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Saturday, 26 February 2023

Hebden Bridge Local History Society Report

A personal guide to the history of Calderdale Industrial Museum

Speaker: Peter Robinson

Calderdale Industrial Museum Association

Peter Robinson is a founder member of the Calderdale Industrial Museum Association, there right from the start in the fight to safeguard the industrial heritage of Halifax. At meeting of Hebden Bridge Local History Society, he told his story of the museum, covering some of the early history of the building and the area of Square Road where it stands, as well as the ups and downs of the Industrial Museum itself through the mid and late twentieth century.

Industrial hub

Drawing on a variety of documents including plans and maps, Peter described the growth of this up and coming area of Halifax in the 18th and 19th centuries. From a terrace of houses in the centre of town, set in a square and using fashionable red brick, the development of the area soon included Square Chapel, the Piece Hall and later the fine gothic-style Square Church. Two stylish wool warehouses which now house the museum were built, and by the end of the 19th century this was something of an industrial hub, with a telegraph company and manufacturers of machine tools, underclothes and boots.

Grand opening: 1985

During the period from the 1950s to 1980s a far-sighted leader of the Calderdale museum service was already saving the machinery of an industrial past. In 1981 Calderdale Council, purchased the Albion Works to house the collection. There must have been a sense of excitement when the museum had its grand opening in 1985, and even won an award as the best Industrial Museum.


However, as with many council services, by the end of the century cutbacks in funding meant that the museum closed its doors to the public, most of its collection was in storage and the building deteriorated.

Museum's unsure future

In 2011 a search for people interested in rescuing the museum and opening up the window into the industrial heritage of Halifax led to the formation of the Calderdale Industrial Museum Association (CIMA). Keen volunteers set about searching for grants, offering hard graft and learning the expertise to restore the museum. Gradually displays began to take shape again, and from 2012 occasional Open Days attracted keen visitors, as well as raising funds. At times it seemed as if the building could not be secured – safety concerns about the long north wall required an infeasible £2.5 million to rectify. Finally, different advice meant that the work could be completed for £200,000, less than the cost of demolition.

Grand re-opening: 2017

Gradually the museum, with its team of expert and undauntable volunteers, made the place ready for visitors and the grand opening took place in September 2017. With a new reception area, shop and popular café, the museum is now an inviting place. Each Saturday, and Thursdays in school holidays, machines large and small hum again, and the specialisms of Halifax, from early textiles to complex weaving and a vast range of engineering processes are demonstrated to eager visitors. No wonder that they won the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

The next talk to Hebden Bridge Local History Society is by Peter Brears, a leading food historian, who will be talking about Traditional Food in Calderdale. All welcome at Hebden Royd Methodist Church on 8th March, starting at 7.30 pm.

Details of the History Society talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on the History website and you can also follow History Society Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

See also: the HebWeb History section