It is one of Halifax’s fine Victorian structures and for years it has been a popular drinking venue at the top of Fountain Street.
But until 1980 this building housed the Halifax Club. In the 1950s it was not unusual to see a row of Bentleys and other smart cars lined-up outside – no parking restrictions there then!
In April 1868 the Halifax Guardian expressed the opinion that Halifax needed “a gentlemen’s club, on the model of those which have already been opened in Manchester and Bradford”.
Six weeks earlier a number of prominent businessmen had met to form what was initially called the St James’s Club and were seeking suitable premises. In due course a suite of rooms on the first and second floors of 15-17 Crown Street (above the shop which was until recently Dolcis) was offered by Edmund Minson Wavell, a solicitor who had been Halifax’s first town clerk.
No expense was spared to adapt the rooms to a high standard. On the first floor were cloakrooms, steward’s pantry, card room, library and a dining and supper room, divided by sliding doors. The upper floor extended over the whole area of the building and provided space for three billiard tables. Seats were provided all round the room, which was heated by four fireplaces.
By July 1868 the club was open and had about 100 members. William Ambler, of Ovenden, a worsted spinner, was first president and there were two vice-presidents and a committee of six. William Hodgson Peacock, a local surgeon, was the first secretary and treasurer.
Before many years had passed, club members decided the premises were inconvenient and unsuitable, presumably due to the flights of steps older members had to climb to reach the facilities.
The committee sought land for a new club and in 1881 acquired a site at Barum Top. Prominent local architects Jackson and Fox were employed and by January 1882 the new premises were nearing completion. It is odd to read today but at the time the building was said to stand “in splendid isolation on the site at the top of Fountain Street”.
This, Halifax’s first purpose-built gentlemen’s club, opened on May 27 1882. The Halifax Guardian described it as “the premier non-political institution of its kind in this district, if not in the West Riding”.
The club rooms were “in every sense adapted to the requirements which the most fastidious habitué could wish. Foremost among the novelties introduced in the building is the complete installation of electric light”.
The opening was marked by a lavish, eight-course dinner, the president then being Thomas Shaw, later MP for Halifax. The Halifax Club, as it was now called, prospered and was supported by many prominent business people in the town.
Some other non-political Halifax organisations used the building for their own meetings, including, for example, the council of Halifax and District Chamber of Commerce.
The club successfully survived two world wars and things went on reasonably until May 1971. But falling membership and rising costs then led to a proposal to dissolve the club.
However a compromise was work-ed out and in 1973 it was merged with another major gentlemen’s club, the Borough Club, which had been founded in 1890 in Harrison Road.
There was said to be a combined membership of over 200. Even though the Halifax Club and the Borough Club were similar and such close neighbours they had always had quite a separate existence.
They had both found that the changing pattern of life in the mid-20th century had created difficulties in attracting new, younger members.
After the merger a new name was adopted, the Halifax and Borough Club. But the writing was on the wall. With the decline of local industry, in particular textiles and engineering, membership numbers continued to decline alarmingly. Late in 1979, with only about 90 on the roll, the announcement came that the club would close on February 26 1980.
In March an auction was held to dispose of the club’s furnishings and effects. Among the items were three full-sized billiard tables, which fetched £1,150, £1,200 and £1,250. A Victorian punch bowl raised £500 and a Victorian challenge cup £429.
The auction was an emotional occasion for long-standing club members and one commented perceptively: “This place hasn’t been so full for years. If half the people here had been members then the place would not have had to close.”
Leather chairs and couches, snooker tables, clocks – everything, down to the last plant stand – was sold to an eager horde of bargain hunters and dealers. In all the sale of 316 lots made £16,500.
When the club’s affairs had been wound up the money remaining was shared between club members according to their years of membership. Finally the building itself was sold – to become a wine bar.
More Nostalgia every Saturday in your Halifax Courier