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Source material: Acts

Although isolated local Acts of Parliament date from an earlier period (e.g. the 1555 'Halifax' Act), their starting point as a local history source is commonly associated with the 18th century. They were usually initiated by groups of individuals petitioning Parliament to consider a particular undertaking which was too public to be carried out without Parliamentary authority. As the 18th century advanced, an increasing number of Acts authorised new roads, waterways, urban improvements and enclosures, and these documents represent a vital resource for the historian attempting to plot the topographical transformation of a particular locality or whole region.

Availability and format

The Local Studies Collection held at the Central Library, Halifax, West Yorkshire has preserved a fairly comprehensive set of Acts. They are bound together in the main in groups that relate to the type of undertaking, and run from the 1730's into the 20th century. Each Act is made up of three elements:

  • A full title - summarising the Act's intentions.
  • A preamble - setting out the background to the undertaking.
  • The text - detailing the measures required to ensure the execution of the undertaking.

Local context

As far as Calderdale is concerned, the earliest local Acts are associated with the road transport revolution, which was effected by a series of turnpike trusts: The first one is dated 1735 and was 'an Act for repairing and widening the road from the Town of Rochdale in the County Palatine of Lancaster, leading over a certain craggy mountain called Blackstone Edge, in the same county, and from thence to the Towns of Halifax and Ealand in the County of York'. Following in the wake of this legislation came a whole series of Acts, ensuring the provision of a regional network of turnpike roads which progressively replaced the old hillside packhorse causeys around Calderdale.

Next came the navigation Acts, commencing with the 1757 Calder and Hebble Act, which extended the navigation of the river Calder as far as Sowerby Bridge. The waterways that resulted from this legislation can be regarded as the second phase of a transport revolution which was completed during the 1840s with the opening of the first railway line through Calderdale.

With the setting up of the Halifax Town Trustees in 1762 to supply the town with water came the first local legislation in the field of urban improvement to point forward to the great municipal undertakings of the Victorian era. Parliamentary enclosure represented a final phase of moorland reclamation which had been in progress on an ad hoc basis since medieval time, the first local Act being passed in 1778 to divide and enclose the commons and waste grounds within the township of Northowram.


When using local Acts it is important to remember that these sources are proof of intention but not of execution: some projects lapsed or were later amended. Nevertheless, they offer a wealth of detail concerning vital undertakings which made a dramatic impact on the local landscape.

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