54 years of celebrating, enhancing and safeguarding Halifax's built and natural environment.

Restoration of A mill and B Mill at Dean Clough, Halifax, and conversion to offices.

Since the Halifax Civic Trust Awards were launched in 1992 to encourage high standards of building and design the watchword has always been "quality" - high quality of design, of materials, of craftsmanship, of vision. And so the number of awards in any one year has varied considerably, from as few as one, as in 1996, when the award went to the restoration of two 17th-century cottages in Tetley Lane, Northowram, to as many as six in 2006, when the winners included the conversion of old Electric Cinema in Commercial Street into the Electric Bowl, the construction of new flats to a traditional design in Stafford Avenue, and the conversion of the Royal Halifax Infirmary into apartments.

Halifax Civic Trust Awards 2017
David Hanson

The Mayor of Calderdale, Howard Blagbrough and consort, with John Hargreaves, Chair of Halifax Civic Trust, and the Award winners

In this, the 26th year of the awards there is again just one - but it is a major project, indeed a landmark development for the site and for the town of Halifax. The 2017 Halifax Civic Trust Award is for the impressive restoration of A Mill and B Mill at Dean Clough, former home of the carpet making empire of John Crossley and his family. The £14 million renovation and conversion of the two mills for the Covea Insurance company very nearly completes the restoration of the huge Dean Clough estate; only Marshall's Mill on the edge of the site below the Burdock Way's Hebble Viaduct remains to be tackled. The resurrection of A and B mills marks the completion of the renovation of all the surviving great Crossley mills.

The Crossley story will be well known to many of our members, but for the record here is the short version! John Crossley, born in 1772, began his life in the carpet industry as an apprentice with William Currer in Luddenden Foot. In 1800 John married Martha Turner and in 1802 John, his brother, Thomas, and one James Travis leased Dean Clough Mill as worsted spinners. When the partnership ended John and Martha continued at Dean Clough Mill - which is thought to have been on part of the site now occupied by E Mill - and eventually bought it.

John and Martha had eight children and when John died in 1837, three of their sons, John, Joseph and Frank, took over the business and began a rapid expansion, thanks to the increasing use of steam power and advancing technologies in carpet production. A Mill and B Mill - originally Centre Mill No 1 and 2 - were the first to be built, A Mill in 1941 and B Mill in 1944, followed by the first of the weaving sheds Old Shed (Gripper Shed), of 1849 (now demolished), then C Mill (1850, demolished), New Shed (Axminster Shed, 1853, demolished), D Mill (1854), E Mill (1857), F Mill (1858), G Mill (1867) and H Mill (1869, pulled down to make way for Burdock Way, the Halifax Inner Relief Road). By 1879 John Crossley and Sons was the world's biggest carpet making company; Dean Clough Mills, with 1.25 million sq ft of floorspace, ran for half a mile up the Hebble Valley and eventually occupied as many as 5,000 workers.

The Crossley brothers, John, Joseph and Frank, used their wealth to improve and enhance their home town. They built an orphanage near King Cross, now Crossley Heath School, built Park Road Baths and were supporters of various Congregational churches. Joseph, who spent most of his time running the company, built almshouses in Arden Road. John, twice Mayor of Halifax, built Crossley Street and Princess Street, including the White Swan Hotel, in the town centre and provided the land for the building of Halifax Town Hall in 1863. He also created the workers' industrial village of West Hill Park, between Gibbet Street and Hanson Lane, and built himself a great mansion called Manor Heath. Frank bought Belle Vue house in Lister Lane and turned it into the finest Victorian mansion in Halifax. He built almshouses in nearby Margaret Street and then, following a visit to America, gave Halifax People's Park, one of the finest urban parks in the country. He was MP for Halifax and the West Riding and in 1863 he was created a baronet.

Expansion continued into the 20th century, the Elizabeth Shed being built as late as 1961. But Crossley's could not escape the downturn which was affecting the entire British textile industry. In 1969 John Crossley and Sons merged with Carpet Trade Holdings and the Carpet Trades Manufacturing Company, of Kidderminster, to form Carpets International. During the 1970s the Dean Clough mills were gradually run down and finally closed in 1982.

A year later the Dean Clough estate was acquired by a consortium led by Ernest Hall and Jonathan Silver with their plan to create a "practical utopia" of business living side-by-side with the arts, offering space to meet clients' needs, from as little as 100 sq ft to as large as 60,000 sq feet. Although Silver soon moved on to Salt's Mill in Saltaire, Ernest Hall (knighted in 1993) with fellow director Maurice Miller and Ernest Hall's son, Jeremy Hall, now chairman of Dean Clough Ltd, followed the Dean Clough journey, adding further buildings to the estate which were not originally part of Crossley's, such as Bowling (Dyke) Mill and the nearby Fearnley's Mill and Crossley's Mill, all built for worsted manufacturer James Akroyd and Sons.

More than three decades on Dean Clough now houses about 140 organisations employing around 4,000 people. They range from major concerns such as Lloyds Banking Group, the NHS,  the Benefits Agency and, now, Covea Insurance, a Travelodge and a Jack Wills designer outlet, to a huge range of smaller businesses, from artists to a bow maker, printers to graphic designers, and including restaurants, bars, a post office and even a radio station as well as arts organisations such as the Northern Broadsides Theatre Company and IOU Theatre, not forgetting Dean Clough's own six art galleries.


Staff gather on the new terrace outside B mill for the official opening of Covea's new offices at A mill and B mill Dean Clough in July 2016. In front are Covea's president Thierry Darez and James Reader, CEO at Halifax.

Faced with the gigantic task of restoring and putting to use 1.25 million sq feet of floorspace in a dozen huge multi-storey mills, the Dean Clough modus operandi from the start has been to restore piecemeal, one building at a time, perhaps one floor at a time, as demand and finances allowed. In the case of A Mill and B Mill the approach has been quite different. The two buildings, the oldest of the giant Dean Clough mills, had been empty for many years, were in places semi-derelict and had potentially serious structural problems. They were almost the last of the mills to be tackled and the probably the most challenging and expensive to renovate and convert to a new use. Dean Clough Ltd decided to draw up a plan and then find a tenant who could carry it out. The company engaged chartered surveyors Bonnington's, of Haworth, and Leeds architects Enjoy Design to produce a comprehensive restoration and conversion scheme to turn the two mills into offices that would attract a tenant with the financial clout to take on the project. It was Covea, the French mutual insurance firm, founded in 1999 and headquartered in Paris, which took on the challenge.

The firm's British subsidiary, Covea Insurance UK, was founded in 2012, when the French parent acquired and merged three longstanding British insurers. They included Provident Insurance, thriving specialists in motor insurance, founded in Halifax in 1996 and employing latterly around 590 people in various buildings scattered around the town, including in Blackwall, Crown Street and Harrison Road. Several sites were considered by Covea for its northern HQ, including space earmarked for offices at the Broad Street Plaza and the site of the demolished multi-storey Cow Green car park. But Dean Clough was deemed the best if, at £14 million, not the cheapest of the alternatives. Covea engaged Sheffield builders and developers Finnegan to undertake the work. The task was enormous. It included inserting new floors throughout the six-storey mills, shoring up part of B Mill, installing new lifts and stairs, demolishing an old lavatory block and building a new plant extension, reroofing both mills, providing new windows throughout, laying out a new external terrace and, of course, ending with a complete internal refit.

The mills were infested with pigeons and among the first jobs was the removal of an estimated eight tons of droppings. The "to do" list was formidable. All doors and windows were replaced, including the doors in the twin loading towers, which were replaced with full-height windows. All the stonework, inside and out, was cleaned. The cast iron columns which run down the centre of all the floors and the floor beams and roof trusses were stripped and cleaned. Parts of the old stone staircases were removed. The existing floors, supported by rows of cast-iron columns, were inadequate for present-day loadings and structural engineers Thomasons in Leeds determined that new steel columns would have to be built beside the old cast iron ones to support new floors, while the old timber floors below were retained as ceilings. In addition a section of B Mill was leaning outwards, towards the car park. More steel columns were erected inside the rear, north wall, to prevent further movement of that wall and they were connected to the new floor structure which was then bolted to the front, south wall to prevent that wall from moving further.


The rear (north) of A and B mills, facing Old Lane, showing the lavatory tower, water tank and general poor condition of the empty mills, which were built in 1841 and 1844. The tower has since been demolished and replaced with a modern, silver-clad enclosure housing electrical and mechanical plant. A and B mills were built into the hillside below Old Lane, which is why, although the buildings are six storeys high, only four storeys are visible on this side.

The floors at A and B mills are relatively narrow from front to back and the ground floor and parts of the first are even narrower - half the depth - as the mills were built into the hillside below Old Lane. On such a small footprint the architects were keen to maintain the existing openness of the floorspace and so it followed that any major new components should be built outside the existing footprint rather than inside. Thus two new lift towers were constructed next to the existing loading and stair towers facing the car park, the tower for B Mill also containing stairs. A new fire escape stair, though, was created within the building at the party wall between the two mills. At the rear, in the courtyard between the mills and a retaining wall which supports Old Lane, an old, dilapidated toilet tower, too small to be useful, was demolished and the site used for a new enclosure containing electrical and mechanical gear, essentially the air conditioning system for both mills.

These new-build elements were designed of light, neutral materials to contrast with the stone masonry of the Victorian mills. So the lift towers are glazed - as with similar towers at F Mill and G Mill - but at B Mill the glazing is married to high-quality panelling. The rear-wall enclosure, which is not visible from the front of the building, is four storeys high, rising above the eaves, in silver profiled cladding with silver louvres, an unmistakably modern contrast to the masonry massed behind. The redundant pedimented loading and stair towers, projecting from the main facade, have mostly been converted into meeting rooms - there are 33 of them altogether in the two mills.


The fourth floor of B mill before restoration. Note the cast iron columns down the centre. The old floors were not strong enough for modern loading and have been overlaid by new ones supported by steel columns. The old beams, joists and boards, now cleaned, remain as ceilings and a reminder of how the mills appeared.

The fifth floor at B mill, showing the old roof trusses, now beautifully renovated and exposed.

Apart from essentials such as toilets, cloakrooms and kitchen the openness of the old mill floors remains. The spaces are filled with desks with circulation along the line of the old and new columns down the centre of each room. The result is necessarily functional but the scheme has retained, wherever possible, existing architectural features and added one or two attractive new touches. Outside and inside, the beautiful Yorkshire sandstone has been cleaned and exposed. The old timber floors and joists remain visible, even though they now serve only as ceilings. Above all, on the fifth floor the original heavy roof trusses survive, restored and open to view. Signage on the various floors is colour coded, green on the ground floor, orange on the second, red on the fifth, for example. And beside the entrance to each of the loading tower meeting rooms is described a little piece of Crossley history, on the second floor, for example, some lines about Jacquard looms, the French invention that revolutionised textile manufacture during the 19th century, and on the third a mention of Karvel carpet, once used in motor vehicles.

Outside, landscape specialists The Landscape Practice, of Northallerton, have transformed what was once a dreary area of car parking between the old loading towers into a most attractive terrace. This area has been raised to ground floor level and new flights of steps, high quality paving, ramps, planting and a range of stainless steel furniture, from seating to handrails, installed. From here visitors enter the mills via a reception area at the base of the old B Mill loading tower, a spot marked outside by an attractive canopy and inside by a space that rises impressively through two floors. There is a second entrance, for staff, at the east end of A Mill. Apart from these entrances the ground floor has a cafe and coffee bar and also houses the company's facilities team. The first floor has a training area and human resources and the remaining floors deal with the business of insurance, apart from the fourth, where the company's IT teams are based. Covea at A and B Mills is now the largest employer at Dean Clough with 720 workers, and there is room for another 60.

The restoration and reuse of A Mill and B Mill is the latest - almost the last - stage in Dean Clough's near 40-year journey from dereliction to Sir Ernest Hall's "practical utopia". Sir Ernest retired in 2008 but the journey and the same ethos continue under the chairmanship of his son, Jeremy. What a brilliant idea - to combine the talents of business people with those in the arts and bring it to fruition in one of the world's largest collection of "dark satanic mills". Satanic they are no more. Instead we have a community of 4,000 people in 140 businesses and organisations, inventing, making, doing their own thing in a place buzzing with ideas and creativity in magnificent buildings magnificently restored.


A mill, right, and B mill at Dean Clough, renovated by insurance company Covea at a cost of £14 million. Prominent on the left is the new glazed lift and stair tower, built next to the pedimented former loading and stair tower. The mills house 720 Covea workers.

The Dean Clough journey has  been done prudently, step by step, and this place that once ruled the carpet making world is today acknowledged everywhere as a model for business regeneration. It's a job well done - in the sense that the organisations now based at Dean Clough employ nearly as many people as John Crossley's sons did more than a century ago. And well done also in the way the project has been carried out, with respect for the place, the buildings, the architecture. Dean Clough Ltd, Covea and their many partners in this thorough, honest and thoughtful restoration and revitalisation of A Mill and B Mill have done Halifax proud!

The first 21 years of awards

2015 Awards