The BBC drama series Gentleman Jack is only half way through but its impact is already being felt in Halifax, where it is both set and filmed.
Captivated by the true story of Anne Lister (1791-1840), who inherited Shibden Hall and its estate, well over five million viewers are tuning in to learn more about her remarkable life.
Highly intelligent, adventurous, outspoken and an astute businesswoman, Miss Lister is now celebrated as “Britain’s first modern lesbian” thanks to her audacious love affairs in an era when same sex relationships were a crime.
She was also a property enthusiast who spent a small fortune renovating the medieval Shibden Hall and giving it a Gothic tower.
Fran Sedda, head of Bramleys estate agency in Halifax, says it is too early to say whether Gentleman Jack will provide a boost to the town’s property market but adds that outsiders will no doubt be tempted to check out house prices in the area.
They will be pleasantly surprised. You can still buy a terraced house in a reasonable area for £60,000 in Halifax with semi-detached homes from £120,000.
The lowest priced apartments and terraced properties in the least desirable areas and in need of renovation start from about £30,000 while the most prestigious houses in surrounding villages sell for over £1m.
Chris Southwell is visitor services co-ordinator at Grade II* listed Shibden Hall, which is run by Calderdale Council, and he is no doubt of the impact of Gentleman Jack.
He says that visitor numbers have risen from 100 a day to 500 a day.
“Numbers have sky-rocketed,” says Chris, who has been inundated with calls about opening hours from American tour operators and people now keen to book a holiday in the area.
Much of the drama series was shot at the hall and highlights Halifax’s impressive architecture and the rugged beauty of the surrounding countryside.
“Halifax is not what you associate with a typical northern town. It is has a reverence about it now because of Anne Lister and because of the cultural offering, which has been raised by the Piece Hall,” says Chris.
Fran Sedda says that previous TV series, including Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley and Ackley Bridge, all set in and around the town, have also played a part in raising its profile.
“They are doing for Halifax what Last of the Summer Wine did for Holmfirth. They have created interest and are showing that Halifax is surrounded by stunning countryside.”
Fran adds that, like many areas, Brexit has affected the property market and there is a paucity of homes for sale.
This lack of supply is keeping prices strong amid high demand. The latest Land Registry figures for March 2019 shows that prices in the Calderdale area were up 3.9 per cent year-on-year.
It’s largely a local market with people trading up and down within the town. The most aspirational areas include Skircoat Green, Lightcliffe, Hipperholme and Warley.
Holmfield is also popular due to its top-performing high school.
“Price is what keeps a lot of people in Halifax. I’ve just been helping a young man in his late twenties. He works in Manchester city centre and wanted to live there but he couldn’t afford to and so he has decided to buy here and travel to work.”
Another tick in Halifax’s box is transport links to Leeds and Manchester. The M62 is on the doorstep and there’s a train station. It also has some outstanding schools, a theatre, cinema, Minster, leisure centre and an impressive number of museums, historic houses and galleries plus the Piece Hall with its shops, restaurants and events space.
Carol Browning of Hunters estate agency says there is a significant contingent of buyers who return to the town after moving away.
“A lot of people come back. Halifax is a small town but it has everything you could want and thanks to the TV series more people will know what they’re missing.”