Britain: The PIece Hall - Getting your woolies on in Halifax

The Piece Hall. Sole survivor of the eighteenth century ‘cloth halls’ which were the beating heart of the English textile industry. Cottage weavers sold their pieces of cloth here until the industrial revolution came along and changed their lives for ever.

Why visit?
Steeped in history, it is Yorkshire’s most important secular building (according to its website). It’s a stunning reminder of Halifax’s industrial past.

In Halifax, West Yorkshire in the UK. Map.

DATING FROM 1779, The Piece Hall gets its name from the ‘pieces’ of cloth that were traded here. Each ‘piece’ was 30 yards in length and woven on handlooms in cottages dotted around the Yorkshire hills. Trading took place every Saturday for just two hours, when local handloom weavers brought their woollen ‘pieces’ to trade. 
That such a magnificent building was used for only two hours a week is testament to the importance of the wool industry in this area, but also speaks of the hubris of the Northern English wool manufacturers. The building’s opening ceremony was accompanied by brass bands and a procession through the town, a silver key was used to open the ornate North gate and proceedings were topped off with a magnificent firework display by the ‘celebrated Signor Pietro’ ………. lit by a pigeon!
The Piece Hall’s design adapted neo-classical orders of architecture, with Georgian arcades around a square cobblestone courtyard, and an ornate North Gate more in keeping with the entrance to a castle. Halifax Minster rises up to the sky in the background and the Yorkshire hills frame the whole scene. It was the most stunning of the English Cloth Halls but on a sunny day its design puts you in mind more of Italy than England. Since 1954 it has been a Grade 1 listed building, a category reserved for buildings of exceptional historical interest (another Grade 1 building is Buckingham Palace, home of Queen Elizabeth II herself).

But within fifty years of its grand opening, the industrial revolution happened. The cottage weavers that came to trade at The Piece Hall were swallowed up by bigger industrial factories and The Piece Hall had to diversify. Spectacles such as a hot air balloon ascent and a tightrope act catered for the locals’ need for entertainment, but in 1871, mindful that The Piece Hall could no longer pay its way, its owners gifted it to the local council who then used the Hall for a much more practical purpose; a wholesale market for fish, meat and vegetables, a venture which lasted for a hundred years.
The Piece Hall was renovated in the 1970s and it reopened in 2017 after another, multi-million pound makeover which - sadly - ripped up the wonky cobblestones of old and brought it bang up to date as a ‘heritage destination’, complete with water features and a hipster gin bar. It plays host to a variety of entertainment events including recreations of some of the famous spectator events (the tightrope act returned in 2018) and turns into a festive wonderland at Christmas. 

Some of its industrial uniqueness has been lost in this process; but I’m sure the rich wool merchants of the eighteenth century would be proud that their building is the only cloth hall still completely, and stunningly, intact. And they would no doubt like its new gentrified, aspirational verve. The local woollen mills may have long since locked up their looms but one heck of a ‘Piece’ of its history is still strutting its stuff in this Northern town.

Useful links
Here is the Piece Hall official website

To really appreciate the scale of the building check out this drone footage.

Getting there:
Halifax is approximately halfway between the cities of Leeds and Manchester, and is well served by trains from these cities. It is approximately 3 hours from London by train. The Piece Hall is signposted well from the train station – if you miss the signs you can’t miss the spire of Halifax Minster.

About the author:

Vicky Turner was born and raised in West Yorkshire in the UK but has gradually been moving South (via the East Coast of the USA) for the last fourteen years. She currently explores in Kent, in addition to the occasional sojourn in Continental Europe.