The Mann Institute – The Battle of the Building.
Moreton-in-Marsh is a small town within the Cotswolds of England. I visited in February 2020 as part of my small town tour. One building stood out:
The building was built in honor of John Mann (1802-1885) by his daughter Edith Spear Mann (1858-1902). It was known as the Mann Institute while Edith was alive (now as Mann Memorial Hall). It had a hall for concerts and public events. There was also a reading room, billiard-room, and a working men’s club. The club agreed to contribute to the salary of a caretaker and pay a proportion of the charges for coal and lighting. There was a bedroom for Edith. Little would Edith know that after her death, these features would be used against her in the battle of the building.
Edith died on May 30, 1902, setting off a legal battle over the Mann Insitute building. In short, those named in her will wanted the Mann building and charity money for themselves. Edith had instructed that those assets go to a trust for the benefit of the people of Moreton-in-Marsh in the name of the Mann Institute.
So, what grounds did her heirs (the plaintiffs, “residuary legatees and devisees”) have? They argued that since the Mann Institute had lavish features only for the rich that the charity was not really an institution founded for public benefit. Therefore, there was (1) no charity (2) so the gift could not be made. The funds and building should go to the plaintiffs like the other assets.
On December 9, 1902, those representing Edith’s will won. The judge concluded that Edith’s intentions when the Mann Institute was built were all that mattered. How the building was used during the rest of her life was immaterial. The building and money had to be used as she instructed after all. Read the case in “The Law Times Feb. 28, 1903. 734–Vol. LXXXVII.“
It’s best to close this topic with an inscription found on the building:
Every noble life leaves the fibre of it interwoven for ever in the work of the world – Ruskin
Oddly, the Historic England register has incorrect information, citing Edith as John’s wife.