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Halifax in 1838

HALIFAX, a market-town and parish in the West Riding of the county of York, in the wapentake of Morley, was created a parliamentary borough by the Reform Act, and now sends two members to parliament. The borough includes the town and townships of Halifax, Owram, and Ovenden. It is about two miles long and one mile broad, and includes 31, 37 inhabitants, of whom 1,300 occupy houses of £10 and upwards. The population of the town was, in 1831, 15,382. Halifax is 194 miles north-north-west from London, 17 miles west-south-west of Leeds, 22 miles north-east of Manchester, and 7 miles south-west of Bradford.

The parish is one of the largest in England, and includes the following 23 townships :- Barkisland, Elland-cum- Greetland, Erringden, Fixby, Halifax, Heptonstall, Hipperholme-cum-Brighouse, Langfield, Midgley, Norland, Ovenden, Northowram, Southowram, Rastrick, Rishworth, Shelf, Skircoat, Sowerby, Soyland, Stainland, Stansfield, Wadsworth, and Warley. These townships are divided into three parochial chapelries for ecclesiastical purposes. They comprise 75,740 acres, a population (in 1831) of 109,899 per sons, and 23,139 houses. The united annual value of their lands and buildings, as assessed for the property-tax in 1815, amounted to £140,272, and their yearly moduses, in lieu of vicarial tithes, amount to £1,406,15 shillings and 6 pence, with the exception of Elland-cum-Greetland and Stainland, which townships were not parties to the Act of 1829 for the commutation of the vicarial tithes. In addition to the parish-church and two other churches in Halifax, and the two parochial chapels-of-ease of Elland and Heptonstall, there are in this parish fourteen chapels-of-ease, supported chiefly by the inhabitants of the respective townships or the united chapelries.

Halifax ranks next to Leeds and Bradford as a seat of the woollen and worsted manufactures. The town seems, on approaching it, to stand in a low valley, which is owing to the ranges of hills by which it is almost wholly surrounded ; but it is in reality situated on the south-eastern declivity of an eminence which rises to a considerable height above the river Hebble. The Hebble flows through the eastern parts of the town, and falls into the Calder. The scenery in the immediate vicinity of the town is of a highly interesting and beautiful character. The soil, which in a merely agricultural district would have remained uncultivated, has been brought from its original barrenness to a state of luxuriance by its proximity to the town. The situation of Halifax is well adapted for the purposes of manufactures and commerce. The descent from the neighbouring hills of numerous brooks, so important as agents of power before the introduction of the steam-engine, gave to Halifax those facilities in manufacturing which were early a source of wealth. Its situation with reference to Manchester and Leeds, its abundant supply of coal and water, its inland navigation by means of the Rochdale Canal and the rivers Calder and Hebble, have severally tended to in crease its importance as a seat of manufactures. The commencement of its woollen trade is traced to the time when the manufacturing Flemings sought refuge in England, in the reign of Henry VII, from persecution in their own country. Many of these foreigners are supposed to have settled here, though Halifax had manufactures long before this time. In an early period of the history of the woollen manufacture there was a peculiar local law designed to afford protection to clothiers from the depredations to which their goods were exposed during the progress of manufacture. It was then, as now, customary to stretch the cloth on wooden frames, or tenters, in the fields to dry ; and it was therefore liable to be stolen from being thus left during the night. The magistrates were invested with power to inflict capital punishment on all persons who stole property of the value of thirteen-pence-halfpenny within the liberties or precincts of the forest of Hardwick. The felon was however to be deliberately and publicly tried by a jury consisting of the frith-burgers within the liberty ; and they could only convict on three grounds, namely, if he were taken in the act of thieving, if the stolen goods were found on him, or on his own confession. On the first market-day following the conviction he was taken to the scaffold or gibbet, the stone platform of which may still be seen on Gibbet Hill, and the execution was performed by means of an instrument in some respects similar to the guillotine. The 'Halifax Gibbet Law' was not alone exercised for the protection of the clothiers, but it was also used for the punishment of other felonies. The original axe of this instrument is preserved at the gaol in Halifax.

The chief articles at present manufactured at Halifax are worsted stuffs, including shalloons, tammies, calaman coes, duroys, everlastings, moreens, shags, serges. merinoes ; also baizes, narrow and broad cloths, and kerseymeres. Bombasins, crapes, and other fabrics, composed of silk and worsted, are also manufactured here, and the cotton-trade is carried on to a considerable extent. The Vale of Ripponden is celebrated for its blue cloth : it is said that the whole of the British navy is clothed from this small district. Of the twenty-three townships of which Halifax is composed, nineteen are said to be manufacturing, and contain 141 mills in operation, which have an aggregate power of 2,319 horses ; 57 of them are cotton-mills, 35 woollen, 45 worsted, and 4 silk mills. They employ together 18,377 persons, of whom 8,978 are females. A considerable portion of the population is employed in making mill-machinery and wool-cards. The manufacture of these cards gives occupation to numerous wire-workers and curriers. The wire teeth of the cards are fixed in leather, and nearly 20,000 people are employed, at a very low rate of wages, in fixing the wires in the leather.

A weekly market is held on Saturday, chiefly for the sale of woollen cloth. The Piece Hall, which was erected in 1779 by the shalloon and other worsted manufacturers, is a large quadrangular structure of stone, which cost £12,000, and which occupies an area of 10,000 square yards of land, which were given for this purpose by Mrs. Caygill. It is 100 yards long and 91 yards broad; the centre is occupied by a grass-plot. It contains 315 apartments for the reception of goods, the quantity of which exposed for sale at one time is often of the value of £50,000. The east side has three stories, being on a descent ; the other sides only two. Each story is fronted by a colonnade, with spacious walks round the whole square, having columns in the front opposite to the partitions of the rooms, each of which has a door, and sash-window to the galleries. The simplicity and elegance of the design accord with the magnitude of the building. It was erected from a design by Mr. Thomas Bradley, and is said to be fire-proof in every part except the roof. The appearance of the town of Halifax is generally handsome ; it contains many edifices entirely of stone ; it is well lighted with gas, and amply supplied with soft water from reservoirs about a mile north-west of the town, which were opened about 1827. Under the act of 1823 for paving, cleansing, and otherwise improving the town, many great improvements have been effected by the widening of streets, the formation of drains, and the removal of unsightly buildings. The modern streets are spacious, and lined with good houses.

The parish-church of Halifax is a handsome and spacious edifice of pointed Gothic architecture. erected at different dates. It is said that the chancel is an addition to the original fabric, and that the tower was built by the munificence of the Lacys and Saviles. There are several monumental inscriptions worthy of notice in the chancel, one of which is to Archbishop Tillotson. Trinity Church is a hand some Grecian building, with Ionic pilasters, and an elegant tower surmounted by a dome : it was built in 1795. St. James's Church, built in 1831, is in the Pseudo-Gothic style, with turrets at the west end. The other places of public worship in Halifax are the Catholic chapel, which was built in 1836, three chapels belonging to the Independents, two belonging to the Baptists, two of the Wesleyan Methodists, two of the new Connection Methodists, one of the Primitive Methodists, a Friends' meeting-house, and a Unitarian chapel. A general cemetery was formed in 1837 by a company of shareholders. To the above-named places of worship Sunday-schools are attached, and the religious and charitable institutions of the town and county are liberally supported. The free grammar-school at Skircoat was established in 1585 by letters-patent of Queen Elizabeth : it is under the direction of twelve governors, chosen from the discreet and honest men of Halifax. Its property yields £187 per annum, exclusive of the school-house, garden, and offices, which are occupied by the master. The school is free for classical instruction to all the sons of parishioners. The national school will accommodate 400 pupils ; it generally contains about 200. The British school contains about 300 children of both sexes. There are also some smaller school charities. Waterhouse's Charity, established in 1636, provides almshouses for twelve poor widows, a stipend for the lecturer at the parish church, small yearly stipends to the curates of certain chapels-of-ease within the district, and various sums for other local purposes. The property of this trust has of late years greatly increased in value. The infirmary is a very noble building, which is just opened to the public : the first stone was laid in September, 1836. It affords medical and surgical assistance both to in and out patients. A subscription of £5,000 was raised, to which an addition of £2,500 was made by the trustees of the dispensary, which institution is now consolidated with it. The public baths are delightfully situated in a valley on the road to Huddersfield. They afford all the various accommodations of the most superior bathing establishments : attached to them is a large garden and a bowling-green. The literary institutions of Halifax are the Literary and Philosophical Society, which has an elegant hall and a museum ; the Mechanics' Institution, with a library of upwards of 1,000 volumes ; and the news-rooms, which also comprise a subscription library. There are also assembly-rooms and a theatre. Daniel De Foe resided here when he wrote ‘Robinson Crusoe' ; and Sir William Herschel was for some time organist at the parish church.

In January, 1837, the parish of Halifax was formed into two unions for the administration of the poor-laws. The Halifax Union comprises nineteen townships, and the Hebden Bridge Union the five townships of the Heptonstall parochial chapelry, and the town and chapelry of Todmorden. For other interesting particulars respecting Halifax, reference may be made to White's ‘Gazetteer and Directory of the West Riding,' a laborious and useful work, whose accuracy the have had the opportunity to test and confirm.