The Cooper Gallery is on located on Church Street, part of the original centre of Barnsley old town.

Built in 1769 the building was originally the home to Barnsley Grammar School. The building 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, facades and steps.

The building was purchased by Samuel Joshua Cooper when Barnsley Grammar School relocated to a new site. He left the Gallery to the people of Barnsley along with more than 200 of his paintings. These paintings, which he had collected on his journeys throughout Europe, form the heart of the permanent collection.

The gallery opened to the public in 1914.

In 1934 the Fox wing was added to the back of the gallery, in memory of local businessman and art collector James Fox and his wife Jane.

During the Second World War the Cooper Gallery became an extension of the towns 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, with the aim of transforming 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.

The newest development of the building is the most spectacular of all. The striking modern interior and new relaxing outdoor space, which includes Barnsley's first ever living wall, has had a wonderful reception from visitors old and new. The new space not only allows more of the wonderful collection to be viewed but also enables the Gallery to host more events to engage the local community in art related projects.