Industrial Expansion and Victorian Restoration
In the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, the diarist Anne Lister described Halifax as ‘a large smoke-canopied commercial town’. In the year that Queen Victoria died, Halifax’s population peaked at nearly 105,000. During this era of industrial expansion the churches within the ancient parish became better equipped to face the challenges of the age of industrial expansion and Halifax Parish Church underwent a major restoration.
The Revd Charles Musgrave (1792-1875), brother of Thomas Musgrave (1788-1860), the Archbishop of York, was the longest serving vicar in the history of Halifax Parish Church, ministering in Halifax for nearly half a century from 1827 to 1875. When he became Vicar of Halifax only one entirely new church had been consecrated in Halifax since the Reformation. His ambitious church building programme saw the construction or complete restoration of no fewer than thirty-eight churches within the ancient parish.
An attempt in 1875 to make Halifax the nucleus of a new diocese for the industrial West Riding, however, proved abortive and a new diocese based on Wakefield was not finally established until 1888.
During Musgrave’s ministry, the Halifax industrialist Edward Akroyd presented a new stained glass east window by George Hedgeland in 1856, based upon a prize-winning design from the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which Halifax manufactures had been well represented.
It was Musgrave’s successor, the Revd Francis Pigou (1832-1916), Vicar of Halifax from 1875 to 1889, however, who recognised the need for a complete restoration and refurbishment of the medieval parish church. In his autobiography, he graphically recalled ‘the forlorn-looking state’ of the building:
” … throughout the nave were high square pews in which it was whispered in my ear that rubbers of whist were sometimes played … the spacious Choir itself was in a most dilapidated state … large nails in the carved oak mullions served as pegs on which to hang hats; dust here, disorder there. But worst of all was the fact that it was a vast charnel-house … the floor was strewn with human remains.”
The restoration work completed under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott and his son John Oldrid Scott between May 1878 and October 1879 at a cost of £20,000 removed the eighteenth century galleries, lowered the height of the pews, altered floor levels, removed the old plaster and the three-decker pulpit and provided a lavish new organ casing designed by John Oldrid Scott, but retained most of church’s historic features.
Pigou’s successor, Archdeacon Brooke, Vicar of Halifax from 1889 to 1904, was no less vehement in attempting to raise awareness of the conditions of slum dwellers in the vicinity of Halifax Parish Church. In a sermon preached at Halifax Parish Church he condemned: ‘ … the conditions under which vast masses of our fellow-countrymen are living in our large towns’ and‘ … the awful contrasts of luxury and degraded wretchedness’.
Artist’s impression of a gargoyle at the top of the Bell Tower; the Musgrave Memorial at the West End of church (G Farr); the East Window and wide view of the nave showing the font and font cover (both Chris Lord Photography)