The 'long, hard slog' to save Yorkshire village hub which can trace its roots back to murder and mayhem under a Luddite uprising

Murder and mayhem under a Luddite uprising in the little village of Marsden was well over a century ago to spark a determination for its future to flourish.

Villagers' ambitions were for a Mechanics Institute that could better prospects and a millworkers' education, but time and again its chances have been thrown into jeopardy.

Decades after community activists first began to fight for the building's future, a victory has been hailed as work begins on new opportunities backed by grants sums in Lottery funding.

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This isn't a triumph of luck but a win of attrition, trustees have said, born from a "dogged determination" and a "long hard slog" to succeed that has consumed 40 years of campaigning.

Marsden Mechanics, founded 160 years ago, started to fall into disrepair and it was taken over by a community trust. Recently a major new Lottery grant has helped to secure its physical upkeep and Marsden Community Trust's role in looking after the building for the community for the foreseeable future. Plans are now being drawn up to begin the restoration work, on the clock tower, interior and exterior building works. Pictured Felicity Fuller and Louise Warwick. Image by James Hardisty

"The feeling is hard to describe," said Tom Lonsdale, chair of the Marsden Community Trust, as it stands on the brink of reimagining the future for the Marsden Mechanics it runs. "Just to get a Lottery grant opens the flood gates. It's felt a long, long slog.

"It feels like a rightly just reward for all community activism."

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The Marsden Mechanics Institute was founded in 1841, but its story dates back to a time when the Kirklees village found itself at the heart of the Luddite uprising at the turn of the 19th century.

Plans are now being drawn up to begin the restoration work, on the clock tower, interior and exterior building works. Image: James Hardisty

Mill owner William Horsfall, ambushed as he rode over Crosland Moor, was murdered in 1812, with further attacks on cropping frames made in Marsden by Enoch Taylor, with hammers from the same firm, coining the Luddite slogan 'Enoch hath made them, Enoch shall break them'.

The uprising was crushed, and as the mills began to flourish the Institute was founded in borrowed halls, before funds of £1,500 were raised to build its own home. It opened in 1861, with a vast library of some 3,000 books, and was to prosper with 'soirees' and cultural events.

"Marsden would have been a very different place," said Mr Lonsdale. "Social, religious and working lives would all have been interwoven. The Institute, when it first opened, would have been a really critical feature of the community."


Pictured Marsden Mechanics trust members Gordon Bruce, (architecture) and Diane Barkley. Image by James Hardisty

But by the turn of the 20th century, decline had begun to set it. Ownership transferred to the district council in 1905, and it was considered for demolition in 1974.

Villagers, forming a community association, succeeded in getting the building listed, and took occupation in the form of a "squat" to prove its demand and lobby for funding.

An extensive £900,000 restoration in 1990 injected renewed vigour into the old building, and the Community Trust took ownership of Marsden Mechanics in 2017, with tenants Mikron Theatre and Marsden Jazz Festival, alongside library services serving the community.

But as bids were submitted for funding, the pandemic hit, throwing hopes once again until finally, announcements came in August that Lottery funding had been awarded. Now, with match funding, work begins on restoring the building to glory, and making it financially sustainable.

Marsden Community Trust is drawing up plans for the restoration work at Marsden Mechanics, on the clock tower, interior and exterior building works. Image by James Hardisty


"We are realistic," said Mr Lonsdale. "We have to keep reminding ourselves this is not the end of fundraising - there will be no end. The building has been on the brink so many times in its history.

"We have now bought a couple of decades of relative certainty, and we need to put in place things that will underwrite that future, and to make it profitable as a venue.

"We cannot rest on our laurels," he added. "But we've got the strongest board we've ever had, and there is a relay of energetic, determined, strong-willed people, all pushing in the same direction."

A Lottery grant of £194,000, match funded by Kirklees Council with a gift of £84,000 and an additional pledge by Garfield Weston, is to see building works and sustainability development.

The resilience project will see £200,000 committed to the refurbishment of the building's fabric, fixing woodwork, utilities, the clock tower and conservatory, and rebuilding leaking masonry.

The library at Marsden Mechanics. Plans are now being drawn up to begin the restoration work, on the clock tower, interior and exterior building works. Pictured Felicity Fuller, (Building Manager), and Louise Warwick. Writer: James Hardisty

The remainder is to be invested in staffing to create opportunities to help make the building more financially sustainable.


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Peel Street, image submitted by the Marsden Community Trust from the Marsden History Group’s archive
Tom Lonsdale, of the Marsden Community Trust.
The old library in the 1980s. Image submitted by Marsden Community Trust