Mr. Henry Charles McCrea
of Shay Mansion and of Warley House, Halifax

Mr. Henry Charles McCrea was born on 17th May, 1810 in Dublin. He was the grandson of a well known Dublin schoolmaster and received his early education at the classical academy of the Rev. Thomas Huddard in that city.

At the age of fifteen he was placed with a merchant and ship owner in Dublin. In 1834 he came to Halifax where he worked with John Holdsworth as damask manufacturers, claiming to he the first man to introduce the weaving of damask curtains, tablecloths, etc., into Halifax. This may be the case, though damasks in the piece were being manufactured by James Akroyd & Son ten years before that date.

This partnership was dissolved a few years later. In 1850 he built the Lumbrook Mills where he carried on a successful business as a manufacturer of fabrics suitable for the upholstery trade. At the same time he completed the warehouse in Harrison Road and Trinity Road (occupied until 1983 by G. H. Gledhill Ltd., the cash-register manufacturer.)

In 1861 he sued John Holdsworth & Co. Ltd for infringing one of his registered designs based around the motif of a Persian star. Holdsworth's lost the case but spent the next six years fighting to overturn the verdict, finally losing in the House of Lords in 1867.

He was a generous man to Halifax in his lifetime and many memorials remain of his generosity. In 1860 he persuaded a number of local gentlemen, among whom were Mr. John Crossley, Col. Edward Akroyd and Henry Edwards (later Sir), to purchase land in Skircoat near Woodhouse Scarr for the construction of the present Albert Promenade, which was handed over to the Municipality on its completion. Each of the gentlemen concerned subscribed a share of the purchase price which was £5,000. Mr. McCrea explained the reason which prompted his action by stating that he was often charmed by the lovely scenery from the rocks, and as few people seemed then to visit the spot, "I felt that I should like them to visit the rocks as often as I did and enjoy the views".

In 1899, with Ald. Enoch Robinson, an old quarry and land at Highroadwell Moor given by Lord Savile, was developed and planned, later being presented to the town as the West View Park.

Mr. McCrea began his municipal career in 1860 when he entered the Halifax town council, later being made Alderman. He was elected Mayor in 1869 holding office for two years, finally retiring from the council in 1872.

During his Mayoralty he inaugurated several important schemes. He opened the new North Bridge and the new Southowram Road (now Beacon Hill Road), and turned the first sod of the Widdop reservoir.

He placed the Borough financial system on a firm footing, also being associated with converting the Halifax Piece Hall into a market and handing it over to the Corporation. Along with a Mr. Wavell, Mr. McCrea laid the foundation stone of the King Cross Constitutional Club (later the Queen's Hall and now a warehouse).

In 1874 he was unsuccessful in his bid to become M.P. for Halifax, the figures being: John Crossley 5,563, The Rt. Hon. James Stansfeld 5,473, and Mr. McCrea 3,927. Mr. Crossley and The Rt. Hon. James Stansfeld were Liberal and Mr McCrea Conservative.

In the course of his long life, Mr. McCrea filled many prominent positions. In 1864 he became Chairman of the North Pier Company at Blackpool, which had the distinction of being the first promenade pier in England, holding the office until ten years before his death.

He must also take credit for the first electric tramway in England at Blackpool, when he obtained the concession from the Corporation there for another Halifax man, Mr. Holroyd Smith, to institute the tramway system there.

Mr. McCrea was a Chairman of the Fylde Waterworks Committee and had held similar office with the old Calder & Hebble Navigation Company from 1885. For thirty years he was connected with the Colliery Company of Pope & Pearson of Normanton.

Other offices he held were a founder member of the Yorkshire Penny Bank (now Yorkshire Bank), Governor of the Crossley and Porter Orphanage and the Waterhouse Charities. He was one of the first members of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and a senior Borough Magistrate, being on the Bench for twenty-six years.

He is chiefly remembered now for his association with the village of Warley, which, thankfully, still retains its rural atmosphere.

He bought the Warley House estate in 1867, residing in the old house which had been built in 1769 to the design of Thomas Bradley, the architect of the Halifax Piece Hall. He had previously lived at The Hough, Northowram, and at Elm Grange, Parkinson Lane. Both Elm Grange and Warley House have now been demolished.

Along with a Miss Farrar and Mr. John Holdsworth and others, he subscribed liberally towards the erection of St. John's Church and Schools at Warley.

In the year of Queen Victoria's jubilee he entertained the residents of Warley to a large fête.

In 1841 he married Miss Walsh of Blackwall, Halifax, and had four sons and two daughters. He was survived by his sons, The Rev. Herbert McCrea, M.A., of Eastbourne, Mr. Arthur Selby McCrea, who later resided at Warley House, and his daughter Mrs. Mark Wood, of Liverpool.
In 1900, A. S. McCrea donated an ornate fountain to replace the Maypole at Warley which had been blown down and damaged in March 1899.

On the 24th May, 1901, Mr. McCrea suffered a nasty fall, fracturing two ribs, and he died after a short illness at Warley House at 5-30 p.m. on the 3rd June, 1901, aged 91 years, in the presence of his family.

He had lived under five English monarchs. George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria and Edward.

The interment took place at St. Paul's Church, King Cross, on Friday the 7th June after a long procession of forty carriages.

His daughter, Mrs. Mark Wood of Liverpool, contributed to the Royal Halifax Infirmary the sum of £5,000 to cover the cost of the Ward Pavilion which is known as the McCrea Ward. (Opened on 25th July, 1896 by the Duke and Duchess of York - later King George V and Queen Mary)
The Royal Halifax Infirmary was closed in 2002, some of the buildings demolished and others turned into apartments, opened for occupation in 2004.

© 2022 David W. Holdsworth  

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