West Yorkshire Towns: Pt 1 – Halifax

We have been many places in West Yorkshire, from our epic triple city adventure (Bradford, Leeds, Wakefield) in one day, to our sunny visit to the town of Huddersfield. We soon embarked on our next triple exploration, this time to the three towns of Halifax, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge…

Halifax:

Status: Calderdale District, West Yorkshire, Town, England

Date: 03/05/2014

Travel: Stagecoach (Banks – Preston), Northern Rail (Preston – Halifax), Northern Rail (Halifax – Todmorden, via Hebden Bridge), Northern Rail (Todmorden – Hebden Bridge), Northern Rail (Hebden Bridge – Preston)

Eating & Sleeping: Greggs

Attractions: Halifax Minster, Eureka Museum, Gold Post Box, Town Hall, Post Office Building, Square Chapel, Piece Hall, Square Church, Bankfield Museum, The Picture House etc

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Exiting the station, if you look over the stone wall to the right you get a great view down at the Eureka! National Children’s Museum (Also part Nursery) which I visited years ago with high school, so this is my second trip to Halifax, although it’s my first chance to explore properly.

The Museum opened back in 1992, when Vivien Duffield (Born 1946) established it following a trip to the USA where they have similar museums. It was opened by Prince Charles (Born 1948, heir to the British Throne) and he was it’s patron for the next ten years until 2002. The building is split into a number of galleries, including a small town square called “Living and Working Together” and a large garden exhibit called “Our Global Garden”.

Outside in the grounds is the largest outdoor sandpit in the whole of the North of England, and there are various other galleries for children under five. It’s a great resource and gives kids a good start with learning different skills. A nursery is located next to the main building. Visit the museums website here.

If you look off to the right of the Eureka! Museum you get a great view of the typical architecture in Halifax, and indeed this whole area of Yorkshire. As an old mill town, like the other surrounding towns, spreading across the border into Lancashire to places such as Burnley and Darwen, a lot of old buildings and chimneys survive in the area. A large portion of the buildings in the town centre have adopted this lovely old sand stone style, in keeping with an old town. Many of the newer buildings have been built in this style as well to fit in and keep the pleasant atmosphere.

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Moving out onto the main road, a spectacular sight greeted us, with the imposing spire of Square Church sat next to Square Chapel, both on Square Road. That’s a lot of squares!

The oldest of the two buildings is the Square Chapel (left), a beautiful Georgian Chapel from 1772, designed by Thomas Bradley (18 year old Architect). An extension was added in 1825.

It is quite unusual, as it is one of only a handful of square churches ever built. It was regularly used for services, however in 1969 it was abandoned, run down and near to collapse. Thankfully it was bought in 1988 by some local theatre enthusiasts, who transformed the derelict structure into a new theatre and today you can’t see a trace of the dreadful condition it was once in.

The church on the right with the tall spire was constructed later, in 1855 when it was decided to build a new church rather than extend the existing Square Chapel. The Chapel held it’s last service in 1857 and then became a Sunday School. The tower spire stands an impressive 235 feet tall, and is the brain child of Joseph James (Architect). The congregation of the church did well for itself over the next century, but went into decline by the 20th century. It eventually closed in 1969, and just 2 years later a devastating fire wiped out most of the building, so the spire and the surrounding walls are the only surviving portions of the whole building. It’s incredible that the spire survived intact, although the wooden supports in the rest of the building would have been a leading factor in the main buildings collapse. It’s similar to Coventry Cathedral (destroyed by bombs in World War II) the spire of which still stands proud today whilst the rest of the Cathedral is just a shell.

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There are a number of churches in Halifax, and one of them has recently been given upgraded status.

Just down from the Square Chapel and Church, is the proud tower of Halifax Minster, which was the parish church until 2009. It’s official name is the “Minster and Parish Church of St John the Baptist” and it is one of three Minster churches in the county of West Yorkshire, the others being in Leeds and the nearby town of Dewsbury.

This beautiful old building dates back to around 1438, when the main body was completed. Some sections are even older, such as the Chevron Stones from before 1150 and some 12th centry Tomb Covers. There is a variety of intricate stained glass windows around the building, and on the ceiling inside are 92 painted wooden panels. These are the coats of arms of the first 30 vicars of the church, as well as 12 tribes of Israel, and a number of local families. You get a warm welcome inside, there is a small shop off the left of the entrance and there are leaflets available that give you a tour around the most interesting things in the building, starting with the 15th century font. Behind it are the Commonwealth Windows, gifted to the church by the widow of Nathaniel Waterhouse (MP from 1656 – 1659) as the originals were destroyed during the English Civil War.

The Minster is easily visible from the train as you pass through Halifax and we were spotted it on the way to Leeds in 2013, and immediately added it to the list to revisit.

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Moving towards the centre of Halifax, into the Woolshops Outdoor Shopping Centre, we passed the entrance to the Piece Hall (at the far end of the picture), which we saw on a sign earlier. We were planning to visit, as it contains the Tourist Information Office, as well as a Heritage Centre, shops and cafes. We found that it is currently closed for refurbishment but it is due to reopen in spring 2016.

This entrance is just one of many around the building, which was actually constructed in the 18th century, and opened in 1779 as a sales centre for weavers, with over 300 sales rooms. Much like the other nearby square buildings, the Piece Hall is one large square, with four outer sections encasing a large courtyard in the centre. We hope to return in 2016 when it reopens and explore the inside of this grand building.

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Inside the Woolshops Centre,  the new shops blend perfectly into the town, as they are quite similar to the rest of the architecture in the town.

It is a pleasant, open area which connects the main road up to the high streets and the pedestrianised sections.

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This is the kind of building typical of Halifax, and indeed the wider county of West Yorkshire, The lovely smooth, sandstone exterior shines brightly in the sun, and most of the streets in this area of the town are lined with other, even grander examples of this type of architecture.

This particular building is called the Palatine Chambers, and round the left hand side of the building is an entrance into the interior of the building, made up of large arcade with an impressive, towering ceiling.

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Moving up past the arcade entrance, we emerged out onto the pedestrianised high street, and got a perfect view down at the building I had most been looking forwards to visiting.

At the end of the street stands the beautiful square tower of Halifax Town Hall, topped by an impressive metal spire. The top of the spire is visible from the station and was almost our guiding star as we started to explore the town. Construction of this fantastic building began in 1861, to a design by Charles Barry (1795 – 1860, English Architect who also rebuilt the Palace of Westminster in London) and his son, Edward Middleton Barry (1830 – 1880, English Architect). Charles submitted a design after deciding the three designs submitted for the building weren’t good enough, but he died before project was completed so Edward took over. The building took 3 years to build, and opened in 1863. The tower stands 180 feet tall (including the tower) and around the edge of the spire are four statues, representing four different continents:

1) Africa – Egyptian man with two boys

2) North America – Native American holding a paddle and a roll of tobacco

3) Europe – Represents civilisation

4) Asia – Chinese boy with a tea chest and another child with some flowers

The first three statues were sculpted by John Thomas (1813 – 1862, British Sculptor who also did work on Buckingham Palace, as well as the stone lions next to the Britannia Bridge between the Welsh mainland and the Isle of Anglesey). Sadly, John died upon completion of the Europe statue, so the Asia statue was created by Daniel Maclise (1806 – 1870, Irish Painter) to John’s designs.

The road is decorated with ornate black lampposts, and further down there are two street phone boxes also painted black. This is an odd sight as throughout the rest of the UK the phone boxes are all red, aside from the special case of Kingston-upon-Hull where they are cream.

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Outside the entrance to the Town Hall is a post box painted Gold, in honour of Hannah Cockroft’s Gold Medal win in the Women’s 100m Track event at the London 2012 Paralympic games. Find out more about the Post Boxes and their significance, and where else you can find them in Gemma’s dedicated post here.

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Moving away from the pedestrianised area, the next road up is the meeting of two streets, Watehouse Street and Commercial Street. Between them there are a number of incredible old buildings, and arguably the most impressive of these is the building that houses Lloyds Bank, shown above.

The tall slender columns mark the entrance, and it has all the bearings of a grand manor. The building itself was built in 1897, and the fine Victorian decor and architecture makes it the stand out feature on the street, which is itself full of other amazing structures.

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Just opposite Lloyds is  the grand Post Office building. Post has been delivered regularly in the town since at least 1682 when Oliver Heywood (1630 – 1703, Vicar of Coley) received a latter in the post. Since then, the system grew and in 1759 there were three weekly post deliveries from London, by horse drawn carriages.

The first dedicated building was built in 1770, and various other buildings in the next 200 years would take on the function. In 1887, the current building was built in a grand Victorian style. This area of Halifax was growing rapidly as the main commercial sector of the town. A lot of functions have moved out of the building, such as mail sorting which is now mostly done in Leeds or Bradford, however the building is still used as a post office.

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At the end of Commercial Street, where it meets the A629 main road, sits an old looking night club, called Liquid & Maine Street. It is another great example of the architecture in Halifax, and of course, it isn’t all that it seems.

Although it’s a nightclub today, it originated as “The Picture House” a Victorian theatre which opened in October 1913. Various films were shown here, including one called “Sixty Years A Queen” which told the story of the life of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901). It would show films for the next 47 years, until it’s closure in 1960, when it was converted into a Bingo Hall, and then eventually into Liquid.

It’s amazing how well the building has stood the test of time, and it still looks brand new. I like the columns around the entrance, and when it opened it must have been quite an experience to ascend the steps into the main hall.

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We moved back down the pedestrianised high street, to marvel at the incredible buildings on all sides. There are hundreds of Grade I & II listed buildings in the town, making up most of the town centre.

Halifax is one of those places you could walk round for hours and still find something else to catch your eye on a street you have already explored. The detailing around the entrance to every building, around every window frame and across every roof is breath taking.

Alas it was time to return to the station, as we have a few other places to see in the county today, so we pressed on, and got the train heading towards Hebden Bridge, to change there for the town of Todmorden.

Halifax is well served on the rail network, with direct trains to the major cities of Preston, Bradford, Leeds and York, as well as Blackpool, Rochdale, Manchester, and many others. Grand Central also run trains between London and Bradford, which call at Halifax en route. Leeds/Bradford International Airport is only 16 miles away from Halifax, and Manchester Airport is 45.5 miles away.

Halifax is a lovely town, and a great example of what makes Yorkshire so popular with tourists and locals alike. It is a preserved county, especially in this area of the Pennines that separate the built up areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire. There is plenty to see here, along with some museums further out of the town including the Bankfield Museum, housed in a large Victorian Mansion. Otherwise you could just explore the town centre, and see what you discover.

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