The weather was brassy and so was the music, but freezing fingertips couldn’t prevent hundreds of people from snapping pictures of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall as they officially opened the Piece Hall in Halifax.
The royal couple toured the iconic 18th century space, visited businesses and met scores of well-wishers during a bright if cold morning. Their visit to the town also took in Halifax Indoor Market, Square Chapel Arts Centre with its new auditorium, and the business centre at Dean Clough.
The event culminated in the ringing of the hall’s original trading bell, signifying the building’s rebirth, and the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to the tune of John Williams’ The Olympic Spirit as played by Black Dyke Mills Band.
Prince Charles, well-known for his keen interest in architecture, told one onlooker that the Piece Hall was “a marvellous building”, which no doubt pleased the team behind the multi-million pound scheme to refurbish the Grade I listed Georgian site.
People began queuing to enter the Piece Hall more than 90 minutes before the royal party was due to arrive. Among them were husband and wife Margaret and Bill McQueen, from Hipperholme, who spoke for many when they talked of the pride surrounding the building, its history and ongoing legacy.
“We’re not great royalists, we just follow the royal family,” said Margaret. “But it’s great to see them here because it promotes Halifax.”
Among the many children waving flags and cheering loudly were more than 30 pupils from Holy Trinity Primary School, who had walked to the Piece Hall to share in the occasion. Six of them met the Duchess in the new bookshop and presented her with an anthology of writing based on Michael Morpurgo’s book Coming Home.
The children’s writing was one of several gifts presented to the royal couple. The Piece Hall gift shop put together a hamper of local items that included a print of the building, postcards and a limited edition commemoration mug. Only 1,000 have been made.
“Prince Charles said he had wanted to come back for 25 years. He said it was an amazing building,” said shop and gallery manager Lynne Melton-Long.
At the Yorkshire Soap Company Prince Charles enjoyed what owner Marcus Doyle called “the theatrics” of his boutique.
“We talked about the high street and how retail copes. I think you just have to put on a show for people.
“He picked up a few soaps, smelled them, asked how they are made. He liked our gingerbread men soaps and took a couple with him.
“No money changed hands. I wish I’d charged him, then I could get a warrant!”
Among those soaking up the positive vibe of the day was Calderdale Council’s chief executive, Robin Tuddenham. He called the restoration of the Piece Hall “a game-changer” for the town and for the people of Halifax. Over the Christmas period it attracted a third of a million people.
“The Piece Hall was built by clothiers to make this town one of the most prosperous places in the north. We are incredibly proud of the place.
“And it’s not just a relic. We have built it ready for the 21st century. It has the best wi-fi in town.”