TV’s Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax put Calderdale on the map. Now Sarah Freeman discovers the stunning regeneration of The Piece Hall, the buzzing cultural hub of Square Chapel and what else has put Halifax in the spotlight.
You know a place is on the up when it gets a nickname. Harvey Nics pitched up in Leeds and behold, Knightsbridge of the North was born. The Bishy Road area of York, with its clutch of trendy delis, bars and cafés is the Notting Hill of the North.
Listen closely now and you might just hear mention of Calder-fornia. Tongue in cheek maybe and while there’s no equivalent to LA’s Venice Beach or San Fran’s Golden Gate Bridge in the valley stretch running from Todmorden to Halifax, via Hebden Bridge, Cragg Vale, Mytholmroyd and Sowerby Bridge, the stars are definitely aligning in this part of Yorkshire. In the last 12 months it’s been hard to move for new openings. Craft ale hipsters have descended, artisan bakers have opened up and while in other towns libraries have been closing faster than you can say ‘quiet please’, Halifax has even managed to build a brand new one, which is all beautiful glass panes and elegant angles.
Part of the renaissance can be attributed to the Sally Wainwright effect. Brought up in Sowerby Bridge, the screenwriter has mined her childhood home for inspiration. With both Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax having been filmed up here, millions have been introduced to gritstone-built towns clinging to dramatic hillsides and imposing industrial buildings that once housed textile mills on which Calderdale’s wealth was built. Wainwright might have done her bit, but there has also been a little serendipity at play, with a number of long-awaited developments all reaching completion at the same time.
A keystone of the regeneration is The Piece Hall. If you have never been, imagine an historic Tuscan square has been dismantled, shipped across from Italy and painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick in Halifax.
Originally a trading hall for Yorkshire’s cloth merchants, even during the textile heyday of the 18th century, this grand old building only ever opened for a couple of hours a week and in more recent years with many of the units empty and the stonework crumbling a little, it was in danger of becoming something of a white elephant.
Thankfully money was secured for a sympathetic £19 million restoration project and while it over ran by a year, it has been worth the wait. The Grade I listed hall - one of only two in the world - is now home to a small but perfectly formed museum, galleries showcasing Yorkshire artists, independent shops from jewellers to vintage clothing, an old fashioned sweet shop, vinyl record store and as is de rigeur these days, a gin bar. More will follow throughout the year and the central square will also provide the backdrop for a programme of live events. The increased visitor numbers should also be good news for the Square Chapel Arts Centre next door.
First opened in the 1980s thanks to a group of artistic souls who believed they could turn a derelict Victorian church into a performance venue, Square Chapel has also just been given a substantial makeover. With two auditoriums and a brand-new café bar, word has it one of the original founders cried tears of joy when she saw the result.
The recent boost to the area’s creative mojo shouldn’t come as any surprise as Calderdale has always had an artistic soul. Halifax was the town where in 1992 Barrie Rutter chose to found his renowned Northern Broadsides theatre company. Hebden Bridge is home to more artist studios than any other town bar St Ives and it was Calderdale that Poet Laureate Ted Hughes called home. No wonder then that Sally Wainwright keeps getting pulled back here.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... A history lesson
While Happy Valley was set very much in the present, Sally Wainwright’s new drama will wind back to the early decades of the 19th century to tell the story of Anne Lister, the industrialist and landowner who also dressed head to foot in black and defied convention by being openly lesbian. Gentleman Jack is due to be filmed during 2018, but before it goes out in the autumn get a sneak preview of what to expect by visiting Lister’s former home of Shibden Hall. Just a mile from Halifax, the estate is now a museum telling the history of the area and its people, recreating a traditional blacksmiths, coopers, wheelwrights and saddlers. Once you’ve had your fill of Calderdale history, the grounds also boast a miniature railway, boating lake and pitch and putt course.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... Unforgettable food
Last year, Yorkshire - and more specifically The Hinchliffe Arms, near Hebden Bridge - welcomed an export from the other side of the Pennines. Chef Robert Owen Brown, who had made his mark with a residency at the Mark Addy on Salford’s River Irwell, had been quietly content running pop-ups and supper clubs. However, when The Hinch, as it’s known locally, was bought by family run brewery company JW Lees it knew it needed a chef of note to put it on the map. Brown was installed and it’s proved a smart move. Make sure you order the Craggy Egg, a black pudding and sausage meat pickled scotch egg rolled in crumbled pork scratchings. A new Yorkshire classic.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... The perfect pint
The Victorian Craft Beer Café only opened in 2014, but it feels like it’s been there for decades. Occupying a prime spot just a stone’s throw from The Piece Hall, it was the brainchild of Simon Anderton, who previously ran the Puzzle Hall Inn just a few miles away in Sowerby Bridge.
A bit of a craft ale geek, he refused to stock any of the usual brands and as a result has made the Victorian into a bit of a beer drinker’s Mecca. There are at least 10 hand-pulled beers and ciders, 100 bottled beers and Anderton has made good on his ambition to bring the type of drinking establishment you might find in Leeds or Manchester to Halifax. We also love the fact there are whisky and Belgian beer nights on “random Thursdays” throughout the year.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... A gig to remember
If there was an annual award for most creative town in Yorkshire, Hebden Bridge would be the favourite every year. No surprise then that it is home to one of the county’s best - and tiniest - music venues. The Trades Club began life in the 1920s when it was set up by the area’s tailoring and textiles workers and their unions. As the industry declined, so did the club, but it reopened again in the 1980s and with a capacity of just 200 it has successfully shown that small is indeed beautiful. The acoustics are unrivalled and the intimate surroundings have proved a bit of a draw for artists like Patti Smith, Richard Hawley and Paul Weller. Regularly shortlisted for NME’s Small Venue of the Year gong, the gigs are always great, the only problem might be getting a ticket.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... A lazy breakfast
Todmorden was the town which pioneered the Incredible Edible scheme to increase the amount of locally grown vegetables with communal allotments and the like. No surprise then, that it has grown into a bit of a foodie haven. One of the best is the Old Co-op Café bar which sits on the first floor of the equally impressive Victorian Co-operative buildings. It’s run by one of the daughters of the Incredible Edible founders and it’s vegetarian, so there is no full English on the menu. However, the meat-free dishes are impressive and much of the produce is sourced from within a few miles’ radius.
WHERE TO GO IN CALDERDALE FOR... An adrenaline rush
Want adventure for an hour, an afternoon or a full day? Another World Adventure Centre offers outdoor activities including archery, snowboarding, mountain boarding, grass sledging, paintballing, bumper balls (roll around and crash into people whilst strapped inside a massive padded seethrough ball), go karting and shooting or test your balance and teamwork on the low ropes climbing course.
This article was taken from This is Y 2018