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.
Our attention has been drawn to the increasing number of these empty buildings, and in particular 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. Vice Chairman 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. It is understood that the owner is considering conversion to offices.
Old Lane Mill (also known as Rawson's Mill) Grade II*, and boiler house with chimney, separately listed, also Grade II*
This worsted mill was built in 1825-28 for James Akroyd and was 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, and probably also the best preserved example for its date. Both buildings are on Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register. The whole site is designated for new housing in the draft Local Plan, although the developable area is reduced by the woodland TPO to the north and other factors. There have been recent incidents involving children climbing to the roof, a child being seriously injured, a potential suicide, and damage by vandals. We are in touch with the Council to seek resolutions both of the site security problem, and of the future of the mill, which is currently being offered for sale separately from the surrounding land.
Former lock up, Illingworth, Grade II*
Built in 1823, with the separately listed (Grade II) village stocks, dated 1697, still beside it. It is owned by Calderdale Council 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. The North Halifax Historic Buildings Preservation Trust appears to have had an interest in this building, but attempts to contact the NHHBPT in order to clarify the position have for some time been unanswered. The planned transfer of ownership to NHHBPT has not happened.
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 there 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 was 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 has now been completed, but major problems in the nave roof remain to be dealt with and the quinquennial inspection in February 2021 has produced a long action list that will need funding. We are encouraged that St. Paul's is addressing the problems so actively.
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 was however in 2019 inspected by H.E., who offered advice on repairs, and it is hoped that it can soon be removed from the Register.
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. It remains on Historic England's Heritage at Risk Register. We understand that the church has started to raise £230,000, which is the estimated cost of the repairs still needed. The appointment of a new vicar is awaited, before further grant applications can be developed and submitted.
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 (planning applications 16/00676/FUL & 16/00677/LBC) with an amendment (20/00719/LBC) approved Aug. 2020, and work appears to have commenced. We have clarified which part of the surrounding land is now owned by the developer, and which land (a much greater part) is still owned by the parish. We have concerns about the safety of the memorials in that part of the graveyard immediately adjacent to the church building, and which now belongs to the developer.
Wool Warehouses, 2-5, 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 had 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 was withdrawn. HCT had pressed for a re-think and a modification of the proposal, in the hope that a way could be found to preserve No. 1 and bring it into use. Sadly however, the years of neglect finally caught up with its structure, and No. 1 was found to be in such a dangerous condition that has had to be demolished. The structure is currently under repair, and it is understood that it is to be brought into use again for storage.
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 building was inspected by Council officers in 2020, but it is understood that no action is planned.
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. The church is on the market for sale and re-use, and a planning application for conversion to a single residence has been submitted. The Leeds Diocese is currently working to identify a suitable location for the WW2 memorial plate, currently inside the church.
Harrison House, Grade II
The former HQ of Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, it was built in 1834 with extensions in the 1860's. It incorporates the former branch library and a lecture theatre with noted acoustics. It is now owned by Malik House but planning application 18/00554/LBC has been withdrawn and we are not yet sure of the reason for this. Mr Malik has given us his assurance that works have already taken place (roof repairs, resolving damp issues and electrical work) and that further development works would probably begin towards the end of 2021. It is unclear whether these have commenced.
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. It remains to be seen whether compulsory purchase becomes necessary.
India Buildings, Church Street, Grade II
This impressive warehouse/works building was built in 1861 and occupies a prominent position opposite the station. The Furniture City business moved in 2019. The building is on the market and the majority of interest has 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 another 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. Nos. 91, 93, 95 and 97 are the subject of planning application 07/00172/CON for conversion to 10 flats. Work has been intermittent, but HCT would like to see this project completed, as it would bring the condition of the whole parade up to a reasonable standard and in use, meaning it would no longer need to be considered at risk.
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. Following the building's listing, a revised plan now retains it, 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. The Council is however taking what steps it can with the funding from the West Yorkshire Transportation Fund, with a view to having the building incorporated as a positive element in the Eastern Gateway, due for completion in 2023.
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 was planning approval for conversion to mixed hotel and residential use, involving partial demolition of the rear of the building while preserving the facade, but that plan has been abandoned. It is understood that the owner is working on a scheme for hotel only use, and which no longer involves demolition of the rear walls.
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, but the drops are in poor condition. HCT has asked the Council to include the re-planting of the site as part of the A629 Phase 2 scheme. A structural survey funded by the Halifax Station Gateway Project has been completed. Following our application, the Victorian Society has included the Coal Drops in their Top Ten for 2021, which is a welcome support for their repair/restoration. Discussions with the Council and a potential funder are continuing.
The Gundog, 48-50 Crown Street, Halifax
(Grade II, listed as The Sportsman)
Built in 1870 and previously known as The Sportsman, it closed as a pub in 2019 and is now used as a bathroom showroom. There is a fine plaster ceiling and the interior, with its panelling, is essentially unchanged from Edwardian times. We were concerned when we heard that some of the original seating had been removed by a previous occupant, but the remaining features do seem to be intact. It is understood that planning permission for the change of use is being sought.
Akroydon Conservation Area, Grade II
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 part of the ancient route between Halifax and Wakefield, and was the only route east from Halifax from Norman times till the construction of the turnpike roads (1741-1824). The listed section is the sunken hollow way called Dark Lane, little changed from its medieval state. The Council has recently improved the sections at the Halifax end, running along Old Bank and Whiskam Bank, 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 has worked with the CMBC Countryside Team on a project to provide proper signposting, to replace the information board near Charlestown Road, and to provide a new one at Lower Place Farm. We have also made a film of the route with HaloVue of Cragg Vale. A grant from the W. Yorks Combined Authority and additional donations have been gratefully received. We are currently seeking to prevent the route being damaged by quad bikes.
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 street 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.
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 Ltd., cabinet makers, upholsterers and furnishers, who also had a removal and storage business. The firm was founded in 1798, and in 1815 they had premises in Woolshops. In their day they were one of the largest furnishers in the north of England, with premises also in London and Blackburn, but the business closed in 1957. The building has been unoccupied for some years, but has planning approval for retail and multiple residential conversion (Calderdale planning application 19/00770/FUL). It was for sale, but has recently been taken off the market.
The barn, Tetley Lane, Northowram (not listed)
This is the last of the Northowram barns, and is identified as a key building in the Northowram Conservation Area Assessment and Management Plan (2011). The barns were a significant local feature of Towngate, adding great character to the area. It is believed to be 17th c. The roof is in poor condition and the barn is at risk of being lost completely if the roof collapses.