Halifax is a town in West Yorkshire, northern England, lying on the River Calder south-west of Bradford. It is the administrative centre of the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale. The town prospered between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries as a place of woollen manufacture - the fast-flowing waters of the Calder were ideal for powering woollen mills. Such was the extent of the industry that a magnificent woollen exchange - the Piece Hall - was built in the centre of the town, and is today a major tourist attraction, housing art galleries, cafes and speciality shops. The town is also, somewhat surprisingly, a financial centre, home to the Halifax Building Society, at one time the largest building society in the world and now part of the banking conglomerate HBOS.
The Maiden of Halifax
Halifax is one of the subjects of a rather grim saying (first recorded by one Antony Copley in 1594):
From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Good Lord preserve us
Hell is self-explanatory, Hull mysterious (and maybe added for the sound of it but possibly for its own severity of sentencing), but Halifax was feared by thieves because of the rigorous nature of justice practised in the town. It is the only town in England known to have used a form of guillotine to execute criminals. The Halifax guillotine - somewhat older than the French version - and known as the 'gibbet', or "Maiden of Halifax", can still be seen in a somewhat truncated form, standing on a quiet street a short way to the west of the town centre.
The wool trade had brought Halifax from a sleepy backwater to being a major provincial centre. By the beginning of the 15th century the trade in woollen and worsted cloth was equalled by the parallel trade in cloth stolen overnight from the tenterframes on which the sheets of cloth had been fixed to dry evenly. As the trade was the lifeblood of the district draconian measures were instituted to counter the felony and the stealing of cloth became a capital offence. Literally.
The practice, which was discontinued in 1650 (possibly as a reaction to the beheading of Charles I the year before) was mentioned by Daniel Defoe in his A Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain - 1724-26.