Halifax

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Halifax is a minster town, within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. It has an urban area population of 82,056 in the 2001 Census. It is well-known as a centre of England’s woollen manufacture from the 15th century onward, originally dealing through the Halifax Piece Hall. Halifax is internationally famous for its Mackintosh chocolate and toffee (now owned by Nestlé), the Halifax Bank (formerly Halifax Building Society), and the nearby Shibden Hall.

The oldest written mentions of the town have the spelling as Haliflax, apparently meaning “holy flax” (Hair), the second “l” having been subsequently lost by dissimilation. Local legend has it that the head of John the Baptist was buried here after his execution. The legend is almost certainly medieval rather than ancient, though the town’s coat of arms still carries an image of the saint. An alternative explanation for the name of the town could come from a corruption of the Old English words Hay and Ley. Anecdotal evidence for this alternative and plausible explanation can be seen in the presence of Haley Hill, the nearby hamlet of Healey (another corruption). The fact that the surnames Hayley/Haley which are derived from Hay and Ley, for ‘hay’ and ‘clearing’ or ‘meadow’ respectively and are most abundant around the Halifax environs, also gives credibility for this explanation. Another theory is that “Halifax” came from Anglo-Saxon halh-gefeaxe = “nook of land – head of hair”, where “hair” is used to mean “(patch of) coarse grass”.

The Earldom of Halifax took the name of the town. The first creation, in the Peerage of England in 1677, was for William Savile, 1st Viscount Halifax. He had already been made Baron Savile of Eland and Viscount Halifax in 1668 and was later made Marquess of Halifax (this creation of the earldom became extinct in 1700; see Marquess of Halifax for more information). George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, (2nd order of the 3rd creation) became the President of the Board of Trade in 1748. In 1749 he helped to found the town (later city) of Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, Canada which was named after him. He helped foster trade, especially with North America. The Halifax River in Central Florida, United States, was named after him. Halifax Regional Municipality and Halifax County, in Canada, are also named in his honour.

Halifax Minster, parts of which go back to the 12th century, has always been dedicated to St John the Baptist. The Minster’s first organist, in 1766, was William Herschel,[6] who went on to discover the planet Uranus. The coat of arms of Halifax include the chequers from the original coat of arms of the Earls Warenne, who held the town during Norman times.

Halifax was notorious for the Halifax Gibbet, an early form of guillotine used to execute criminals by decapitation, last used in 1650. A replica of the gibbet has been erected on the original site in Gibbet Street. The original gibbet blade is on display at Bankfield Museum, Halifax. Punishment in Halifax was notoriously harsh, as remembered in the Beggar’s Litany[8] by John Taylor (1580–1654), a prayer whose text included “From Hull, from Halifax, from Hell, ‘tis thus, From all these three, Good Lord deliver us.”.

The town’s 19th-century wealth came from the cotton, wool and carpet industries and like most other Yorkshire towns had a large number of weaving mills many of which have been lost or converted to alternate use.

In November 1938, in an incident of mass hysteria, many in Halifax believed a serial killer—The Halifax Slasher—was on the loose. Scotland Yard was called in, but they concluded there were no “Slasher” attacks after several locals came forward and admitted they had inflicted the wounds upon themselves.

Halifax has given its name to a bank, Halifax plc which started as a building society in the town. Nowadays Halifax is a trading name of HBOS, as part of the Lloyds Banking Group. Halifax is a twin town with Aachen in Germany. The A58 has a stretch called Aachen Way, with a plaque on the town-bound side of the road.

Halifax has benefited from Single Regeneration Budget, European URBAN II and the Home Office’s Community Cohesion Fund money through Action Halifax who have a vision for “a prosperous, vibrant and safe centre where all sections of the community can access opportunities to enhance their quality of life.”

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