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Halifax - a Must for those Interested In Architecture
Halifax in General
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Halifax in General
Advantages: Lots of handsome buildings to see
Disadvantages: Sadly many have fallen into neglect
"Halifax? For a weekend break? Why?" We were asked this several times over our two days in the town. Maybe it's harder to appreciate the charms of a place if you live there day in, day out. I'd passed through Halifax on the train on several occasions and even made a ten minute stop once to deliver something by car but I'd often fancied stopping to take a look. The setting is dramatic; the hills make a pleasing backdrop which contrasts brilliantly with the old industrial buildings; the only example I can think of in the UK that comes close to this for the combination of industrial heritage and countryside is in our network of canals, especially in Cheshire and Staffordshire.
In this piece I'll look only at the town from an architectural point of view. Suffice to say it's a rather typical northern town with all the shopping brands you'd expect along with plenty of pubs and clubs, sporting entertainment (rugby league more or less eclipses football as the local sport of choice) and cultural pursuits.
If you're interested in architecture and/or British civic history, then Halifax is a good place to visit. John Betjeman described Halifax as 'a town of hidden beauty' a sentiment with which I can only partly agree, not because it's not beautiful but because these days 'faded' or 'crumbling' might be better words to describe it. The Clean Air Act of 1959 may have done a great deal towards saving some of Halifax's finest civic buildings but many others are now almost derelict or simply neglected at best.
A number have been saved and restored though and some of them are of importance not just to the town, but nationally too. The splendid Piece Hall (reviewed separately in this journal) is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the UK. Built for wool merchants to display their cloths in the eighteenth century the complex, with it two tiered colonnades, was later used as the town's fruit and vegetable market before falling into severe neglect. A single vote saved the Piece Hall from being demolished and now it's at the heart of the town's civic pride.
The indoor market also got a new lease of life and visitors should make a point of at least passing by the see the tall entrances to the hall. Inside there are stalls selling everything from slippers to boiled sweets and it's a good place to look for a bargain. Ask at the bakery stalls to try some traditional local cakes and scones. The building iteself is Grade II listed on account of its handsome Victorian facade and impressive clock tower. Built between 1891 and 1895, this building with its glazed roof harks back to the days when Halifax wielded a great deal of economic clout.
Halifax was once a booming town, made rich by the wool industry. A number of buildings celebrate that importance and civic pride, most notably the town hall. It was designed by Charles Barry, who had already designed the Houses of Parliament in the capital; Haligonians like to say that the architect practiced the style in London and then came to Halifax to perfect it. It's another of Halifax's buildings to have Grade II status. The idea of having a town hall was orginally mooted in 1847 and several times in the following years, but in 1856 proposals were finally made more concrete, partially thanks to the Improvement Act of 1853 which made it possible for the city corporation to borrow £15,000 towards the costs of building a town hall, police station and courthouse. The complex opened in 1863 and no less than 350 trains brought more than 70,000 people to Halifax over two days to attend opening sessions; yet more made the trip on foot. The town hall was offocially opened by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII' it should really have been opened by Queen Victoria but after she'd been widowed two years earlier, she had retired from public life. The most striking element of the exterior design is the 180 feet high tower which was decorated with statues by John Thomas that represent the four continents. Meanwhile, paintings by Daniel Maclise and JC Horsely on the staircases are worth seeing, and hang under a colourful blue and green glass dome.
Although it dates from long before Halifax's boom days, the minster is another of the town's notable buildings. Parts of it date from the 1100s but over all it's a mixture of elements from a variety of styles. Until fairly recently it was just a parish church but local people fought a campaign to have it 'upgraded' to a 'minster' in the hope that it would highlight it's importance to people outside Halifax. The minster has numerous interesting architectural features inside and out but my favourite is the lifesize figure of 'Old Tristram' which holds the parish alms box. It was carved from wood in 1701 and is said to represent a man who used to beg in the Halifax area around that time.
Situated opposite the entrance to the train station, the Square Chapel is yet another listed building and dates from 1772. It's architect, Thomas Bradley (incidently he's also believed to have designed the Piece Hall) was only 18 years old at the time he designed it. The structure is 60 feet square and at the time of completion it's believed it was the largest unsupported roof span in the country. Although the chapel is used frequently as an arts venue it is in still need of further restoration but worth seeing if there's something on when you visit. We went in for a beer festival and noticed that while the lower floor has been modernised and improved, the main hall has suffered much damage to its original features.
At the 'bottom' of town, The Clough Mills are a magnificent reminder of the heyday of the town. Sympathetically restored to house apartments, office accommodation, artists' workshops, a theatre and a hotel, this complex was once home to the largest carpet factory in the world.
There are interesting buildings at every turn in Halifax, too many to mention in just one article. There are over 600 listed buildings in the immediate area of the town which gives those interested in old buildings plenty to look out for.
Summary: A northern town with an array of interesting builings