In its heyday the Piece Hall only opened for two hours, once a week. When Halifax’s historic landmark reopens on Yorkshire Day, following a long-awaited £19m renovation project, the new shop owners will have to work a little harder.
From next month, the Piece Hall, which was where 18th century textile merchants came to trade cloth, will be a seven day a week operation as it seeks to spark a wider regeneration of the town.
Nicky Chance Thompson, chief executive of the Piece Hall Trust, which takes over the day to day running of the building from Calderdale Council said: “When I moved to Yorkshire 12 years ago I came here and thought, ‘It’s great, but it could better’ and I am confident that it will be.
“There is only one other cloth hall in the whole of Europe, but while I think everyone is agreed that it is amazing building we had to work out a way of giving it a future as well as a past.
“We knew that it couldn’t survive just as a hub of independent shops which is why it will now have bars and restaurants, a museum, two galleries and crucially the new central square will allow us to stage events.”
The first of those events will be a day long festival of music and arts to celebrate the opening on August 1, a day many thought would never come.
Work on the Georgian Grade I listed structure began in 2014 and it had originally been due to open last summer. However, its completion has been delayed several times as the project hit a number of unexpected obstacles, including the discovery of a graveyard containing 200 bodies.
Councillor Tim Swift, leader of Calderdale Council, said: “It’s a 250 year old Georgian building for which no architectural plans exist, so it was always going to throw up a few surprises. We knew that a cemetery existed underneath the Piece Hall, but it turned out to be bigger than we thought. That took time to deal, but we wanted to do it right, rather than quickly.”
Yesterday as workmen were laying the final paving stones, Cllr Swift also admitted that the project had not been without controversy, mostly surrounding the removal of the cobbles on the central square.
He said: “I have lost count of the amount of times I have had to tell people, ‘You know those cobblestones weren’t original?’ In fact they were laid in the 1970s and the ground was very uneven. We want The Piece Hall to be a place everyone can come and enjoy. I hope that when people see what has replaced them they will understand what we were trying to achieve.”
When it reopens, half of the units will be filled, with a chocolatier, vinyl record shop and gin bar among the first traders, and another 25 per cent should be up and running by Christmas.
Most are new to this corner of Halifax with Isobel Hampson, owner of Creative Crystals, one of just two original traders returning to the Piece Hall after the enforced three and a half year break.
She said: “When we left it was sad, but footfall wasn’t what it had been and I think we all realised that something needed doing. I opened another shop in Heckmondwike, but it didn’t really work out. The Piece Hall is a special place. It feels like coming home.”