Yorkshire's great piazza, a Cornish pub and the Rochdale Pioneers' shop

This is a transcript of episode 30 of our podcast series A History of England in 100 Places. Join Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, Dr Tristram Hunt, Charles Smith, Professor Emma Griffin and Nicky Chance-Thompson as we continue our journey through the history of industry, trade & commerce in England.

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Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Hello, I'm Dr Suzannah Lipscomb from the University of Roehampton and you are listening to Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places. In this series we're uncovering some of the amazing sites that have helped make England the country it is today. Ten expert judges are choosing from thousands of your nominations to find the 100 places that best tell England's story. We've explored seven different categories in this series so far, from Music & Literature to Science & Discovery but today we're continuing on the theme of Industry, Trade & Commerce. Our expert judge, Dr Tristram Hunt, who's the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, has whittled down your nominations to just ten and here to talk through some of them are my guests, Charles Smith from Historic England and Professor Emma Griffin, a social and economic historian from the University of East Anglia. Thank you for joining me.

Now, the fourth place on our top ten list is in Halifax in Yorkshire. The Piece Hall was built as a place for local merchants and buyers to come together and trade. It was built in 1779 and it's impossible to overstate just how impressive this Grade I listed Georgian site is. I mean, its beautiful honey-coloured stone…it's a majestic building with more than 300 rooms arranged around a central open courtyard and in these rooms the merchants of the time would have met, exhibited and traded their wares. Dr Tristram Hunt explains why this site has made his top ten.

Tristram Hunt:
The Piece Hall in Halifax is the Piazza San Marco of Yorkshire. This is the cultural response to the wealth coming out of cotton and it's a really important reminder that industrialisation wasn't all dark satanic mills, that on the back of the wealth of industry in cities like Halifax you had these great celebrations of a mercantile trading industrial culture. And they built beautiful buildings and here, at the Piece Hall, beautiful public spaces as well.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
I really like the point that our judge, Tristram Hunt makes there that the industrial revolution wasn't all dark satanic laws. He captures something about the huge sense of pride that this building showcases. The Piece Hall provided a place for the handwoven textiles of the pre-industrial era to be traded by individual merchants. But when trading practice began to increase in scale during the Industrial Revolution the factories and mills began to work directly with the merchants and inevitably the Piece Hall fell out of use as business transactions started to be carried out in a different way. It has recently been beautifully renovated and last year it opened its doors to local businesses again. It has even won two Historic England Angel Awards for its regeneration work. We went along to find out more from Nicky Chance-Thompson, the Chief Executive of the Piece Hall Trust.

Nicky Chance-Thompson:
The Piece Hall is the only remaining example of a great 18th century cloth hall. It's the only one that's intact and has actually been repurposed. The other one is in Eastern Europe. This was once the centre of world trade in terms of trading cloth. This was a very unique building and it attracted many traders from across the world to come here. The name Piece comes from a piece of cloth which measured 30 yards long and that's the size that was used to trade and sell pieces of wool which could be used for very grand fashionable garments that the people of the times wore. And the cloth was extremely valuable, so the Piece Hall itself was actually built like a fort and guarded by militia. That's how valuable the cloth was.

(sound of bell ringing)

For two hours a week on a Saturday the bell rang for business at half past ten and then ceased at twelve o'clock and you were fined if you continued to trade after that point. So, this rather grand building was built for two hours a week, which says something about the splendour of Georgian times.

(snippet of audio guide): That's 30 yard top quality cloth, 90 shilling. Well, I can pay 75. 90 shilling is the price.

Nicky Chance-Thompson:
The Piece Hall, through Heritage Lottery funding, has created a traders' room which has the sights and sounds of what it would have been like to have traded in the room at the time, including the size. When you're actually in there it feels quite claustrophobic, so you can probably understand why trading was limited to two hours. The rooms were all rented out to various different tenants who then held the rental periods for either years or months. The Piece Hall courtyard historically was used for military processions. It was used for gathering, bustling trade activity. People used to come here to socialise and so on back in Georgian times but actually there was a big divide between rich and poor, in that the rich were kind of contained within the four walls of the Piece Hall and there were many starving people that were living outside.

Really what we're trying to create here, like any other European square that you'd find across the world, any wonderful piazza whether it's St. Mark's Square, any square in France where you have really interesting shops, really interesting activities and of course the history of the area and everything kind of comes into play within the Piece Hall courtyard.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
That was Nicky Chance-Thompson guiding us through the fascinating history of the Piece Hall site. And as we heard there, the name the Piece Hall comes from the trading of pieces of cloth that were 30 yards in length, so the name itself captures a particular period in time when trade involved merchants who were working very much as individuals. Now, long before the Industrial Revolution, Halifax and Yorkshire were wealthy from their handwoven textile trade. Can you elaborate on this?

Charles Smith:
Cloth making is absolutely integral to the history of West Yorkshire, particularly, of course, Halifax. It can date back to the 12th century in Halifax itself and it was woven into the fabric of everyday life. If you go around Halifax and neighbouring towns and cities today, you will see lots of weaving cottages still around. But, of course, these people needed somewhere to actually trade and that's why in 1779 this enormous, elaborate Piece Hall was constructed and opened to an extravagant display of fireworks and celebration. And it really is the most beautiful, incredible building you can visit. I personally think it's absolutely one of the most important buildings in the whole of Yorkshire. It is absolutely fantastic!

Emma Griffin:
It's typical that the Industrial Revolution has a footprint that was already in place before industrialisation happened. So, the soil is not good quality around these parts of Yorkshire and you can't really grow crops, you can't have intensive agriculture in this area, so people use the land in the way that's best suited at the time, and that's sheep, and that of course gives rise to the wool industry. So, because of the quality of the land, the kind of land, the natural resources that are available, the wool industry has already become very vibrant and what we see with the Industrial Revolution is the mechanisation of an industry that was already there.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Did the need for these piece halls, or the Piece Hall decline? How did its uses change?

Emma Griffin:
Everything is being upscaled, the scale is larger. So, with the older system where people are working within their own homes, you have a lot of putting out merchants and a lot of need to show and to kind of... a lot of need for a space where people can take their goods and go and buy them and sell them and work them. So, with the increase in scale, you don't have such heavy footfall, if you like, on these areas. One of the other things that we see is that Manchester has started to become a specialist hub for trade and for commerce. So, part of what's happening over the 19th century is that this kind of merchanting activity is moving out of the towns where it had been very vibrant and important in the 18th century and early 19th century and becoming concentrated in Manchester instead.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
But we know, of course, the majestic building does fall into ruins at some point. It's quite moving if you look at the pictures of this, especially now that it's now been restored to its full grandeur. What about this regeneration project, Charles? What's happened there?

Charles Smith:
It's a really, really exciting project. I live just over the hill from the Piece Hall in Halifax and I remember visiting it when it was very much underused and underloved and really quite a sorry sight, it has to be said. Last summer I took my family to the grand reopening of the Piece Hall- huge amounts of money pumped in. And it's been absolutely transformed into a really exciting space where trade and commerce is happening through a 21st century expression of shops and cafés and bars, and it hosts gatherings as well for cultural events. So, it's really at the hub of community activity once more.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Yes, it can hold something like 7,500 people, can't it? It's sort of really at the heart of the community, once again.

Charles Smith:
Absolutely, which of course it was back in 1779 as well.

Emma Griffin:
A lot of the story of the late 20th century and the early 21st century has been about us finding new ways- we've still got the people there, we've still got the buildings- but we need to kind of live with the industrial heritage in a different way because we're not making stuff in anything like the same volumes as we were even 50, 60 years ago.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
So, the Piece Hall was certainly one of our grandest locations in this category and a good one to be kicking off this episode. But we've moving downscale slightly now, from business to pleasure, and time for a little refreshment as we go to location number five. Tristram Hunt explains why he's picked the Blue Anchor Inn in Helston in Cornwall.

Tristram Hunt:
The Blue Anchor is a reminder of some of the economic continuities in the face of industrialisation. Britain has had an incredibly long history of food production and beverage production and to have a celebration of beer, both as part of British culture but also as part of things we make and particularly in a county where we sometimes fail to recognise its earthy, economic, industrial heritage and Cornwall has that.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
Tristram there very much emphasising the importance of beer and the history and role of the brewing industry as part of their story of England! Now, not only is the Blue Anchor one of the oldest original inns in Britain but it also still has a working brewery that has been brewing on that site, as tradition has it, for 600 years. Beverages on offer include the inn's famous Spingo Ale and the site dates back to the 15th century. It was originally a rest house for monks- they brewed a strong honey-based mead because, of course, alcohol was thought to lower the libido and that's very helpful for a monk. Anyway, it's got quite a varied history, hasn't it, Charles?

Charles Smith:
It has, indeed. We believe that after the dissolution of the monasteries back in the 1530s the inn became a village tavern after the monks had to move out. And then it started brewing its own ale, as you mentioned. But its history is really interesting, as you go through the centuries. So, for example, 100 years ago it actually became so popular with local tin workers, tin mining being of course the local industry down there, that they were actually paid their wages at the bar!

Suzannah Lipscomb:
And it's a beautiful place. It's a little stone building with a thatched roof, just at the sort of entrance to the Lizard Peninsula. In fact, the name comes from the fact that it was originally a port that eventually silted up. But we shouldn't underestimate the importance of brewing in the history of England, should we?

Emma Griffin:
I think that's right. I mean, we're consuming very large quantities of beer and I think one of the other things that's very interesting about this example is it really kind of exemplifies how differently people used to live before industrialisation. So, in the 18th century if you want a mug or a glass of beer, you don't go to the shop and buy something that's been made in a different part of the country or in a different country altogether, you make that beer locally from the crops that you have locally available. So, I love the fact that the brewing is happening on site here. That's really emblematic of the way people lived before industrialisation and before some of the great improvements in transport that occurred that means we stop making everything locally but we specialise on one particular thing and we buy in the things that we don't want to do locally.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
But it's quite a colourful place, isn't it, the Blue Anchor? It has some unusual features and stories, hasn't it, Charles?

Charles Smith:
It's got a very colourful history! In 1717 the landlord was stabbed to death on site. In 1791 another landlord had his head fractured with a bayonet after a scuffle between a couple of soldiers. And then in 1849 another landlord, someone called James Judd, hanged himself in the skittle alley, which is actually still there and very much a feature of the pub. It's a more civilised place to go and have a drink today though, it has to be said.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
So, you have to be a brave person to take it on, apparently, but, anyway, it's in our list, the Blue Anchor Inn. It may be one of the smaller locations but it certainly had this incredible history and highlights this strong connection between a beloved watering hole and the local community.

Now, after our pub stop it's time for us to do a bit of grocery shopping as we move on from Cornwall to Lancashire. If you visit 31 Toad Lane in Rochdale today, you'll find the Rochdale Pioneers Museum which is on the site of a shop that commemorates the birth of the cooperative movement. Here's our judge, Tristram Hunt.

Tristram Hunt:
I've included the Rochdale Pioneers shop because out of the Industrial Revolution came new ideas about the organisation of society. And on the one hand industrialisation was this great celebration of capitalism read in tooth and claw and, on the other hand, out of it came ideas around socialism, communism but also cooperation and the Rochdale Pioneers were the pioneers of a new model of sharing wealth which came out of an industrial economy.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
So, Tristram here has chosen, again, a site that has a strong community feel to it. The Rochdale Pioneers were a group of 28 working people who opened a cooperative store here in 1844 at the height of difficult times for the working community. The mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more workers into poverty and the aim of the Rochdale Pioneers was to open a store that sold food to these people at prices they could afford. They were an early example of a social cooperative movement on a local scale. But let's try and understand the importance of this location, first of all, by talking about the wider cooperative movement, Emma.

Emma Griffin:
I mean, it's very easy when we think about the Industrial Revolution to think of dark satanic mills and poverty and immiseration but actually one of the things that occurs during the Industrial Revolution is that a lot of these new industries want healthy strong male workers and they have to pay a premium in order to get people to move off the land and into the cities or into the mines or wherever it is. So, we also actually get a kind of a rise in working class movements. Later we have the chartist movement where men are agitating for the vote.

One very early manifestation of that is the cooperative movement and the idea behind that simply- if you think of an industry or a factory that's kind of growing up in the countryside and there's no shops, there's no facilities, what's happening is the employers are very often providing all the goods in their own shop at their own prices. So, people are being paid quite a good wage but then they've got to spend a lot of that wage on buying the necessaries for life. And what's happening with the cooperative movement is people are saying: "well we don't want to work in this way, we will group together. We will all invest a small amount of money. We will buy, using economies of scale, the things that we want and set up a shop of our own and we will buy our things there and we will trade on a kind of cooperative basis." So, it's really an entirely novel and entirely different way of organising economic life and a really important part of our industrial history.

Charles Smith:
And it's something that the town of Rochdale really prides itself on today. The cooperative movement is absolutely part of what Rochdale is about today. So, a really important movement, both for Rochdale itself and, of course, internationally in terms of its influence.

Emma Griffin:
What's so very interesting about this particular cooperative movement is they wrote down everything about the way they were going to run their business and those records have all survived, so they're given a lot of importance in the history books. I think the cooperative movement is extremely important but I would also want to emphasise that there were lots of much smaller, much more ephemeral cooperative movements that were doing exactly the same thing but precisely because they were small and they were local, there was no recordkeeping that was associated with them and certainly nothing that survived.

So, Rochdale is really... is emblematic of a much broader movement that's going on and I think we need to, you know, recognise the depth, the great spread of the cooperative movement. The Rochdale Pioneers were enormously important in kind of codifying that movement and providing a template that other places could... a kind of a reliable template people knew would work that they could use in other areas. So, it's really about systematizing the cooperative movement. The Rochdale principles emphasise the importance of equality and democratic decision-making.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
And that tells us something about the history of the industrial revolution, doesn't it?

Emma Griffin:
I think that's right. I mean, it's very easy when you think about the Industrial Revolution to think about the places, to think about the machines, to think about the transport, to think about big physical objects and it's really easy to overlook the fact that the Industrial Revolution really transforms the very fabric of society: the way we live, the way we operate, the way we share, the way our country is governed politically, the way goods are shared out between workers and employers. It's a really fundamental social transformation. I think the cooperative movement is really emblematic of that. It's really about working people starting to say "we want a better share of the nation's wealth". I really love the fact that we've included the cooperative movement here. It really captures the social change that is going on with industrialisation as well.

Charles Smith:
And these are principles, of course, that we readily accept today. We never really challenge these principles that the cooperative movement was espousing. But it's important to remember that at the time it was actually all really radical stuff, which is why it's really fitting that this is in our 100 places.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
What about this building today, Charles?

Charles Smith:
Good news is the building's still there! You can go and visit it. It's now a museum dedicated to the cooperative movement, so it tells you the whole interesting story that we've just been hearing. But its history actually predates the cooperative movement. It was originally a warehouse and the cooperative movement had quite humble beginnings. Turned it into a shop in the 1830s, just opened a couple of days a week, just selling very basic sort of foodstuffs, just using barrels for people to sit on and it only actually lived there for about 30 years as a shop before it moved on to bigger premises and then, in 1931, it opened up as the cooperative museum that you can visit today.

Suzannah Lipscomb:
So, we've got this site as an example of social enterprise in action. Well, that's it for this episode. Do join us next time as we'll uncover two more important locations in England's Industry, Trade & Commerce story. And don't forget you can get in touch with us on Twitter. Just use #100Places, that's the number 100, to join in the conversation about England's irreplaceable locations. I'm Suzannah Lipscomb. Thanks to my guests, Charles Smith and Emma Griffin, and to our judge, Tristram Hunt. We'll have more irreplaceable locations for you in our next episode.

Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. When it feels irreplaceable, trust Ecclesiastical.

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