Royal tour from People’s Park to Dean Clough took in architectural treasures of Victorian age

Crossley heritage:  People's Park, Halifax, in 1987. Below, Dean Clough Mills, once the world's biggest carpet making complex; Crossley Heath School,  built as an orphanage and pictured in  1974; Sir Francis Crossley
Crossley heritage: People's Park, Halifax, in 1987. Below, Dean Clough Mills, once the world's biggest carpet making complex; Crossley Heath School, built as an orphanage and pictured in 1974; Sir Francis Crossley

Two weeks ago Nostalgia told of the arrival of the Prince of Wales in Halifax in 1863 for the opening of the new town hall.

He stayed overnight at the newly built mansion of the Mayor of Halifax, John Crossley, at Manor Heath.

Dean Clough, Halifax.

Dean Clough, Halifax.

The next day the Prince’s busy itinerary took in the features of Victorian Halifax which have been acclaimed by discerning visitors, architect-ural historians and Victorian enthusiasts ever since and which continue to attract visitors to the town today.

They included the suburban People’s Park, which The Times enthused “has been laid out in the most tasteful manner by Sir Joseph Paxton, and enriched with fountains and statues”.

Opened in August 1857 and encompassing over 12acres of previously barren land, it was landscaped by Sir Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace, the London home of the Great Exhibition, where the Crossleys and other local manufacturers had displayed their finest products.

Its benefactor, Francis Crossley, was the MP for Halifax from 1852-’59 and the youngest son of John and Martha Crossley, the founders of the Halifax carpet dynasty which at its peak was the largest carpet manufacturing business in the world.

Crossley Heath School, Halifax

Crossley Heath School, Halifax

The vision for the park in the heart of industrial Halifax was inspired by a visit by Crossley to the White Mountains in North America in September 1855. There he resolved to provide a means of recreation for the working people of Halifax.

The Italianate pavilion in the park proclaiming such uplifting scriptural texts as “The rich and poor meet together and the Lord is the maker of them all” and “Bless the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits”,’ revealed the evangelical nonconformitywhich sustained his vision.

Serpentine lakes, a terraced promenade and rockeries complemented the pavilion as well as fountains and statues of classical divinities and heroes, made of the finest Italian Carrara marblestatues presented to a public park in the country.

A drinking fountain, donated by temperance advocate Joseph Thorp and inscribed “Thank God for water” and “Water is best” emphasised the links between the park’s founder and the temperance movement.

Sir Francis Crossley

Sir Francis Crossley

The royal carriage procession also viewed an impressive orphanage under construction by John, Joseph and Francis Crossley, at a cost of £65,000, which continues as the 21st-century Crossley Heath School; well-appointed almshouses for their retired workers and spacious model housing for their employees.

All remain in use despite the dramatic closure of the vast Crossley carpet-making operation in Halifax in 1982. Based at the monumental Dean Clough Mills, occupying a narrow ravine of the Hebble Valley on the northern edge of the town, they were also included in the royal itinerary.

After their sudden abandonment in 1982, they re-emerged, transformed into a business park andcentre for education and the arts, by entrepreneur and musician Sir Ernest Hall.

Another towering monument in Halifax, which was also a recipient of Crossley largesse, was the new Square Congregational Church. Designed by London architect Joseph James, its foundation stone had been laid by Francis Crossley who financed the building of its 235 ft octagonal spire soaring above the neighbouring Piece Hall at a cost of £1,500.

An early example of dissenting gothic opened in 1857, it was often described as a miniature cathedral and replaced its predecessor, a classical red-brick Georgian chapel, which continued in use as a Sunday school and today is an arts centre.

Having surveyed the nonconformist Crossley imprint on the town, the Prince of Wales also visited the mills of their Anglican counterpart, worsted manufacturer Colonel Edward Akroyd and his “exquisite” neo-gothic All Souls’ Church.

Regarded by its architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, as his finest church, it complemented the model housing development and park bearing his name at Akroydon.

The emergence of a new philanthropic industrial elite personifiedby the Akroyds and the Crossleys was facilitated by Halifax’s rapid industrial expansion after the construction of a waterway link to the Calder and Hebble Navigation in 1828, which has not survived, and trans-Pennine railway links culminating in the construction of a magnificent new Italianate baroque station in 1855, designed by Thomas Butterworth.

It is now linked to the Eureka Museum for Children, the interactive museum funded by the Clore and Vivienne Duffield Foundations and opened by a later Prince of Wales in 1992 as a response to the 20th-century decline of Halifax’s manufacturing industries.

The new canal and rail links stimulated a four-fold growth of the population of the new municipal borough from 25,159 in 1851 to 104,936 in 1901 as Victorian Halifax gained an increasing reputation for its textiles and carpet manufacture, engineering and machine tools, confectionery and financial services.

Fortunately it retains, despite the devastating financial crisis of 2008, its former headquarters of the world’s largest building society, opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974, which continues as an important operational centre of the Lloyds Banking Group.

nThis is an extract from an article by Dr John Hargreaves in the winter edition of The Historian, journal of the Historical Society. Dr Hargreaves is visiting research fellow in history at the University of Huddersfield and an officer of both Halifax Antiquarian Society and Halifax Civic Trust.