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Halifax buildings

Halifax has had many interesting buildings over the centuries, including High Sunderland, Somerset House, Square Chapel and Wainhouse Tower.

Halifax has had many interesting buildings over the centuries, both in the centre of town and on the outskirts. Some of the more important buildings include:

High Sunderland - is this Wuthering Heights?

Bronte experts have conceded that Lockwood's description of his first visit to Wuthering Heights fits that of High Sunderland. Although the inscriptions are fictional, the carvings are real. The interior of "Wuthering Heights" also corresponds with the house plan to a great extent.

"May the Almighty grant that the race of Sunderland may quietly inhabit this seat and maintain the rights of their ancestors free from strife, until an ant drink up the waters of the sea and a tortoise walk round the whole world."

This was the inscription above the front window of High Sunderland. This was an impressive homestead on a plateau at Horley Green, overlooking the Shibden Valley.

High Sunderdale

In John Crabtree's 'Concise History of the Parish and Vicarage of Halifax', the author states that the house was built by Richard Sunderland about 1587. Although there are suggestions that his son Abraham was responsible for the house being constructed in 1629. There can be no doubt that this gabled, timber framed house with its ornate carvings, was a sight to behold. The front of the property was very imposing, with its decorative mullioned windows and high gateway depicting the coats of arms of the Sunderland and Rishworth families.

It is thought that the name derives from the fact that the land was sundered or divided from lands surrounding it, with the "high" referring to its elevated position.

Emily Bronte would have been familiar with High Sunderland having spent some time at Law Hill School in Southowram. It is thought she used the house as "Wuthering Heights" but located it at Top Withens on Haworth Moor.

Over the years the house was divided into separate dwellings and occupied by several different families. By the late 1940s it was reported that the building was derelict and unsafe. The owner of the building at that time, a Mrs Holden of Harrogate, offered it first to Halifax Corporation and then to the Bronte Society. However, the high cost of repair meant that both offers were turned down. High Sunderland was finally demolished in the early 1950s.

Further information on High Sunderland can be found in the Halifax Antiquarian Society Transactions for 1907 (available at many libraries) and by contacting or visiting the Reference Library or the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Somerset House: hidden treasures

When you next take a walk along Rawson Street, in Halifax, look at the building which is now Le Metropolitain. Originally known as Royd's House or Royd's Mansion, this building was erected in 1766.

The owner of the mansion was John Royd, a merchant banker and trader who was born in Soyland. It was designed by John Carr, the renowned Yorkshire architect. The imposing symmetrical building, also had well maintained grounds which extended as far as Powell Street and the Victoria Theatre.

As well as being a home for the Royd family, the building acted as the premises for John's mortgage, banking and insurance business. The firm financed many of the local clothiers and merchants. The cloths and yarns produced in hillside cottages were brought down to be stored in the mansion warehouse, from where they were later transported for sale.

Many notable people who visited Halifax in the 18th century, were guests of the Royd family, including King Christian VII of Denmark and the Marquis of Rockingham, a former prime minister.

John Royd died in 1781 and other members of the family left Halifax for London and Bath. The Rawson family established their banking business at Royd's House in 1811. With the merger of their Halifax and Huddersfield branches, Rawson’s Bank became the Halifax and Huddersfield Union Bank - known as the Union Bank.

In 1898, the Union Bank moved to new premises. Following this, the five easternmost bays of the mansion were demolished. The east wing was then rebuilt, fifty yards further up the street, thereby losing the symmetry.

The name Somerset House was apparently given by one of the General Manager's of the Union Bank, a J H Finlayson. It is said he renamed it after an interest he had in a Somerset county paper mill.

By 1850 the Post Office had a branch in the building. The Huddersfield Building Society took over part of the building in 1928 and in the 1950s undertook some major renovation work.

One of the most striking aspects of the interior of the building, which has still retained much of its former glory is the beautiful, ornate carved plasterwork on the walls and ceiling of the first floor salon. Royd had commissioned the Italian, Guiseppe Cortese to carve the plasterwork, much of which represents members of the Royd family. The commission took ten years to complete at a cost of £2,000.

Square Chapel

Square Chapel

In 1772 the impressive sight of a red brick building appeared amongst the green fields of central Halifax. Square Chapel was the first major building in the town to be made of brick and was a unique building, being a 60 foot square. The man responsible for its building was Titus Knight and the architect was Thomas Bradley.

At the time it would have been an amazing technical feat as it had the longest unsupported roof span in the country. John Wesley praised the Chapel for its 'utmost elegance' although others criticised the cost.

When the new Square Road Congregational Church was opened next to the Chapel, in 1857, the Chapel became its Sunday School.

By the 1970s the building was falling into disrepair. It was empty, in a dangerous state and was threatened with demolition.

In 1989, at the bargain price of £25, the Chapel was bought from the Council by the Square Chapel Building Trust with the aim of creating a small scale arts centre. Work on making the Chapel structurally sound was completed in 1990 with the help of a £3.5 million restoration project fund. However, by 1995, the Chapel was facing a second major crisis due to a lack of funding and there was talk that the venue may have to close.

In the 21st Century, the building's circumstances seem much more secure. Cornerstone is a project to transform Square Chapel Centre for the Arts by creating a stunning new extension and improved facilities for everyone who uses this thriving arts and community venue. Read in more detail about Square Chapel Centre for the Arts and plans for its future. It is certainly a unique building that is worth a visit!

Wainhouse Tower

The 19th century Wainhouse Tower (at 253 feet high) is one of the most prominent landmarks in Calderdale. Visitors can walk up its 403 steps in order to see a magnificent view of the district. Read more about the History of Wainhouse Tower.

Find out where these resources are available in Calderdale Libraries by using the 'quick search' in the online library catalogue:

Online library catalogue

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