Halifax

Picture credit: Chris Johnson (IFY Community)

“Enter which way one will, it is by a long-continued descent, that from Huddersfield rather steeper than the approach from Leeds; while the scenery is the more unusual and remarkable on the entrance to a manufacturing town.”  –George Head

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Halifax is a minster town that can be found in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It has a population of 90,000 people.

The town is best known for being the centre of the heavy woollen industry from the 15th Century onwards. It’s also known for its financial services due to the bank with the same name.

The Halifax piece hall established the town at the centre of the cloth trade in the 18th Century. Picture credit Tony Grist wikipedia public domain.
The Halifax piece hall established the town at the centre of the cloth trade in the 18th Century. Picture credit Tony Grist wikipedia public domain.

Places to Visit in Halifax

The legacy of Halifax’s industrial past is still evident today. A major feature of the town centre is The Piece Hall which is the only remaining building of its kind in the UK.

It was built in 1779 for local businesses to trade their hand-woven cloth and cotton products. Since then it has been a fruit market, horse fair, and in modern times home to a host of independent retailers.

The Piece Hall underwent a £19m restoration in 2014 and reopened in 2017. It’s now home to 315 units which include new shops, cafes and offices. The layout is much flatter and now has new lighting, seating and water features.

Shibden Hall is an impressive stately home in Halifax. Picture credit: Damon Stead.
Shibden Hall is an impressive stately home in Halifax. Picture credit: Damon Stead. (IFY Community)

Just outside of Halifax’s town centre you’ll find Shibden Hall. It’s a 13th Century house which became a public park and museum in 1934.

Amongst its farm buildings is the West Yorkshire Folk Museum. There are also many restored workshops which include a brewery, basket weaving production and tannery. Other features include a children’s play area, dry stone walling exhibitions and a miniature railway.

In 1438, Halifax Minster was completed. Previously two other churches existed before Halifax Minster on the same grounds.

Part of the South wall of the Minster is believed to have been part of an earlier Norman church. Its Jacobean pews date back to the 1600’s and the stained glass windows were restored during the Victorian period.

The most significant change came in 2009. Halifax Minster, which was an ordinary parish church for many centuries, was upgraded to Minster status by The Church of England.

Interestingly, the astronomer William Heschel, who discovered the planet Uranus, visited Halifax Minster. In 1766 he was the very first person to play the organ there.

One of the major tourist attractions in Halifax is EUREKA! The National Children’s Museum. It provides a hands-on experience for its younger visitors and encourages learning through play.

In 1992, it was established through the vision of Dame Viven Duffield. She saw similar museums in America and decided that she wanted to establish one in the UK.

There are four main galleries children, and adults, can explore. These include the human body, gardens from around the world, living and working together, and the science of sound. This attraction also boasts one of the largest sandpits in the North.

Wainhouse folly is an unmistakable sight on the town's skyline. Picture credit: James Brook (IFY Community)
Wainhouse folly is an unmistakable sight on the town’s skyline. Picture credit: James Brook (IFY Community)

South-west of Halifax you’ll find Wainhouse Tower. Standing at a towering 253ft high, it’s the tallest folly in the world.

A folly is a decorative building that has been built for ornamental purposes only. However, Wainhouse Tower is one of a kind as the reason for building the folly was actually quite practical.

Originally, it was supposed to be a chimney that would be used to divert smoke from Wainhouse’s dye works away from the town. This was not to be the case as during its construction the factory was sold.

The new owner of Wainhouse Tower didn’t want the unfinished construction of the tower and gave it straight back to its creator. They then decided to make it into a decorative folly and architectural landmark.

Currently, Wainhouse Tower is open to the public on bank holidays. Visitors can climb all 403 steps to reach the top and take in the spectacular views of Halifax and the Calder Valley.

Another significant landmark that can be found in Halifax includes the Town Hall. This is a Grade II listed building that was opened in 1863 by Edward Prince of Wales who would later become Edward VII.

Halifax is also home to what used to be the largest carpet factory in the world, The Dean Clough Mill. The Mill no longer sells carpets but is a hub for small businesses and the arts.

Theatres in Halifax

One building of interest is The Victoria Theatre. It was built in 1901 and has a capacity of over 1,500 seats.

This theatre has been a venue for a number of famous acts since it was first built. These include The Beatles, Jackson 5, Status Quo, and The Human League.

The Victoria Theatre is also home to the oldest surviving amateur choral society in the world. Founded in 1817, the Halifax Choral Society, along with their version of Handel’s “Messiah”, is so popular it has become an annual feature in the local calendar. 

Travelling In & Out of Halifax

Halifax is easily connected to other local Yorkshire towns thanks to the M62 motorway and other major roads. These include the A58 to Leeds, A629 to Huddersfield, and the A646 which takes you to the dark place across the Pennines.

Trains from Huddersfield Station run along the Calderdale line. From 2010, a new service was established which made it easy for travellers to get to London Kings Cross via Pontefract and Doncaster.

The town’s bus station mainly runs to other places in West Riding. These are Leeds, Bradford, and Huddersfield.

Nightlife in Halifax

Halifax has a lively nightlife and has many pubs, bars, and nightclubs to choose from. Venues such as Liquid, Acapulco, and Club la Salsa are the major destinations after drinking in the town centre’s pubs and bars.

In November 2005, local Christian organisations set up Halifax Street Angels. Their aim was to help binge drinkers in the centre of the town by providing first aid and support.

The success of Halifax Street Angels has cut crime by 42% in Halifax. It was also rolled out throughout the UK and to holiday resorts abroad under the banner of The Christian Nightlife Initiatives.

The Shay is now home to both the town's rugby league and football teams
The Shay is now home to both the town’s rugby league and football teams Picture credit: Forza the shaymen wikipedia creative commons,

Sport in Halifax

In Halifax the main sport is Football. F.C Halifax Town were founded in 2008 and currently play at The Shay Stadium.

The original team, who were in the Football League, folded in 2008. They quickly reformed using their current name. 

Halifax RLFC was formed in 1873 and is one of the oldest clubs in the sport. They share The Shay Stadium with the football team.

Education in Halifax

Halifax is home to two selective state schools. These are North Halifax Grammar, which is based at nearby Illingworth, and Crossley Heath School.

The town also has access to higher education. Located near to the town centre is Calderdale College which is the largest provider of both apprenticeships and courses for further education (16+).

Halifax is a hidden gem within West Yorkshire that has lots to offer. Sat deep in the valley, it is surrounded by The Pennine hills which tower above this unique town that has its own very special character.

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The town was first recorded in 1091 when it was best known as “Halyfax”. This name possibly comes from “an area of coarse grass in the nook of land”.

By the 12th Century, the town became known as an important religious site. Halifax Minster was built in order to serve its large parish across Calderdale.

The land around the town was given as a reward for bravery to the knights of William the Conqueror. These new landowners encouraged people to live in Halifax and set up farms in clearings which were known locally as “royds”.

At the beginning of the 15th Century, Flemish weavers arrived in Halifax and decided to settle there. As a result of this the town then expanded and became wealthy from its wool industry.

In 1779, the Piece Hall was built. It was the perfect place to trade the woollen cloth that was made in the area.

During this time, the town became notorious for the “Halifax Gibbet”. This was an early form of guillotine that was used to hang criminals.

Dean Clough Mills was once the largest mill in the world. Picture credit: Betty Longbottom geograph wikipedia creative commons.
Dean Clough Mills was once the largest mill in the world. Picture credit: Betty Longbottom geograph wikipedia creative commons.

The Industrial Revolution saw a huge increase to the population in Halifax and surrounding areas. As a result the wool industry was concentrated in one area – West Yorkshire.

This would usually have been spread throughout rural areas however this was a big advantage for Halifax. It increased the wealth of the town which allowed civic structures to be built such as the Town Hall and Victoria Theatre. 

During the 20th Century, the woollen industry began to decline. This meant that the town had to look for other ways to support itself.

In 1890, John Mackintosh opened a toffee shop. His wife, Violet, created a recipe so they could sell their own goods.

Eight years later, John opened his first factory. He quickly became known as “The Toffee King” and Halifax as “Toffeetown”.

In 1920, the firm was taken over by their son Henry. He expanded the business and developed products that are well known today such as Rolo, Toffee Crisp, and Quality Street.

Mackintosh & Co Ltd merged with Rowntree’s of York in 1969. This led to the town’s brief confectionary industry to come to a halt.

The Halifax building society first opened in 1853. By 1913, it had become the largest bank of its kind in the UK.

It continued to expand and prosper throughout the rest of the century. In 1997 it became a public limited company (PLC).

Halifax building society merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2001. This then became known as Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS).

During the financial crash of 2008, the bank merged with the Lloyds banking group. After this merger the bank lost its headquarters.

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Halifax was first recorded as “Halyfax” in 1091. Arguably the name comes from the Old English “Halh-gefeaxe” meaning “an area of coarse grass in the nook of land”. Or “halig feax” meaning holy hair.

Local legend claims the head of John the Baptist is buried in Halifax.

Halifax does not get a mention in the Domesday Book and much of the town’s history is lost in antiquity. But it is known that the town was well established by the 12th Century. Parts of Halifax Minster date to the 12th Century and it’s always been dedicated to John the Baptist.

Halifax was the first place in the world to have a guillotine and it was last used in 1650. A replica of this machine can be seen on its original site in Gibbet Street and the original blade is displayed in the Bankfield Museum. Around 100 people were beheaded from 1286 to 1650 but it’s not known how many were victims of The Halifax Gibbet.

Much of modern Halifax was shaped by its association with the wool trade. In the 15th Century, Halifax was probably the most important centre of wool trading in the country.

In 1890, John and Violet Mackintosh opened a toffee shop in King Cross Lane. Although the business was based on a recipe developed by Violet , it was her husband John who became known as The Toffee King. The business has survived to this very day although in 1969 the company John Mackintosh & Co Ltd merged with Rowntree Ltd to form Rowntree Mackintosh and in 1988 it was taken over by Nestle. The brands are world famous: Rolo, Toffee Crisp and Quality Street.

The Headquarters of the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington’s) can be found in Wellesley Park in Halifax. The Regimental Museum is within the Bankfield House Textile Museum on Haley Hill. The Regimental Colours carried by the Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) can be found in Halifax Minster.

Halifax is famous for The Piece Hall. Formerly this was a cloth trading centre which opened in 1779. Later it became a public market. In modern times it hosts many art, crafts and independent shops. The Piece Hall was featured in the film Brassed Off.

Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament, designed Halifax Town Hall in 1863.

Halifax has an award winning Victorian Market in the town centre. Borough Market was built between 1891 and 1896.

Halifax is the site of the tallest folly in the world. The Wainhouse Tower was originally intended to be the chimney of a dye works but the works were never completed.

Halifax is home to Halifax RLFC who play in the Co-operative Championship in Rugby League, and to Halifax Town who play in The Conference National league, the fifth tier of English Football.

Halifax Town Hall was opened in 1863 by The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. It was reported that over 70,000 came by train to see the event and many thousands more on foot and by public transport.

The inventor of the Cat’s Eye ( the reflective stud used in the millions on our roads), Percy Shaw, OBE, was born in Halifax in 1890.

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