Halifax is a minster town, in the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. It had an urban area population of 82,056 at the 2001 census. The town is known as a centre of woollen manufacture from the 15th century onward, originally dealing through the Piece Hall. Halifax is known for Mackintosh's chocolate and toffee (now owned by Nestlé), that manufacture products including Rolo, Quality Street and Rowntrees. Shibden Hall is also based in Halifax. The Halifax Bank and Yorkshire Bank were also founded in Halifax. Halifax Bank is now part of HBOS and originally named, The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Yorkshire Bank now has its headquarters in Leeds. One of the largest textile factories in the world, at more than half a mile long, Dean Clough was located in the north of the town. The premises have since been converted for office and retail use including a gym, theatre, Travelodge and radio station.
The town's name was recorded in about 1091 as Halyfax, from the Old English halh-gefeaxe, meaning "area of coarse grass in the nook of land". This explanation is preferred to derivations from the Old English halig (holy), in hālig feax or holy hair, proposed by 16th-century antiquarians. The incorrect interpretation gave rise to two legends. One concerned a maiden killed by a lustful priest whose advances she spurned. Another held that the head of John the Baptist was buried here after his execution. The legend is almost certainly medieval rather than ancient, although the town coat of arms carries an image of the saint. Another explanation is a corruption of the Old English hay and ley a clearing or meadow. This etymology is based on Haley Hill, the nearby hamlet of Healey (another corruption), and the common occurrence of the surnames Hayley/Haley around Halifax. The erroneous derivation from halig has given rise to the demonym Haligonian, which is of recent origin and not in universal use.
The Earldom of Halifax took the name of the town. Its first creation, in the Peerage of England in 1677, was for William Savile, who was created Baron Savile of Eland and Viscount Halifax in 1668 and later became the Marquess of Halifax (this creation of the earldom became extinct in 1700). George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, (2nd order of the 3rd creation) became the President of the Board of Trade in 1748. In 1749 he helped found Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, in Canada which was named after him. He fostered trade, especially with North America. The Halifax River in Central Florida, United States, was also named after him.
Halifax is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, and evidence of the early settlement is sketchy. By the 12th century the township had become the religious centre of the vast parish of Halifax, which extended from Brighouse in the east to Heptonstall in the west. Halifax Minster, parts of which date from the 12th century is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The minster's first organist, in 1766, was William Herschel, who discovered the planet Uranus. The coat of arms of Halifax include the chequers from the original coat of arms of the Earls Warenne, who held the town during Norman times.
Halifax was notorious for its gibbet, an early form of guillotine used to execute criminals by decapitation, that was last used in 1650. A replica has been erected on the original site in Gibbet Street. Its original blade is on display at Bankfield Museum. Punishment in Halifax was notoriously harsh, as remembered in the Beggar's Litany by John Taylor (1580–1654), a prayer whose text included "From Hull, from Halifax, from Hell, ‘tis thus, From all these three, Good Lord deliver us.".
The town's 19th-century wealth came from the cotton, wool and carpet industries and like most other Yorkshire towns had it had a large number of weaving mills many of which have been lost or converted to alternate use.
In November 1938, in an incident of mass hysteria, many residents believed a serial killer— The Halifax Slasher —was on the loose. Scotland Yard concluded there were no attacks after several locals admitted they had inflicted wounds on themselves.
Halifax plc started as a building society in the town and is a trading name of HBOS, part of the Lloyds Banking Group. Halifax is twinned with Aachen in Germany. The A58 has a stretch called Aachen Way.
Halifax has benefited from Single Regeneration Budget, European URBAN II and the Home Office’s Community Cohesion Fund money through Action Halifax who have a vision for "a prosperous, vibrant and safe centre where all sections of the community can access opportunities to enhance their quality of life."
The ancient parish of Halifax was divided into a large number of civil parishes in the 19th century. In Halifax, a body of improvement commissioners or town trustees was created between 1762 and 1823, and the town became a borough constituency under the Great Reform Act of 1832. Halifax was incorporated as a municipal borough in 1848 under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and, with the passing of the Local Government Act 1888, became a county borough in 1889. Since 1974, Halifax has been the administrative centre of the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, once a part of the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire.