At one time resurrecting Halifax’s Piece Hall would have been considered a task beyond the good Lord’s abilities himself.
Although it was an historic landmark dating back 250 years to Georgian times, with only one other cloth hall existing in the whole of Europe, the Grade One listed building was in desperate need of a massive refurbishment.
The gargantuan task involved converting the original 315 units – once used for storing cloth – into exceptional retail and public facilities.
Fortunately Calderdale Council recognised its potential and on Tuesday, Yorkshire Day, it will re-open again having had more than £20m spent on it since work began in 2014.
Finally, talk of it becoming the Milan of the North will soon become a reality.
Once the centre of the global woollen trade the hope is it will become a contemporary, leisure, retail, cultural and heritage destination and the beating heart of a world-class cultural quarter.
The transformation has been made possible thanks to funding from Calderdale Council, a £7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation.
And at 10am on Tuesday, Halifax-born British wheelchair racer and Paralympian Hannah Cockcroft MBE will ring The Piece Hall bell to mark the start of trading, echoing the first ever day of business in 1779.
Members of the public will be able to explore the building and experience the immense, open air piazza – once used for the trading of cloth and to host amazing spectacles – which is now enclosed by a mix of independent bars, shops and cafés.
It will provide a stunning backdrop for a seasonal programme of events which will attract estimated footfall of 1.6m through the gates every year.
Nicky Chance Thompson, chief executive of The Piece Hall Trust, an independent charity formed to manage The Piece Hall, said: “For anyone that has yet to experience The Piece Hall, it’s not easy to get across the scale and grandeur of the place.
“It brings to mind Covent Garden’s ‘Floral market’ with a grand courtyard that is reminiscent of Somerset House, combined with magnificent Italian-style architecture.
“Given the phenomenal 200-year history of the building and scale of the transformation, it’s incredible that until now, it has been one of the North’s best kept secrets, but that’s all about to change.”
And for Isobel Hampson, owner of niche jewellery store, Creative Crystals, it’s simply a matter of coming home. She’s been here before. She said: “I came in 1993 and stayed for 20 years until the building closed in 2013. I can’t wait to get back!”
So, what can visitors expect?
Well, the sloping central courtyard has been levelled. The cobblestones, which everyone thinks were original but definitely weren’t, have gone – they were laid in the 1970s.
And instead what has been created is one of the most striking piazzas in Europe, fit for 21st century public use, and measuring a vast 66,000 sq ft. It will host a seasonal programme of events with capacity for up to 7,500 people, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Georgian arcades.
The courtyard features new lighting, seating and two cascading water features which sit within the north-west and south-east corners and loosely interpret the historical importance of water in the production of cloth.
Three new spaces are dedicated to The Piece Hall’s remarkable heritage and its significance as the only surviving cloth hall in the UK.
The interpretation spaces include ‘The Piece Hall Story’ which reveals the history of The Piece Hall with a particular focus on the Georgian period during its heyday as a cloth hall and a magnet for the world’s woollen trade.
In addition there is a trader’s unit fitted out with audio visuals to recreate the atmosphere of a bustling trading day in The Piece Hall and the map room with interactive displays to enable visitors to explore a range of local, national and international maps which place The Piece Hall in its global context.
A new east extension at The Piece Hall provides facilities for a three-story restaurant and cocktail bar and links through to Square Chapel Arts Centre which recently opened a new £6.6m extension featuring a new theatre, cinema and café bar.