Long Reads

The Colosseum was Constructed in 1846

1846 was a tumultuous period for both the local area and the International political environment, much of which impacted upon the reasoning and driving forces behind this building coming into being. The years leading up to it were quite interesting, particularly as it involved and impacted upon Huddersfield to a large extent.

Blame the French

Many historians consider the French Revolution to be one of the most cataclysmic events in human history, its ripples felt around the world, the driving force behind the Napoleonic Wars and the resultant battle against the United Kingdom.

One of these battles involved the French blocking ports around Europe and forbidding their allies to trade with the British, while Britain retaliated by banning all trade with France.

The result of the French Revolution was perceived as a warning to the British Aristocracy that they may be next, whilst at the same adding fuel to the Luddites cause, bringing the unrest to the working classes.

The result of the blockades were that by 1809 the effects were beginning to be felt in the British economy, which suffered most between 1810 and 1812, unemployment and inflation running rampant, bringing about the much anticipated widespread protests and violence.

The hardest hit sector in the economy was textile industry and the place where it was felt most was right here, in and around Huddersfield.

War with the US

At this time Britain ruled the waves and the strategy of tactical blockading progressed to threats of sinking those that broke the rules. This did not sit well with the United States, who then allied themselves against the British. At this time, the British also embarked upon a practice called 'impressment', which resulted in more than 15,000 American citizens being kidnapped and forced to help in the Napoleonic wars, which then all culminated in the United States declaring war in 1812.

This was then another blow to the textile industry, who could now also not sell their products to the United States.

Napoleon, an Insane King and an Assassinated Prime Minister

In 1809 Spencer Perceval became Prime Minster, a most difficult time, with considerable industrial unrest and things not looking too good in the war against Napoleon. Perceval received much support from King George III but within a year he was declared insane. Relations with the Kings successor Price Regent were far less cordial.

By 1812, Perceval therefore had a lot to contend with on the international front as well as at home. On 11 May 1812, he was shot by John Bellingham. Bellingham was disgruntled by the fact he had been arrested in Russia and the British Government did not do anything to try and help and subsequently settled in Liverpool, where his wife ran a millinery business with a friend.

There is talk but no proof, of Bellingham having lost his mind and of him possibly being coerced into the assassination by merchants in Liverpool. There is however, proof of talk of assassinating the Prime Minster being common within the Liverpool area at this time.

Many, most especially the hungry mill workers, saw Bellingham as a hero who had released them from the hands of an oppressor. Fearful of Bellingham being a catalyst for general insurrection, the authorities tightened their grip further, with the deployment of Foot Guards and mounted troops, while local watches were reinforced.

The Industrial Revolutions

The industrial revolutions helped shape and form Huddersfield as we know it today. The first industrial revolution brought us steam, the second brought us the industrialised manufacturing process and from that came the great woollen mills that would dominate the global economy for some time to come.

By 1846 the woollen mills were in full flow. The steam turbines driving both the machines and the water supply. Nonetheless, these were also hard times and while the industrialised manufacturing process brought with it great benefits to the Town and the wealthy, it was at the cost of a plethora of cottage industries.

Hard Times

After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, a brief boom in the textile industry was followed by chronic economic depression, most especially among textile weavers and spinners, the industrialist millers cutting wages from 15 shillings for a six day week in 1803 to 5 shillings or less by 1818, which was then compounded by rising grain prices for inferior product as a consequence of the Corn Laws of 1815.

In addition to an International political unrest, these hard times brought about the culmination of the luddites, with the plug riots, and the Chartist movement. To bring some kind of understanding to this period, at one end of the scale, 6 day week, 14 hour days were the norm for those working in the mills; men, women and children, some as young as 4 or 6, who were strapped with a leather belt for none performance, while at the other end of the scale, at its heyday, on their day off even the young children had the money to go out and buy the very clothes they had helped make, for their Sunday best.

It was also a time when only those owning property could vote, approximating only 11% of the population, much less in the Industrial Power Houses in the North West of England, Leeds Birmingham and Manchester for example, not having a single MP between them.

The Peterloo Massacre

This saw the rise of activists such as Henry Hunt and a final death toll of between 9 and 17 people, two of whom died as a result of gunshot wounds, with four to seven hundred injured in the resulting chaos in what has been dubbed The Peterloo Massacre, where in 1819, at his public address in Manchester before a crowd of 60,000 an order for his immediate arrest was made to the Manchester and Salford Yeomany, who charged the crowd, sword in hand, subsequently followed by the 15th Hussars also with swords drawn, culminating in the formation of Chartism around 1838 and a distrust of both the army (volunteer yeomanry and the British Army) as well as the ruling elite.

Luddites and the Plug Plot Riots

While initially seen as a benefit to Huddersfield Town, as the cottage industry and the industrialised mills worked in unison, to mutual benefit and great wealth was achieved, it wasn't long until the reality dawned on people and those in the cottage industries began to push back as their work slowly but surely dried up.

This culminated in the Luddite movement and the Plug Plot Rioters who in 1842 brought strikes across the north of England; While the Luddites effectively rebelled against progress through new machinery at the cost of manual labour and the plug plot rioters forcibly removing the boiler plugs in an attempt to force a general strike.

However, to use such tame descriptions is to wrongfully gloss over the actuality of events. William Hirst, for example, who ran a Mill in Leeds, employed ten men armed with loaded pistols to guard his mill at night. While Wiliam Horsfall, who ran a mill in Marsden, went one better and in addition to armed guards, built a barricade and backed it up with a cannon.

In the knowledge of such protective actions, the Luddites, hell bent upon showing they were a force to be reckoned with, had to target softer options. In order to avoid such armed force, one such action was the assassination of William Horsfall as he made his way home from Huddersfield market. As a direct consequence the Cavalry set up their headquarters at Marsden.

Chartist Movement

The Chartist movement was the first mass movement in history, driven by the working classes, a National protest movement but with particular strongholds in the North. The intention of Chartism was to bring about political reform by way of constitutional methods driven by the power of these masses.

However, the textile Towns of Yorkshire had suffered particularly badly during these times and therefore leant more towards insurrectionary activities and as such were not great followers of the Chartist movement. That aside, it is recorded that in 1842 more force was thrown at the authorities than in any other year in the 19th century. Wave after wave of industrial strikes was followed by the rejection of a chartist petition containing millions of signatures, igniting the flame that brought soldiers to open fire on crowds gathering in Preston, while in Halifax chartists attacked soldiers escorting prisoners bound to their cause.

Elsewhere in Europe there was greater violence a foot and revolutions set in place.

Safety of the Realm

All of the above sent the authorities into a panic, the government's concern leading to Queen Victoria being dispatched to the Isle of Wight for her safety, and the Duke of Wellington, with thousands of soldiers and special constables, was brought in to defend London.

Public Law

In reply to these threats and actions Parliament brought in the Frame Breaking Act that provided the death penalty for those who had engaged in such activity and 12,000 troops were drafted into the worst offending areas.

Whilst all of the above is hard to imagine today, equally as hard is the fact that the first professional police in England only came into place in 1829, Leeds for example only gaining a formal police force in 1836 and the first constables in Huddersfield commissioned under the Improvement Act, commenced their duties in 1849.

Period of Immense Change

As can be surmised from the above, there was much unrest across Europe, primarily driven by the fact that the common man was increasing in strength and no longer content to be ruled by Aristocrats. For it's part the North should be proud in its achievements, for although the Chartist movement itself eventually collapsed, it's legacy was Parliament's acceptance of the requirement to change and the resultant passing of the 1867 and 1884 Reform Acts said by the then Prime Minister Lord Grey to 'prevent the necessity of revolution'.

It is also fair to say that the North made it clear that the power of the people can bring about change and therefore must be listened to.

The Demise of the Aristocracy and the Rise of the Industrialists

It is generally accepted that the secret to the survival of the old aristocracy through the centuries was the mystique of grandeur they cultivated. They dressed, decorated and built to impress, so that no one dared question their right to rule, whereas the secret of their modern existence is their sheer invisibility.

Seeing how the aristocracy lived provided an aspirational element for the industrialists in all that they did. None more so than in their momentous attempts to effectively build their own armies on the back of the Yeomanry Cavalry.

Second West York (Prince of Wales Own) Yeomanry Cavalry

By 1842 there had also grown a huge political unrest between the ruling aristocracy and the wealthy industrialists and land owners, who were perceived by the aristocracy as far beneath them. That aside, the aristocracy had no workable answer to the 'commoners' inexorable increase in wealth. Yet despite their rise in wealth, their rise in social standing was impeded by the fact that peerages at that time were largely hereditary.

High ranking officers in the queen's army were also amongst the elite few, positions that were effectively impenetrable by such as the rich industrialists, however, participation in the Yeomanry Cavalry provided the perfect platform for those aspiring to such noble heights.

Yeomanry Cavalry were initially a rural, county-based force, that made up the mounted component of the British Volunteer Corps. While a Yeoman was a person of respectable standing, one social rank below a gentleman.

Up to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Government was heavily funding the Yeomanry, but as the years subsequently passed funding was cut and many of the corps disbanded. However, as the establishment of the police force was still in the transitionary period across the country, the law remained in place, allowing the Yeomanry Cavalry the right to manage civil unrest.

Therefore, as a direct consequence of the Chartist disturbances and the Plug Riots, on 3rd August 1842 the Second West York (Prince of Wales Own) Yeomanry Cavalry was formed by local mill owners to protect themselves against civil unrest and demonstrations by the Chartists and the Plug Riots of 1842. It covered Halifax and Huddersfield, with the headquarters at the Orderly Room, Halifax. There were 2 troops at Halifax and 1 at Huddersfield.

Whilst the group comprised many wealthy industrialist, merchants and land owners, the biggest land owner in the entire area was the Edward's family and it is widely accepted that in effect, the Second West York (Prince of Wales Own) Yeomanry Cavalry was the Edwards Family Regiment.

By now, the Yeomanry Cavalry was self funded, furnishing their own weapons, horses and uniforms etc. The most affluent in the group were also the highest in rank and they took this very seriously, shelling out vast sums of money on uniforms with such as gold appendages, in order to as closely resemble the formal attire of the highest ranks in the regular army as they could. In addition to effectively maintaining their own 'private' army to watch over their land, in return they were granted entry to the prestigious officers corp., which again elevated their social status somewhat.

With all of the above as a backdrop, it can be readily understood that these were very different times and dynamics to those we are used to today and one of the ways the authorities, and the rich, attempted to manage potential civil unrest was by way of encouraging the formation of such as the Second West York (Prince of Wales Own) Yeomanry Cavalry; the Government providing the legislative framework and the rich providing the money and resources to manage and run it.

The Colosseum Building

By now, a picture of the times all starts to become perfectly clear.

The wealthy mill owners and landed gentry were fearful for both their lives and their livelihoods and the government at the time actively encouraged them to take up arms in the lawful quest to dispel civil unrest and by putting their own money into it, their self-aggrandising could take virtually any form they chose.

Of course, having an army is only one half of the equation, the other half is where do they reside, train, stable their horses and secure their arms; and with the ever increasing threat of civil disobedience one would almost require a fortress.

To that end, a company of shareholders came together and raised the money to build a military riding school, specifically for the Huddersfield Troop of the Second West Yorkshire Yeomanry Cavalry.

Once again, this must be viewed in the light of the times. In 1846 it was nowhere near as easy to set up a company with shareholders as it is now and there was no such thing as limited liability; Each shareholder remaining personally liable for any debts or losses incurred by the company. As such, this was private money, provided by extremely wealthy individuals and as said previously, these people were determined to show their status and wealth by whatever means they could, one of which was by way of the buildings they constructed and the people they associated with.

At this time Huddersfield had its very first qualified architect, William Wallen and it was he who was instructed to build the Riding School. The building was constructed in 1846, at a cost of £2,400.

An authority in the historical buildings of Huddersfield has said that Wallen presumably took his designs from a book on the subject published 2 years previously but to make such a statement is to grossly undermine this exceptional architect.

The riding school used by the Second West York (Prince of Wales Own) Yeomanry Cavalry in Halifax was constructed two years earlier and is built to exactly the same size and proportions as The Colosseum in Huddersfield but as can be seen, they are two completely different designs and build, the Halifax riding school actually looking a century younger than The Colosseum.

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William Wallen

Born in 1807, he moved his practice to Huddersfield in 1838. Williams father John, under who William gained his architectural training, was a prodigious architect of international renown. John was the principal quantity surveyor in the City of London during the 1830s and was of unquestionable skill as demonstrated by the training he provided, spawning such renowned architects as Edward I'Anson and Sir Horace Jones who also went on to become architect and surveyor to the City of London, his most famous work being the Tower Bridge, said by many to be the most recognisable building in the world.

The City of London is littered with buildings using the exact same architectural profiles used in the Colosseum, some dating back centuries, several of which, the Wallen's had dealings with through their practice in the City. Similarly, all of John Wallen's pupils, at some time in their career, have reverted to the classic Italianate Palazzo style in their works and William Wallen was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and an authority on ancient Greek architecture long before he arrived in Huddersfield. It is therefore suggested that these credentials and experience are what he used to design the likes of the Colosseum and The George Hotel and not a book published two years before the construction of the Colosseum.

For those interested, see such as the Henry VIII Gatehouse at St Bartholomew's Hospital in the City of London and Horace Jones's Caversham Park.

Hopefully, it will now be seen that The Colosseum is not just any old random building but is a significant architectural piece, with an important place in Huddersfield's history, as is demonstrated further by way of it's legacy to date.

The Building That Time Forgot

As can be seen from the above The Colosseum has had a long and illustrious life and is quite a unique building, yet surprisingly it is not a listed building and as such, gradually over time has been subjected to some devastating building works.

By way of example, in contrast, when the building was refurbished in 1905 and three additional storeys were added, the entire top of the building was removed stone by stone, numbered and catalogued then each stone put back in the exact place it came from. Yet in 1967 to 1969 when it was rebuilt after a major fire, no such loving care and attention was paid. The horses at the front were mutilated unnecessarily, many of the delicate architectural features hacked off, hundreds of bolts screwed into the fabric of the stone to hold up cladding and the top of the building fudged back to how it was, leaving exposed red bricks which were then subsequently covered with plywood to hide them.

When we took over the building we set about planned stages of putting the building back to how it should have been. This was a huge undertaking on our part, involving the cataloguing and recording of every single stone in the building and a plan for the renovation of each stone and the replacement of the unsightly brickwork with original carved stone.

One or two complaints from the University later and an ill-informed knee jerk reaction from Kirklees Council and we were forced to forego our plans to bring the building back to it's former glory and instead rush the works and make it look superficially pretty. As such, going back over the work we have been forced to do to appease the council, the stonework on this impressive building will almost certainly now never be put back to its former glory.

It is a shame that those with the least knowledge or compassion have the power to force others to yield to their might and to the detriment of the masses.

More detail on the renovation of the stonework can be found here (coming soon) and the battle with Kirklees over the renovation of the front here (coming soon).

Plans for The Colosseum

Below is the original floor plan of the building before it was split into two.