Review of the year


June Paxton-White

Last year was another busy one in which progress was made on several fronts. Our nomination of the Piece Hall for a Civic Voice award resulted in a special one for “Improvements to the Public Realm”, which was collected by Alan Goodrum and Cllr. Tim Swift, the leader of Calderdale Council, at the Leadenhall Building in London. The wedge shaped extension between Square Chapel and the new library was completed and now contains a restaurant with conference facilities above. The problem of damp in the archive of the innovative new library appears to have been solved.

After several sub-committee meetings to discuss the local plan, Alan Goodrum submitted an impressively detailed response to the Council. Several of us attended a Town Team meeting at Bankfield to hear presentations on future plans for the Eureka and station area. Concerns were expressed about the future of some listed historic buildings on the site and we were assured that temporary roofing had been installed. We were not impressed by the name Piece Gardens and our Chairman subsequently put forward a suggestion that Caygill Gardens after the man who donated the land for the Piece Hall would be more appropriate. Following the meeting at Bankfield we contacted the Highways Dept. about the potholed surface of the car park – not likely to impress visitors - but were told it did not fall within their remit. The Heritage Champion offered to follow it up with councillors. We were later disappointed to learn that the post of heritage champion had been abolished. Fortunately a number of councillors have been helpful in matters of concern to us.

As usual our attention was drawn to various issues by HCT members or members of the public. We were intrigued to learn that a bust of Dan Holgate Sugden by Joseph Leyland, the close friend of Branwell Bronte, had been found in the cellar of the YMCA. According to the records at the Henry Moore Institute, that bust was listed as missing, together with a matching one of Mrs Sunderland the singer. It was thought both may have belonged to the Halifax Choral Society, who used to rehearse in the YMCA building. It was inspected by an expert from the HMI who thought it was a plaster cast of the missing original and advice was offered on potential restoration and removal from its inappropriate site, considered difficult due to its fragility. One of our members reported that a bronze plate in memory of the late long-standing HCT member Herbert Morris at Heath School had been removed from its “spike” for safety reasons. He cleaned it and fixed it on a nearby tree.

An enquiry was made about the ownership and maintenance of Manor Heath Park as a concerned member of the public had heard rumours that it was to be sold. Cllr. Tim Swift looked into the matter and kindly emailed copies of some fascinating historic legal documents and maps, proving that it could not be sold and promised to look into maintenance issues. Another member provided photos taken by a drone of the Walker pit tower on the Shibden estate, showing that it needed urgent repairs. As it is a scheduled ancient monument we took up the matter with council officers who inspected it and consulted with Historic England on remedial work, which was promptly carried out. The same watchful eye looked into a report that a C17 coal mine adit at Siddal had been wrecked by developers. We are still keeping an eye on St. Mary’s Church, Illingworth which is to be converted into flats. It seems some of the original windows were broken but we hope that the reredos, which is a war memorial, the font, pulpit and other architectural features will remain on the site. Other members of the public brought issues to our meetings, including some local residents concerned about the future of 1 Park Road, who gained our support.

We enjoyed several successful events. On a lovely day in July a blue plaque to Emily Bronte was unveiled at Law Hill House, where she taught at the adjacent school for a short period. Tea was provided in the garden, following a talk at the church by Sue Newby from the Bronte Museum at Haworth. On Bank Holiday Sunday, a blue plaque to chartist Benjamin Wilson was unveiled at the Standard of Freedom, Skircoat Green. The former Waggoners’ Arms took its present name from the banner used by the chartists who met there. It was accompanied by a framed text on Benjamin Wilson’s interesting history, provided by Gwyneth Crawley. A plaque to William Priestley, the founder of the Halifax Choral Society, was handed over at the bicentenary performance of the Messiah and will be fixed on the exterior of the Victoria Theatre. Two Halifax Civic Trust blue plaques were unveiled at an event to which we were invited to commemorate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Park Ward. This comprised a march of women carrying banners and wearing sashes in the colours of the suffragettes. The plaques were installed at the sites where Adela Pankhurst addressed a rally and where Dinah Connelly cast the first vote by a woman in Halifax. As the houses where Dinah Connolly, Mary Alice Taylor and Laura Willson lived had been demolished, flowers were laid at the approximate sites. This was followed by a lunch at Halifax High School, Wellesley Park.

In connection with previous awards, we were pleased to be given guided tours round A and B mills at Dean Clough and Holy Trinity Church, Harrison Road to see their innovative restoration and conversion into offices. We also enjoyed a tour of a modern building, the former Halifax Building Society HQ, now Lloyds, which had received a special plaque from us in the millennium year, and were interested to see the changes that had taken place since then. Our Christmas lunch, which was well attended, took place at Shibden Mill Inn accompanied by an entertaining talk by David Glover with photos of old Halifax. For Civic Day in June, as Civic Voice had been promoting interest in conservation areas, we enjoyed a walk round Northowram hosted by local historian Mike Beecham.

As usual, members attended various meetings held by YHACS (Yorkshire and Humberside Association of Civic Societies) and Civic Voice, the umbrella organisation that replaced the national Civic Trust. We consider our membership of these organisations to be a useful means of meeting and collaborating with civic societies in other parts of the country. We hosted visits to Halifax by Leeds and Chester civic societies, who had responded with enthusiasm to our promotion of the Piece Hall and its environs at one of their meetings, and more visits are to come. Following last year’s Great Conservation Conversation, civic societies have become increasingly aware of the problems arising in conservation areas due to the loss of dedicated council officers. Through the All-Party Parliamentary Committee, Civic Voice continues to press for improvements to the planning process. A current concern is the question of good and bad design, and how it can be influenced at local level. We made a donation to enable Civic Voice to respond to the government commission on “Building Better, Building Beautiful” to tackle the challenge of low quality design. Civic Voice appeared before the commission on the first day and called for “meaningful, not meaningless engagement in the planning system”. We considered the use of the word “beautiful” to be problematic because the subject is highly subjective and people in different areas may not agree over the criteria. Likewise architects and builders may have a different way of assessing the newer materials, perhaps prioritising performance over appearance.

YHACS meetings are held at week-ends with the main session on the Saturday afternoon and visits or workshops in the morning. Some people like to travel on the Friday and enjoy a dinner at the hotel in the evening. They are of course open to any of our members to attend. Please do not hesitate to contact the committee if you would like to participate or to attend our monthly meetings at the Town Hall which are normally held on the first Thursday at 7-30 in room C.