In the 18th century Halifax was an important centre of the wool trade. Piece Hall was built in the 1770s and provided rooms for 315 merchants. It is now the only surviving manufacturers' hall in Britain. In the 18th century production of woollen goods in the Halifax area was based on the domestic system. Power loom weaving was introduced in Halifax in the 1820s. As steam power became more efficient, Halifax and other Yorkshire towns, had a considerable locational advantage over other manufacturing areas.
The nearer we came to Halifax, we found the houses thicker, and the villages greater. The sides of hills, which were very steep, were spread with houses; for the land being divided into small enclosures, that is to say, from two acres to six or seven acres each, seldom more; every three or four pieces of land had a house belonging to it.
Their business is the clothing trade. Each clothier must keep a horse, perhaps two, to fetch and carry for the use of his manufacture, to fetch home his wool and his provisions from the market, to carry his yarn to the spinners, his manufacture to the fulling mill, and, when finished, to the market to be sold.
Among the manufacturers' houses are likewise scattered an infinite number of cottages or small dwellings, in which dwell the workmen which are employed, the women and children of whom, are always busy carding, spinning, etc. so that no hands being unemployed all can gain their bread, even from the youngest to the ancient; anyone above four years old works.
Having passed the Caldar at Sorby Bridge, I know began to approach the town of Halifax. There are in it twelve or thirteen chapels, besides about sixteen meeting-houses, which they also call chapels. A clergyman in the town told me, they reckoned they had a hundred thousand communicants in the parish, besides children. They say the number of people in Halifax has increased one fourth, at least, within the last forty years.
The streets of Halifax are disgracefully neglected. This applies especially to the courts and cul-de-sacs inhabited by the very poor - including of course the Irish. I inspected several very closely and found them reeking with stench and the worst sort of abomination. The ash-pits were disgustingly choked, ordure and filthy stagnant slops lay freely and deeply scattered around, often at the very thresholds of swarming dwellings; and among all this muck, uncared for children sprawled by the score, and idle slatternly women lounged by the half dozen.
I talked to several in their cellars. One old woman who had been more than thirty years in England, talked dolefully of the decline of the hawking trade. She had frequently in her youth, she said, made 20s out of one house. But the poor people now seldom earned more than a shilling at the very most for a hard day's work.
Two strapping fellows sat smoking by the smouldering fire. The beds were greasy mattresses, partially covered with foul rags, and rolled up in corners. In another cellar which was almost totally dark, for which its occupant paid 9d per week, a grey-haired negro - an old man-of-war's man - had lived for seventeen years. He seldom or never stirred out - vegetating there in a world of dirt and darkness.