On 1 August, The Piece Hall in Halifax – one of the most iconic heritage buildings in Britain – will re-open its gates following a multi-million-pound transformation. This heralds a new era for the monumental Georgian structure – which was once the centre of the global woollen trade – as a contemporary leisure, retail, cultural and heritage destination and the beating heart of a world class cultural quarter.
The transformation has been made possible by funding from Calderdale Council, a generous £7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund – thanks to National Lottery players – and kind support from the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation.
At 10am on 1 August, 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 Grade 1 Listed 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, commented: “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 secret, but that’s all about to change. We look forward to welcoming back local people, and inviting visitors from all over the world to experience this transformation which celebrates our extraordinary history and will offer a unique cultural destination for generations to come.”
The opening marks the culmination of an ambitious three-year transformation project delivered by Calderdale Council and designed by LDN Architects. Key elements of the conservation and build programme include the careful restoration of the 18th century stonework and the upgrade of infrastructure and services to convert the original 315 units (once used for storing cloth) into exceptional retail and public facilities.
Cllr Barry Collins, Calderdale Council’s Deputy Leader, said:
“The transformation of Halifax’s magnificent Piece Hall is now complete and we’re looking forward to hearing people’s reactions as they see the impressive changes for the first time on Yorkshire Day. Our ambition for The Piece Hall was to conserve the building for future generations, whilst creating a world-class tourist attraction that would strengthen the local economy. Once again, we’d like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation for sharing our vision and for their generous support.
“Yorkshire Day will mark the Council’s handover of the building to the independent Piece Hall Trust, who have really exciting plans for its future. We’re confident that people from Calderdale and beyond will be visiting this 21st century heritage destination time and time again in the years to come.”
Ros Kerslake, Chief Executive at the Heritage Lottery Fund, added:
“The Piece Hall and its courtyard are pivotal players in the history of Halifax and West Yorkshire. Our investment of £7m of National Lottery players’ money has been integral to its redevelopment and means that it can be enjoyed much more widely than before. Whilst it’s lost none of its character as a vibrant 18th-century trading place, it’s now a much more welcoming civic space where people will be able to work, meet, learn and relax.”
The sloping central courtyard has been levelled, creating 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 designed by The Fountain Company, which sit within the north-west and south-east corners and subtly 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; 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.
Culture is leading the regeneration of Halifax, and the completion of The Piece Hall marks a dynamic new chapter for the town which has recently seen £40m investment into major cultural facilities. 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. New gateway connections have also been made between The Piece Hall and Orange Box Young People’s Centre; the Council’s new purpose-built Central Library and Archive and the Calderdale Industrial Museum.
This new cultural quarter is set to attract an estimated footfall of 1.6m per year, and will also benefit from £120m of investment into improving transport and infrastructure from the station through to Eureka! The National Children’s Museum, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and has also attracted a further £10 million of investment in recent years.
To mark the reopening of The Piece Hall as a landmark cultural destination, a series of free events, entitled ‘Welcome’ will take place over three weekends in August & September, supported by Arts Council England and Calderdale Council. Highlights include Architects of Air’s Albesila – a giant extraordinary inflated sculpture in which visitors are invited immerse themselves in a vivid world of colour and a magical high-flying aerial spectacle, ‘Enchanted Chandelier’, by award-winning French company, Transe Express.