Visit Yorkshire and other tourist organisations seem to concentrate on North Yorkshire cities and towns such as York, Knaresborough and Harrogate, but there is a lot to commend Leeds’ West Yorkshire neighbour, especially now that it has had a facelift.
Square Chapel, as its name suggests, is a former place of worship which was converted – pardon the pun – into a centre for the arts. It was built in 1772 but fell into a state of dangerous repair after being abandoned in 1969 and ravaged by fire in 1971. In 1988 it was bought by the Square Chapel Fund, who slowly restored it over time as money was raised. It caters for all branches of the arts and I would go there every spring for the annual Mayfest Beer Festival, my being a different kind of artist!
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the place again on Sunday en route to the Piece Hall, which used to be next door but has now been joined to it by a huge, obviously square, extension housing an auditorium for film, theatre, live performances and a cafe bar selling all kinds of food and drink including cask ales. This means that the present residents of the surrounding area don’t have to wait until May to enjoy a great beer there. To check out the coming attractions please go to https://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/
Finally we get to the star of the show, Piece Hall. This is such an overwhelming building I was quite overcome when I first entered via the amazing huge doors. It was opened on New Year’s Day 1779 and cost £9,000 to build, a sum raised by charging merchants £28/4 /-* to occupy each of the 315 rooms where they could store their pieces, geddit? of cloth which would be sold during the two hours between 10.00 am and noon every Saturday. Should anyone be caught selling after the noon bell was sounded they would be fined 5/-*.
A ‘piece’ is a 30 yard length of woven wool produced on a handloom. After the Industrial Revolution wool production changed from being a cottage industry into a factory based one and the need for a place to sell hand woven wool disappeared, as did all the other Yorkshire cloth halls, so Piece Hall is the only one to survive intact. The reason that this one escaped the bulldozers is that in 1972 when the council debated a motion to demolish the building and turn it into a car park, it was defeated by one vote. The hall was restored and modified with some of the rooms being combined to form larger spaces in order to accommodate restaurants, exhibition spaces and the Tourist Information Office. A further refurbishment costing £19 million has recently been completed and the building reopened on 1st August (Yorkshire Day) 2017. The results are spectacular.
There are cafes, restaurants and a gin bar to cater for gourmands, with a Lebanese restaurant and one run by the Piece Hall itself in the pipeline.
Coming events can be found at https://www.thepiecehall.co.uk/whats-on
I can only hope that the new Piece Hall prospers for many decades to come and puts a lie to the sentiment ‘from Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the good Lord deliver us!’ Halifax is in there because it was the last place in the country to execute people by using a gibbet, which is a small guillotine.
Should you wish to visit then follow the signpost at the entry to the station car park. It is also easy to find if travelling by road. If you take small people with you then don’t forget to take a look at Eureka! The award-winning children’s museum.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.