If you have visited Halifax recently, you may have noticed the renovation work taking place on the Halifax Piece Hall. Here at Ploughcroft we are proud to be working on such a unique and historical building, dating all the way back to 1779.
The Grade I Listed building in the centre of Halifax was originally built to support the trading of “pieces” of cloth, it has been at the heart of commercial, civic, and cultural life in the town for over 230 years. The Piece Hall has, during that time, been used as a marketplace, social gathering place, as a home for political rallies, religious events, for shopping, sporting events and public entertainment.
The Piece Hall is now the only surviving cloth hall in Britain. In 1928 it became the first commercial / industrial building to be scheduled as an Ancient Monument and its subsequent listing in 1954 as Grade 1 identifies it as being of exceptional interest. English Heritage describes the Piece Hall as “the building that makes Halifax unique and is perhaps Yorkshire’s most important secular building.”
However, with all this history comes the need for regular maintenance, and the Piece Hall is currently moving with the times and being transformed into a high quality visitor destination filled with shops, restaurants and events, as well as a heritage interpretation centre, where people can learn about the Piece Hall’s history. Set to open in 2016, the Piece Hall transformation project is funded by Calderdale Council and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Earlier this year, Halifax-based heritage roofing expert, Ploughcroft, was appointed to the project, securing the contract to refurbish the roof coverings and replace broken slates throughout the Hall, helping restore it to its original glory and bring it into the twenty first century in time for its scheduled reopening.
Given the fact that Piece Hall is Grade 1 listed, the project has been far from straightforward, with extremely specific requirements placed upon all materials used in the work.
Locally-sourced Elland Flag natural stone was required for all slate work, which was also subject to authenticity testing by the British Geological Survey Department to ensure as close a match as possible to the original materials. Providing the slates carried the appropriate chemical and mineral content, then it would comply with English Heritage standards, and could be used in the building. Given a single square meter of this material weighs a substantial amount, transporting and moving it was a challenge in itself, and had to be factored into the project timeframes.
Meanwhile, all pointing had to be carried out using lime mortar, made using 1 part Tadi Blanc St Astier lime (hardness five), and 2.5 parts Nosterfield sand; the closest match to the locally sourced lime mortar used when the Piece Hall was originally built. The application of the mortar was also an extremely time consuming process. When applying it, all surfaces of the ridges and slates had to be damp, while post-application, the local atmosphere had to be kept damp for five days until the mortar cured. Failing to do this would result in the mortar cracking if it was allowed to dry out, so the team had to check on it every 12-hours, and adjust the moisture levels accordingly. When the lime was partially cured, the team had to beat it back into place, to ensure an effective finish.
The Grade One Listed status of the Hall also required that historically accurate Oak Pegs were used to hang the slates. Compared with typical aluminium pegs, the difficult-to-acquire oak pegs presented their own challenges, namely, the need to chisel them down to fit the round holes in the slates. This process could only be done by hand, meaning a precision approach was key, as the Ploughcroft team literally fitted square pegs into round holes.
Given the age of the Piece Hall, ecological issues were also of paramount importance, namely protecting two existing Pipistrelles bat roosts in the roofs, as well as minimising any disruption to other separate individual bats, which could be anywhere within the 3,000 sq. meter roof area. This involved the team having to lift up each individual slate by at least 50mm, shine a torch under it and check there were no bats roosting there, before replacing the slate. If any bats were found then the on-site ecologist had to be informed, who would then take the bat to safety. The Ploughcroft team also had to attend a training course at the West Yorkshire Bat Group, to ensure bat welfare standards were met during the project.
Ploughcroft’s ability to work on the project has been down to its significant investment and training in heritage roofing skills over the past years. For some time now, Ploughcroft has recognised the skills shortage in specialist heritage roofing in the north of England, and as such has invested heavily in staff training to ensure all its roofers are now NVQ Level 3 Heritage Roofers. Even managing director Chris Hopkins has kept his skills as sharp as possible, attending a number of advanced heritage roofing courses himself.
GRAHAM Construction is working on, and overseeing the project. Project Manager John Baggaley said: “The Piece Hall project combines modern building and engineering techniques with more traditional skills such as stonemasonry, carpentry, lead working and cast iron works, respectful of the building’s listing. Heritage roofing is a very specific and intricate skill, and with their expertise and strong links to the Yorkshire region, Ploughcroft have been a perfect fit for the project.”