Halifax is the sort of northern town where you'd expect to find a decent football or rugby league team. It has neither – unless your view is stubbornly partisan. But it does have an innovative theatre, which premiered Ted Hughes' last play, eight galleries, and a decidedly cosmopolitan restaurant, where the only nod to northern culture is the occasional appearance on the menu of black pudding (in French).
All this, along with at least 100 other galleries, studios and small businesses, are housed in a converted mill at Dean Clough. The complex of granite buildings, which covers some 18 acres, was built for the carpet manufacturer Crossley in the mid-19th century. By 1860 it was the town's biggest employer, with more than 5,000 workers.
Today, visitors are welcome to wander, viewing paintings on the walls of corridors which lead to computer companies, design groups and other small concerns, as well as a major wholefood co-op, the local VAT office, and a branch of BBC Radio Leeds. It's an unusual example of commerce and art working together, the vision of the local entrepreneur and musician Sir Ernest Hall, who bought the factory after it closed in 1983 and saved it from dereliction.
Barry Rutter bases his Northern Broadsides theatre company here, and he premiered Hughes' Alcestis in the Viaduct Theatre, according to the wishes of the late Poet Laureate. You can also find exhibitions by the experimental IOU theatre group, along with a permanent collection of more than 600 works by northern artists.
There are eight galleries in total, set in the austere architecture of the industrial revolution, one providing a permanent site for Derek Jarman's huge "GBH Series" of paintings. The Henry Moore studio, a light and airy space of impressive dimensions, offers artists of international standing the opportunity to produce large-scale projects. There is an air of exquisite tastefulness about the entire project, where even the design shop and book shop look and feel like galleries. Inevitably, the restaurant is called The Design House and it serves classy lunchtime snacks alongside its lunch and dinner menus.
Beyond the walls of the mill complex, Halifax is a disappointment, absorbing little of the creative energy which radiates from Dean Clough. But if there's time, head for the Bohemian settlement of Hebden Bridge, which houses artists, craftspeople, and the Alternative Technology Centre. This project was set up by a former juggling-ball manufacturer (he now uni-cycles and teaches fire-eating in his spare time) and is a green tribute to the small is beautiful philosophy. You can even pedal a bike to make the lights go on.
Dean Clough is off the M62. Take exit 24 from Manchester and the west, or 26 from the east. In Halifax, follow the brown tourist signs for Dean Clough Mills, the for reception and galleries. Open daily. Hebden Bridge is seven miles west of Halifax on the A646.Reuse content