I was recently asked to cover a street food event at the iconic Piece Hall in Halifax. In common with a few other wonderful buildings in Halifax, such as Wade House Tower and the Square Chapel, it is not very well known outside of the town.
Visit Yorkshire and other tourist organisations seem to concentrate on North Yorkshire cities and towns such as York, Knaresborough and Harrogate, but there is a lot to commend Leeds’ West Yorkshire neighbour, especially now that it has had a facelift.Wade House Tower is a huge ‘folly’ but is only open to the public on some Bank Holidays. Had it been situated in a town in the USA, there would be a central pneumatic lift whooshing people up to a restaurant at the top instead of your having to climb several hundred steps covered in bird droppings and so narrow that you can make several new close friends as your paths cross in opposite directions. The reward for this effort is a spectacular view, weather permitting, which it rarely does on bank holidays in this part of the world.
Square Chapel, as its name suggests, is a former place of worship which was converted – pardon the pun – into a centre for the arts. It was built in 1772 but fell into a state of dangerous repair after being abandoned in 1969 and ravaged by fire in 1971. In 1988 it was bought by the Square Chapel Fund, who slowly restored it over time as money was raised. It caters for all branches of the arts and I would go there every spring for the annual Mayfest Beer Festival, my being a different kind of artist!
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the place again on Sunday en route to the Piece Hall, which used to be next door but has now been joined to it by a huge, obviously square, extension housing an auditorium for film, theatre, live performances and a cafe bar selling all kinds of food and drink including cask ales. This means that the present residents of the surrounding area don’t have to wait until May to enjoy a great beer there. To check out the coming attractions please go to https://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/
Finally we get to the star of the show, Piece Hall. This is such an overwhelming building I was quite overcome when I first entered via the amazing huge doors. It was opened on New Year’s Day 1779 and cost £9,000 to build, a sum raised by charging merchants £28/4 /-* to occupy each of the 315 rooms where they could store their pieces, geddit? of cloth which would be sold during the two hours between 10.00 am and noon every Saturday. Should anyone be caught selling after the noon bell was sounded they would be fined 5/-*.
A ‘piece’ is a 30 yard length of woven wool produced on a handloom. After the Industrial Revolution wool production changed from being a cottage industry into a factory based one and the need for a place to sell hand woven wool disappeared, as did all the other Yorkshire cloth halls, so Piece Hall is the only one to survive intact. The reason that this one escaped the bulldozers is that in 1972 when the council debated a motion to demolish the building and turn it into a car park, it was defeated by one vote. The hall was restored and modified with some of the rooms being combined to form larger spaces in order to accommodate restaurants, exhibition spaces and the Tourist Information Office. A further refurbishment costing £19 million has recently been completed and the building reopened on 1st August (Yorkshire Day) 2017. The results are spectacular.
The rooms have been upgraded to a very high standard and house a widely diverse selection of traders. I had a chat with a chap who sells pictures and is looking forward to the visit of the Antiques Road Show on 8th July which he hopes will be good both for his business and for the profile of the building as a whole.
I then became lost wallowing in nostalgia in a model vehicle boutique. My regular reader will know that I love a good punny business name so Replicar had me hooked from the get-go. The unit is crammed with cars, trucks and buses from every era, and paradise for an ex-petrolhead like myself. The only downer was that there were a couple of young adults who kept pointing to the cars and saying that their grandad had one of those. Sadly, when I looked, I had had one of them too, and that was when they were brand new, not even second hand. Some of the model cars were actually hand made. Now you don’t find those in John Lewis!
There are cafes, restaurants and a gin bar to cater for gourmands, with a Lebanese restaurant and one run by the Piece Hall itself in the pipeline.
Coming events can be found at https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk/whats-on
I can only hope that the new Piece Hall prospers for many decades to come and puts a lie to the sentiment ‘from Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the good Lord deliver us!’ Halifax is in there because it was the last place in the country to execute people by using a gibbet, which is a small guillotine.
Should you wish to visit then follow the signpost at the entry to the station car park. It is also easy to find if travelling by road. If you take small people with you then don’t forget to take a look at Eureka! The award-winning children’s museum.
* For those of you fortunate to be young enough not to remember ‘old’ money £28/4/- is twenty-eight pounds and four shillings (20p). 5/- is five shillings (25p)