I remember as a child in London finding my way to school in fog so thick I had to feel my way along the walls of houses. It was called ‘smog’ – a combination of smoke and fog. Halifax had the same problem. It was so bad that in 1837 Anne Lister described Halifax as ‘a large smoke-canopied commercial town’.
In 1870 along came ‘The Smoke Abatement Act’ which prompted John Wainhouse to build a chimney the following year. He owned the dye works in Washer Lane and was concerned about the contribution his factory was making to the air pollution – not to mention the effect it had on his nearby home (now The Wainhouse Tavern). He decided to build a chimney that would carry the smoke up and away from the valley and his home.
Before it was completed, Wainhouse sold his factory , making the chimney redundant. So he decided to change its purpose and annoy his neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards at the same time.
Sir Henry kept annoying him with various threats of summonses, so Wainhouse decide to get his revenge. Sir Henry cherished the privacy he enjoyed at his Pye Nest home and boasted that even when he was strolling round his grounds he could not be seen. Wainhouse decided to invade that privacy which he did by increasing the height of the chimney and turning it into a folly that the public could visit. He couldn’t know it at the time, but it was to become the tallest folly in the world.
It took over three years to complete and cost of £15,000 (over a million pounds today) being finished in 1875. Did Wainhouse achieve his objective? Yes indeed! Wainhouse Tower is over 250 feet high and the Victorian public could climb its 403 steps to the top and not only gaze into Sir Henry’s Pye Nest home’s grounds, but could see for miles in all directions. You still can on Bank Holidays, if you’ve got the energy.
Trish Colton’s A-Z of Halifax book launch is on 6th March at 7pm at the Old Rishworthians Rugby Club, Copley Village.