Alderman William Smith (1839-1922) and his wife Susannah (1838-1916) began collecting paintings in the 1870s from around the UK. They were sourced from exhibitions in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and London, as well as on their international travels to places such as Antwerp. These paintings were representative of the time, with the late Victorian period focussing mainly on well-executed portraits, landscapes, and vignettes. Much of this collection was hung in Smith Art Gallery at the time. The couple then bequeathed their collection, and their art gallery to the people of Brighouse in 1907.
Alderman William and Mrs Susannah Smith’s life-sized portraits were painted by the artist William Logsdail (1859-1944) and can be seen on the upper level of Brighouse Library. They were presented to the Art Gallery in 1908, in grateful recognition for their generous gift of the gallery and collection to Brighouse.
When William Smith was twelve, he started working for his father’s dyeing business and subsequently moved onto general textile work for Benjamin Taylor’s Barkisland Mills. After his father’s dyeing business failed, he set up a new business at Old Kiln End Mills in Elland, where William returned to work for his father, first as a foreman and later in running the business itself.
On 22nd January 1860, William married Susannah Gledhill in Halifax Parish Church. Susannah was a member of the Thornfield United Methodist Church in Greetland, where she also taught the Sunday School. It is said that she was considered to have a very good voice, and for several years was part of the Thornfield choir. She also taught a young women’s class for a long period of time and was popular with her students who became very attached to her. The couple also attended Rastrick Church, where Susannah supported the work of the sewing meetings in organising various bazaars and sales of work.
William and Susannah never had any children of their own, however they adopted the son of William’s cousin, named William Henry.
In 1868, Smith and his father established a woollen manufacturing business – John Smith & Sons – at Badger Hill Mills, where he and his wife lived almost opposite, in Lands House. William’s Daimler was the first motor car in Rastrick, a symbol of his great success in business. After his father’s death, William took over the business with his brothers and J. I. Mortimer, becoming John Smith, Sons & Mortimer. In 1873, they began producing tweeds and serges and were the largest woollen manufacturers in the district at the point of William’s death in 1922.
William Smith was elected to Council in the Brighouse Municipal Elections of 1893 and became the first Mayor of Brighouse when the initially elected Frederick Laxton died before stepping into office. Smith was the Mayor of Brighouse from 1893-1895, when the Borough of Brighouse was first created, and was elected again from 1904-1907.
On 24th January 1910, both William and Susannah were the first people to receive the Freedom of the Borough of Brighouse, which was the highest honour a Corporation could bestow, and was considered a mark of esteem.
Alderman and Mrs Smith were great benefactors of Brighouse, and Smith Art Gallery and Library is a monument to the generosity that they bestowed to the people of the town. He believed that there was a great future for art galleries in England, and it gave both him and his wife great happiness in having spent their fortune in such a way.
The collection is now looked after by Calderdale Museums Service and has been displayed and stored at Smith Art Gallery and other museum sites since 1974 when the collection came under the remit of Calderdale Council.