loving family.
It was after the death of Thomas and his wife Mary that William and Anne commissioned York-based architect Walter Brierley, dubbed ‘the Lutyens of the north’, to build Hollins Hill in the Arts & Crafts vernacular as their retirement home.
Completed in 1909, the house had been home to William for just four years when he died in 1913, aged just 65. After his death, Anne lived on more reclusively at the house, along with her companion Ellen Priestley, and died in 1920.
It was Anne’s extraordinary bequest that gave the town its new park, art gallery and collection of beautiful artworks, sculpture and ceramics, among the many items the siblings amassed from both near and far – on their many travels – fulfilling a dream William had harboured: to create a public gallery for the people of his hometown to enjoy. Abraham Whiston, who had been William’s valet and later Anne’s butler, stayed on to become the gallery’s first curator.
The generous bequest was welcomed by the town’s corporation and on this day 100 years ago, Accrington’s mayor officially took charge of the key to its great oak door. And the rest, as they say, is history.