Walking through the old Lightcliffe Cemetery one of the headstones that still manages to stand out above the overgrowth is the grave of Willie Brooke of Hill Top House, St Giles Road at Lightcliffe who was tragically killed in a railway accident at the Lightcliffe tunnel August 28th 1903.

Willie Brooke was one of the three sons of Joseph Brooke who was the founder of the Brookes’ stone quarrying empire at Lightcliffe. It was Joseph who began commercial stone quarrying in the mid-nineteenth century – it was known that Lightcliffe, Hove Edge and the surrounding areas were rich in stone beds. Joseph and his wife Grace had four children Willie, Newton, Aspinall and a daughter Frances who died in September 1852 not yet one year old.

As the business began to take shape it was expected that Willie as the eldest son would eventually take over the day to day running of it.  In January 1897 then aged 20 Willie married Annie Sharpe who was the daughter of Abraham Sharpe a Rope and Twine maker in Brighouse and another successful businessman. Their first home was at Lane Ends Green which at that time was but a stones throw from the company offices at the bottom of Kirk Lane, premises which most will identify as the home of another successful local business The Cream Dress Agency.     

On September 13th 1876 Joseph died which put Willie as the head of the family and effectively in charge of the business. His wife Grace lived on until November 1895 when she was interred in the family grave at Heywood Chapel in Northowram.

The close proximity of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway which had opened in 1850 was of great benefit to the company - appreciating the value of the railway in 1896 the company opened their own private railway system that ran between the quarries and stone preparation plants.   

Whilst the business was growing and expanding all the time the major turning point for the business came in 1898 when credit must be given to the Brooke brothers - March 30th of that year they patented the first successful non slip concrete flagstone. By 1910 so successful was this new flagstone that over 500 local authorities were regular customers along with many railway companies who all used this new ‘Nonslip Stone’ for their railway station platforms. To manage this side of their business a new company was created ‘The Nonslip Stone Company’.

The stone waste chippings of Silex hard York stone were pulverised and reduced to their original state of sand. Since the crushing strain of this rock was 2,200 tons per cubic foot this figure will give some idea of the type and strength of machinery required to crush the material. Having completed this process the granulated chippings and other ingredients were poured into moulds, the enormous hydraulic pressure of well over 2,200 tons was then applied and almost before the operation could be realised in the mind a solid slab was ready to be carried out to the maturing ground.

With further expansion into Guernsey, Wales and Scandinavia the company was re-registered as Brookes’ Ltd which incorporated both Joseph Brooke and Sons and the Nonslip Stone Company. It was this continued expansion that saw the need for a large office facility to run what was becoming a highly successful international operation. There original office was at Pearson Brow but found it necessary to move to the bottom of Kirk Lane in 1891 and then finally in to their new and prestigious office ‘The Hall’ as it was often referred to in those early days in St Giles Road in 1905. Whilst the business came to an end in 1969 the magnificent office building stood until it was demolished in January 1999.     

Sadly Willie did not live to see the move in to their new offices following his untimely death it was then his younger brother Newton who then became the head of the family and effectively ran the company.

Death of Willie Brooke of Brookes’       

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