Heritage at Risk
Empty buildings put our heritage in danger
In 1979 Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate and lover of fine architecture, said this of our town: “Halifax is full of character and hidden beauty. The Piece Hall is symbolic of its hidden and great worth. The skyline of Halifax, its churches, chapels, mills and warehouses, is something never to be forgotten and gives Halifax its identity.” Forty years on, what Betjeman wrote remains true. The town centre largely survived the destruction of many comparable towns in the 1960s and ‘70s and architecturally it remains one of the finest Victorian centres anywhere in Britain.
The jewels include Sir Charles Barry’s Italianate town hall, opened in 1863 by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and the Borough Market, opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, later King George V, in 1896, along with a spectacular townscape of high Victorian streets such as Crossley Street, Princess Street, Crown Street, Commercial Street and Southgate. And, of course, we cannot forget the diamond in the crown, from an earlier age, the Georgian Piece Hall, recently reopened after a £19 million makeover.
But for all the fine buildings that the 1960s and ‘70s forgot to demolish, there is an alarming number of fine historically and architecturally important buildings that today lie empty and unused and have been so, in some cases, for years. Many of them are on the fringe of the town centre in streets such as Northgate, Church Street and Harrison Road, but some of them are at the very core of the town centre – buildings such as the former Theatre Royal in Wards End.
Two recent events drew attention to the increasing number of these empty buildings. They were the closure of both of Halifax’s surviving court buildings, the Calderdale Magistrates’ Court in Harrison Road and the County Court at the corner of Prescott Street and Portland Place, which were axed by the Courts and Tribunals Service as a cost-saving measure along with more than 80 other courts throughout the country. Then came the closure of the Crown Post Office in Commercial Street, replaced by new facilities within the W H Smith store in Market Street, although the Crown Post office is in use again now.
As the list of unused historic buildings grows – many of them listed by Historic England as historically or architecturally important, Halifax Civic Trust has launched a campaign to make local people aware of the threat to their future and to seek ways of bringing them back into use.
In 2017, Civic Voice, the national umbrella organisation for local civic societies, adopted the theme "The Conservation Conversation", marking 50 years of conservation areas throughout England, Scotland and Wales since 1967, with the aim of increasing public awareness of the importance of conservation areas nationwide. As our contribution at the time to this campaign, the Trust's Vice-Chairman, David Glover, led a walk through the Halifax town-centre conservation area, pointing out the important buildings that are empty and potentially under threat.
Halifax Civic Trust fears that if these historic buildings are left empty for too long their condition will deteriorate, putting their future at risk. David Glover said: “We are concerned about the future of these buildings. We wish to conserve them and find new uses, with sympathetic conversion where possible.” And he urged the public: “Will you join Halifax Civic Trust and help give us a more powerful voice in this direction?”
How can you help us to protect our local heritage?
We will be regularly monitoring the condition of all of the buildings identified below. Where necessary, we will be expressing our concern and using our influence (at a local and/or national level) to try to improve the situation. However, there are far too many buildings of historic and/or architectural significance in our area for us to monitor them all ( to see a list of them all, go to Listed Sites). This is where you come in. If you become aware of an historic building in our area which is empty or falling into serious disrepair, please let us know about it by emailing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Details of the buildings that are currently a cause for concern are set out below, and their locations can be seen at the site, very helpfully created by one of our Twitter followers, via this link:
To see the locations of the buildings at risk you need to zoom in to Halifax, where the locations are marked in yellow. Clicking on one links to its Historic England listing details.
[Disclaimer: HCT has no control over the content of this site.]
Ovenden Hall, Grade II*
It is a fine 17th century house, but the roof is in poor condition with attendant decay, and the building has been subject to heritage crime. It is on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register, and H.E. is working with the owner to cost repairs and to explore opportunities for reuse. Conversion to bring the building back into use has been delayed pending the removal of the asbestos discovered inside. The photo at right is from happier days, while that below was taken on 31 July 2020.
Old Lane Mill (also known as Rawson's Mill), with its separately listed former boiler house and chimney, both Grade II*
This worsted mill was built in 1825-28 for James Akroyd and aquired by the Rawson family in 1836. It is the oldest and largest example of a multi-storey, steam-powered, iron-framed textile mill in Yorkshire, probly also the best preserved example for its date. Both buildings are on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register. Their future is complicated by their proximity to the Council's recycling site. A planned meeting with Council officers to address the way forward has had to be postponed owing to COVID-19.
Former lock up, Illingworth, Grade II*
Built in 1823, with the separately listed (Grade II) village stocks still beside it. It is owned by North Halifax Historic Buildings Trust and is on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register. In June 2019 the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings supervised a working party of volunteers and The Roofing Corporation to stablise and repair the building, and there is a scheme for further repairs.
St Paul's Church, Queens Road, Grade II*
The new St Paul's was built in 1911 to accomodate the growing congregation at the original St Paul's, King Cross, of which the spire has been preserved. The current church has masonry in poor condition, causing particularly the tower to suffer water ingress, as well as having a roof in poor condition. It is on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register. A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for works to the tower roof was received in 2017, but this work as overtaken by the need to give higher priority to the repair of a broken truss in the main body of the church. Repair work on the tower is in progress.
Scout Hall, Shibden, Grade II*
Built in 1681 for John Mitchell, with his inherited wealth, on the site of several previous houses. It is the first post-mediaeval house in Yorkshire fully to break with older traditions, in that it was designed as a modest gentleman's residence with all the elements of the dwelling contained within a rectangular block. Although now fully occupied as a private residence, it is still on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register. The building has however recently been inspected by H.E., who have offered advice on repairs, and it is hoped that it can be removed from the Register in 2020.
Calderdale Magistrates’ Courts, Harrison Road, Grade II
Built in 1889, originally including the town’s police station until the police moved to Richmond Close in 1985. The building has been purchased by O & C Estates, and details of the proposed re-use are awaited.
Christ Church, Mount Pellon, Grade II
A large Gothic revival parish church built in 1853/54. The roof and water goods were in poor condition, with structural issues affecting the south arcade, but a Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been used to do the most urgent work. We hope to clarify the scope of what remains to be done, following the architectural survey carried out in September 2019.
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Illingworth, Grade II
The church was built in 1777, with the addition of a fine chancel and tower in 1888, and alterations in 1929 and the 1970's. Despite the unsympathetic 20th c. alterations, the Historic England listing records the church as being of special interest in the national context because of its architectural and artistic quality, together with its age and historic associations. There is a fine oak reredos screen and a memorial board, both in honour of the 39 men of the parish who fell in the 1st World War. There is planning approval for conversion to mixed commercial and residential use (16/00676/FUL & 16/00677/LBC), and there is an application for amendment (20/00719/LBC, determination deadline 20 Aug. 2020). Work appears to have commenced.
Wool Warehouses, 1-5, Deal Street, off Church Street, Grade II
Built over a period from 1842 (no.1) to 1869 (no.5), in stone with red brick rear. No 5 is in separate ownership. No. 1 has historical links both with the early railway and with the now defunct canal spur into Halifax. The planning application (19/01111/LBC) for the demolition of No. 1 and the redevelopment of Nos. 2-4 for mixed commercial and residential use has been withdrawn. Currently No. 1 is not designated for demoltion to enable road widening, so HCT is pressing for a re-think and a modification of the proposal, in the hope that a way can be found to preserve No. 1 and bring it into use.
Exley Hall, Grade II
An important 17th c. vernacular building with some remodelling in 18/19th c. A wall collapsed earlier in 2019. The built environment surrounding the Hall on three sides and the closeness of a large electricity pylon on the remaining side are not positive features for this site. The result of the recent inspection by Council officers is awaited.
Great Northern Shed, Discovery Road, Grade II
This disused former railway warehouse was built in 1885 for the Lancashire & Yorkshire and Great Northern railway companies and is now cared for by Eureka! The National Children’s Museum. The building has been empty for many years and its future as part of Eureka hinges both on the Council's plans for the development of the station area, and on grant availability when Eureka's plans can be firmed up.
The Warehouse at Eureka, Grade II
Known as the Old Goods Station, it was built for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Co. in 1849 for the transfer of goods between train and cart, and is a good example of this type of building that is now rare nationally. The majority of the roof of the single storey part has collapsed, but Eureka have fixed interim cladding on the higher section and put the original stone tiles into secure storage. Like the Great Northern Shed above, the building's future hinges on the Council's plans and on grant availability.
St Thomas' Church, Claremount, Grade II
Built in 1857-61, this modest Gothic revival church is a major landmark to the north of the town and is a good example of how churches were carefully sited to occupy commanding positions in the landscape. It is on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register, with roof slates and rainwater goods in poor condition, and stonework deteriorating. The church is scheduled for closure and is to be put on the market.
Harrison House, Grade II
Former HQ of Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, built in 1834 with extensions in the 1860's. Incorporates the former branch library and a lecture theatre with noted acoustics. Now owned by Malik House, who have sympathetic office conversion plans.
Hopwood Lane Triangle, (2 & 4, and 6 & 8 King Cross Street) both listed Grade II
This group of Georgian buildings forms a triangle at the junction of Hopwood Lane and King Cross Street, and is significant, both because of its prominence when entering the town centre from the south west, and because it forms a group with the early 18th c. Hopwood Hall (Grade II). Nos. 6 & 8 (at left of photo) are occupied, but No. 4 has collapsed. No. 2 is empty and appears to be in poor condition. The Council has served two Urgent Works Notices on the owner of the collapsed building, and has set up a project group to review the options for taking the whole site forward.
India Buildings, Church Street, Grade II
This warehouse/works building was built in 1861 and occupies a prominent position opposite the station. Furniture City closed in 2019 and the building is on the market. The majority of interest has so far been for residential conversion.
Upper George Yard Warehouse, 21 Crown St. Grade II
We don't know precisely when the warehouse was built, but a reference in a will puts it before 1772. It therefore predates the Piece Hall, and there was at the time a cloth hall nearby, to the west of the Upper George. The arrival of the Piece Hall and of the centralised textile mills around the town made warehouses of this type redundant and many were demolished, with the remainder put to other uses. The warehouse has been empty for some years. We are endeavouring, so far without success, to make contact with the owners to hear their intentions.
85-105 Northgate, Grade II
A parade of shops and offices built c. 1846 by Jonathan Akroyd (mill owner and father of Edward Akroyd) incorporating an earlier pre- 1800 building (No. 85 at left of the photo) which was once Jonathan Akroyd's house. The parade forms a unified group architecturally, and is an early example of this type of commercial development outside large cities. It marks the beginning of the major expansion of Halifax in the 19th c.
Some of the group are utilised and appear to be in a reasonable state. Others are not e.g. no. 93, which is empty and in poor and deteriorating condition. Nos. 91a, 93a, 95 & 97 were advertised for auction in February 2020 but a sale did not result.
31 Square Road, Grade II
A pair of wool warehouses of 1864, designed by John Hogg for Isaac Cooper (wool stapler) and John Crossley, built on a triangle of Crossley's land. The building (previously the Hughes Corporation) was to be demolished as part of the Council's plan for developing the area round the station, including the new road scheme. A revised plan now includes the building, but it is on the list of compulsory purchase orders for Phase 2 of the A629 scheme. This is a source of concern, as the building requires considerable investment to make it watertight and safe.
Theatre Royal, Wards End, Grade II
Built in 1905 to replace an earlier theatre of 1790 which was destroyed by a fire in 1904. Converted into a cinema in 1933 and then a bingo hall in 1966, closing in 1992. Between 1999 and c. 2007, the building was used as a night club, successively named La Mania, Club Platinum and the Theatre Club.
There is a planning approval for conversion to a hotel, involving demolition of the rear of the building while preserving the facade. The approval is valid for a start by March 2021. The developer is still working on increasing the number of beds in the hotel while complying with the conditions of the planning approval.
Coal drops at Halifax station goods yard, Berry Lane, Grade II
Built in 1874 for the Ovenden and Halifax Junction Railway Company. There are 15 wooden bunkers, each supported between stone piers, and each with two metal doors which were raised on an iron ratchet geared pulley system. It is a rare and large scale example of railway coal drops. The drops are in poor condition and the site is neglected and overgrown. They are included in the draft Local Plan. HCT has asked the Council to include the re-planting of the site as part of the A629 Phase 2 scheme.
Facades of the former Sion Sunday School, Sion Congregational Church and Sion School, all listed Grade II
These three facades form part of the boundary of the present bus station. They are not currently at risk of deterioration, but their future will depend on the plans for the re-shaping of the road network and of the bus station. Current plans preserve all 3 buildings at the edge of the new bus station, but a pedestrian access is to be driven through the main entrance of the Sion School facade.
Akroydon Conservation Area,
Akroydon was established by Col. Edward Akroyd in 1859 as a model village for the workers of his mills, and it was designed by George Gilbert Scott in the Gothic style, supervising the local architect W H Crossland. The Conservation Area is on Historic England's Heritage At Risk Register. The buildings are occupied and well maintained, so the concern is largely about the gradual erosion of the original character of the area by damage to the detailing through e.g. inappropriate window replacement, painting of the stonework etc. There are also some environmental/maintenance problems e.g. refuse accumulation in some areas, and a lack of unobtrusive storage facilities for refuse bins. HCT has given £100 (matched by an HCT Committee member) to the Claremount and Boothtown Community Association for the purchase of equipment to use in the clear-up of Akroyden cemetery.
Wakefield Gate, also known as the Magna Via
Scheduled Ancient Momument
Wakefield Gate is the ancient route between Halifax and Wakefield, and is part of a much wider pre-mediaeval network of tracks. The listed section is the sunken lane called Dark Lane, where the metalling may (or may not) be mediaeval, as we have no knowledge of the dating or extent of repairs. The Council has recently improved the sections running along Old Bank and Whiskam Bank (at the Halifax end) by installing new lighting and cutting back vegetation to expose the setts. A section of Dark Lane has poor drainage and the water has begun to move the setts. HCT is working on replacing the (now missing) information board near Charlestown Road.
9-11 Crown Street (not listed)
This is the oldest brick building in the town centre, and now the only one remaining, apart from Square Chapel and the Industrial Museum. It was built in 1729-30 for Valentine Stead, a wealthy merchant who also owned the then famous Swan Inn. Crown Street follows the line of the mediaeval high street, and when the streeet was widened in the 19th c., the projecting half-timbered shops were destroyed, and the building line taken back to that of nos. 9-11. The building has been empty since Millets moved across the road. It is under offer with completion expected soon (as at March 2020).
13-17 Silver Street (not listed)
This is a characterful example of the purpose-built department store, built in 1886 with a distinctive and finely carved frontage. It was built for Thomas Simpson and Sons, cabinet makers, upholsterers and furnishers, who also had a removal and storage business. In their day they were one of the largest furnishers in the north of England. The building has been unoccupied for some years, but planning approval has recently been given for retail and multiple residential conversion (Calderdale planning application 19/00770/FUL).
Halifax County Court (former), on the corner of Prescott Street and Portland Place (not listed)
A distinguished palazzo of 1870. Planning permission for residential conversion has been approved. It is on the edge of the town centre conservation area.