HALIFAX, a municipal, county and parliamentary borough in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, 194 m. N.N.W. from London and 7 m. S.W. from Bradford, on the Great Northern and the Lancashire & Yorkshire railways. Pop. (1891), 97,714; (1901) 104,936. It lies in a bare hilly district on and above the small river Hebble near its junction with the Calder. Its appearance is in the main modern, though a few picturesque old houses remain. The North Bridge, a fine iron structure, spans the valley, giving connexion between the opposite higher parts of the town. The principal public building is the town hall, completed in 1863 after the designs of Sir Charles Barry; it is a handsome Palladian building with a tower. Of churches the most noteworthy is that of St John the Baptist, the parish church, a Perpendicular building with lofty western tower. Two earlier churches are traceable on this side, the first perhaps pre-Norman, the second of the Early English period. The old woodwork is fine, part being Perpendicular, but the greater portion dates from 1621. All Souls’ church was built in 1859 from the designs of Sir Gilbert Scott, of whose work it is a good example, at the expense of Mr Edward Akroyd. The style is early Decorated, and a rich ornamentation is carried out in Italian marble, serpentine and alabaster. A graceful tower and spire 236 ft. high rise at the north-west angle. The Square chapel, erected by the Congregationalists in 1857, is a striking cruciform building with a tower and elaborate crocketed spire. Both the central library and museum and the Akroyd museum and art gallery occupy buildings which were formerly residences, the one of Sir Francis Crossley (1817–1872) and the other of Mr Edward Akroyd. Among charitable institutions the principal is the handsome royal infirmary, a Renaissance building. The Heath grammar school was founded in 1585 under royal charter for instruction in classical languages. It possesses close scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Waterhouse charity school occupies a handsome set of buildings forming three sides of a quadrangle, erected in 1855. The Crossley almshouses were erected and endowed by Sir Francis and Mr Joseph Crossley, who also endowed the Crossley orphan home and school. Technical schools are maintained by the corporation. Among other public buildings may be noted the Piece-Hall, erected in 1799 for the lodgment and sale of piece goods, now used as a market, a great quadrangular structure occupying more than two acres; the bonding warehouse, court-house, and mechanics’ institute. There are six parks, of which the People’s Park of 121 acres, presented by Sir Francis Crossley in 1858, is laid out in ornate style from designs by Sir Joseph Paxton.
Halifax ranks with Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield as a seat of the woollen and worsted manufacture. The manufacture of carpets is a large industry, one establishment employing some 5000 hands. The worsted, woollen and cotton industries, and the iron, steel and machinery manufactures are very extensive. There are collieries and freestone quarries in the neighbourhood.
The parliamentary borough returns two members. The county borough was created in 1888. The municipal borough is under a mayor, 15 aldermen and 45 councillors. Area, 13,967 acres.
At the time of the Conquest Halifax formed part of the extensive manor of Wakefield, which belonged to the king, but in the 13th century was in the hands of John, earl Warrenne (c. 1245–1305). The prosperity of the town began with the introduction of the cloth trade in the 15th century, when there are said to have been only thirteen houses, which before the end of the 16th century had increased to 520. Camden, about the end of the 17th century, wrote that “the people are very industrious, so that though the soil about it be barren and improfitable, not fit to live on, they have so flourished . . . by the clothing trade that they are very rich and have gained a reputation for it above their neighbours.” The trade is said to have been increased by the arrival of certain merchants driven from the Netherlands by the persecution of the duke of Alva. Among the curious customs of Halifax was the Gibbet Law, which was probably established by a prescriptive right to protect the wool trade, and gave the inhabitants the power of executing any one taken within their liberty, who, when tried by a jury of sixteen of the frith-burgesses, was found guilty of the theft of any goods of the value of more than 13d. The executions took place on market days on a hill outside the town, the gibbet somewhat resembling a guillotine. The first execution recorded under this law took place in 1541, and the right was exercised in Halifax longer than in any other town, the last execution taking place in 1650. In 1635 the king granted the inhabitants of Halifax licence to found a workhouse in a large house given to them for that purpose by Nathaniel Waterhouse, and incorporated them under the name of the master and governors. Nathaniel Waterhouse was appointed the first master, his successors being elected every year by the twelve governors from among themselves. Halifax was a borough by prescription, its privileges growing up with the increased prosperity brought by the cloth trade, but it was not incorporated until 1848. Since the Reform Act of 1832 the burgesses have returned two members to parliament. In 1607 David Waterhouse, lord of the manor of Halifax, obtained a grant of two markets there every week on Friday and Saturday and two fairs every year, each lasting three days, one beginning on the 24th of June, the other on the 11th of November. Later these fairs and markets were confirmed with the addition of an extra market on Thursday to Sir William Ayloffe, baronet, who had succeeded David Waterhouse as lord of the manor. The market rights were sold to the Markets Company in 1810 and purchased from them by the corporation in 1853.
During the Civil War Halifax was garrisoned by parliament, and a field near it is still called the Bloody Field on account of an engagement which took place there between the forces of parliament and the Royalists.
See Victoria County History, “Yorkshire”; T. Wright, The Antiquities of the Town of Halifax (Leeds, 1738); John Watson, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Halifax (London, 1775); John Crabtree, A Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax (Halifax and London, 1836).