Halifax (St. John the Baptist)

HALIFAX (St. John the Baptist), a parish, partly in the union of Todmorden, but chiefly in that of Halifax, wapentake of Morley, W. riding of York; comprising the market-town and borough of Halifax, the parochial chapelries of Elland and Heptonstall, and the townships of Barkisland, Erringden, Fixby, Hipperholme with Brighouse, Langfield, Midgley, Norland, Ovenden, North and South Owram, Rastrick, Rishworth, Shelf, Skircoat, Sowerby, Soyland, Stainland with Old Lindley, Stansfield, Wadsworth, and Warley; the whole containing 130,743 inhabitants, of whom 19,881 are in the town, 42 miles (S. W.) from York, and 197 (N. N. W.) from London. This place is of no great antiquity, nor is it noticed in the Domesday survey. It appears to have been originally an obscure hamlet named Horton, situated in a dreary and almost inaccessible district, and to have acquired its earliest importance from the resort of numerous pilgrims to visit the head of a virgin, the victim of a rejected suitor's revenge. From this circumstance, to which the device of the town seal bears allusion, the present name of the place is supposed to have been derived, the word Halig meaning "holy," and fax, "hair;" but some antiquaries, interpreting the name as signifying "Holy Face," derive it from a relic called the Face of St. John, said to have been kept in a solitary hermitage which occupied the site of the present church. The formation of the parish is attributed to the families of Warren and Lacy, lords of the manors of Wakefield and Pontefract, who for this purpose appropriated certain portions of their respective lands; and the earliest document wherein Halifax appears described as a place of any note is a charter, by which, in the beginning of the twelfth century, the church was granted by William de Warren to the priory of Lewes, in the county of Sussex, which his ancestor had founded. Its subsequent growth is ascribed to the settlement of certain emigrants from the Spanish Netherlands, who, seeking refuge from the persecutions to which they were subjected under the government of the Duke of Alva, repaired in great numbers to England, and introduced the woollen manufacture, of which a branch was established here in 1414. At this time there were not more than 13 houses in the town, but it soon began to increase in extent and population; in 1540 it contained 520 houses, and it has since progressively advanced to its present importance, as one of the principal seats of the woollen manufacture.

The practice of summary legislation called Gibbet law, which had from time immemorial prevailed within the limits of the Forest of Hardwick, wherein this parish was included, was for many ages observed here, till it was finally abolished about the year 1650. By this law, a felon who had stolen property to the amount of thirteen pence halfpenny, after being tried by a certain number of frith burghers and found guilty, was subject to execution by the bailiff of the manor, and on the third marketday after his apprehension was publicly executed by a machine similar in its construction to the French guillotine. Part of the stone platform on which these executions took place is yet to be seen on an eminence near the town, named Gibbet Hill, and the original axe is still in the possession of the lord of the manor of Wakefield. In the reign of Charles I., the town was garrisoned by the parliamentarian troops, whose cause the inhabitants zealously maintained; and in 1642, an obstinate engagement occurred between the contending forces on Halifax Bank, which, from the slaughter that ensued, has since been called the Bloody Field. Frequent skirmishes, also, took place in the neighbourhood between the royalists who were besieging the towns of Bradford, Wakefield, and Leeds, and the inhabitants of Halifax, who often sent troops to the assistance of those places. Near the town are remains of various intrenchments thrown up at this period. During the Commonwealth, the inhabitants sent a representative to parliament; in the rebellion of 1745, they formed themselves into a loyal association, under Sir George Savile, and raised three companies of independent militia, clothed and accoutred at their own expense.

The town is situated in a wild mountainous district, on the south-eastern acclivity of an eminence rising gently to a considerable height from the bank of the river Hebble, which forms the eastern boundary, and falls into the river Calder about two miles to the south. Being inclosed by high grounds, the principal of which is an abrupt chain of hills extending from North Owram to the heights of Clayton, it has, from several lines of approach, the appearance of being in a deep valley. The houses, chiefly of stone, are in general well built, but some of the streets, in the more ancient parts, are narrow, and irregularly formed: considerable alterations, however, have taken place; obstructions have been removed, the principal thoroughfares widened, spacious streets added, and many handsome public buildings erected, within the last 20 years. The streets are well paved, and lighted with gas from works established at the foot of South Owram Bank, at a considerable expense, by a proprietary of £25 shareholders; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with excellent water from springs in the township of Ovenden, collected in two capacious reservoirs, each containing nearly 3,000,000 of gallons, constructed in 1826, by subscription amounting to £1900, raised for the purpose of affording employment to the poor during a state of general depression of trade. The theatre, erected by subscription in 1788, is a neat building. The New Assembly-rooms, erected in 1828, form a spacious range, comprising assembly and concert rooms well laid out and tastefully decorated, a newsroom, a billiard-room, and the subscription library, formed in 1769, and which contains an excellent collection of more than 7000 volumes. Another newsroom and a subscription library were established in 1823. The Literary and Philosophical Society was founded in 1830, and an elegant hall was erected for its use, of which the first stone was laid in May, 1834; it comprises the requisite arrangements for the meetings of the members, the delivery of lectures, and an extensive and valuable museum. The Mechanics' Institution, opened in 1825, has a library of more than 2000 volumes. The public baths, situated in a beautiful valley near the river, form a handsome establishment, comprising cold, warm, swimming, shower, vapour, and medicated baths, with dressing-rooms, and other accommodations; and attached to the buildings are a bowling-green, and large pleasure-grounds.

The situation of Halifax, in the heart of a populous district between Manchester and Leeds, abounding with coal and springs of excellent soft water, and possessing peculiar facilities of inland navigation, is admirably adapted for the purposes of manufacture, and has greatly contributed to its prosperity and importance. The woollen manufacture, from its introduction in the year 1414, has continued to increase; the manufacture of worsted stuffs was introduced in 1700, and the cotton and silk manufactures have been subsequently added. The principal articles made in the town and its immediate vicinity, are, broad and narrow woollen-cloths, kerseymeres, shags, coatings, baizes, carpets, shalloons, tammies, corduroys, calimancoes, everlastings, moreens, crapes, bombasins, and damasks. The vale from Sowerby to Ripponden is famous for the manufacture of blue cloth for the navy, and large quantities of it are also exported to Holland and America; cloths of superior fineness for the foreign markets, made of wool imported from Germany and Spain, were introduced about the year 1814, and foreign wool has since that time been used in the manufacture of the finer broad and narrow cloths. The shalloons are woven chiefly for the Turkish market, and, when dyed of a scarlet colour, are sent direct by the merchants of this town and Leeds to the Levant, where they are used for turbans. The manufacture of bombasins, crapes, and different kinds of stuffs of silk and worsted, is extensively carried on; and the cotton-trade, which is mostly confined to the western parts of the parish, is making rapid advances. In the production of the various articles, are employed not less than 153 mills, which are propelled by steam-engines of the aggregate power of nearly 2500 horses; of these, 57 are cotton, 45 worsted, 35 woollen, and 4 silk mills: one, erected in 1837, is 300 feet in length, 42 feet wide, and four stories high, and collectively the mills afford occupation to 18,377 persons. In addition to this, not less than 20,000, of whom the greater number are women and children, are engaged in making the cards used in the preparation of the wool and cotton: these cards were formerly all made of leather, with wire teeth fixed in them, and, for the adequate supply of materials, there are numerous curriers and wire-drawers in the town; but India rubber has recently been introduced, and is rapidly growing into general use as a substitute for leather; besides which, a machine has been invented, whereby a tedious manual process has been almost entirely superseded. A considerable number of people are employed in the manufacture of steam-engines and the various machinery used in the factories, for which there are several foundries and forges.

Prior to 1770, the finished cloths were exposed for sale in the butchers' shambles, or in the old market-place, at an early hour in the morning, previously to the commencement of the general market; but in that year a spacious hall was built for the purpose by the lord of the manor; and after the introduction of the worsted stuffs, a more commodious and extensive building was erected in 1779, by the manufacturers in conjunction, at an expense of £12,000. This structure, which is called the Piece Hall, is a magnificent quadrangular edifice of freestone, inclosing an area of 10,000 square yards of ground given by Mrs. Caygill. The building is 300 feet in length and 273 in breadth, and on the eastern side is three stories, and on the western two stories, high: the lower story has a rustic arcade in front, under which is a sheltered access to the rooms; and each of the other stories is fronted with a handsome colonnade, under which is a large gallery continued round the whole of the area. The edifice contains 315 rooms, in which the finished goods are exposed for sale, and is lighted entirely from within; it is characterised by a chaste simplicity of style, and from its magnitude has a very imposing effect. It is open for the sale of goods every Saturday, from 10 till half-past 2 o'clock. Facilities of conveyance are afforded by the Rochdale and the Duke of Bridgewater's canals, which open a direct communication with Liverpool, Manchester, and the western district; and by the Calder and Hebble, and Calder, navigations, which connect Halifax with Hull and the eastern district. The Rochdale canal, and the Calder and Hebble navigation, unite at Sowerby-Bridge, about two miles west of the town; and the latter extends to Salterhebble, about a mile and a half to the south, from which place a branch was made in 1828 to Barley Hall, on the east side of Halifax, where wharfs and basins have been constructed, and warehouses erected. The Manchester and Leeds railway passes through several of the townships in the parish. The Halifax branch of this railway, about a mile and a half long, was formed under an act of 1839, and opened in July 1844: some of the gradients are very steep.

The market, which is one of the best in the north of England, is on Saturday; and fairs, for the sale of cattle, horses, and live-stock, are held on the 24th of June, and the first Saturday in November. The old market-place, which had become inadequate to the wants of the increased population, contains some fine specimens of ancient timber-frame and plaster houses. The new market-place, erected by a proprietary of £50 shareholders, under an act obtained in 1810, occupies a convenient area, with the various shops and other arrangements requisite; the profits arising to the proprietors are limited to ten per cent., the surplus to accumulate for the erection of a town-hall. The government of Halifax is vested in two constables nominated by the inhabitants, and sworn into office at the court leet of the lord of the manor of Wakefield. The petty-sessions for the wapentake of Morley take place in the town. The magistrates meet every Saturday for the transaction of business relating to the district, at their office at Wardsend; and one or more magistrates are in attendance also on Mondays and Thursdays. The powers of the county debt-court of Halifax, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Halifax. The gaol is situated in Gaol-lane. The inhabitants received the elective franchise in the 2nd of William IV., when Halifax was invested with the privilege of returning two members to parliament; the right of election is vested in the resident £10 householders, and the returning officer is appointed by the sheriff. The borough comprises the whole of the township of Halifax, and parts of the townships of North and South Owram, including an area of 1254 acres.

The parish comprises by computation not less than 75,740 acres, a considerable portion of which is moor. The surface is abruptly varied, rising into rocky and precipitous eminences in some places, and in others intersected with deep and romantic dells; the scenery is in many parts marked with features of wild and rugged grandeur. The substratum is chiefly gritstone, alternated with coal, ironstone, shale, and freestone of fine texture. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £84. 13. 6½., with a net income of £1678, and the patronage and impropriation belong to the Crown: the great tithes were commuted for a fixed payment, in the reign of Elizabeth; and the vicarial tithes, also, for a money payment, under an act of parliament, in 1829. The parochial church, situated on an ascent near the river Hebble, is a venerable structure in the later English style, with a high embattled tower crowned by crocketed pinnacles; the walls of the church are likewise embattled, and strengthened with enriched buttresses terminating in pinnacles. The interior is finely arranged, and of lofty proportions. The nave is separated from the aisles by noble clustered columns and gracefully pointed arches, and lighted by a handsome series of clerestory windows; the ceiling is embellished with the armorial bearings of all the incumbents, from the first institution of the vicarage, in 1274. The chancel is divided from the nave by a carved oak screen of elegant design, and underneath it is a crypt of apparently much earlier date. The present church is the third structure erected on the site, and some slight remains of former churches are incorporated in the building. The church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, situated in the western portion of the town, was built in 1798, by Dr. Coulthurst, then vicar, and is a handsome structure in the Grecian style, with a campanile turret surmounted by a dome, and embellished with pilasters of the Ionic order: the living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £130; patron, John Whitacre, Esq. The district church of St. James was erected in 1831, at an expense of £4122, partly defrayed by subscription, but chiefly by grant from the Parliamentary Commissioners; it is in the later English style, with two turrets crowned by domes, and contains 1200 sittings. The living is a perpetual curacy; patron, the Vicar of Halifax; net income, £200, with a house, erected in the Elizabethan style, at a cost of £1200. The district parish of St. Paul, King's-Cross, was formed under the act 6th and 7th Victoria, cap. 37; the living is a perpetual curacy, in the gift of the Bishop of Ripon and the Crown, alternately, and has a net income of £150. The church was opened in May 1847, and is a neat edifice in the early English style, erected at a cost of £4000. Many other churches have been erected in the parish, which are described under the townships where they are respectively situated. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, Independents, Methodists of the New Connexion, Unitarians, and Wesleyans; a Roman Catholic chapel; and a general cemetery for all denominations, formed at an expense of £2500.

The Free Grammar school was founded by patent of Queen Elizabeth, in 1585; and the present school-house, with six acres of land, in Skircoat, was given for its endowment by Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury, Edward Savile, Esq., and Sir George Savile, Knt., in 1598; to which have been added many bequests, the whole now producing an income of £187. It is under the direction of twelve governors, in whom is vested the appointment of the first and second masters, who must have studied for five years at one of the universities; and by a decree of the court of chancery in 1840, the head master is empowered to extend the course of studies to the mathematics and other branches of learning. The Rev. Thos. Milner, in 1722, assigned to Magdalen College, Cambridge, money for the foundation of scholarships, to which boys from this school and from the schools of Leeds and Haversham are equally eligible; the amount was afterwards increased by his sister, and the scholarships, now four in number, are each of the annual value of £77. The Blue-coat school for 20 children, who are maintained, educated, and brought up to some useful trade, forms part of a charity founded by Nathaniel Waterhouse in 1642. Almshouses were founded in 1610, by Ellen Hopkinson and Jane Crowther, sisters, for 18 widows and a schoolmaster; they have been rebuilt and enlarged, and there are now 21 widows resident. Nathaniel Waterhouse gave a large house to be used as a workhouse for the employment of the poor, and bequeathed to 13 trustees £200 to purchase land for its support; the residue of his estates he assigned for providing a stipend for a lecturer in the parish church, and increasing the incomes of the curates of the several chapels, for the maintenance of the Blue-coat school noticed above, the support of an almshouse for 12 aged persons, and other charitable uses. The property produces about £1180 per annum. The old house, being found inconvenient for setting the poor to work, was for some time used as a sessions-house, but it was subsequently thoroughly adapted to its original purpose, and occupied as the town workhouse till the erection of the present building, at an expense of £12,000, under the new Poor Law, for the use of the union, which comprises 19 chapelries and townships, containing 89,729 inhabitants. The dispensary, established in 1807, is now consolidated with the infirmary, for which a handsome building was erected in 1836, at a cost of £7250, of which £2500 were subscribed by the trustees of the former institution. British and Danish antiquities have at various times been found: on Mixenden Moor, near the town, about the close of the last century, a labourer, while digging, struck his spade against a black polished stone, near which were discovered a celt in excellent preservation, four arrow-heads of black flint, a light battle-axe of green pebble, and a hollow gouge of hard grey stone, evidently intended for scooping out vessels of wood. Among the distinguished natives of the parish, have been, Henry Briggs, a skilful mathematician, and author of a work on Logarithms, who was born at Warley, about the year 1556; Dr. John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was born at Haughend, in the township of Sowerby, and baptized at Halifax church; Sir Henry Savile, one of the most accomplished scholars of the 17th century, who was born at Bradley, in the township of Stainland; and Dr. David Hartley, a celebrated metaphysical writer, who was born at Illingworth, in Ovenden. Among eminent residents, have been Daniel De Foe, author of Robinson Crusoe, and Sir William Herschel, the astronomer, who officiated as organist in the church.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.