Bringing the past – and the near past – to life

Gill Fraser-Lee and Matthew Ward in costumer and character as Jane and John Caygill
Gill Fraser-Lee and Matthew Ward in costumer and character as Jane and John Caygill

Not just the new-look Halifax Piece Hall was on show this week – the spotlight fell on its heritage, with even a chance to meet the 18th century businessman who set the ball rolling!

Actors Matthew Ward and Gill Fraser-Lee were not just in costume but also very much in character as John Caygill and his wife Jane it was Caygill, whose family home was where the Shay Stadium now stands, who made the land on which the Piece Hall was built available at a very reasonable rent.

John and Jane Caygill - actors Gill Fraser-Lee and Matthew Ward - take a turn around the colonnades. Picture by Tony Johnson

John and Jane Caygill - actors Gill Fraser-Lee and Matthew Ward - take a turn around the colonnades. Picture by Tony Johnson

A day later, the couple were playing different roles, of the keeper - or caretaker - of the Piece Hall, Betty Wilson, and of trader Jeremiah Grice.

Gill said they had researched their characters and would be engaging the public in conversation. “It’s all about making it relevant, inclusive, enjoying history and fun.”

Matthew, who has appeared in television’s Poldark, said they would make their mark. “We play it large and we play it to the gallery!” he said.

Three new spaces – The Piece Hall Story, Trader’s Unit and Map Room – opened to explain more about the role the hall played in Halifax’s development and other period characters were around to tell the story in person.

More recent aspects of the regeneration are also covered in a photographic exhibition and, by contrast, work done by artist in residence Jake Attree, on show in the gallery next to the Piece Hall Shop. The works, in graphite or oil and pastel, tell the story of the regeneration through his eyes.

Also with an eye on the past, Emma Mitchell’s Silver Light exhibition showcases photographs she took of people and aspects of the work using collodian wet plate photography, which dates back to 1851.