Explore the Iconic Wainhouse Tower in Halifax – An Unforgettable Adventure!

Exploring the iconic Wainhouse Tower in Halifax is an unforgettable experience. Located in Halifax’s BBC Happy Valley, this imposing tower is a sight to behold. It stands a magnificent 253 feet (83m) tall and is one of Calderdale’s most recognizable landmarks. But what is the story behind Wainhouse Tower? Why was it built and how do you explore it? Read on to discover all you need to know about this beautiful historic and architectural marvel.

Introduction to Wainhouse Tower

Wainhouse Tower is an imposing edifice built in 1871-1875 by John Wainhouse, a local Halifax businessman. The exterior tower case, over 2 feet thick, is made of local sandstone with a central brick chimney. There is a series of loopholes to give light to the spiral staircase and different vistas as you ascend Wainhouse Tower to the viewing platform.

Wainhouse Tower is a Grade II* listed historic building and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Halifax and Calderdale. It has become a symbol of Halifax and is a popular tourist attraction. Wainhouse Tower is a popular spot for visitors to take photos and admire the stunning views of Halifax and Calderdale from the top of the tower.

Why and How was Wainhouse Tower built?

Wainhouse Tower was built by John Edward Wainhouse, the owner of the nearby Washer Lane Dyeworks. Designed as a chimney by architect Isaac Booth (succeeded by Richard Swarbrick Dugdale) the tower, aimed to reduce the pollution caused by his dyeworks. Due to the Smoke Abatement Act having been passed in 1870, it was designed so that smoke did not linger in the valley below. Wainhouse Tower was to be linked by a 350m underground tunnel, as was the common practice in those times, to John Wainhouse’s dyeworks in the valley below.

The stone used to build Wainhouse Tower was from an adjoining quarry, and the work was carried out by Wainhouse’s own workmen. It is estimated that over 9,000 tonnes of materials were used. Each stone was quarried and dressed locally and cut to fit like a jigsaw. Although cement mortar was used, many of the cut stone pieces were dowelled together with copper pins.

As the tower’s height grew, each stone was hauled up the inside of the chimney by a tripod, positioned on the structure itself. A rope from the tripod was harnessed through a winch on the ground to a horse. One of the blocks of stone used to hold the winch can still be seen near the tower’s door at the bottom.

Abraham Buckley, the son of the site foreman lost an arm when the tripod collapsed, causing a large stone block to fall on him.

Wainhouse Tower was completed on 9th September 1875 and by that time it was obvious that it would never be used as a chimney because John Wainhouse’s Washer lane Dyeworks had been sold in 1874 to the works manager, Henry Mossman.

However, the sale did not include Wainhouse Tower because Mossman considered the unfinished tower to be a liability. However, John Edward Wainhouse’s neighbour and adversary, Sir Henry Edwards was on the Bench of Magistrates and Mossman was prosecuted on information supplied by the Smoke Abatement Officer. However, Mossman proved at the time that considerable efforts were being made at the dyeworks to abate the smoke nuisance by putting fans into the furnaces, demolishing six existing chimneys and erecting a single large chimney in their place.

Where did John Wainhouse Live?

The fascinating history of Wainhouse Tower’s construction and location adds to the interest.  John Edward Wainhouse, a prosperous dyer lived nearby at West Air, a house that he had also built – his house is now The Wainhouse Tavern on Upper Washer Lane, Halifax HX2 7DR, and it is in the Good Beer Guide with 6 real ales – and serves food 7 days a week.

Compare the two photographs below, which were taken over 120 years apart, and note the still existing various properties and road positions.

View looking East from Wainhouse Tower Balcony Halifax - late 1800s

View looking East from Wainhouse Tower in a late 1800s photograph. Note the local stone quarry is operational

Early 2020s photograph view from Wainhouse Tower Balcony Looking East

Early 2020s photograph view from Wainhouse Tower Balcony looking East

Interesting facts about Wainhouse Tower

Wainhouse Tower is a fascinating structure with many interesting facts associated with it. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Wainhouse Tower:

  • Wainhouse Tower was built by John Edward Wainhouse between 1871 and 1875.
  • Wainhouse Tower in Halifax is the tallest folly in the world at 253 feet (83m) tall.
  • Wainhouse Tower is the tallest building in Halifax (UK)
  • Wainhouse Tower is made of locally quarried sandstone and local bricks and is a historic Grade II* listed building.
  • Wainhouse Tower was originally built to be a chimney but was never used as such.
  • Wainhouse Tower’s internal flue has a diameter of 7 feet (2.1m) and this is surrounded by a winding staircase, from the ground up to the balcony.
  • John Edward Wainhouse’s neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards of Pye Nest, boasted no one could see into his private grounds.
  • Wainhouse decided to alter all this, therefore he ensured Wainhouse Tower would be constructed so that members of the public could have a good view of the whole district.
  • Wainhouse Tower’s main shaft is octagonal in shape and it has a square base.
  • The final stone was put in place in September 1875.
  •  It has been estimated that Wainhouse Tower’s final cost was as much as £15,000. 
  • 369 steps lead to the first of two viewing platforms of Wainhouse Tower, which is open to the public, and a total of 405 steps to the top viewing platform which is usually closed to the public.
  • Wainhouse Tower has also been known as The Tower of Spite and for some years its preferred name was The Octagon Tower.
  • During World War II, Wainhouse Tower was used as an ARP observation post.
  • Wainhouse Tower is now illuminated at night by a colour-changing LED system.
  • Wainhouse Tower is a popular tourist attraction in the parish of King Cross, on the south-west side of Halifax in the direction of Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.
  • Wainhouse Tower features in some Calderdale-filmed TV shows and dramas such as Happy Valley and Ackley Bridge.
  • Wainhouse Tower is open to the public on specified days including some public and bank holidays.

How Many Steps are there in Wainhouse Tower?

There are a total of 405 steps to the top of Wainhouse Tower. The spiral stairs are quite narrow and winding and can be quite a challenge to climb. It is recommended that you take your time when climbing the stairs as it can be quite an exhausting experience. The height of the tower is impressive and gives visitors stunning views of Halifax and the surrounding areas.

Wainhouse Tower Steps Inside and Brick Chimney Flue and Stone Wall

Wainhouse Tower Viewing Platform and Elaborate Stonework

Richard Swarbrick Dugdale, the second architect to be engaged in the Wainhouse Tower project was responsible for the elaborate galleries and the magnificent corona dome at the top. 

Wainhouse Tower Observation Tower Stonework and View
Wainhouse Tower Viewing Platform Stonework

What Can you See from the Top of Wainhouse Tower?

The panoramic view from the top of Wainhouse Tower is extensive, stretching as far as Kebroyd in the Ryburn Valley, Langfield Moor near Todmorden, beyond Blackstone Edge, Castle Hill, Huddersfield and the Emley Moor transmitter mast. On a clear day from the viewing platform, it is said you can see Blackpool Tower across the Pennines.

Wainhouse Tower Panoramic View Information Sign Photo with Locations Identified

Wainhouse Tower at Night

Wainhouse Tower at Night

The latest LED lighting system with a flexible app-based control platform easily allows different tiers of Wainhouse Tower to be illuminated independently of each other.

Location of Wainhouse Tower – Happy Valley

Wainhouse Tower rises above the mist of Halifax

Wainhouse Tower is in the parish of King Cross, on the southwest side of Halifax, Calderdale, West Yorkshire. The tower is a popular spot for visitors to take photos and admire the stunning views. The area has been used to film BBC’s Happy Valley.

Wainhouse Tower SatNav Address

9 Wakefield Gate, Halifax HX3 0HB

Wainhouse Tower Parking

Access to Wainhouse Tower via Wakefield Gate Footpath

There is no parking in the immediate vicinity of Wainhouse Tower but visitors may park nearby, for instance on Skircoat Moor Road (A646) then walk down Wakefield Gate, or park on Wakefield Gate if there is availability, taking the footpath on your right from Wakefield Gate to the base of the tower.

History of Wainhouse Tower after John Edward Wainhouse’s Death

Following Wainhouse’s death in 1883, Wainhouse Tower was sold in 1887 to Charles Barrett, a cloth merchant, and William Henry Dodgson Horsfall, an architect. They were both from Halifax.

In 1893, the pair proposed to demolish Wainhouse Tower, but this idea fell through, and nothing more was heard of its demolition.  An alternative suggestion that Wainhouse Tower should be presented to the Borough Council also came to nothing.

In March 1894, Wainhouse Tower was leased to Joe Brook Carrier at a rent of £15 per annum for the sole purpose of permitting people to ascend the tower –  even in those days, it was usual for the tower to be open to the public on Bank Holidays. 

In 1894, George Aked Blackburn of Northgate, Halifax purchased Wainhouse Tower; but he did not find a practical use for it, although, during his ownership in the early 1900s, some experiments were carried out from it with an electric searchlight by Walter Emmott (1854 -1935). Emmott was a great engineer and pioneer of telephony and electric lighting – he was known as the Father of Electricity in Halifax.

Successful wireless telegraph experiments were also carried out from Wainhouse Tower and W E Denison, of the Halifax Courier, operated his 2KD radio station there from 1909 to 2013. His radio station had a range of approximately 800 miles

In October 1912, the then-owner George Aked Blackburn decided to put Wainhouse Tower on the market with Mr. G.E Garside extolling the virtues of the structure, suggesting that the surrounding land could be used for burial purposes and the tower as a crematorium! The auction took place at The Boar’s Head in Southgate, Halifax, but there were no successful bidders.  Finally, on 30th May 1919, Wainhouse Tower was bought by Halifax Corporation for £450, which was raised by a Shilling Subscription Fund.

Planning an unforgettable adventure to Wainhouse Tower

Planning an unforgettable adventure to Wainhouse Tower is easy but there are a few things you will need to do in order to ensure you have an unforgettable experience.

First, you will need to check the opening times of Wainhouse Tower, then plan your visit accordingly because is only open on specified days. Check schedules on Eventbrite and entry tickets are also bookable through Eventbrite.

You will also need to wear comfortable shoes as there are a lot of stairs to climb. You should also take a camera or smartphone to take photos of the ornate building and the stunning views from the top of the tower.

Wainhouse Tower on an open day
Wainhouse Tower Open Days

Location Map of the Wainhouse Tower Folly and The Wainhouse Tavern(Formerly ‘West Air’, John Wainhouse’s home)

Finally, you should also plan to explore the surrounding area. There are a number of attractions in the Halifax area and you should take the time to explore them. Our current suggestions are:

The Piece Hall Halifax – The only remaining Georgian Cloth Hall in the World

Shibden Hall – the Home of Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack)

Halifax Town Hall

Dean Clough Mills Halifax

Halifax Pubs – BBC Radio 6 Music calls Halifax the Shoreditch of the North

Weekend in Halifax – ideas of what to do and where to go