Halifax expressing itself to Ian Nairn in “Football Towns”

ian nairn in piece hall, halifax west yorkshire

Ian Nairn in Halifax’s Piece Hall, 1975

The phrase says: “From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!

But this is because of those places’ reputations for strict punishment, not their ugliness. Hell is perfectly lovely in April.

In this (sadly incomplete) programme from 1975 architecture critic Ian Nairn takes his sympathetic but critical eye to Huddersfield and Halifax. The latter in particular is well worth a visit, you fans of architecture and “place”; it was largely spared from both town planners and Luftwaffe. Here’s Ian’s film of Halifax architecturally beating Huddersfield 5:2.

Nairn’s Journeys: Football Towns Huddersfield and Halifax from John Woods on Vimeo.

It’s called Football Towns. I don’t know if these two places are particularly football-y, especially with rugby league around, and compared to, say, Burnley. Maybe there’s another significance. Unfortunately we won’t find out as this is the only version I can find online and it’s missing the beginning, which means the Huddersfield section is curtailed. Still, we get to see the Cloth Hall.

Torn down, of course.

Cloth Hall, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, Ian Nairn, Football towns

Cloth Hall, Huddersfield

Halifax starts at around the 7 minute mark.

The town probably looks better now than it does in the film. Both of the dilapidated churches he mentions have been saved, one now an arts centre.


square chapel halifax

Square Chapel 1975


Square Chapel, Halifax, Yorkshire, Ian Nairn

Square Chapel and church steeple, Halifax, Yorkshire

And against all expectation the council have resisted the temptation to tear down the Piece Hall to clear space for a T.K. Maxx.

Piece Hall, Halifax, Yorkshire

Halifax Piece Hall

Even the market’s still nice.

Halifax market Yorkshire

Halifax indoor market

The only real loss is the “Leaning Tower of Halifax”, unfortunately no longer with us.

Halifax, Yorkshire, Power Station

Leaning Tower of Halifax

A great thing about Nairn is that he looks at buildings from the perspective of people who live around them, and he is open to the modern. He admires Huddersfield’s new indoor market as much as Halifax’s well-preserved Victorian version, and praises the mammoth Halifax Bank building. It is now the Lloyds, and doesn’t quite dominate the centre as it did in the 1970s. You glimpse it at the end of streets, and only really get a sense of its scale when you look into the town from a distance, as from Southowram, a view Nairn describes as “one of the most dramatic in Britain”.

Halifax Yorkshire Beacon Hill Southowram

Halifax from Beacon Hill

All this, and he doesn’t even get round to Wainhouse Tower (everyone loves a folly) and Dean Clough, once the largest carpet factory in the world.

Halifax, he says, “has expressed itself”. Thankfully, it still does.

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One thought on “Halifax expressing itself to Ian Nairn in “Football Towns”

  1. Pingback: James Mason (James Mason!) gives a tour of Huddersfield (Huddersfield!) | The Yorkshire Review

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