Halifax burgeons with new ‘Shoreditch of the north’ tagline – The Guardian
The West Yorkshire town boasts a flourishing craft beer and music scene, and great pork pies
Halifax has many claims to fame: the birthplace of a building society, a centre for the Georgian wool trade and, more recently, the setting for a BBC1 drama about childhood sweethearts who have one Last Tango in their twilight years.
Now the West Yorkshire town has gained another tagline. According to BBC 6 Music it is “the Shoreditch of the north”. The station recently broadcast live from Halifax, rhapsodising its burgeoning craft beer and music scene and raving about the pork pies at the Grayston Unity, the UK’s smallest gig venue – capacity 18, or 12 if the band insists on bringing a drum kit).
The town’s reputation as a mini music mecca has been growing for a while. The Stone Roses chose Halifax’s Victoria theatre for a warm-up gig in June 2016 ahead of their homecoming show in Manchester. The Lantern, a new 150-capacity venue with a great little pub attached, has been sold out every night since it opened in November, welcoming acts from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to I Am Kloot.
Two of the most hotly tipped bands right now hail entirely or in part from Halifax: Hookworms, who received a five-star review from the Guardian earlier this month, and the Orielles, a dreamy 80s-inspired trio who were signed by the hip Heavenly label when some of its members were still at school.
Both will support Father John Misty, also given five stars by the Guardian, who has chosen Halifax for his one non-London date of the summer. He will headline at the jawdropping Piece Hall, a vast balconied courtyard that looks like Venice’s Piazza San Marco transplanted to the West Riding. This incongruous grade I-listed masterpiece is the sole survivor of the great 18th-century northern cloth halls and reopened in August 2017 after a £19m renovation.
Not all hipster tropes are present. A town with this many hills and cobbles is not kind to single-speed bicycles and “you can’t get away with having stupid hair or dressing like a twat”, according to Matthew Benn, synth player with Hookworms. Twenty-somethings with waxed moustaches tip-tapping at typewriters are mercifully absent.
Nicky Chance-Thompson, the chief executive of the Piece Hall trust, moved up from her native south London 12 years ago. Unlike the leader of the local council, who admitted he didn’t know what Shoreditch was when he heard the 6 Music comparison, Chance-Thompson jumped on it.
“Shoreditch gets a knock but what it did was shift the centre of cool away from Soho and become at the forefront of music and fashion. I see that happening here. It’s cool because you don’t expect it. What you get here is a city vibe in a town context,” she said.
Benn moved back to his native Halifax from Leeds when he got “sick of the student lifestyle”. The 29-year-old paid £120,000 for a two-bedroom house with a garden in Sowerby Bridge, three miles down the valley. As he puts it: “You couldn’t get a shed for that in Leeds.”
Chance-Thompson’s London friends cannot believe the size of her house. One – “the last person in the world I thought would ever leave London” – has just decided to join her. You can see why: £430,000, the price of a one-bed flat in zone 2, buys a five-bedroom Victorian terrace five minutes from the moors of Brontë country.
Tom Hughes is the manager of the Victorian Craft Beer Café, a beautiful independent pub and the centre of the now annual Indy Fax Beer festival. “It’s crazy what’s happening in little old Halifax,” he said, marvelling at how they were now serving people from Leeds and Manchester when just a few years ago the custom all went in the other direction.
It’s not all beer and vinyl. The town’s Square Chapel arts centre reopened last year after a £6.6m facelift and the council decided to build a spectacular new library when many others are choosing to shut them down. Then you have Dean Clough, an 8-hectare (20-acre) complex of eight Victorian mills, which houses a gallery, artist studios, cafes and independent businesses.
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Piece Hall on Friday, and the heir to the throne was impressed at the town’s rejuvenation since his last visit 25 years ago. The royals took a tour of the hall’s independent businesses, which include Loafers, a record shop-cum-cafe, and a deli selling wine from gooseberries cultivated in nearby Luddenden valley and a sort of halloumi pressed by a Syrian refugee in Sowerby Bridge.
Cheese is one of Halifax’s strong suits. At Westgate Wine & Cheese you can buy a local delicacy known as Yorkshire Fettle, thanks to EU laws that forbid the makers from calling it feta. The town recently got its first artisanal coffee shop when Top Door Espresso opened in the market, selling flat whites and avocado toast for £1.50.
Later this year Shibden Hall, a Grade II*-listed historic house a mile out of town, is set to receive a flood of visitors when it stars in Gentleman Jack, a BBC/HBO co-production written by Sally Wainwright of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley. It stars Suranne Jones as Anne Lister, a lesbian landowner trying to find a wife in 19th-century Yorkshire.
For Nick Simonet, whose Revo record shop is gaining popularity with the resurgence of vinyl and local bands, the town’s revival went into overdrive when the Piece Hall reopened. “It was like somebody turning the light on,” he said. “Now Halifax is booming again.”
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