The Antiquarians column with Sue Clough: Halifax Probate Studies talk with Sheila Graham and Barbara Hall

Rich history: Halifax Parish Church with its original historic medieval foundations.
Rich history: Halifax Parish Church with its original historic medieval foundations.

Todmorden Antiquarians welcomed Sheila Graham and Barbara Hall to describe their work delving into the Wills of Halifax inhabitants to reveal snapshots portraying their lives from 1688 -1700.

Members of the Halifax Probate Group have been working at York University studying these historic records for over a decade.

‘People all full of Business’ was Daniel Defoe’s description whilst travelling into Halifax from Blackstone Edge in 1726, not long after the relevant period.

Halifax was then a compact town with four main streets rising uphill from the Parish Church to Bull Green and Gibbet Lane. Halifax was a town of small trades-people, a thriving place for businesses, especially clothiers, drapers and haberdashers.

Much of Halifax township land was still farmed, with a cow or pig to sustain basic family foodstuffs.

Halifax was making goods and providing services needed by the inhabitants and nearby valley communities.

Only 10% of the population made Wills in the 17th century, mostly affluent folk, especially the gentry, and people with small shops and businesses in the town.

Few women left Wills.

The parchment Wills prove difficult for members of the Probate Group to read, but many lead to further investigations. The inventories described by Sheila and Barbara also took us imaginatively into private houses, hearing about furnishings, furniture and kitchen equipment, even chamber pots.

In these Wills and Inventories collected for their book, Todmorden Antiquarians gained glimpses into the commercial and economic life of Halifax town in those times.

Some Inventories also included lists of debts owed from loans.

The legacies gave information to ensure their families would be well-treated, their property secured for their children to be nurtured and educated.

We heard details of sample Wills including James Bentley an apothecary, John Dixon small shopkeeper and James Hodgson yeoman with land and butchering equipment.

William Maud was a yeoman-clothier – but he also left debts!

Thomas Drake had been a grocer stocking commodities such as spices, sugar, brown paper, even spice-medicine to treat horses!

‘People All Full of Business’ is the book title collating information that Sheila and Barbara gained from their ongoing studious historic research.