6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Yorkshire Life today click here

The Horrible Halifax exhibition at the Bankfield Museum

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 March 2018

The Horrible Halifax exhibition takes a trip back in time to discover how apothecaries sought to cure painful ailments

The Horrible Halifax exhibition takes a trip back in time to discover how apothecaries sought to cure painful ailments


History both horrible and honourable is revealed on a visit to Halifax.

Stinky streets of Halifax explained in the Horrible Halifax exhibition at the Bankfield Museum Stinky streets of Halifax explained in the Horrible Halifax exhibition at the Bankfield Museum

If horrible history is your thing then Halifax could be your destination of choice this year. Calderdale is brimming with family events in 2018, from a celebration of the Brontes to digital dancing and a stage start in the Tour de Yorkshire.

But we all like a bit of grizzly entertainment and the story of the darker side of local life always catches my eye. The excellent Bankfield Museum is staging a Horrible Halifax exhibition running until June taking young and old on a trip back in time to discover how apothecaries sought to cure painful ailments, save rotten teeth and the gruesome way felons were treated.

And on that last point Halifax really was the spiritual home of the law and order brigade. ‘From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Good Lord deliver us…’ was a thieves’ ‘prayer’ commonly heard in Yorkshire in olden days and inspired by the grim reputation of Hull jail and Halifax’s savage form of execution – its famous gibbet.

The gibbet was basically a guillotine, unique to Halifax (the base still exists), and the last man to lose his head to its falling blade was the unfortunate John Wilkinson in 1650 for stealing 16 yards of cloth. Any theft of goods worth a little over 13 pence could mean a date with its razor sharp edge and the practice was only ended by Oliver Cromwell during the English republic – it was too gruesome even for those full blooded times. The inventions and laws that led to more enlightened times are also traced by this fascinating free family exhibition, but it’s that fearsome gibbet that sticks in my mind!

Talking of executions, one of the most famous was that of Mary Queen of Scots, imprisoned in Bolton Castle, Wensleydale, for a time and beheaded in 1587, which is a link to the second major exhibition at Bankfield Museum this year devoted to shoes! That’s right, Calderdale has a large collection, including a priceless pair thought to have been worn by the ill-fated monarch, plus boots owned by the Duke of Wellington. There’s also modern footwear on display designed by Kirklees College students, plus a couple of fascinating talks to look forward to (Frontline Footwear on August 4th and Stories from the Georgian City on September 22nd).

Halifax is also marking a big literary anniversary this year. Emily Bronte was born 200 years ago and she worked for a time as a schoolmistress near Halifax at a house called Law Hill. The man who built the property was Jack Sharp, who may have been the inspiration for Heathcliff, while an old hall nearby could have given her the idea for Wuthering Heights. You can find out more about the Brontes at Shibden Hall (March 2nd-October 31st) which is displaying period costumes and dresses used in Sally Wainwright’s television drama on the sisters called To Walk Invisible, several scenes of which were filmed at the Hall. You can also explore the story of diarist Anne Lister (1791-1840), who lived at Shibden and who is the subject of another Sally Wainwright work to be broadcast this year on BBC and HBO.

Of course any family visit to Halifax would not be complete without a trip to the Eureka National Children’s Museum and its summer festival offering (July 21st-September 2nd) includes science busking, interactive storytelling, craft activities and animation. But if you are one of those parents who secretly looks on with envy as the children enjoy themselves then here’s your golden opportunity. Ditch the off-spring for an adults only evening (March 22nd) when you can behave like a big kid without fear of embarrassment, having fun with explosive science, making a dance video and building your own robot. Go on – you know you want to! Visit eureka.org.uk to book a place.

Elsewhere, the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow pays a visit to the amazing Grade I Piece Hall on July 8th so bring along family heirlooms and artefacts for the experts to ponder (free entry, 9.30am to 4.30pm) and Halifax’s popular two day food and drink festival returns on June 30th. Last year it featured over 100 stalls and exhibitors, along with a live demonstration kitchen.

Not so horrible but glorious buildings in the town centre Photo: Joan Russell Not so horrible but glorious buildings in the town centre Photo: Joan Russell

Before then Halifax takes pride of place as the start point of stage four of the Tour de Yorkshire on May 6th. Piece Hall will be the dramatic backdrop as the timer clicks down to send the world’s top bikers on a 120-mile trip through Bronte Country and beyond.

It’s going to be another fabulous year in this vibrant and handsome Pennine town.

More from Out & About

Fri, 00:00

Fancy a peek into some of Yorkshire’s most beautiful gardens? We’ll give you a leg up

Read more
Helmsley Castle Howard
Thursday, June 14, 2018

Snubbed by the European Commission, West Yorkshire’s cultural capital comes out swinging. Watch out world!

Read more
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A glorious walk, wonderful views and some famous Yorkshire landmarks – all in one fell swoop.

Read more

As the cream of English football head to Russia hoping for World Cup glory, Yorkshire’s own national team are preparing for an international tournament of their own.

Read more
Monday, June 11, 2018

Think that there’s not much going on in Robin Hood’s Bay? Think again. It has a growing energy and a great community vibe, 
says Tony Greenway

Read more
Friday, June 8, 2018

An East Yorkshire town aims to become an exciting foodie destination, as Emma Mayoh reports

Read more
Thursday, June 7, 2018

There is so much to shout about in this award-winning North Yorkshire town, including some quirky pleasures, writes Richard Darn.

Read more
Friday, June 1, 2018

Exceptional equine competition this month at the 45th Bramham horse trials

Read more
Thursday, May 31, 2018

As the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust kicks off a month of wildlife activity, young naturalist Zach Haynes shares some of his favourite places for an adventure

Read more
Monday, May 28, 2018

A special Leeds library secures its place in the history books

Read more
Great British Holidays advert link

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Yorkshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Property Search