Recently, fresh interest has been shown in Hope Hall, Clare Road, now The Albany Club. This is because it was once the home of Christopher Rawson, who appears as an opponent of the title character in the new HBO/BBC TV drama Gentleman Jack.

The house in question was completed in 1765 for David Stansfeld, a Leeds cloth merchant, descended from the Sowerby family of that surname.The separate wings were used as stables and a warehouse. An earlier house on the site had been known as Hunger Hill, which may have dated back to Elizabethan times.David Stansfeld died quite young in 1769, and the house was then rented out to other such as James Waddington, William Swainson and Richard Broome. Many who have memorials in Halifax Minster today.

In 1808, the property was purchased by David Stansfeld’s daughter, Nelly, wife of John Rawson of Stoney Royd–across the valley–as a home for her eldest son, Christopher Rawson, and his wife. Christopher married Mary Anne Brooks of Westminster in that year.The Rawsons–originally from the Bingley area-had made much money in the textile trade,and by the early 19th Century also ran Rawson’s Bank from Somerset House, Halifax.

Born in 1777, Anne Lister records that Aunt Ann Walker of Cliffe Hill told her that as a boy, Christopher had stolen money from his father’s desk.“His father said he was born a thief,” said Miss Walker. Christopher was disinherited for a time.

Having run away from home, Christopher served with the East India Company’s Navy in the China Seas.This naval service was distinguished, and in February 1804 as chief officer on the ship ‘Exeter’, he took part when the fleet of Commodore Dance engaged with a squadron of French ships under Admiral Linois, in which the latter were soundly defeated.  On his return to England, Christopher received commendations from the East India Company, along with two Silver salvers.

In 1808 they had no children.There are various references to them both in Anne Lister’s diaries.Initially popular with Anne, Christopher shared the same side in politics. He signed her membership Certificate for the Halifax Literary and Philosophical Society, of which he was president; and she was the only female founding member.She once described him as ‘a merry fat gentleman’ but they fell out over coal mining issues; becoming bitter enemies.

Christopher was powerful, being a magistrate, a deputy lieutenant of the West Riding, and Lord of the Manor of Southowram. He was also a great supporter of the local newspaper, the Halifax Guardian. So Anne Lister had to be careful! In his middle years’, he used to ride around Skircoat Moor on a dapple-grey horse. Later he would be driven round in his fine carriage, which was drawn by a pair of greys. He was popular in that he used to scatter coins among the local children as he passed. If a boy saluted him for fun by touching his own cap, Mr Rawson would always courteously do the same in return. Before his death he was even dubbed “The Father of the Borough.

Periodically he made short stays at Old Cragg Hall, in Cragg Vale, which he had almost entirely rebuilt around 1840, when he obtained possession of the estate. In 1830, on the south wall of the Halifax Parish Church,he funded the addition of oval window which was influenced by the Marigold Window in York Minster.

However, Christopher suffered some setbacks. For example, in 1835 the windows of Hope Hall were broken by “Radicals” following a closely contested General Election result.

Christopher Rawson died in 1849, and was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard, with his wife who had died in 1836. There is a fine memorial to the couple in the former church. This was carved by local sculptor Joe Leyland, who had been encouraged in his early career by Christopher.

For the first time in many years, Hope Hall will be open to the public during Halifax Heritage Festival on Sat. 14th and Sun. 15th September, from 11 am to 4 pm.

To be continued

David C Glover