Halifax is a Minster town, within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. It has an urban area population of 82,056 in the 2001 Census. It is well known as a centre of England's woollen manufacture from the 15th century onward, originally dealing through the Halifax Piece Hall. Halifax is known for its Mackintosh chocolate and toffee (now owned by Nestlé), the Halifax bank (formerly Halifax Building Society), and the nearby Shibden Hall.
The name is first recorded in about 1091 in the form Halyfax, possibly from the Old English halh-gefeaxe, meaning "area of coarse grass in the nook of land". This explanation is now preferred to derivations from the Old English halig (holy), for example hālig feax (holy hair), first proposed by 16th century antiquarians. The incorrect interpretation gave rise to two local 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, though the town's coat of arms still carries an image of the saint. Another explanation for the name is a corruption of the Old English words Hay and Ley, 'hay' and 'clearing' or 'meadow'. This etymology is based on the presence of 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 also 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. The first creation, in the Peerage of England in 1677, was for William Savile, 1st Viscount Halifax. He had already been made Baron Savile of Eland and Viscount Halifax in 1668 and was later made Marquess of Halifax (this creation of the earldom became extinct in 1700; see Marquess of Halifax for more information). 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 to found the town (later city) of Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, Canada which was named after him. He helped foster trade, especially with North America. The Halifax River in Central Florida, United States, was named after him.
Halifax is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, and evidence of the early settlement of the town is sketchy. However, 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 go back to the 12th century, has always been dedicated to St John the Baptist. The Minster's first organist, in 1766, was William Herschel, who went on to discover 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 the Halifax Gibbet, an early form of guillotine used to execute criminals by decapitation, last used in 1650. A replica of the gibbet has been erected on the original site in Gibbet Street. The original gibbet blade is on display at Bankfield Museum, Halifax. 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 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 in Halifax believed a serial killer—The Halifax Slasher—was on the loose. Scotland Yard was called in, but they concluded there were no "Slasher" attacks after several locals came forward and admitted they had inflicted the wounds upon themselves.
Halifax has given its name to a bank, Halifax plc which started as a building society in the town. Nowadays Halifax is a trading name of HBOS, as part of the Lloyds Banking Group. Halifax is a twin town with Aachen in Germany. The A58 has a stretch called Aachen Way, with a plaque on the town-bound side of the road.
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 in the 19th century into a large number of civil parishes. In Halifax itself, 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 now-former metropolitan county of West Yorkshire.