The Piece Hall - Claire Slattery
- Nominee: Claire Slattery
- Heritage site: The Piece Hall
- Category: Best Rescue of a Historic Building
The Piece Hall, the last remaining cloth hall in the UK, was built with the aim of enriching the lives of all those who came into contact with it. In restoring the beautiful Grade I listed Georgian building, Claire Slattery - who works for Calderdale Council - has returned this inspiring building to the people of Halifax and the surrounding area.
A one-off building
In 1779, when the West Riding of Yorkshire ruled the cloth trade, each week 30-yard “pieces” of woollen fabric woven on handlooms were brought to the hall to be sold in around 315 trading rooms. A huge amount of cloth was sold; at its peak around half a million pounds in today’s money changed hands each week. But the Piece Hall was always much more than a trading hall, having been built to reflect the wealth and achievements of the ambitious and enterprising men behind it.
“It’s a complex building,” said Claire. “It’s neither a stately home nor a mill building typical of our northern heritage. It’s a one-off pre-industrial building. We had to work out what we wanted to do with it, and then tell a compelling story about it.”
Claire was the ideal person to take on the complex restoration of The Piece Hall, especially given that she had seen and been fascinated by the building many years before. “I had visited it after graduating in art history from Manchester University 25 years before,” said Claire. “But I had no idea that one day I would move to Halifax and take on the project to restore it.
No original plans
By 2009, work was urgently required to restore the stonework and remedy earlier repairs that had not been so sympathetic to the character of the building (which had continued to house shops and restaurants). Claire secured funding to safeguard the future of The Piece Hall and, in 2012, restoration work began.
With no named architect or original plans, it was inevitable that the project would deliver some surprises. Some of the walls needed strengthening and stone columns and slabs had to be repaired or replaced. Local craftsmen cleaned and renovated the stonework, supporting and sharing their expertise with apprentices throughout the project. Throughout some setbacks, Claire retained her focus on the goal of restoring the beauty of the unique building.
The Piece Hall has resumed its rightful place as the vibrant centre of Halifax. Part of the transformation has included the formation of the Piece Hall Trust, which will take over as custodian of the building and improve the quality of trade, retail and heritage offers available to visitors and residents.
Claire has played a key role in developing heritage spaces within the building, where visitors can learn about what has made the hall so special throughout its history. For example, visitors can step back in time as they enter a space that recreates the atmosphere in which the original traders would have conducted business. The 66,000 feet central courtyard has been levelled to create a new piazza with capacity for up to 7,500 people.
On 1 August 2017 the transformation of the hall culminated in the ringing of the bell to reopen it, in front of 27,000 visitors.
Why this category?
A highly-skilled art professional with many years’ experience both as a curator (safeguarding objects and celebrating their importance), and as facilitator of the creation of diverse new work, Claire was the only person with the skills to manage a funding bid on the scale that this project required. Working for Calderdale Council to enrich the lives of residents and visitors by supporting and promoting arts and heritage, she saw a unique opportunity to restore The Piece Hall.
Claire's dedication to the building sustained the team who wrote successful bids to the Heritage Lottery Fund and several foundations to bring the complex project to completion. The scale of the project echoed that of the original construction of the building by enterprising citizens, and the public response has exceeded expectations.
In Claire’s words: “From the beginning of our project, we recognised the need to reinvigorate this Grade I listed building, which is unique in the history of pre-industrial Britain. Unlike so many Georgian buildings of this scale, The Piece Hall was built by local, working people and our aim was to return the hall to its pivotal position at the centre of public life in Halifax so it could play an important role in the region once more. “On 1 August, 27,000 visitors came to see what the project was all about. Watching people delight in the building, answering their questions and listening to their stories about The Piece Hall has been the best part of the project so far.”