The Piece Hall – Halifax Landmark
By Deb Woolson
A short blog on the events at the Piece Hall in Halifax and the connection to Ann Walker and Anne Lister.
In 1779, the Piece Hall in Halifax was built on land donated by John Caygill, a wealthy merchant, replacing the original Cloth Hall of 1572. It was designed by Thomas Bradley with a large courtyard surrounded by over 315 small rooms on three sides, north, south and west. Due to the slope of the ground, there were three levels on the eastern side that taper to two levels to the west. Cloth piece trading, 30-yard length fabric, would take place every Saturday for two hours of each week.
Ann Walker’s paternal grandmother was John Caygill’s sister – Elizabeth who married William Walker.
In 1787, 293 rooms were in use with 253 clothiers from Halifax and 40 from surrounding areas. By 1824, with the industrial revolution at hand, manufacturing changed and the Piece Hall was used for events such as elections, entertainment and Sunday School Scholars ‘Sings’ where Scholars from classes all over Calderdale would come to the Piece Hall to sing hymns every five years.
Unable to make enough money to stay afloat, in May 1867, the Piece Hall was given to the Halifax Corporation where it was put to use as a wholesale market. In 1928 the Hall became the first commercial/industrial building to be scheduled an Ancient Monument and in 1954 became a Grade 1 listed building, meaning one of exceptional interest. It continued as a wholesale market for decades.
In 1972 the decision was made to save the building and bring it back to the use of the public. The Piece Hall was re-opened in 1976 with many shops, an Art Gallery and Tourist Information Centre. Another shift would occur following a £19 million conservation and transformation programme which was completed in 2017 with bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries using with a large open-air courtyard. Special events are now held in the open-air courtyard and stage used for musicals and performances that can accommodate 7,500 people. The Piece Hall Trust is now responsible for its management. 1
Shibden Hall Connection
Charles Green’s Balloon
The Piece Hall is mentioned over the years in Anne Listers Diary. One exciting event was held in April 1824 when Charles Green, England’s most famous balloonist of the 19th century, flew his hot air balloon from the Hall.
“ In 1824, with hot air balloons still a novelty, the Piece Hall was packed with people eager to witness man’s first foray into space. The ‘intrepid aeronaut’ was Charles Green – he had made his first ascent in 1821 and would go on to complete 500 flights. At a little after 430p Green’s balloon rose into the air, and to the delight of the immense crowd of onlookers, remained visible from the Piece Hall for fifteen minutes.”2
Anne Lister was in the audience that day and reported it in her diary.
Anne Lister’s Diary 19 April, 1824
“Set off to Halifax at about 1-3/4. - The roads crowded with people. - Called for a few minutes at Northgate. - My Father and Marian did not go to the Piece-Hall to see the balloon, and I went to the Saltmarshe’s, having promised to go with them. - We got there at 3. - A great many people there, but the Piece-Hall would have held 4 times as many, at least. - After waiting 1-1/2 hours, Mr Green at last ascended at 4-1/2. - Went up steadily and beautifully and remained in sight 20 minutes. - Returned up the old bank, and got home at 5-1/2. - Had no idea what a business it would be. - I had to wind and push my way thro’ one continuous crowd from the Talbot Inn to nearly the top of the old bank, (to the lane leading to Bird-cage) - The people were returning from the hills where they had assembled. Some said to the amount of fifty-thousands to see the balloon. The High Sunderland range, Bairstow, and Beacon hill range were beautifully studded with spectators - The sight of these was as well worth seeing as that of the Balloon. - The day was remarkably favourable. - People came from far and near, and few who could leave home seemed left behind.” West Yorkshire Archive, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/7/0125 3
Much has been written about the election of 1835, with 6,000 people, the majority of them not electors, gathered at the Piece Hall. Anne Lister and Ann Walker were not in attendance but supported the Tories against the Whigs and their candidate James Stuart Wortley won by one vote.
Watch this thought provoking video ‘A Walk in Anne Lister’s Footsteps – Jill Liddington interviewed by Rachel Lappin’ and learn how the Piece Hall and the politics of that day may have influenced the mock wedding announcement that appeared in the Leeds Mercury newspaper about the women.
Margaret Graham’s Balloon
In 1837, Anne Lister would again view a hot air balloon, this time with Ann Walker and their servants observing presumably from Shibden. A different balloonist, Margaret Graham, would take flight from the Piece Hall. Margaret was the first British woman to make a solo balloon flight in 1826.
Ann Lister’s Diary 31 October, 1837
“About 4 1/2 p.m. Ann and I and the servants all saw Mrs. Graham in her balloon, was to ascend at 3 p.m. from the Piece hall, over Hipperholm - might be 400 or 500 yards high? the parachute like a black speck”5 West Yorkshire Archive, Calderdale, SH:7/ML/E/20/0153
Queen Victoria’s Coronation – Halifax Celebration
While Ann & Anne were in Tarbes, France, Anne Lister received a letter written 25 June 1838 from her steward, Samuel Washington, in which he shares the preparations for the Halifax celebration for the Coronation of Queen Victoria at the Piece Hall.
"There are great preparations making at Halifax for the coronation. 3,000 persons are to dine in the Piece Hall upon Roast Beef and plumb pudding and the Scholars from the different Sunday Schools are to have tea in the same place.”6
The Coronation of Queen Victoria was a highly celebrated event throughout England and Halifax was no exception.
Here’s a page from the 1838 Piece Hall Management Committee minutes regarding the events that took place at the Hall for the Coronation.
Piece Hall Patron
The Piece Hall connection to Anne Lister, Ann Walker and Shibden Hall continued in 2020 when the Trust’s Chief Executive, Nicky Chance-Thompson named Gentleman Jack creator Sally Wainwright as patron, noted in the 7 January 2020 Telegraph & Argus online news outlet.
Sally responded, “I am delighted to become a patron of The Piece Hall Trust and lend my support to the whole enterprise around this magnificent building. The Piece Hall has played a huge role in the regeneration of Halifax and its one of my favourite places – there is no other place like it. The Piece Hall Trust have done a fantastic job and I’m proud to be on board,”
The entire article can be found here.
1 – The Yorkshire Journal, Volume 1, 2018 – Piece Hall history
2 – 1824 hot air balloon – The Piece Hall website
3 – SH:7/ML/E/7/0125 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale
Anne Lister Transcription by Brian Moseley
4 – Halifax Election 1835 – Image used with permission from Calderdale Libraries, Information and Local Studies Department.
5 – SH:7/ML/E/20/0153 West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale
Anne Lister Diary transcription by David Hughes
6 – SH:7/ML/1025 West Yorkshire Archive, Calderdale – 25 June 1838 Letter from Sam Washington to Anne Lister, Tarbes, France
The Piece Hall – Historical information
Calderdale Libraries From Weaver to Web – Historical information
West Yorkshire Archive Service, Calderdale
YouTube – A Walk in Anne Lister’s Footsteps – Jill Liddington interviewed by Rachel Lappin’
Video produced by ALister Films
Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk is a paid service
Calderdale Libraries Weaver to Web – Thanks Gill Carpenter and Sarah Rose!
History Out Loud Podcast – https://anchor.fm/calderdale-libraries
Gemma Meek – The Piece Hall – 1838 Piece Hall Management Committee minutes https://www.catalogue.wyjs.org.uk/CalmView/Default.aspx?