Bradford City Hall and Mirror Pool
Ted and I spent two nights in Bradford in November 2017. Despite passing through from time to time I’d never stayed there properly, so I sorted out a two night stay at the Midland Hotel. The hotel is an extravaganza of a railway hotel, completed in 1890 by the Midland Railway Company. It has some of the finest Victorian interiors in the city and must cost a fortune to heat and maintain. It is next to the much truncated Bradford Forster Square station. The room was large and comfortable and the breakfast fine. The hotel was quiet – hopefully they have enough functions in the public areas to keep it going.
Today, Bradford Metropolitan Borough has a population of 530,000. It grew hugely during the nineteenth century, a combination of soft water, coal and iron ore favouring the development of industry, in its case the woollen industry. As a result of this rich period, the city centre has many ornate Victorian buildings built of local sandstone. Though it has attracted new employers de-industrialisation has resulted in many problems, which have not been fully overcome. Proximity to Leeds probably doesn’t do Bradford any favours. Despite constant heavy rain for the first twenty four hours we set about exploring the area.
On the first evening we took a train to Skipton for a beer or two. Skipton grew as a market and mill town and remains the centre for a wide area of the Yorkshire Dales. It sits on the junction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with the Springs Branch Canal, important in the development of the town and now used for leisure. The visit didn’t start well, getting soaked through on the short walk from the station to the town centre. We scurried along to the Woolly Sheep, a traditional and popular pub, where we dried off over a pint in front of a roaring fire. The growth of micropubs has been significant – with at least four in the town. The first two we tried were either closed or closing by 8pm – presumably their main clientele is early doors drinkers (and Early Doors was the name of the closed pub. The other, the Sound Bar, is a combined pub and record shop which looked worth a visit). Near the canals the Narrow Boat served a nice pint but seemed a bit cliquey. My final port of call was the Boat House a small pub overlooking the canal basin. (I had the directions from the owner as he was finishing a pint as the Sound Bar closed). It was a fine place, friendly and must be very pleasant in good weather.
A young Ted on a visit to Skipton in 2004. The white building is now the Boat House pub.
The following day was used to explore Bradford between showers. The stone buildings help the town look prosperous at first sight. Wandering around is interesting – from old mills to the ornate Wool Exchange (now a Waterstone’s) and the extravagant city hall, surrounded by a new public square with a large mirror pool. In 2015 a new shopping centre, the Broadway, opened after having been a gap site for more than ten years and most of the chain shops have moved in there. This has left many empty stores in the main shopping streets and makes these streets seem run down – maybe they will bounce back in a couple of years as other uses are found for them. I had a look in Sunbridge Wells a new leisure complex in tunnels beneath the town centre, but it was deserted at that time of day and I didn’t stay.
The Wool Exchange
I found my way to North Parade, which has become a focus for trendy /alternative shops and several micropubs. I spent some time in the Record Café, a mixture of record shop, Spanish deli and micropub, which works well. Vinyl, ale (4 real ales) and ham – what’s not to like. My main evening call was Jacobs Beer House (pictured), in the middle of a traffic island on the ring road, an isolated reminder of what the district must have been like. It is a traditional pub selling a wide variety of beers and ciders in excellent condition on nine handpulls and, as a result, very popular
I didn’t have time to visit the National Science and Media Museum but I remember enjoying it from an earlier visit many years ago. What I did make time for was the other Bradford attraction – a decent curry. I chose the Karachi on Neal Street, which came recommended after a group visit from regulars in my local pub in Durham. It didn’t disappoint and cost next to nothing, for an excellent curry, cooked fresh in sight, several chapattis and jug of water. Mmmm.
The final morning we visited Saltaire, the model village founded by Titus Salt in 1851 for the workers in his new mill beside the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the railway line. The mills and village replaced older mills and slums in the centre of the city. The village was designed to catering for the workers every need, except the option to choose going for a drink over going to church. The village is attractive and still very much a living community. A quick look round suggests quite a mixed bag of people living there, in streets all named after members of the Salt family. The mill buildings are impressive – it has been a UNESCO world Heritage site since 2001. Since the mills closed in 1986 the main building has been turned over to retail use and features a substantial art gallery devoted to the work of Bradford born David Hockney.
From Saltaire it is a short walk into Shipley. The town centre is a bland brutalist 1960s shopping centre, but close to the centre and the station I found the Fox Micropub… a lovely pint and the landlord was busy measuring out juniper berries and cardamoms to start brewing their Xmas ale in the brewery out the back. And that was the end of the trip, as we caught a train to Leeds and onward to Durham.
The Midland Hotel, Forster Square, Cheapside, Bradford BD1 4HU, Tel 01274 735735. www.peelhotels.co.uk.
Bradford has frequent trains from Leeds, regular services from Manchester, York, Huddersfield and Preston plus several trains daily from London. Most serve Bradford Interchange station. There are frequent trains to Shipley, Leeds, Saltaire and Skipton Bradford Forster Square.
David Hockney’s pool in Bradford. Actually its set in LA and the painting is ‘Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool’.
Photo credits: All photos are by Steve Gillon except for the following, sourced via Google Images: Midland Hotel from en.wikipedia.org; The Woolly Sheep from TripAdvisor; the Wool Exchange from http://www.gumtree.com; Jacobs Beer House from http://www.beerintheevening.com and Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool from fineartmultiple.
Text and photos (except for those noted above) are copyright © Steve Gillon 2018.