The Piece Hall or Manufacturers’ Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England is a rare example of a large-scale cloth hall that is largely intact. The hall was an exchange or market for trading the woollen and worsted cloth “pieces” that were woven by clothiers[a] in towns and villages in area. It opened in 1779 to a design attributed to Thomas Bradley. The scale of the hall illustrates the wealth generated by the woollen and worsted trade in the town.
For about 40 years the Piece Hall flourished before declining as the textile industry became more industrialised. In the 1860s it was given to Halifax Corporation and for 100 years housed the town’s Wholesale Market. It was restored in the 1970s and again between 2014 and 2017.
Before a hall was built to sell finished cloth, pieces were sold to merchants in the early morning in the butchers’ shambles or the old marketplace before the general market opened. Pieces were lengths of finished cloth measuring 27 inches by 24 yards. Halifax was one of the earliest towns to build a hall to sell pieces or lengths of woollen or worsted cloth. A cloth hall was mentioned in records from 1572 and was rebuilt in 1708. The cloth would have been brought to town by packhorse over rough tracks from outlying farms and settlements. The trade in cloth overwhelmed the 1708 manufacturers’ or cloth hall, and by 1774 the manufacturers were considering building new premises to compete with cloth halls in LeedsSix cloth halls have been built in Leeds since 1711, and the remains of two survive. Four were for white cloth, one for mixed or coloured cloth and one for cloth made by unapprenticed clothiers. , Wakefield Wakefield’s Tammy Hall was a piece or cloth hall, a specialist market for selling worsted cloth. Paid for by subscription, the hall opened in 1778.and Bradford.
A meeting in the Talbot Hotel in the Woolshops in Halifax, for those interested in building a new cloth hall was announced in the “Leeds Mercury” in 1774. The meeting ended in agreement that a cloth hall was required but disagreement as to its site: Talbot Close or Cross Field. Talbot Croft owned by John Caygill, a wealthy merchant, near Woolshops was chosen. Thomas Bradley, the engineer for the Calder and Hebble Navigation, is possibly the architect. The other contenders, Samuel and John Hope from Manchester were the experienced main contractors and builders and John Carr who was associated with the leading promoters including Caygill’s wife’s family.
Money for the new hall, more than £9,000, was raised by subscriptions from individual weavers and larger manufacturers who paid £28.4s. entitling the subscriber to a standard 12 feet (4 m) by 8 feet (2 m) room in the new hall. Merchants were excluded. Work began in 1775.
In December 1778 the hall was ready. The committee decided to hold an opening ceremony on 1 January 1779 which was a holiday. Crowds gathered in the town from distant villages, many travelled on foot. Bands played and a procession walked through the town which had been decorated with banners. A firework display was held in the evening in the courtyard.
Trading in the hall was managed by a committee appointed by the occupiers who drew up strict regulations. The porter opened the hall gates at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning for pieces to be brought in. He rang a bell at 10 o’clock to admit the buyers and merchants. At 5 to 12 the bell was rung again and continued until noon when trading ended. Should buyers enter before the appointed time, the porter forfeited 5 shillings for each person. Occupiers who sold pieces before 10 o’clock were fined 1 shilling per piece as were those who sold after the noon bell. The gates closed at 3 o’clock.
The Piece Hall flourished but after 1815 signs of decline were evident. The Industrial Revolution changed the way cloth was produced, the domestic system gave way to more industrialised ways of production and buyers bought directly from the millowners. Demand for rooms gradually diminished. In 1868 the hall was given to Halifax Corporation and three years later it was the town’s wholesale market for fish, fruit and vegetables. By this time the building was blackened by industrial pollution, lean-to structures and three large brick buildings occupied the courtyard. The market lasted for more than 10 years and probably saved the Piece Hall from demolition.
The Piece Hall is built of local, finely grained sandstone and has stone slate roofs. It is a massive rectangular structure, 300 feet (91 m) in length and 273 feet (83 m) wide, surrounding a courtyard that is 10,000 square yards (8,361 m2) in area. It is built on a sloping site with three storeys and a cellar on the east side and two storeys on the west. The north and south sides taper to two storeys to accommodate the slope. The exterior walls built of coursed rubble sandstone are mainly blank apart from the entrances and blind arcades on the north wall where the main entrance faced the town.
Inside, is a large, open rectangular courtyard. The lower storey or “Arcade” level on the east side and part of the north and south sides has an arcade of massive square piers supporting semi-circular Romanesque arches behind which is sheltered access to the trading rooms. Above it, the middle or “Rustic” level encircling the building has columns made from square blocks with incised V joints and square Tuscan capitals supporting the flagged deck of the “Colonnade” level with its cylindrical columns. Cast-iron balustrading fills the spaces between the columns and pillars of the upper levels. The interior perimeter walls are of ashlar blocks with alternating doors and twelve-pane windows. The levels are linked by stone staircases at each corner and by the western entrance.
Weavers sold their pieces from the building’s 315 rooms, which had a window and door opening onto the gallery. The rooms measured 12 feet (4 m) by 8 feet (2 m) providing privacy for conducting business and storage. Some rooms were shared by two or three weavers who produced small quantities of finished cloth. Few original rooms survive as most have been combined into larger spaces. While in use as a wholesale market, some rooms were combined to make larger shop units. The south pedestrian gate was enlarged for vehicular access and ornamental iron gates costing £120 by George Smith’s Sun Foundry in Glasgow were installed. The north, east and south walls in the Arcade level were altered to form wider archways.
The Piece Hall was stone cleaned in the 1970s and the council decided to relocate the wholesale market and develop the site. After demolishing the buildings in the courtyard, repairs and restoration were carried out, and the Piece Hall was transformed into an industrial textile museum, gallery, craft shops and an open-air market. The changes took place in 1975 and the Piece Hall was promoted as a tourist attraction. At the official reopening festival, the courtyard was used for a range of public events and exhibitions, Morris dancers, puppet shows and family entertainment.
A second major restoration by LDN Architects started in 2013. The project received funding from the Heritage Lottery-fund. Calderdale Council and LDN have provided a new gateway that leads into a wider regeneration of the town centre incorporating a new Central Library, the Square Chapel and reopened Industrial Museum. The courtyard has been landscaped incorporating a cascading water features and the Piece Hall is now a cultural and community focus for the Halifax borough. The Piece Hall re-opened in 2017.
The Piece Hall was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1928. Historic England considers the building, which was Grade I listed in 1954, is of “considerable architectural interest due to its dramatic design with tiers of classically detailed gallery arcades overlooking a large courtyard, whilst also demonstrating a high degree of craftsmanship and use of the highest-quality materials in its construction.”
Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “not only the most noteworthy architectural monument in Halifax but one of England’s greatest Georgian commercial buildings.
- Clothiers, from the Middle English clother, are people who make or sell cloth.