Chronicle: Retrospective with Alan Burnett

Piece Hall, Halifax: August 6, 2017

These days it would probably incorporate the Piece Hall, and it’s a tribute to those who transformed this beautiful old building into a turbulent 21st century success story.

If you watch the opening credits of Look North, you’ll see Piece Hall in all its glory, a symbol of a city that has found its place in this modern, post-industrial world.

Of course, the Piece Hall has not always been the symbol of a confident and forward-looking city.

Piece Hall, Halifax c. 1960s

I photographed it in the 1960s when it was a busy, but shabby wholesale fruit and vegetable market.

The old stone colonnades had then absorbed nearly two centuries of smoke and soot, and a few mill chimneys still stood out against the bare hillsides.

Another contender for iconic Halifax would be the Dean Clough Mill, as for much of its industrial life Halifax was one of Europe’s great carpet towns.

My photograph was taken in the early 1970s when smoke was still rising from the various chimneys and vents that characterized this gigantic manufacturing complex.

Fearnley Mill, Dean Clough, Halifax (c. 1970)

The Dean Clough Factory Complex is another fine example of one of Halifax’s remarkable buildings finding an exciting new use – or rather a dozen new and exciting uses – in the 21st century.

For an entire generation of early 20th-century schoolchildren, the familiar sight of Halifax would be that of a dark, smoky town of mills, in which children would be asked to count the chimneys of mills as part of a lesson. somewhat depressing geography.

Such photographs were normally taken from the top of Beacon Hill, and the city in all its raw beauty would be spread out for the world to see.

A bit of this industrial panorama can be seen in my photograph taken from the Godley Bridge in 1966. This is my own personal iconic view of Halifax, the view that greeted me from the front of the upper deck of a city bus. society as I made my way from Halifax and school.

Views of Halifax from Godley Bank and Southowram

In 1966, you could still play count chimneys, but now you could start spotting tall buildings weaving their way through the landscape.

There was a time in the 20th century when Halifax earned another nickname, “Toffee Town”.

John Mackintosh’s various factories towered over the lower town, and the first thing that hit you when you got off the train at Halifax station was the sweet smell of boiling caramel.

My photograph of Albion Mills is from the mid-1970s, before Mack’s became Rowntree’s and Rowntree’s became Nestle.

Mackintosh factory, Halifax (circa 1972)

Finding Halifax’s iconic image could be the quest of a lifetime, and part of that will depend on how old you are. As we age, these are the first images that become more fixed in our memories.

Halifax’s beautiful Victorian market still clings to life today, but my memories take me back sixty years to when my photo was taken.

It was a time when cookies arrived in square tin boxes and shoppers still carried pack-a-macs.

Halifax is mills and factories, hills and valleys, beautiful buildings and dark satanic bits. The city is all of these and our iconic image must somehow bring together all of these different aspects of our hometown.

My last photo dates from about fifty years ago. When I shot it it was a black and white image, and I cheated slightly by adding a splash of color. It’s not really cheating, though, because Halifax has always been a colorful place, a city of vibrant carpets and colorful toffee wrappers.

My photo captures old mills and new flats and roads. It has steep hills and outlying moorlands. To me, it’s “our Halifax”.

1960s Halifax Borough Market.
Halifax from Beacon Hill, 1971

About Norma Wade

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