HALIFAX, a market and parish-town, in Morley-division of Agbrigg and Morley, liberty of Wakefield, 8 miles from Bradford and Huddersfield, 10 from Dewsbury, 12 from Keighley and Todmorden, 16½ from Rochdale, (Lanc.) 18 from Leeds, 42 from York, 197 from London. Market, Saturday, for woollen cloth, provisions, &c. Fairs, June 24 and the first Saturday in November, for horses, horned cattle, &c. Bankers, Messrs. John Rawson, William Rawson, John Rhodes, and Rawden Briggs, draw on Messrs. Jones, Lloyd, and Co. 48, Lothbury. Principal Inns, Talbot, White Swan, and White Lion. Pop. 12,628. There are two Churches here, the one is a vicarage, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, in the deanry of Pontefract, value, £84. 13s. 6½d. Patron, the King. The other is called the Holy Trinity Church, a perpetual curacy, value, p.r. ~£100. in the patronage of the Vicar of Halifax. The latter was built under the sanction of an act of parliament by Dr. Coulthurst, the late Vicar; the masonry of which, like all modern masonry about the town, is excellent and elaborate.

The parish of Halifax is the largest in the County, being in extent not less than seventeen miles from east to west, and about eleven miles on an average from north to south. It contains twenty three Townships; and, besides the Vicarage Church, there are in the parish twelve Chapels to which the Vicar appoints the Curates, independent of the New Church of Halifax, and the Chapel at Marshaw bridge. The Church is a large Gothic structure, and is supposed to have been built by the Earl of Warren and Surrey, in the reign of Henry I. It appears to have been re edified at different periods, as part of the north side seems older than the rest. Within the Church are two Chapels, the one called Rokeby's Chapel, was erected in consequence of the Will of Dr. William Rokeby, Vicar of Halifax, and afterwards Archbishop of Dublin, who died November 29, 1521, and ordered that his bowels and heart should be buried in the choir of this church, and his body in the chapel at Sandal.

In 1453 here were but thirteen houses in this town, which, in 120 years, increased to 520; and, in the year 1802, there were 1973 houses, 8,886 inhabitants. Camden, when he travelled in these Parts, about the year 1580, was informed that the number of inhabitants in this parish was about 12,000. Archbishop Grindall, in his letter to Queen Elizabeth, during the northern rebellion also says; that the parish of Halifax was ready to bring into the field, for her service, 3 or 4000 able men.

The course of Justice formerly made use of here, called the "Gibbet Law," by which all criminals found guilty of theft, to the value of thirteen pence half penny, were to suffer death, hath long been discontinued. The platform, four feet high, and thirteen feet square, faced on every side with stone, was ascended by a flight of steps; in the middle of this platform were placed two upright pieces of timber, five yards high, joined by a cross beam of timber at the top; within these was a square block of wood, four feet and a half long, which moved in grooves, and had an iron axe fastened in its lower edge, the weight of which was seven pounds eleven ounces; it was ten inches and a half long, seven inches over at the top, and nine at the bottom, and towards the top had two holes to fasten it to the block. The axe is still to be seen at the gaol, in Halifax: the platform remains, but has been hid, for many years past, under a mountain of rubbish. The original blade of the Gibbet is now (2007) in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax. A replica gibbet (with relica blade) is positioned on the original plinth at the bottom of Gibbet Street, Halifax [David Nortcliffe 2007]

The Guillotine erected in France, soon after the breaking out of the Revolution, and so fatal to thousands, seems to have been copied from this machine.

The Earl of Morton, Regent of Scotland, passing through Halifax, and happening to see one of these executions, caused a model to be taken, and carried it to his own country, where it remained many years before it was made use of, and obtained the name of "the Maiden", till that Nobleman suffered by it himself, June 2, 1581. The remains of this singular machine, may yet be seen, in the Parliament house at Edinburgh. The origin of this custom cannot be traced, but it was by no means peculiar to this place. see Gent. Mag. for April 1793.

The Town of Halifax cannot boast of great Antiquity; its name is not found in Domesday Book, nor is it mentioned in any ancient record, before a grant of its Church was made by Earl Warrein to the Priory of Lewes, in Sussex. The origin of its name has been variously given: Dr. Whitaker supposes it to be half Saxon, half Norman: and that formerly, in the deep valley where the church now stands, was a Hermitage, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the imagined sanctity of which attracted a great concourse of persons in every direction. There were four roads by which the Pilgrims entered, and hence the name Halifax, or Holyways, for fax in Norman French, is an old plural noun, denoting highways.

In the civil wars it was garrisoned by the Parliamentarians; and to this place, Sir Thomas Fairfax retreated, after the battle of Adwalton Moor. After these wars were over, Halifax was represented in Parliament, during the time of the Commonwealth and under the Protectorate.

The woollen manufacture, for which this town and neighbourhood have been long famous, was first introduced between 1443 and 1540, during which period, the houses had increased from thirteen to five hundred and twenty. A detailed account of which may be seen in Watson's History of Halifax. In the beginning of the 18th Century, the manufacture, of Woollen Stuffs was introduced; Shalloons, Everlastings, Moreens, Shags, &c. have been made to great perfection; and within these few years, the cotton trade has extended in to this neighbourhood. For the convenience of trade, the manufacturers erected, at the expence of £12,000. a handsome structure, in the lower part of the town, for the sale of their goods, called the Piece Hall, which was first opened for sale in 1779, where the goods of the manufacturers, in an unfinished state, are deposited, and exhibited for sale, every Saturday. The building contains 300 separate cells, and is proof against fire and thieves.

In 1642, Nathaniel Waterhouse, by Will, founded an Alms House, in this town for twelve poor Widows, and a Blue Coat Hospital for twenty poor Children. He also bequeathed £60. per ann. to the Curates of the twelve Chapels within the Vicarage; a legacy to the Free School at Skircoats, founded by Queen Elizabeth, &c. These bequests, according to returns published by order of Parliament, made in 1786, amounted to £475. 16s. 6d., per annum, a copy of Mr. Waterhouse's will is inserted in Watson's History of Halifax. In 1610, (according to Mr. Watson) Ellen Hopkinson, and Jane Crowther, built in their life times, Alms Houses, containing eighteen rooms, for as many poor Widows, and two rooms for a Schoolmaster, which they endowed with Money and Tenements; the annual produce, in 1787, was £13. These alms Houses being rebuilt, were made to contain twenty four rooms, twenty of which are for twenty Widows, and three for the Master. In Halifax there are Chapels for almost every class of Dissenters; two National Schools, on the plans of Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster; Public Baths, Assembly Rooms, Theatre, &c. Here is also a Benevolent Society for clothing the Sick and Destitute; and to the Public Foundations already noticed, we may add that beneficent Establishment, the Dispensary, which is supported by voluntary Subscriptions.

The Lord of the Manor has here a Gaol for the imprisonment of debtors, within the Manor of Wakefield, and in this gaol is the Gibbet axe of the well known" Halifax Gibbet Law," (In 1999, Doug Robinson of Australia wrote: "The Halifax Gibbet was restored to its original condition over 20 years ago, and the original blade (see photograph) was on display in the Piece Hall, entrance to the Industrial Museum which has now closed. The blade at one time was stored at Wakefield, and then moved to Harrison Road Police Station. When the police moved to new premises, it went to the Industrial Museum in Square road.")

Of the eminent men born in Halifax, whose names are on record, find the following:- Henry Briggs, an eminent mathematician, was born in 1556, and educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he was Fellow in 1588. In 1596, he was chosen Gresham Professor of Geometry, which place he resigned in 1620, on being appointed Savilian Professor at Oxford, where he died in 1630. He was the first improver of Logarithms after Napier, the original inventor, whom he visited in Scotland, and published in 1624, a work of stupendous labour, entitled "Arithmetica Logarithmica," containing logarithms of 30,000 natural numbers. He also wrote some other valuable books on mathematical subjects. --Biog. Dict.

Joseph Brookbank, born in 1612, son of George Brookbank, of Halifax, was entered at Brazen Nose College, in 1632, took a degree in Arts, went into orders, and had a curacy. At length removing to London, he taught school in Fleet Street, and preached there. The time of his death is not known. He published, "Breviate of Lilly's Latin Gram. 8vo. &c." London, 1660, Sermons, &c. He, by indenture, bearing date Oct. 4, 1712, conveyed to trustees, certain lands and tenements, for the founding of the school at Elland. --Watson's History of Halifax.

That excellent Optician and Mechanist, Mr. Jesse Ramsden, was born here in 1735. He greatly improved Hadley's Quadrant. In 1786, he was chosen Fellow of the Royal Society. He died at Brighton in 1800.

The celebrated Daniel De Foe, although not a native, was for some time resident at Halifax. Here be employed himself in writing his books, "De Jure Divino," the famous romance of "Robinson Crusoe," and other literary works. --Whitaker's Loidis and Elmete.

William Edwards, bookseller, Halifax, a character of very great eminence In his profession, died Jan. 10, 1808, aged 86. The catalogues which he occasionally published, were astonishingly rich in scarce and valuable books, of which the ornamental bindings were peculiarly elegant. --Nichols' Lit. Anec.

Of Halifax and the parish, there are no less than three separate histories, viz. "Halifax and its Gibbet Law," by John Bentley, 12mo. published in 1761. "Antiquities of the town of Halifax," by Thomas Wright, 12mo. Leeds, 1738; and the "History and Antiquities of the parish of Halifax," by the Rev. John Watson, M.A. and F.S.A. 4to. London, 1775; besides an edition in 8vo. entitled the "History of the town and parish of Halifax," &c. published in numbers, by E. Jacobs, in 1789. This last appears to be an abridgement of Watson's.


[Description(s) edited from various 19th century sources by Colin Hinson © 2013]