“ Address: Causey Hall / Causeway / Halifax / West Yorkshire / HX1 1QL / England „
During a recent visit to Halifax the weather was miserable so I took shelter inside the parish church for a short while. The Parish Church of St John the Baptist is one of several churches near to the town centre but it is distinctive because of its square tower and rather black appearance due to centuries of dirt and grime.
A Norman church has stood on this spot since at least 1120 and the eastern wall of this church is original but the early Norman church was much smaller than the present church and had a location a little further to the north. Its eastern wall that still survives was actually the exterior wall of the southern end of the original church.
When I arrived I instantly noticed that there was some renovation work taking place, several dustsheets were sprawled across the floor and tradesmen were banging and drilling. Undeterred I decided to have a look around anyway. Within a few minutes of wandering around a lady appeared and at first I thought that I was going to be asked to leave but instead when I told her that I was just having a look around she handed me a tour guide.
This guide was printed onto something that resembled a large table mat. Starting at the end of the south aisle it took the visitor on a full tour of the church pointing out all of the most interesting features along the way. I was impressed by both its simplicity and the wealth of information that it provided.
Standing close to the doorway the first thing that is pointed out is The Holdsworth Chapel to the right. This small chantry chapel was built in 1535 by a wealthy local man called Robert Holdsworth. A descendant of this man became the Vicar of the parish but Vicar Holdsworth became involved within a feud between two local families called the Savilles and the Tempests. The feud ended with the Vicar being murdered in the church in 1556.The Holdsworth Chapel contains some lovely examples of carved woodwork although the altar which was a gift to the chapel in 1634 in my opinion is rather modest looking and to me just looked rather like my kitchen table draped with a white linen cloth.
Opposite to The Holdsworth Chapel on the north side of the church there is another small chapel called the The Rokeby Chapel. In 1502 William Rokeby, a former vicar of the church left a sum of money in his will for a chapel to be built in his memory on the south side of the church. However his successor Vicar Holdsworth decided to build his own chapel first in the same spot so the Rokeby Chapel had to be built elsewhere. At the time of his death Rokeby had left the parish and had become the Archbishop of Dublin but the request in his will was a sign of the fondness that he felt to his former parish of Halifax.
Continuing down the south aisle there are a row of five small glass windows known as The Commonwealth Windows which are unusual because all of the glass is clear. Apparently the original stained glass was destroyed during the English Civil War and they are not clear because the parish could not afford to replace them with stained glass but because the puritans at the time had a dislike for anything that was ornate.
At the end of this aisle look upwards and you will see a series of wonderfully carved wooden panels on the ceilings. Some of these depict Biblical scenes whilst others have the coat of arms of the families of some of the Vicars.
In front of you now you cannot fail to see the huge organ in the chancel. John Snetzler was perhaps the most famous organ maker that the world has ever known and in 1766 he built the most famous organ that the church has ever had. The current organ was built 1918 but incorporates the original pipes from the Snetzler organ.
The chancel at Halifax Parish Church is notable because of its size. In early times the chancel was the area of the church for the priests and the significant members of society whilst the nave was for the ordinary folk. At that time a huge screen separated the chancel from the nave but this has now been removed.
Within the chancel there is the main altar which is truly wonderful and there are also carved wooden altar rails dating from 1698. In 1634 Archbishop Laude had instructed that altar rails should be installed in all churches and a sum of three pounds, two shillings and sixpence was given for this purpose. Apparently the reason for Archbishop Laude's insistence on altar rails was because many parishioners brought that dogs into the church and the legs of the altar were a popular place for them to pee against.
Adjacent to the altar there are three wooden seats known as The Miserere Stalls. These contain very fine intricate carvings and are said to have been rescued from Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds when the monasteries were dissolved by King Henry V111.
At the far end of the church there is a large chapel known as the Chapel of the Resurrection. This chapel is also dedicated to the local regiment of the Duke of Wellington. Included within this chapel are the colours of that regiment including those used during the Crimean War and during the Battle of Waterloo.
Finally before you leave the church it worth lingering in the porch where you can see some examples of carved Saxon stones.
If you want to visit this church it is open daily from 9am until 4pm. Admission is free but donations are obviously welcome.
Halifax Parish Church
Tel - (01422) 355436