The ‘Orange Box’ project at Thomas Street has frequently been in the news lately (“Young people are our future: Now the Orange Box project aims to put them centre stage” 13 Jan), and is now a work in progress.
For some time I have been intrigued by the initials carved above the door of one of the buildings, that at 14 Thomas Street, which read “HW AD 1870”, so I thought it worth looking to see whose initials these were, and to what purpose that building had once been given.
One way of tracing who was where in 19th Century Halifax, is to consult the anonymous Halifax Itinerary of c.1875. And here I found a clue in the following sentence: “In the southern part of Thomas Street Mr. Hy. Wadsworth’s, a smiths and cartwright’s shop. On the same side are three wool ware-houses let in different rooms to different parties, then two cottages…” Armed with this clue I searched various directories and other local records, and began to learn something about Henry Wadsworth.
Henry Wadsworth was born on 17th December 1821 at the Globe Hotel in Silver Street (demolished about 1879), and was the son of George Wadsworth, innkeeper, and his wife Hannah Bottomley. Henry was baptised at the old Sowerby Bridge Chapel on 17th February following. His father, later a farrier, lived in the 1840s in Great Albion Street. By 1841 Henry was serving an apprenticeship as a cartwright, and on 20th December 1845, he married Sarah, daughter of John Taylor at Halifax Parish Church, then being recorded as a wheelwright. They were to have five sons, and four daughters. The two eldest children, Eliza Ann and John, died in infancy in 1848; and Thomas died at 13 months in 1857; all were buried in Lister Lane Cemetery.
In a Halifax Directory for 1866 Henry is recorded in business at Thomas Street, and listed as a smith and wheelwright. Four years later he must have erected his new premises, putting his initials over the door; and at the Census of 1871 he is recorded as a Master Wheelwright employing three men. About 1878 he retired, though he continued to keep an eye on the business. A highly respected Halifax businessman, from 1888 to 1892 Henry served as a councillor for Market Ward, though he took no great interest in politics. His firm carried on, and was renamed Henry Wadsworth and Son, being run by Henry’s eldest surviving son Robert (born 1852). The younger sons, George and Alfred, became a plumber and a butcher respectively. In 1887 the whole of the area between Westgate and Blackledge, to the south-west of the Piece Hall, was owned by Wadsworths, though they did let some premises to others. The Halifax Evening Courier of 2nd December 1898 reported that the firm was flourishing, and had business connections with over 2,000 Corporations and District Councils throughout the country. By that time the firm made all kinds of wagons, including street-cleansing machines, and sanitary tumbler carts. Wadsworths’ also served the railway industry as contractors.
But where did Henry Wadsworth live? In 1851 he may be found at 28 Scotts Row, near Foundry Street, but by 1851 he had moved to lower Westgate, where he lived for the rest of his life, in houses adjacent to, or near, his business premises. Henry worshipped at Trinity Road Baptist Chapel, now long gone. He died quite suddenly at 24 Westgate (now demolished, on the corner of Thomas Street) on 9th June 1901. He was buried in Lister Lane Cemetery, and at least thirty employees and former workers for the company attended. His widow died two years later, in May 1903.
Wadsworths was still listed at Thomas Street in 1923, although there are references to the firm having an additional location by 1905 at Roils Head Road, near Highroad Well Lane. It may be that the death of Robert Wadsworth in 1922 signalled the end of the firm.
There is clearly much more scope to investigate the history of these buildings, and I shall hope to add more later.
David C Glover