architecture, belvedere, Column, Folly, Tower, West Yorkshire

Wainhouse Tower, Halifax, West Yorkshire

The Tower in June 2019.

Halifax has been much in the news recently following the restoration of the wondrous Piece Hall, a Georgian cloth trading centre on a monumental scale. But the town is also home to another amazing structure, the Wainhouse Tower, one of the country’s finest follies. Factory chimney turned witness to wealth, it thrusts 253 feet into the sky above the town.

The Wainhouse Tower c.1915. Courtesy of a private collection.

The story of the tower is initially quite straightforward. From the middle of the 19th century various acts of parliament gave local authorities power to prosecute any industrialist whose works caused ‘smoke nuisance’. John Edward Wainhouse owner of the Washer Lane Dye Works, began to build a tall chimney to carry the smoke far away from the factory. Local architect and surveyor Isaac Booth designed this structure, which was always going to be far more than a chimney. The plans were extant in 1912 and showed a ‘handsome plinth round the tower and an imposing entrance to the staircase’.

When Wainhouse sold the works only a couple of years later, the new owner refused to take on the liability of the lofty chimney. Undettered, Wainhouse decided to adapt the structure as an observatory and, let’s be honest, as a statement of his wealth and status.  Booth resigned from the project, apparently because of a conflict of interest with another client: one Sir Harry Edwards, of whom more in a moment. The tower was completed in 1875, at a huge cost, to an updated design by Booth’s former assistant, Richard Swarbrick Dugdale.

1914 postcard view of the tower. Courtesy of a private collection.

What gives the tower its local name of The Tower of Spite is a dispute between Wainhouse and his neighbouring grandee, industrialist Sir Henry Edwards. The two men were forever squabbling on all sorts of matters in the local courts, and Edwards, a Justice of the Peace, had on occasion to stand down from the bench to fight his corner. Newspaper coverage of the time shows that those in the public gallery thoroughly enjoyed these spectacles, and their reaction is scattered throughout the reports in parentheses: (laughter), (groans), (hear hear), (applause).

One exchange centred on an accusation that Wainhouse had said that ‘if he had a knife, he would have plunged it into Edwards’. Wainhouse denied this and was asked to vouch for his honesty:

Mr Bond: will you swear on that? Mr Wainhouse: I will swear on that and he is a —.

Sadly, Mr Berry, acting for Wainhouse, ‘interrupted the last sentence by requesting his client merely answer the questions’, so we will never know what insult Wainhouse had lined up.

During one of these cases it was alleged that the prosecution was brought out of ‘envy, hatred, and malice’, and certainly the two men appear to have gone out of their way to rile each other. In perhaps the ultimate example Wainhouse literally allowed the masses to look down on his enemy. Edwards lived not far from the tower, at Pye Nest, and was said to be passionate about his privacy. Soon after completion Wainhouse opened the tower to the general public at 6d a go: the panorama from the viewing platform would have been extensive, but there in the foreground was the Pye Nest estate for all to see. Wainhouse apparently denied he acted out of malice, but whatever the truth there was enough history between the two men for the nickname of The Tower of Spite to be born, and remain today.

Wainhouse’s former home, West Air, is now the Wainhouse Tavern. Grey skies on a bitterly cold and windy January day – wouldn’t have wanted to be at the top of the tower.

The tower changed hands on a number of occasions after Wainhouse died, until in 1919 it was bought by the Halifax Corporation, which continues to keep it in good repair and allow public access. Pevsner found it ‘flamboyant and fantastical’ and it is loved by the residents of Calderdale and beyond, often appearing in ‘top ten’ follies lists. You can see the exterior at any time or visit on one of the open days. But do limber up first – there are more than 400 steps to climb.

View from the top of Wainhouse Tower. Photo’ courtesy of VisitCalderdale.

For 2020 tower open days and more on visiting the handsome town of Halifax

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