Victorian Development by the Ramsden Estate in the Huddersfield High Street Heritage Action Zone
Investigating the George Hotel and Ramsden Estate Office in Huddersfield to inform their conservation and reuse.
The Huddersfield High Street Heritage Action Zone is a triangular area of mid-19th-century commercial buildings, bounded by the town’s station, John William Street and Westgate (see the first plan). Almost all of Huddersfield’s centre, within the A62 ring road, is part of the Huddersfield Town Centre Conservation Area, designated in 1981 and at risk since 2020. The High Street Heritage Action Zone forms part of Historic England and Kirklees Council’s work to improve the condition of the conservation area and its historic buildings, and to bring new uses to empty spaces. Architectural investigators researched two key buildings within the High Street Heritage Action Zone in 2020 and 2021 – the George Hotel and the Estate Buildings – to increase understanding of their history before redevelopment.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, was a small but historic market town until the 18th century when – encouraged by the Ramsden family who owned much of the town and the surrounding land – the textile industry brought trade and manufacturing. Its rich legacy of 19th-century buildings represents the town’s prosperity.
The valleys which converged at Huddersfield were home to textile mills, with associated industry such as dye and iron works. The Huddersfield Broad Canal (opened 1779) connected the town via the canal network to the North Sea; the Huddersfield Narrow Canal (completed in 1811) then linked it westwards, creating a trans-Pennine route with onward links to Manchester and Liverpool.
Building Victorian Huddersfield
The arrival of the railway in 1846-50 significantly accelerated the rate at which the town grew, connecting it to its markets and sources of supply. The station was constructed north of medieval Westgate, and the Ramsden estate sold leases of many large plots to the east of the railway station, including many along John William Street and within St George’s Square, to developers (see historic maps). The estate retained design control over what was built, employing the London architect Sir William Tite (1798-1873) to scrutinise the plans. Importantly, though, it built several complexes itself to maximise its investment, including a hotel, offices and a shopping arcade.
The George Hotel
The George Hotel (a Grade II* listed building) was built in 1848-50 next to the station (Figure 3), the two together forming two sides of an irregular but impressive open space, St George’s Square. Further buildings were added during the 1850s, including Lion Buildings (1853), Britannia Buildings (about 1858) and no. 7, St George’s Square (also probably 1850s). The newly-created John William Street – named for Sir John William Ramsden, 5th Baronet (1831-1914) – formed the eastern side of St George’s Square, connecting it with Huddersfield’s historic market place. The old George Hotel on the north side of the market place had to be demolished to build this street, so its replacement was given a prestigious new site near the station. It became a favoured meeting place and the charter founding Rugby League was signed there in 1895.
The new George was commissioned and funded by the Ramsden estate, and designed in 1848 by William Wallen (1803-88) of London and Huddersfield, who worked for the estate in the 1840s. His Italianate, classical design was typical of Huddersfield’s expansion in the late 1840s and 50s, using high-quality ashlar for the wall surface and the architectural details.
The George has an imposing and symmetrical four-storey elevation facing the square, with quoins marking the corners of projections and a decreasing level of architectural detailing from elaborately rusticated ground floor to cornice. The west elevation once contained an entrance directly opposite the station and this side of the building is decorative in contrast with the plainer east elevation. The basement housed the cellars, laundry, tap room and two parlours; the kitchen, large parlour, bars and two large meeting rooms (the Market and George Rooms) were on the ground floor; the large coffee room and Commercial Room were on the first floor with four named letting rooms. Bedrooms and bathrooms were on the second, third and fourth floors.
The hotel was enlarged at a date unknown, but before 1874: an east wing, at the rear of the hotel and evident on the 1893 map, was perhaps constructed very soon after the main building went up. Its plainer three-storey elevation faces John William Street. This east wing provided a large ground-floor room (probably for dining, as the original hotel lacked one), cellarage, a bar and a kitchen in the basement, three substantial rooms on the first floor and bedrooms off a central corridor on the second floor. A west wing, again at the rear, was added around 1874, with the bow window replacing the doorway opposite the station and a new kitchen on the first floor. The glass and iron south entrance porch was built in 1926.
The hotel was remodelled in the 1930s and this arrangement largely survives today. A grander entrance lobby was fashioned out of smaller spaces on the ground floor, and a substantial ballroom was added in the north yard to flank the east wing’s dining room. The Ionic pilasters and piers in the hotel’s interior are a feature of this phase. The west wing was replaced by one with three storeys and a flat roof; this contained staff accommodation and a laundry, with a single-storey kitchen in the northern corner of the plot. Further additions and internal rearrangements of the upper floors were made in the 1960s. The building has been vacant for a number of years and its fabric was deteriorating before the current investment by Kirklees Council and Historic England.
A new office for the Ramsden Estate
The Ramsden Estate was also responsible for constructing the Estate Buildings (listed at Grade II), which has elevations for nos 20-26, Westgate, nos 1-11, Railway Street and nos 9-13, Station Street. In 1868, Huddersfield became a borough with its own council, and the estate required a formal and town-centre location to replace their previous office at the Ramsdens’ Longley Hall. The new building was perhaps the estate’s attempt to stamp the family’s authority over an increasingly independent town and it required a substantial amount of demolition of older buildings on Westgate, Brook’s Yard (later Station Street) and Railway Street.
A local architect was chosen, Huddersfield-born William Henry Crossland (1835-1908). He became a favourite with the Ramsden estate, designing the neighbouring Byram Buildings and Arcade on Westgate in the 1870s and 80s. The Estate Buildings’ Gothic style was a break with the classicism used elsewhere in mid-19th-century Huddersfield, referring perhaps to the ancient bond between the Ramsden Estate and the town. Four storeys (three facing Station Street) of sash windows are given variation by the shape of their heads while visual interest is given by bays, pinnacles, turrets, gables and colonettes, slender columns acting as mullions in the windows.
The vast courtyard complex of 1868-74 has three principal parts with limited or no communication between them. The Westgate range has shops on the ground floor – a nod to historic Westgate and its proximity to the market place – with accommodation for a club above. The Railway Street range contained the Ramsden estate office (with its own entrance) and suites of offices to be let out. The Station Street range linked back to Railway Street, containing woollen warehouses and some office accommodation. An older building, nos 3-7, Station Street, was incorporated into the complex, the only survivor of the earlier warehouses and commercial buildings in this block. An arched gateway links this building to nos 9-13 Station Street: this was for carts to enter the central courtyard of the complex from which doorways led into the basement of all parts of the building. A further yard between nos 13 and 15 Station Street contained a loading door on the raised ground floor.
The estate office, entered from no. 7, Railway Street, was externally marked out by the row of armorial shields displaying the heraldry of the Ramsden family and its connections. It also has a grander entrance through a pair of arched openings, rather than a single one, in a canted projecting bay. The doors lead into a deep lobby with steps into an imposing hall. Designed to make an impression, it has a screen of pointed arches and a semi-circular staircase lit by 'grisaille' windows, featuring grey designs on clear glass with stained glass borders. The stair leads to the main rooms on the first floor, including waiting rooms, a first-floor strong room, and spaces for cashiers, the surveyor and the agent. The Corporation of Huddersfield used this building when the estate sold its Huddersfield property to them in 1920, and it continued to be used as council offices until recently.
The High Street Heritage Action Zone in Huddersfield
The area covered by the High Street Heritage Action Zone is one of the principal areas in Kirklees Council’s Huddersfield Blueprint, their ten-year plan to create a thriving, modern town centre. The station remains one of the town’s most important buildings as well as being a key transport hub; it forms the entrance for many people into the town who walk through its grand portico into the showpiece St George’s Square.
Its close neighbour, the George Hotel, closed in 2013 but is now being restored and refurbished. It will remain a hotel, with a prestigious operator agreed. New uses will be found for the Estate Buildings after essential repair work, part-funded by the High Street Heritage Action Zone, is carried out. Its Westgate range continues to be occupied by retail, leisure and domestic accommodation, and further domestic conversion could be considered for the other ranges. Its listed status is currently being assessed for upgrade.
Historic England is also funding a Conservation Area Management Plan for the extensive town centre conservation area. The importance of St George’s Square and the wider High Street Heritage Action Zone lies not just in the quality of its individual listed buildings, but also in how together the handsome stone buildings form an impressive ensemble, expressing both Huddersfield’s status as one of the great West Riding textile towns and how the area can be redefined with a new purpose within an historic context.
About the author
- Name and role
Lucy Jessop PhD
- Title and organisation
- Senior Architectural Investigator North East and Yorkshire region at Historic England
- Lucy has worked for Historic England and its predecessor for over 15 years, researching and investigating buildings and places. Her research interests are wide-ranging, but they include the design and construction of 17th- and 18th-century houses, and architectural patronage.
Binns, S, W. H. Crossland: An Architectural Biography (Cambridge, 2020)
Kipling, L., and Brooke, A, Huddersfield: A History and Celebration (Dinton, 2005)
Wyles, D.J, ‘Architectural Design in Nineteenth Century Huddersfield’, in Haigh, E.H. (ed.) Huddersfield: A Most Handsome Town (Kirklees Cultural Services, Huddersfield, 1992), 341-64.
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