ABOUT THE GALLERY
Barnsley grew from a hilltop settlement and the Cooper Gallery sits in the middle of it all. The area was first referred to as Old Town in 1280 and there has been a church on the site of St Marys opposite the gallery, since Saxon times.
The Cooper Gallery is on Church Street, part of the original centre of Old Town. In the Middle Ages Church Street developed into a bustling mixture of shops, businesses and private houses where tradesmen lived with their families. Some buildings from the 15th century still exist and are the oldest in Barnsley town centre. These include Ashley Jackson's studio and Artcrafts.
By the 19th century the Cooper Gallery was at the centre of a thriving community of terraced houses, pubs, schools and a fire station. Lots of workers employed in local industries, such as McLintock?s Utilitas quilt factory, lived around here.
Across Church Street from the gallery was the Old Manor House, where several notable Barnsley families lived. In 1932, it was demolished to make way for the Mining and Technical College, which is now the University Campus Barnsley. And of course there is the splendid Town Hall, which was opened in 1933 by Edward, Prince of Wales.
By the mid 1930s, the area around the gallery had been transformed from a narrow gateway into a town, which was dominated by trade, shops and businesses. Church Street today with its imposing civic architecture is almost unchanged. And the Cooper Gallery is still in the middle of it all.
At first the Cooper Gallery was a school, built in 1769 as the new home for Barnsley Grammar School. It had been set up in 1660 by a local landowner, Thomas Keresforth, who made it "free to all children in Barnsley, Dodworth and Keresforth Hill, whose parents were not worth more than £200 in land and debtless goods." By the early 19th century, the pupils included girls, which was unusual for the time as most girls received little formal education. The school's pupils included Joseph Locke, the famous railway engineer, and his sister. When he died in 1861 his widow Phoebe gave more than £3,000 to set up 10 scholarships in his memory.
The Cooper Gallery was also used as a Sunday school, a Church Institute and a Conservative Reading Room. The original structure stayed the same until 1881, when alterations were made to the windows, façade and steps. When Barnsley Grammar School relocated to a new site at Shaw Lane the Cooper Gallery moved in!
In 1912, the building was bought by Samuel Joshua Cooper and left to the people of Barnsley, along with more than 200 of his paintings, which form the heart of the permanent collection. The gallery opened to the public on July 31 1914. Then in 1934, the Fox wing was added at the back of the gallery, in memory of local businessman and art collector, James Fox and his wife, Jane. The Fox family presented 45 pictures for this new wing. It now showcases the Cooper Gallery's permanent collection, which includes the Sadler and Addy bequests.
During the Second World War, the Cooper Gallery became an extension to the town's Beckett Hospital. After the war it was turned into an outpatients' clinic and rehabilitation ward and eventually handed back to the trustees in 1957.
The former South Yorkshire County Council took over the lease in 1977. Their vision was to transform the Cooper Gallery into a regional arts centre, with touring shows and exhibitions on themes such as mining, steel and industry, as well as concerts and learning opportunities.