History of The Piece Hall, Halifax
By David Paul
The Piece Hall in Halifax, designed by local man Thomas Bradley, is perhaps the finest historic building in the town, standing as it does like a gigantic square amphitheatre, with each of the original sides being almost 100 yards long.
The building land for the hall was given to the town by John Caygill. Caygill also donated 800 guineas to the building fund. The total cost of the building was in excess of £10,000.
“A great procession”
The Piece Hall was first opened on 1 January 1779. The opening ceremony was preceded by a great procession, followed by a huge firework display in the evening. The three storeys of the hall were each given names: the bottom storey along the east side was known as the Arcade; the lower gallery, the Hustic; and the top storey was named the Colonnade.
The hall was built as a manufacturers’ hall, with each manufacturer who subscribed for £28 4s becoming the owner of one of its 315 rooms. Every Saturday, an amazing amount of cloth was sold, much of which was sent on to Leeds, London and other parts of the kingdom. Other buyers were commissioned to make purchases on behalf of merchants from Holland and other countries on the Continent.
The manufacturing base was spread over a wide region, with the Directory of the Manufacturers’ Hall, published in 1787, listing manufacturers having rooms as coming from places as far afield as Heptonstall, Stansfield, Burnley, Colne, Pendle, Skipton, Bradford, Bingley, Keighley and other areas.
Without any doubt, Halifax was pre-eminent and at the very centre of the cloth trade in the eighteenth century, with other cloth halls, such as in Leeds, Huddersfield, and Bradford, small in comparison.
The Piece Hall was operated according to a very strict timetable. On Saturday morning at precisely eight o’clock the doors were opened, and from that time until a quarter to ten, manufacturers were allowed to take in their goods.
There were, however, strict restrictions, and no cart was admitted that was drawn by more than one horse. Manufacturers were then allowed to open their rooms and arrange their stocks ready for the start of the market. Traders who had no rooms were charged a penny for each piece they brought into the hall. Then at ten o’clock the market bell rang, and the sales began. If a merchant or buyer was found trading before the bell rang, he was fined.
At twelve o’clock the market bell proclaimed the market closed, and buyers were obliged to leave the Piece Hall. There was more frenzied activity between half-past twelve and four o’clock, when packhorses and carts were admitted once again to remove the cloth that had been sold. From 1:30 to 2:30 there was another separate market held for the sale of worsted yarn. At four o’clock the gates were closed again, and the Piece Hall would be deserted until the next market on the following Saturday.
“Upsurge of trade”
The entries in an account book belonging to James and Jonathan Akroyd, who were worsted manufacturers, are very revealing. Initially they rented a room from Mr Pollard for £2 a year then, following a number of years of successful trading, they bought by auction a room for £30 2s, in 1785. When taking stock at the end of 1794, they held 269 pieces, valued at £647 6s.
Jonathan Akroyd, not a good speller, often wrote ‘pees Haull’ for Piece Hall. In October 1801 he made a particularly puzzling entry in the account book, ‘a Pease sined this Day by Boney Part’. The entry referred to the preliminaries of peace with Napoleon that were signed on 1 October, 1801. In fact, the prospect of peace caused an upsurge of trade for the partners, with 121 pieces being sold in a fortnight.
‘Illustrated Tales of Yorkshire’ by David Paul is published by Amberley Publishing, £14.99 paperback, ISBN: 9781445689968