The meeting at a terrace house in a Huddersfield suburb yesterday was a low-key affair compared to the one that had taken place a century earlier, to thrash out one of the West Riding’s oddest property deals.
It was in 1919 that a plan was hatched to sell most of the centre of Huddersfield for a little over £1m, and transfer it into municipal ownership. It took a year for the arrangements to be completed – and the anniversary commemorations which were set in train at Berry Brow will follow a similar timeline.
Samuel Copley, the millionaire insurance man who acted as intermediary between the council and the family that had owned most of the town’s land since 1599, had been born in the house now picked out by a blue plaque. His ancestor, George Berry, was also born there and at 83, still lives around the corner.
He gathered with historians Dr Stephen Caunce and David Griffiths to plan the anniversary, which will culminate next year with the publication of a book and a series of special events.
Mr Berry, whose great grandmother was Mr Copley’s aunt, said he was delighted that his family’s role in the town’s history had been remembered.
“Sam died a year after I was born. My dad often spoke about him,” he said.
In what Mr Griffiths described as a “bridging loan”, Copley had agreed to buy the freehold of Huddersfield town centre from the Ramsden family estate for the market rate of £1.3m, at a time when the law did not allow the council to deal in such sums.
Following parliamentary intervention, he sold it on to them at no profit, on condition that the council bought its property insurance from him.
Dr Caunce, who characterised the Ramsdens’ interest in the town as one of “benign neglect”, said: “We never abolished that kind of feudalism. It just withered away. If the deal had gone wrong, Copley could have ended up owning Huddersfield.
“As it was, his legacy is that to this day, Huddersfield Council doesn’t have to deal with lots of other freeholders.”