A not so little hidden gem can be found on the road into Halifax, West Yorkshire. We were travelling through from Hebden Bridge and there before us rose Wainhouse Tower, a Victorian Folly. It wasn’t advertised, but you can’t really miss its great bulk. A small unmarked footpath beside a graveyard led us to the entrance, where we found several families waiting their turn to climb the Tower. On asking the Calderdale Council staff member when the tower was open, we were told, “on Bank Holidays and Father’s Day!” he replied in a friendly Yorkshire accent that made 'Father's Day' sound like 'Feather's Day'. As luck would have it just so happened we were passing on May Day Bank Holiday.
It took determination and willpower for me to ascend the 369 steps to the top, along with my daughter Hannah and husband John, who had already yomped 6 miles around Hardcastle Crags earlier in the day! Although, when I saw children as young as 3 or 4 doing it, I thought I might be able to manage! The blackened walls on either side of the stone steps did not help to illuminate the way; however every so often there was a small window letting in a shaft of light, which was very welcome, these little alcoves also served as passing areas, as the staircase is quite narrow. The long haul to the top was definitely worth it, the view was spectacular, giving the successful climber a new perspective on the outlying area below. Anyone with an aversion to heights would be advised not to look down over the balustrade though and I must admit to having slightly wobbly legs. There are a further 34 steps to the upper balcony; however this area wasn’t open.
http://www.visitcalderdale.com/attra-wainhouse-tower details the following:
Born in 1817 John Edward Wainhouse inherited his Uncle’s Dyeworks on Washer Lane, Halifax in 1856. The Dyeworks were typical of the day, causing considerable pollution because of smoke emissions. Halifax was badly affected by smog. For weeks on end the smoke laden atmosphere blanketed the town, reducing sunlight and contaminating the landscape with soot and sulphur trioxide. This national problem caused the Government to introduce a Smoke Abatement Act. Wainhouse developed the idea of building a chimney 350 metres up the hillside from the Dyeworks, connected to it by an underground tunnel. Sir Henry Edwards, A wealthy neighbour of John Edward Wainhouse, made complaints about the smoke nuisance caused by the Dyeworks, leading to a feud between the two men. Mr Isaac Booth (who was also Sir Henry’s architect) was asked by Wainhouse to design and build the mill chimney. The design incorporated an internal staircase that led to four balcony features. This exacerbated the deepening feud between Wainhouse and Sir Henry. Sir Henry, an extrovert and boastful man, claimed that his private estate at Pye Nest could not be viewed from any house o the hills. Wainhouse said he would rectify this by putting an observatory at the top of his chimney. Work commenced in 1871. In 1873, as a result of the feuding; the architect Isaac Booth decided he could no longer work for either man. This led to the appointment of Richard Swarbrick Dugdale, who redesigned the upper section of the building. The new design incorporated a corbelled and balustrade balcony, surmounted by a lantern dome and finial. The building was completed on the 9th September 1875. It is estimated that over 9,000 tonnes of materials were used. The total cost is thought to be in the region of £15,000. The structure was never actually used as a working chimney and as such, is regarded by many as one of Britain's finest follies. John Edward Wainhouse died on 26th July 1883 at the age of 66.
The Tower and three acres of surrounding land was sold by auction in 1887. The Tower changed hands several times until coming under the ownership of the Halifax Corporation in 1919. During the Second World War the Tower was used by the military authorities as an observation post. As a result of the reorganisation of Local Government in 1974, Wainhouse Tower became the property of Calderdale Council. Today the Tower is used as a viewing platform.
It’s definitely work a visit if you’re free on a bank holiday Monday (or F(e)ather’s Day of course).