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
Halifax is a minster town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, with a population of around 90,000 people. It is best known for being the centre of the heavy woollen industry from the 15th Century onwards and until very recently, financial services from the bank with the same name.
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. It has since been a fruit market, horse fair and in modern times home to a host of independent retailers. At the time of writing the Piece Hall is closed for a £20m refurbishment, which, when it re-opens in 2016 will be home to a museum celebrating the building’s history, shops, conference facilities and restaurants.
Just outside the town centre is Shibden Hall, a 13th Century house, which became a public park and museum in 1934. Amongst its farm buildings is the West Yorkshire Folk museum, plus many restored workshops, including a brewery, basket-weaving production and tannery. Other features include a children’s play area, dry stone walling exhibitions and a miniature railway.
Halifax minster was completed in 1438, although two other previous churches existed before on the same site. Indeed 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 1600s and the stained glass windows were restored during the Victorian period. William Herschel, the astronomer, who discovered the planet Uranus, was the first person to play the organ here in 1766. The most significant change came as recently as 2009, when the building, an ordinary parish church for many centuries, was upgraded to Minster status by The Church of England.
One of the major tourist attractions in Halifax is EUREKA, the national children’s museum, which encourages its younger visitors to learn through play. It was established in 1992 through the vision of Dame Vivien Duffield, who saw similar museums in America and wanted to establish one in the UK. There are four main galleries, encouraging children to explore the human body, gardens from around the world, living and working together and the science of sound. The attraction also boasts one of the largest sandpits in the North!
To the south-west of the town is Wainhouse Tower, the tallest folly in the world, standing at 253ft high. A folly is a decorative building built purely for ornamental purposes, although the origins of Wainhouse Tower were indeed very practical. The construction was supposed to be a chimney to divert smoke from Wainhouse’s dye works away from the town. However during its construction the factory was sold and the new owner, who did not want the unfinished construction, gave it straight back to its creator, who decided to make it into a decorative folly and architectural landmark. The tower is open to the public on bank holidays, when visitors can mount the 403 steps and take in magnificent views of Halifax and the Calder Valley.
Other significant landmarks in Halifax include the Town Hall, a Grade II listed building, opened in 1863 by Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and The Dean Clough Mill, once the largest carpet factory in the world, now a hub for small businesses and the arts.
Another building of interest is The Victoria Theatre, built in 1901, with a capacity of over 1,500 seats. The venue has played host to many famous acts over the years, including The Beatles, Jackson 5, Status Quo and The Human League. The Victoria is also home to the oldest surviving amateur choral society in the world, which was founded in 1817.
Halifax is connected to other Yorkshire towns by the M62 motorway and other major roads including, the A58 to Leeds, A629 to Huddersfield, and the A646, a road to that other county across the Pennines.
The town’s trains run on the Calderdale line and from 2010, a new service was established to London Kings Cross s via Pontefract and Doncaster. The bus services are mainly to other places in the West Riding, such as, Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield.
Halifax has a lively nightlife, with venues, such as Liquid, Acapulco and Club la Salsa the major destinations after drinking at many of the town centre’s pubs and bars. Halifax made the news when its notorious Zoo Bar became one of the first clubs to be closed down under the 2003 Licensing Act for having numerous underage drinkers on its premises. Two years later in November 2005 the pioneering Halifax Street Angels was set up by local Christian organisations to help binge drinkers in the centre of the town by providing first aid and support to punters. The success of this venture has cut crime by 42% in Halifax and been rolled out both across the UK and to holiday resorts abroad under the banner of The Christian Nightlife Initiatives.
The main sports in Halifax are football, in the shape of FC Halifax who play at The Shay ground. The original team, which were in the Football League for a time folded in 2008 and quickly reformed using their current name. At the time of writing the club currently plays in The Conference. Halifax RLFC was formed in 1873 and is one of the oldest clubs in the sport. They share the Shay Ground with the football team and play at the time of writing in the Championship, the second tier of Rugby League.
Halifax is home to two selective state schools, North Halifax Grammar, based at nearby Illingworth and Crossley Heath School. Higher education is present too in the shape of Calderdale College.
The town of Halifax, sat deep in the valley, surrounded by The Pennine hills towering above is a unique town in Yorkshire with its own very special character.
The town of “Halyfax” was first recorded in 1091, which possibly derives from “an area of coarse grass in the nook of land.” By the 12th Century it became known as an important religious site and thus Halifax minster was built to serve its large parish across Calderdale. The land around the town was given to the knights of William the Conqueror as a reward for their bravery. The new landowners encouraged people to come and set up farms in clearings known locally as “royds.”
The town expanded and grew wealthy from its wool industry, which started when Flemish weavers settled in the area at the beginning of the 15th Century. In 1779 the Piece hall was built to trade the woollen cloth made in the area. During this time the town also became notorious for the “Halifax gibbet,” which was an early form of guillotine used to hang criminals.
The Industrial Revolution, like everywhere else saw a huge increase in population, but also made the wool industry concentrated in one area, West Yorkshire, as opposed to being spread throughout the rural areas. This also increased the wealth of the town which enabled civic structures such as the Town Hall and Victoria Theatre to be built.
The decline of the woollen industry during the 20th Century meant that the town had to look for other ways to support itself. John Mackintosh opened a toffee shop in 1890 and started to make his own goods with a recipe devised by his wife, Violet. Eight years later he opened his first factory and quickly became known as “The Toffee King.” In 1920 the firm was taken over by his son Henry who expanded it and developed well known products, such as Rolo, Toffee Crisp and Quality Street. Mackintosh & co Ltd merged with Rowntree’s of York in 1969 and so the town’s brief confectionary industry came to a halt, although not before Halifax earned the nickname of “Toffeetown.”
The Halifax building society was first opened in 1853 and by 1913 had become the largest bank of its kind in the UK. It continued to expand and prosper throughout the rest of the century and became a PLC in 1997. In 2001 it merged with the Royal Bank of Scotland, becoming known as HBOS. During the financial crash of 2008, famously the bank’s headquarters in the town closed, when it was merged with the Lloyds banking group and the bank lost its headquarters.
Halifax is first recorded as being Halyfax jn 1091. The origin of the name is somewhat contentious but it probably comes from the Old English halh-gefeaxe. This is said to mean an area of coarse grass in the nook of land.
Another possibility is that the name comes from halig feax which means holy hair.
There is a local legend that claims that 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 has 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 is 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 man 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.