Halifax – the largest town in the Calder Valley and the administrative centre of Calderdale – is a bustling market town with many impressive Georgian and Victorian buildings. Halifax’s pre-eminence in textiles is reflected in the magnificent 18th century Piece Hall (1779), where merchants from traded locally-made hand-woven woollen cloth. An architectural gem, this Grade I Listed building is one of the treasures of Yorkshire. Newly renovated, the Piece Hall houses shops, galleries and cafes, and regularly hosts concerts, food markets and other events.
Halifax Piece Hall
During the 19th century Halifax became famous for other branches of textiles, including carpets manufactured by the renowned firm of John Crossley at their huge complex of mills at Dean Clough, now home to a thriving complex of galleries, restaurants and businesses. Sir Charles Barry’s Italianate Halifax Town Hall (1863) and the ornately-decorated shop fronts and shopping arcades in the town centre reflect the wealth and confidence of Halifax during the Victorian era. Halifax Borough Market (1891-6), with its gaily painted cast iron structure and colourful gates, is still going strong today.
(left) Gates to Halifax Borough Market (right) Coffered ceiling of Halifax Town Hall
Adjoining the Piece Hall is the Square Chapel Arts Centre, a lively arts complex with a cinema and theatre. Housed in the historic Square Chapel, a red-brick Georgian non-conformist chapel dating back to 1772, the Arts Centre was extended in 2017 and features a cafe bar with a striking ceiling.
(left) Square Chapel, Square Church and Library (right) Cafe in Square Chapel Arts Centre
Next door to Square Chapel, the imposing Victorian spire of the Square Church (1857-69) has been cleverly incorporated into the design of the new Halifax Central Library and Archive, which also opened in 2017. 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. Also close by is ancient Halifax Minster with its beautiful windows and gargoyles, another hidden gem.
(left) Halifax Minster with Beacon Hill beyond (right) Halifax Central Library incorporating spire of Square Church
17th-century Shibden Hall on the outskirts of Halifax was the home of the remarkable 19th-century diarist Anne Lister. Her extraordinary life will be featured in a major BBC TV drama in 2019 called Gentleman Jack starring Suranne Jones. Written by BAFTA Award-winning Sally Wainwright, the series was filmed on location at Shibden Hall. Just nearby is Dove Cottage Nursery with its stunning garden, as featured on Gardeners’ World.
(left) Shibden Hall (right) Garden at Dove Cottage Nursery
Akroydon, the attractive model village developed by millowner Colonel Edward Akroyd for his workers during the 1860s on the outskirts of Halifax, is also worth seeking out. Akroyd’s Victorian mansion now houses Bankfield Museum. Close by is All Soul’s Church, Haley Hill, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1859.
(left) The conservation village of Akroydon (right) All Soul’s Church, Haley Hill
Halifax Piece Hall – An Architectural Gem
Following a major renovation, Halifax’s magnificent 18th century cloth market – The Piece Hall – reopened in 2017. 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 was 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 – is held in the repaved central square, a stunning public space.
© Text and photographs copyright Lesley Jackson
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