One of Yorkshire’s best-known historic buildings, the Piece Hall in Halifax, is to reopen its gates to the public following a £19m-plus makeover.
At 10am on Yorkshire Day, August 1, the bell above the west gate will be rung to echo the first day of trading at The Piece Hall on January 1, 1779.
The opening will mark the transition of the management of the building from Calderdale Council to The Piece Hall Trust and will be a celebration of the restoration and transformation of the Grade I listed building.
The Piece Hall has a fascinating history from its origins in the 18th century as a place to trade pieces of cloth and on through its various guises as a marketplace, social space and home for political rallies, religious gatherings, shopping, sport and entertainment.
The project, which began in October 2014, has been beset by delays and was originally due to reopen in the summer of 2016.
And in March it was revealed, that for reasons that have never been explained, Sam Mason, who was appointed as chief executive of the Trust in 2015 to lead the development was to leave his position only months before its reopening.
Hopes are high among Calderdale’s business and political leaders that the building will become the Milan of the North.
Leader of Calderdale Council, Clr Tim Swift, said: “There can’t be a more fitting date for the reopening of The Piece Hall than Yorkshire Day, when we celebrate all that is great about our county.
“The transformation programme was about restoring and preserving The Piece Hall for future generations, but also about adapting an 18th century trading hall into a world class venue for the 21st century, which will attract visitors from the UK and beyond.
“I’m confident people will be very impressed at the high quality restoration as soon as they come through the gates and, having seen The Piece Hall Trust’s exciting plans for the building it has a very bright future. It will become the place to be.”
Mrs Nicola Chance-Thompson, chief executive of the Trust, who has lived in Halifax for 12 years, said: “This is a major moment for The Piece Hall and the region. There is no place like it and we are encouraging entrepreneurs and independent business owners to contact us as we build momentum towards opening.
“We have a host of exciting retailers already signed up – now is a great moment for businesses to join us in another important milestone in the fascinating history of this place.”
The Piece Hall project has been funded jointly by Calderdale Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, which includes support of £7million from The National Lottery.
There has also been generous support from the Garfield Weston Foundation, a family-founded, grant-making trust and the Wolfson Foundation, another charity.
Why did the Piece Hall project overrun?
Transforming a building more than 230 years old was never going to be an easy task.
So it’s little surprise that the multi-million pound project to turn the Piece Hall into the Milan of the North has overrun by 18 months.
Challenges along the way were only to be expected and it didn’t help when an ancient burial ground was discovered. Asbestos was also found in two areas as the work neared completion and unsuitable dry-stone wall foundations were unearthed.
The Piece Hall was originally built in 1779 as a Cloth Hall for the trading of ‘pieces’ of cloth. Astonishingly, for such an enormous building created at vast expense it only opened for two hours of trading every Saturday from noon to 2pm.
When finished The Piece Hall will include shops, cafés, bars, office space, restaurants, conference facilities, meeting rooms and a landscaped courtyard.
The idea is to create a 21st century town square complete with a commitment to feature events and festivals all year round.
When it opened on 1 January 1779 there were 315 separate rooms arranged around a vast, central open courtyard.
Originally businessmen flocked to Halifax to buy their cloth here. However, in the following century, Halifax was caught out by the movement of the textile trade which moved down the road to Bradford.
Instead it became a wholesale fruit and vegetable market complete with outlandish, crowd-pleasing stunts.
For example, in 1861 a world-famous tightrope walker Charles Blondin, who had recently crossed the Niagara Falls, walked along cables stretched from both ends of the hall to the delight of the watching crowds below.
In 1976 the Piece Hall was restored at great expense. There were market stalls dotted across the courtyard and a variety of shops used some of the 315 rooms on the building’s three levels, or galleries.
However, in recent years the Hall has become decidedly down-at-heel and ripe for a renaissance. Whether it fulfils its potential as a Milan of the North remains to be seen.
Its prospects can only be helped though by a huge splurge in spending by Calderdale Council in the town centre area which has seen the runaway success of the £50m Broad Street development while the nearby Grade II* listed Square Chapel is also set for a significant transformation.
In addition a new £9.5 million Central Library and Archive is being built next to the Piece Hall and the Calderdale Industrial Museum, next door to the Hall is set to reopen later this year.