The Rise of Industry
The origins of the Halifax date back to the Industrial Revolution, when small market towns across England were transformed into manufacturing centres. In Halifax, the textile industry dominated. People flocked from the countryside to work in the new mills and factories. Between 1801 and 1851, the population nearly trebled, rising from below 9,000 to above 25,000.
But the town was ill-prepared for this influx. Housing shortages led to severe over-crowding, squalor and disease. A solution was found with the newly emerging 'building societies'. Working men would club together to buy land and build themselves houses. Originally 'terminating' societies, they would disband once the last member had been housed.
Then came the 'permanent' societies, where workers could save their money long-term in a common fund, for a guaranteed rate of interest. This cash would then be loaned on, to enable people build or buy houses. Societies could continue to operate for as long as their members desired.
Enter the Halifax
In December 1852, a small group of men gathered in the Old Cock Inn, Halifax. Their aim was to set up an investment and loan society, for the mutual benefit of local working people. Those with spare cash could invest it; others could then borrow, using the funds to acquire a house. Lenders would receive interest on their savings; borrowers would be charged it.
By Christmas that year, the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society was formally established.
Rules were drawn up, and a chairman, trustees and directors appointed. Office space was rented in the Old Market, and an announcement placed in the Halifax Guardian.
Amongst the founding fathers were John Fisher, a local bank manager; J.D.Taylor, a solicitor’s clerk; and Esau Hanson, a textile manufacturer. All three played a pivotal role in the Society's early history. Fisher was elected President, and Taylor named Secretary (a position he was to hold for nearly 50 years). Then, on 26th May 1853, Hanson became the very first person to be granted a mortgage by the Halifax. He borrowed £121 to buy land on St. John’s Lane. Coincidentally, this land now forms part of the Halifax’s head office site on Trinity Road.
First Halifax mortgage (detail) granted to Esau Hanson, May 1853.
The First Fifty Years
Business was brisk from the start. People queued at the Society’s office each Friday night, eager to join the new venture. By pledging themselves to its rules and paying regular subscriptions, investors and borrowers alike became members. Those unable to make regular payments could still save their cash, but as depositors rather than members; they would simply lodge ad hoc sums, as and when they could.
Within a year, the Society had 584 members, and a further 144 depositors. More than £9,000 had been lent, with another £2,000 agreed for homes being built.
Branch offices were opened at Sowerby Bridge, Thornton and Queenshead (Queensbury) in that first year. Others quickly followed, with one as far afield as Huddersfield by 1862.
The head office moved too, first to Waterhouse Street, and then to the corner of Crossley Street. Such was the Society's success that it was able to build grand new offices on Princess Street, moving there in 1873. This was to be home for the next 50 years.
The Enoch Era
A giant in the history of the Halifax, Enoch Hill took over as Secretary in 1903. He was both President and Managing Director from 1928-1938. Hill had a profound influence on the development of the Society, and oversaw its dramatic expansion. In 1913, assets reached £3 million and the Halifax became the largest building society in the world. By 1927, assets had risen far higher to £27 million.
The 1920s brought a severe housing shortage, and a series of government-led national house building schemes. The role of the Halifax was pivotal, advancing money to developers at very low rates of interest. In all, the Society financed the building of some 14,000 homes - 60% of all the houses built under these schemes.
Expansion continued apace with a new head office on Commercial Street in 1921, and a London office in 1924. Offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh were opened four years later.
Hill’s biggest achievement was the 1928 merger of the Halifax Permanent with another local society, the Halifax Equitable Benefit Building Society. The new Halifax Building Society had assets of £47 million, and was five times the size of its nearest rival.
From Building Society to Bank
The advent of computerisation in the 1960s heralded an era of rapid change and innovation. The business of the Halifax was transformed - accounts were handled electronically and filing systems automated. A state of the art head office was built at Trinity Road in 1973. Branches were modernised and revolutionary cash dispensers installed.
In 1986, new legislation allowed building societies to increase their range of financial services. The Halifax steadily diversified into personal banking, stock broking, insurance and estate agency.
The 1990s saw a period of mergers and acquisitions. The most notable of these were the 1995 merger with the Leeds Permanent Building Society, and the acquisition of Clerical Medical the following year.
February 1997 marked a turning point in the history of the Halifax. Its members voted overwhelmingly in favour of conversion to plc status. The subsequent flotation on 2nd June was the largest the Stock Market had seen; some 7.5 million shareholders were created at a stroke.
A further acquisition was made in 1999 with Birmingham Midshires. Then, in September 2001, the Halifax merged with Bank of Scotland to form HBOS plc.
In January 2009, following unprecedented turbulence in the global banking market, HBOS plc was acquired by Lloyds TSB.
The new company, Lloyds Banking Group plc, immediately became the largest retail bank in the UK.
To find out more about the history of the Halifax and some of the companies it acquired, return to the Halifax family tree.
- A Hundred Years of the Halifax: the History of the Halifax Building Society 1853-1953 by Oscar R. Hobson (B. T. Batsford Ltd., London,1953)
- Fifty More Years of the Halifax 1953-2003 by Richard Barrow (The Amadeus Press, Cleckheaton, 2006)
- The History of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society, being a Jubilee Memorial of this Society (Reed & Co., London, 1903)
- Eighty Years of Home Building – The Halifax Plan (William Clowes & Sons Ltd., London, 1937)
- The Story of the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society from its Establishment to March 1921, souvenir publication on the opening of the Halifax head office on Commercial Street (Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society, 1921)
- Permanent as the Pennines, souvenir publication on the completion of the extension to Halifax's head office (Halifax Permanent Benefit Building Society, 1927)
- The Halifax Building Society by Sue Bamford (Wayland Ltd., Hove, 1983)
- The Strength to Change, Transforming a Business for the 21st Century by Peter Pugh (Penguin Books Ltd., London, 1998)
- Extensive archives relating to the Halifax are maintained by Lloyds Banking Group Archives in Edinburgh - for further information see our archive collections.
- Records and artefacts relating to the Halifax are also on display in the Museum on the Mound.