During this period, Halifax also gained a reputation as ‘the most musical spot for its size in the kingdom’. Joah Bates, the talented son of Henry Bates, the Halifax Parish Clerk and innkeeper of the Ring O’ Bells, sang in the Parish Church choir and later achieved celebrity as the Director of the Handel Commemoration in London in 1784. He was probably responsible for introducing Handel’s celebrated oratorio, The Messiah, to the residents of Halifax. The oratorio was performed after the installation of an organ built by the renowned Swiss organ builder John Snetzler at Halifax Parish Church in 1766. The first organist was William Herschel, later the King’s Astronomer. One visitor to Halifax, commented in 1788 that even clothiers heaving bales of cloth at the neighbouring Piece Hall could be heard roaring out snatches from the Oratorio such as: ‘ For his yoke is easy and his burden is light’.

Text researched and written by Dr John A. Hargreaves


Artist’s impression of a gargoyle at the top of the Bell Tower; ‘angel’ detail featured in one of the stained glass windows, and the wooden ‘reed’ pipes from the organ (both Chris Lord Photography)
The ecclesiastical provision within Halifax parish, the largest parish in Yorkshire and the third largest in England, was increasingly stretched as its population began to grow with the expansion of the textile industry in the eighteenth century. Evangelical Nonconformity and especially Methodism thrived in the industrial villages and hamlets of the sprawling parish, posing a fresh challenge to the Established Church in Halifax, which by the end of the century had its first Evangelical Vicar.

John Wesley first visited the parish of Halifax in 1742 when he paid a courtesy call on the vicar Dr George Legh, describing him as ‘a candid enquirer after the truth’. Legh allowed Wesley and other Evangelical Anglicans to preach at the Parish Church and on one occasion lent Wesley his servant and horse to enable him to preach at Huddersfield. The Revd Dr Henry William Coulthurst, the first Evangelical Vicar of Halifax, founded a second Anglican church for the expanding town in 1795 dedicated to the Holy Trinity. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the first Halifax Dispensary in 1807 and the foundation of the Loyal Georgean Society. As a magistrate he later played a prominent role in suppressing the Luddite disturbances in the parish in 1812.

His successor, the Revd Samuel Knight (1757-1827) was the son of the Nonconformist Titus Knight, a coal-miner convert of John Wesley, who founded the neighbouring Square Chapel, the most magnificent Nonconformist Meeting House to be constructed in the town during the Georgian era.