After several years of renovation, Halifax’s magnificent 18th century cloth market – The Piece Hall – reopened on 1 August 2017 (Yorkshire Day). Originally built in 1779 as a market hall for merchants selling hand-woven woollen and worsted cloth produced by independent yeoman clothiers from the surrounding area, this spectacular Grade I Listed building is an architectural masterpiece.
Constructed from fine-grained local sandstone with a stone slate roof, the Piece Hall is the most significant surviving monument to the domestic textile industry in Britain. The building takes its name from the 30 yard lengths of cloth, known as ‘pieces’, which were the mainstay of its trade, along with raw wool.
A large rectangular building housing 315 small rooms, the Piece Hall is believed to have been designed by Thomas Bradley, a Halifax architect and builder who was Surveyor for the Calder Navigation Company. Taking the form of a quadrangle, the Piece Hall has a large open square in the centre measuring approximately 110 yards by 91 yards. Constructed on a slope, the western side has a ground floor with one upper storey, while the east face is on three levels, with internal staircases at each corner.
Classical in style, the Piece Hall draws inspiration from Roman and Italian Renaissance buildings. The merchants’ rooms are set back behind elegant colonnades. The lower arcade has round-headed arches on square piers. The middle level has Rustic pillars with Tuscan capitals. The upper colonnade has circular Doric columns.
There are arched gateways on three sides of the building. The north gateway, which was originally the main entrance, has a pediment topped by a classical urn, and is inscribed ‘Opened January 1st 1779’. The west gateway has a classical cupola with a bell, surmounted by a Golden Fleece and a weather vane. The south gateway features elaborate multi-coloured cast iron gates dating from 1871.
Trading at the Piece Hall was strictly regulated and took place between 10 am and 12 noon each saturday morning. Originally cloth was transported to the Piece Hall by packhorses after being collected from farms and cottages on the surrounding uplands where it was made. The cloth was then distributed throughout Britain and Europe.
Following the Industrial Revolution, textile manufacturing processes were mechanised and production shifted to water- and steam-powered mills in the valleys. This radically altered the system of trade, as a result of which the Piece Hall rapidly became defunct. From the early 19th century onwards the building was used for a variety of additional purposes, including firework displays, religious sermons and political rallies. In 1867 the Piece Hall was transferred to the Halifax Corporation and from 1871 onwards it was used as a wholesale fish, fruit and market. This continued for the next 100 years.
By the early 1970s when the wholesale market ceased, the Piece Hall had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. Thankfully it was saved, however, and after being renovated, the building reopened in 1976 housing shops and an outdoor market.
Following another major restoration project grant-aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Piece Hall has been given a new lease of life in 2017. Now managed by the Piece Hall Trust, it incorporates shops, galleries, cafes and bars, as well as displays about the history of this iconic building. A varied programme of outdoor events – from street theatre to art installations and concerts – will be held in the repaved central square, a stunning public space.
Adjoining the Piece Hall is the newly-extended Square Chapel Arts Centre, a lively arts complex including a cinema, theatre and cafe bar. Housed in the historic Square Chapel, a red-brick Georgian chapel dating back to 1772, this is a key element in Halifax’s new Cultural Quarter, along with the new Central Library and Archive incorporating the spire of the 19th century Square Church. The library houses a Visitor Information Centre and provides direct access to the Piece Hall from Halifax railway station and neighbouring Eureka! The National Children’s Museum.
Jumble Hole Clough is one of the many delightful spurs off the Upper Calder Valley near Hebden Bridge. Steep, narrow and densely wooded, it is hard to believe that this was once a hive of industry. A series of water-powered textile mills once tapped the river running through this valley, including the picturesque Staups Mill, seen in these images.
Fay Godwin photographed these intriguing ruins for Ted Hughes’s book Remains of Elmet in the 1970s. Amazingly, the building is still just about standing, although the clough itself is more overgrown than ever.
Just one of the hidden gems to be discovered on walks near Elmet Farmhouse.
1. Hebden Bridge used to be known as Fustianopolis because many of its textile mills specialised in fustian – the generic name for corduroy and moleskin. Hebden Bridge has also been described as Trouser Town because it became an important centre for garment-making, especially working mens’ trousers made from fustian cloth.
Left: Canalside mill in Hebden Bridge. Right: Fustian cutter’s blade sculpture in St George’s Square
2. Hebden Bridge was one of the earliest towns to embrace the Co-operative Movement, just a few years after the Rochdale Pioneers. The Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society, based in Nutclough Mill, was the first co-operative mill in the UK. Community spirit and co-operative principles still characterise the town. Hebwebwas the first community website in the UK.
Left: Tower of Nutclough Mill. Right: Workers’ housing in Hebden Bridge
3. Until the 19th century Hebden Bridgewas much smaller and more insignificant than Heptonstall, the small village on the top of the hill. Whereas Heptonstall had been a flourishing cloth-making centre for centuries, Hebden Bridge was little more than a bridging point over Hebden Water for packhorses en route to Heptonstall via the Buttress (an incredibly steep stone-paved track). But following the industrial revolution, everything changed. Hebden Bridge expanded rapidly and the Calder Valley became a hub for large water-powered and steam-powered textile factories.
Left: 16th century bridge crossing Hebden Water. Right: The Buttress
4. Because the Upper Calder Valley is so steep-sided, there’s very little space on the valley bottom for housing. When Hebden Bridge expanded during the 19th century, double-decker terraces were developed, consisting of underdwellings and overdwellings, running along the contours of the valley and up and down the slopes. ‘Flying freeholds’– another Hebden Bridge novelty – were introduced as a result.
Double-decker terraces in Hebden Bridge
5. Hebden Bridge boasts the highest proportion of independent shopsper capita in the country, a distinction it shares with Totnes in Devon. From butchers and bakers to designer-makers, Hebden Bridge combines traditional businesses, such as ironmongers, haberdashery and and florists, with craft lighting, jewellery and organic food. It’s no surprise the town was crowned Best Small Market Town in the Great British High Street Awards in 2016.
Independent shops in Hebden Bridge
6. Hebden Bridge’s thriving food and general market, held each thursday, recently won the national award forBest Small Outdoor Marketin the UK. It sells everything from fresh fish, local cheese and sourdough bread to toiletries, plants and fruit and veg. Hebden Bridge also has a flea market each friday, an artisan’s market on saturday and a local produce market on sunday.
Hebden Bridge Market
7. Mytholmroyd-born poet Ted Hughesretained life-long connections with Hebden Bridge. His book Remains of Elmet (1979), a collaboration with photographer Fay Godwin, is all about the Upper Calder Valley. Hughes’s parents lived in a house called The Beacon at Slack, near Heptonstall. His wife, the American poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963, is buried in Heptonstall Churchyard. Lumb Bank, an 18th century millowner’s house in Colden Clough formerly owned by Ted Hughes, is now a flourishing creative writing centre run by the Arvon Foundation.
Left: Remains of Elmet. Right: Lumb Bank
8. Internationally renowned photographer Martin Parrlived and worked in Hebden Bridge during the mid 1970s at the start of his career. His photographs from this period, focusing on the non-conformist chapels that once dominated this area, were recently published in a book called The Non-Conformists.
9. World-famous singer songwriterEd Sheeran spent his formative early childhood years in Hebden Bridge and seems to have absorbed its quirky, independent spirit. His parents lived in a house on Birchcliffe Road in Hebden Bridge at the time. Ed’s father was a curator at Cartwright Hall in Bradford and his mother worked at Manchester City Art Gallery.
Left: West Royd (left), Ed Sheeran’s early childhood home on Birchcliffe Road, Hebden Bridge. Right: Eiffel Tower opposite West Royd
10. Hebden Bridge and the Calder Valley are popular locations for film and TV dramas, both historical and contemporary. The picturesque village of Heptonstall recently appeared in Jericho and Swallows and Amazons, while Holdsworth House, a 17th century house in Halifax, was an important location in Last Tango in Halifax. Hebden Bridge features prominently inHappy Valley, which, like Last Tango, was written by BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Sally Wainwright, who grew up in Calderdale. Catherine Cawood, the feisty police officer in Happy Valley played by Sarah Lancashire, lives in a house on Hangingroyd Road in the centre of Hebden Bridge.