THE WONDERFULLY named Otley Useful Instruction Society was founded in 1835 - inspired by a movement which began in Scotland to give working men the chance to acquire basic skills and scientific knowledge.

Evening meetings and lessons were held in a yard off Kirkgate and later moved to schoolrooms in Bridge Street. In 1849 this society merged with the Mutual Instruction Society and became the Otley Mechanics’ Institution.

The history of the institution can be traced in these photographs from Otley museum.

Jill Allman, from the museum, said: "The idea was a great success to the point where the schoolrooms were inadequate, so in 1868 plans were drawn up to build a new Hall in Cross Green. The architectural competition was won by Charles John Fowler with his 'Modern Italian' design. Charles was the son of a well- known and established architect in Leeds. The Institute was built with stone from Pool Bank quarries and local tradesmen employed for plastering, carpentry, plumbing and painting.The foundation stone was laid in June 1869 but the official opening was delayed when a violent storm caused the Maypole and the old Market Cross to be hit by lightning and stones were sent flying into the front windows and wall. The building eventually opened in 1871 with 800 people in attendance.

"By 1890 the building was again not big enough to cater for public demand. A new Arts and Science School was built behind the now recognisable landmark. Alfred Marshall, a prominent architect of the town designed the new build. Funds were raised by Henry Dacre who owned the Recreation Hall and Japanese Garden. He organised a 'Model Village' exhibition in the Institute which together with donations paid for the cost of the building. The foundation stone was laid in June 1895 by Mrs Fawkes of Farnley Hall.

"The Institute provided a central hub for the community with education as a priority. There were evening classes for men for science, numeric, reading and writing skills. There were also classes for women with an art school, dressmaking, sewing and embroidery. The courses were not free but covered costs and were well attended.

"Entertainment was also a great attraction. Plays, readings and animated films were on offer along with pantomimes, children’s parties and wedding receptions. Royal proclamations were issued from the balcony when announcements of deaths of monarchs and coronations took place. Through World War 1 the Institute was used for providing a hospital ward for wounded and classes in first aid. During the 1940’s there was instruction for Civil Defence personnel. Evacuees from London were temporarily housed there before being rehomed in the area.

"After the Second World War, entertainment was the biggest attraction. The improvements in education invalidated the original idea for working men. Otley Little Theatre started in 1939. The Caledonian Society set up after the war for Scottish soldiers who were based here and had settled. There were Temperance Balls, beer festivals, dances, a billiards room and children’s entertainment."

In the 1950’s the hard reality of cost was starting to hit, and in 1956 the committee presented Otley Urban District Council with a gift of the entire building. There was a big exhibition in 1957 titled 'Otley Can Make It' which highlighted all the town's trades. In 1971 the name was changed to Otley Civic Centre and in 1974 it became the property of Leeds City Council. Eventually the cost of running and refurbishing the building was considered too great a financial burden. It was closed in 2010.