18 Sep Spotlight on Nicky Chance-Thompson at The Piece Hall
Following a multi-million-pound transformation project, Britain’s most spectacular and last surviving cloth hall – The Piece Hall in Halifax – re-opened on Yorkshire Day 2017 with magnificent fanfare. The monumental Grade I listed structure is the embodiment of Halifax’s impressive Georgian heritage, and played a vital role at the centre of the world’s booming woollen trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Built in 1779 by the merchants of Halifax for trading ‘pieces’ of cloth, today it is placed amongst the great town squares of Europe, with a treasure trove of high-quality independent shops, unique restaurants and exceptional bars surrounding the huge open-air courtyard. The stories of Georgian Halifax are told in specially created exhibition spaces, whilst tour guides and live interpretations bring the heritage back to life. All this together with a world-class programme of outdoor music, live performance and spectacle in a setting like nowhere else in the UK.
‘I bet you didn’t know’
In 1774, the managing committee held an open competition for architects to come forward with the best design for The Piece Hall. Although the competition went ahead, to this day the identity of the winning architect remains a mystery! Some historians have said it was 21-year-old Thomas Bradley, a joiner from Halifax, others day it was local man John Aked, a timber merchant and builder. The more well-known entry came from John Carr, architect of Somerset House in Halifax.
Your favourite person associated with the building
My favourite person associated with the building is John Caygill.
In 1774, it was decided that a new cloth hall should be built in Halifax, as the town’s first cloth hall, which was built in the 16th century, could no longer accommodate the increasing number of clothiers and merchants visiting the Saturday market. Two sites were considered, but eventually a piece of land called Talbot Close was chosen, lying just to the south of the town centre. The land, on which The Piece Hall now sits, belonged to Halifax’s wealthiest businessman, John Caygill.
Caygill was shrewd, and knew that having the new cloth hall on his land would mean the town’s major commercial centre adjoined his properties and business. He had previously built the Assembly Rooms and houses around an incomplete ‘square’, on land originally built by his father in 1714. The south side of the square opened onto the land at Talbot Close and the new cloth hall would thus complete Caygill’s square with a prestigious building. Caygill donated £840 towards its construction and leased the 10,000 squares of land to merchants and manufacturers of Halifax.
Without his land, vision and financial contribution, The Piece Hall might never have existed.