When Halifax was incorporated in 1848, the council offices had been dispersed to various places around the town – including third floor offices in Back Lane, and on Union Street around 1850.
When a purpose-built town hall was proposed in 1853, three designs appeared: one was proposed by the council and to be designed by the Council's own engineer – G. W. Stevenson, another design by Sir Gilbert Scott was proposed by Edward Akroyd, and a third by a Bradford firm was proposed by John Crossley. The possible sites included one at the site of Swan Coppice in Crossley Street and others occupied by the Old Cock Inn, by the abattoir in Woolshops, by the Palace Theatre and Regal Cinema at Ward's End, and by the Assembly Rooms on Harrison Road.
The council called in Sir Charles Barry to adjudicate, but he disliked all three, so the council then invited Barry to produce a design.
The building was finally constructed to Barry's design and completed by his son – Edward Middleton Barry – after his father's death in May 1860. The stone work and sculpture was by John Thomas, and the building was constructed by Whiteley Brothers of Leeds on land owned by John Crossley. A 2½ ton stone was laid on 2nd April 1861 – having been delayed by a stone-masons' strike. The block is 18 ft above street level, and beneath the block was placed a sealed bottle containing 11 coins from ½d to a sovereign in value, a Halifax Corporation Year Book, a lithograph drawing of the Town Hall, a copy of The Times from the previous day, a copy of the Leeds Mercury, a copy of the Halifax Courier, and a copy of the Halifax Guardian from the previous Saturday.
As described in the Foldout on the Prince of Wales's visit to Halifax, the building opened on Tuesday, 4th August 1863 by HRH The Prince of Wales – the future Edward VII. Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, was ill and could not attend.
358 trains brought around 70,000 people to the town on the opening day, and 870 police were in attendance.
Edmund Minson Wavell read the loyal address to the Prince of Wales at the opening ceremony.
There was a special Piece Hall Sing for the Prince of Wales.
Attempts to use gas floodlights at the opening ceremony failed on account of the gas supply.
The first council meeting was held there on 18th September, 1863.
The building cost upwards of £60,000, and consists of 24,000 tons of York stone from Ringby Quarries, and the site occupies 148 ft by 90 ft. The stonework was cleaned in 1972/3 – note the green discolouration, a mould which has grown on the spire, and other parts of the building, as a consequence of the cleaning.
The spire is 180 ft high and has four 7 ft high angels and groups representing the continents
The carving was by John Thomas and completed under the supervision of Daniel Maclise.
The clock is guarded by four 7-foot tall angels. The faces of the clock are 7 ft in diameter and carry carved texts:
The clock has 4 chiming bells, weighing 12 tons, 14 tons, 15 tons and 18 tons.
A raised terrace which stood on the eastern wall was removed and erected around the war memorial at West View Park.
Busts of the Royal Family were made by Marshall Wood.
The main Victoria Hall has a roof of stained glass, and is 51 ft long, 41 ft wide, and 43 ft high.
On 22nd November 1867, Edward Akroyd presented to Halifax Chamber of Commerce a white marble bust of Cobden made by John Birnie Philip. It was resolved to place the bust in that part of the Town Hall which was used by the Chamber of Commerce.
On 28th March 1911, Sir Savile Crossley gave three frescoes to the Town Hall.
On 4th February 1926, William Smith, the Mayor of Halifax called for the enlargement of the Town Hall or the building of a new one.
2 chairs in the Mayor's Parlour were made in 1958 and 1960 by the younger Harry Percy Jackson.
A report from the 1950s tells of a ghostly figure, dressed in his mayoral robes, which has appeared in the Town Hall on several occasions.
All the council departments – including the police and the cells [which were housed in the basement until 1900], and the borough court [now the main council chamber and Coroner's court] – were housed within the Town Hall, but these were dispersed from about 1890.
In December 2008, the Town Hall was chosen as one of the 10 most spectacular town halls in Britain for its architecture and lavish interiors.
See John Baldwin, Mr Cockroft, Elevation of Halifax, The Prince of Wales visits Halifax, Halifax Town Hall Memorial, Princess Street and Queen Victoria