Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK
Created | Updated Apr 2, 2009
Bradford is an industrial city in West Yorkshire, northern England, with a population of about 301,000. The city grew rapidly in size, population and stature during the 19th Century and early 20th Century, largely due to the textile industry, which thrived in the city and its surrounding areas. In the middle years of the 19th Century, Bradford was one of the biggest centres in the world for the wool industry. The production of worsted was a local speciality. In 1841, there were 38 worsted mills in Bradford.
Naturally, there were sometimes conflicts between the mill owners and their employees. One such disagreement in the late 19th Century led to a key moment in the political history of Britain. A particularly bitter dispute over pay at Lister's Mill in Bradford led to a conference of trade unionists taking place in the city in 1893. At that conference, the decision was taken to set up the Independent Labour Party - the forerunner of the modern-day Labour Party.
Bradford was officially granted city status on 9 June, 1897. It became a Metropolitan District in 1974, and the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council is the local authority for Bradford itself and an area that also includes the nearby towns of Shipley, Bingley and Keighley.
The decline of the textile industry hit Bradford hard in the latter part of the 20th Century, and Bradford suffered as the north-south economic divide grew during the 1980s1. In more recent times, there have been some signs of economic recovery, but Bradford's reputation was badly damaged in July 2001 by an outbreak of rioting in its streets. A series of violent confrontations between the police, white racists and young Anglo-Asians led to more than 300 police officers being injured, two men being stabbed, and extensive damage to property2.
Such incidents hardly encourage investment in the city, and Bradford is still a place with more than its fair share of unemployment and poverty. Bradford tends to be overshadowed by the bigger and more prosperous neighbouring city of Leeds, which offers a wider range of shops and entertainment. Public transport around Bradford is largely inadequate, expensive, and mostly unavailable after 11pm, apart from the plentiful but pricey taxis. Most things are considerably cheaper in Bradford than in London or Leeds, but bus fares are a definite exception.
However, despite all its problems, Bradford still has much to be proud of, and much to offer the discerning visitor.
Places to Go in Bradford
The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television
Bradford's greatest tourist attraction is a free-to-enter museum that offers visitors a comprehensive account of the development of the modern visual arts, from the invention of the first camera obscura to the special effects used in cinema and television today.
The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television features interactive exhibits that enable visitors to see for themselves how some past and present visual effects work. It also includes TV Heaven, an archive of classic TV shows that visitors can choose from and watch in viewing booths.
Attached to the museum, and accessible via its foyer, is the Pictureville cinema. Facilities there include special screens and projectors for showing IMAX and Cinerama films.
Three film festivals take place at the NMPFT each year. The Bradford Film Festival presents new and classic films from around the world each March. The Bradford Animation Festival (BAF!) showcases the latest developments in animation every June, while the Bite The Mango festival in September celebrates the work of film makers from Asia and Africa.
The Colour Museum
The Colour Museum is an attraction unique in Britain and fascinating to explore. Its exhibits look at the world of colour from a variety of angles. They explore how we see colour, how our eyes can deceive us, how animals see colour, how red, green and blue can be mixed to produce any other colour, the significance that has been attached to different colours, and much more.
The museum is housed in a converted wool warehouse, and one section has a particularly strong connection to Bradford's past role as a centre of the textile industry. The top floor has exhibits tracing the history of textile dyeing, and explaining how textiles are dyed and printed today.
The Colour Museum can be found at 1 Providence Street, Bradford, BD1 2PW. It's open from 10am - 4pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, and closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Lister Park and Cartwright Hall
Lister Park is a picturesque public park about a mile outside Bradford city centre. It's situated on Manningham Lane, one of the main roads between Bradford and the neighbouring town of Shipley.
The park has had a lot of money spent on it in recent years, and now has some excellent facilities. They include a boating lake, tennis and basketball courts, bowling greens and a large, well-equipped children's playground.
Lister Park also contains the Cartwright Hall art gallery, where permanent and temporary exhibitions of modern and traditional art can be seen. Admission is free. Opening times at Cartwright Hall are 10am-5pm Tuesdays - Saturdays, 1pm - 5pm Sundays, and closed Mondays (Bank Holidays excepted).
The West End
Bradford University and the headquarters of Bradford College3 are situated close together in the west side of the city centre.
It's therefore no great surprise that many of the liveliest pubs and clubs in Bradford are to be found in this area, which is also home to the Alhambra Theatre (see below) and the heaviest concentration of curry restaurants in the city.
Bradford city centre tends to become almost uninhabited in the evenings from Sunday to Thursday - with the exception of the West End. There, a number of pubs attract students and theatregoers with cheap drinks, do a fairly lively trade all week, and become packed at weekends, when the West End nightlife continues into the early hours of the morning.
The Alhambra Theatre
Located at the junction of Morley Street and Great Horton Road in the West End, The Alhambra Theatre is an ornate, spectacular building that mainly hosts dramas or musicals, but also sometimes provides a venue for ballet, opera or comedy. For generations, it has also hosted a traditional Christmas pantomime each festive season.
The Alhambra is often a port of call for travelling theatrical productions previously seen in the West End of London. Less frequently, such shows come to the Alhambra before they reach London.
St George's Hall
Bradford's main concert hall, the St George's Hall, dates back to the Victorian era. It can be found in Bridge Street, near the travel interchange that contains Bradford Interchange railway station and Bradford's main bus station.
It is now used for all kinds of entertainment, from the possibly sublime (classical concerts) to the utterly ridiculous (tribute wrestling, in which unknown wrestlers imitate famous wrestlers). Between these extremes come comedy shows, brass band concerts and rock and pop concerts, with tribute bands dominating the venue's contemporary music offerings in recent times.
Little Germany is an area in central Bradford of particular historical and architectural interest. The buildings date back to the second half of the 19th Century. They are the legacy of merchants from mainland Europe who spent a great deal of money constructing imposing warehouses for the storage and sale of their goods. A large proportion of those merchants came from Germany, and their presence gave the Little Germany area its name.
Little Germany is still one of Bradford's busiest commercial areas, housing over 110 businesses and organisations and 3000 workers. It attracts around 100,000 visitors each year. The local authority is now promoting plans to develop the area by converting the interiors of some of the historic buildings into housing, hotels and offices, whilst preserving the distinctive architecture.
The Priestley Centre for the Arts
Situated in Chapel Street in the Little Germany area, The Priestley Centre for the Arts is a superb multi-purpose community arts venue used for theatre, visual art exhibitions, cinema and music.
The venue has its own resident company of actors, but often features productions by touring companies. It also hosts drama courses for both children and adults.
Bradford Central Library
Located in Prince's Way, near the Jacob's Well roundabout in Bradford city centre, the Central Library is an excellent research resource much used by the city's students.
It's also a source of free Internet access, with screens available on five floors of the building. Anyone can use the screens, regardless of library membership or local residence. The only snag is that demand is sometimes heavy, and you'll be limited to 30 minutes if anyone's waiting for a screen (and someone usually is).
The library is open from 9am to 7.30pm from Monday to Friday, and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.
The Curry Capital of Britain
Bradford has one of Britain's largest Anglo-Asian communities, largely because many Asians came to the city to find work in the textile mills during the early 20th Century. As that industry went into decline, more and more of the immigrants went into the restaurant business. Consequently, Bradfordians were among the first people in Britain to discover the delights of curry.
Today, Bradford's curries enjoy a national reputation, and it's not unusual for fans of Asian cuisine to travel long distances to enjoy the spicy delights in Bradford's eating-houses. Bradford is repeatedly mentioned in h2g2's own guide to The World's Best Curry Houses.
The Bradford Curry Guide is an independent, impartial guide to Bradford's curry houses, compiled by a group of friends who sample a different restaurant each week. It includes ratings and prices for each dish sampled, as well as comments on the service and the decor at each venue visited.
Sport in Bradford
Rugby League and soccer are both strongly supported in Bradford. Bradford Bulls4 is one of Britain's most successful Rugby League teams. The Bulls' recent triumphs include a Super League and Challenge Cup double in 1997, a further Challenge Cup victory in 2000, and another Super League championship in 2001.
Bradford's professional soccer club, Bradford City, joined the Football League in 1908 and won the FA Cup in 1911 - which was fitting, as the famous trophy had been manufactured in Bradford. But City dropped into the Second Division of the Football League in 1922, and spent most of the 20th Century in the lower divisions of the League.
Tragedy struck the club and its supporters on 11 May, 1985, when the main stand at their home stadium Valley Parade5 caught fire during a match. The old wooden stand rapidly turned into an inferno that killed 56 people.
However, City moved on from that dreadful day to embark on one of the most successful spells in their history in the late '90s. Bradford City won promotion to the FA Carling Premiership in 1999, and the club thus reached the top flight of British soccer for the first time in 77 years. They returned to the Nationwide League at the end of the 2000-01 season.
For most of the last century, Bradford had two professional soccer clubs. But Bradford (Park Avenue) FC lost their League status in 1970 and went out of business four years later. A new Bradford (Park Avenue) FC was subsequently formed, and that club now competes in the semi-professional Unibond League. The 'Park Avenue' name has been retained for old times' sake even though the new club plays at Horsfall Stadium in the Buttershaw area of Bradford, rather than the old ground at Park Avenue.
Bradford's best-known individual sportsmen of modern times have been a boxer and a snooker player. Richard Dunn became British and Commonwealth heavyweight boxing champion in September 1975, beating the defending champion Bunny Johnson on points to win the titles. Dunn then defeated Bernd August to become European champion in April 1976.
That win earned Dunn the right to challenge Muhammad Ali for the world title. The fight took place on 24 May, 1976, in Munich, Germany. But Ali proved to be too strong for Bradford's champion, winning the fight on a technical knock-out in five rounds.
Dunn's exploits are commemorated in the name of the Richard Dunn Sports Centre, a public sports complex situated in Rooley Avenue in the Odsal area of Bradford.
Bradford produced a world champion in 1986 when Joe Johnson triumphed in the World Professional Snooker Championship.
Johnson's victory was the biggest surprise in the history of the championship. Before the tournament, bookmakers were offering odds of 150-1 against Johnson winning the title. But he proved them wrong, defeating Steve Davis by 18 frames to 12 in the final at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.
Johnson almost repeated the feat the following year, meeting Davis again in the 1987 World Championship final. But this time Davis came out on top, winning the final 18-14.
The most celebrated living Bradfordian is the artist David Hockney. Born in Bradford in 1937, Hockney is world-famous for his paintings and his pioneering photo collages.
A permanent exhibition of Hockney's work can be seen free of charge at Salts Mill, a converted former mill building in the village of Saltaire, just outside Bradford. (See below under 'Sir Titus Salt').
Though now based in California, Hockney regularly returns to Bradford. He did so in June 2000 when the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council awarded him the title of Honorary Freeman6 of Bradford.
The novelist, playwright, journalist and broadcaster JB Priestley was born in Bradford in 1894, and became one of the most distinguished British writers of the 20th Century.
John Boynton Priestley first became famous in 1929 after the success of his novel The Good Companions, the story of a group of strolling players. He was a phenomenally prolific writer, producing over 120 books in a career that continued until his death in 1984.
A statue of Priestley now stands outside Bradford Central Library, and he is also commemorated in the name of the Priestley Centre for the Arts.
The composer Frederic Delius was born in Bradford in 1862, to parents who had come to the city from Germany. His father became a prosperous wool trader when Bradford's wool trade was at the peak of its success.
Delius emigrated to the USA in 1884, and ran an orange plantation in Florida. His experiences there, and the music of the workers at the plantation, strongly influenced his music.
The first public performance of Delius' music came when his composition Florida was presented in Germany in 1889. The show was a great success despite the fact that the musicians in the orchestra were paid in beer! It took much longer for his music to become well known in Britain, but in 1929 a six-day Delius Festival was staged in London.
Although he lived in France for most of his life, Delius celebrated the Yorkshire landscapes he remembered from his youth with his composition Over The Hills And Far Away. He was made a Freeman of Bradford in 1932, two years before he died.
William Edward Forster was born in Dorset in 1818, but moved to Bradford in 1841 in order to work in the wool trade. In 1861 he became one of Bradford's two Members of Parliament, representing the Liberal Party. He retained his seat in Parliament for the rest of his life.
Forster is mainly remembered for the vital contribution he made to the development of education for all in Britain. He explained that his main aim in politics was '...to get the children of the working classes out of the gutter by educating them.'
Forster was responsible for drafting the 1870 Education Act, which provided for education to be paid for from public funds, and for School Boards to be set up to supervise the creation of new schools. The School Boards were a dramatic success. In the four years following the passing of Forster's Education Act, 5000 new schools opened. Another 10,000 new schools had followed by the time of Forster's death in 1886.
Forster Square in the centre of Bradford is named in his honour.
Margaret McMillan was another Bradfordian-by-adoption who played a vital role in reforming the British education system. She was born in New York in 1860, came to Britain with her family in 1865, and grew up in Scotland. During the 1880s, Margaret and her sister Rachel both became supporters of the Christian Socialist movement.
They moved to Bradford in 1892. In the same year, Margaret and Dr James Kerr, Bradford's school medical officer, made a pioneering medical inspection of British elementary school children. Margaret McMillan and Kerr then began a campaign to improve the health of children. They argued that local authorities should install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals.
In 1894, Margaret McMillan was elected to the Bradford School Board, after standing as an Independent Labour Party candidate, and began to write books and pamphlets on the subject of education. She continued to write extensively on this subject for the rest of her life.
She moved to London in 1902, and resumed her campaign for better schooling for the children of the poor. One of its main objectives was achieved in 1906, when Parliament passed the Provision of School Meals Act, introducing free school meals for British schoolchildren. She became a London Councillor, and continued her work for education until her death in 1931.
Sir Titus Salt
Sir Titus Salt was born in 1818, and had become a highly successful Bradford mill-owner by the 1840s. By 1850 he was also Mayor of Bradford, and he became a Bradford MP in 1859.
But Parliamentary life didn't suit Salt. Pleading ill health, he resigned as an MP after two years. Troubled by the appalling conditions in which his workers lived in inner city Bradford, he decided to build a new mill in a cleaner, greener area on the outskirts of Bradford - and to build a new village to house the workers.
The new mill opened in 1853, and Salt then set about building his ideal village around it. He named it Saltaire, after himself and the nearby River Aire, and built housing, a school, a hospital, a library, and a church.
However, there was no tavern. Salt refused to allow one in his village7, partly because he wanted a sober workforce and partly because drinking dens were then often the venues for radical political meetings. Although Salt was certainly an enlightened employer by the standards of his day, there was a limit to his benevolence towards his workers. For example, he fiercely opposed legislation to prevent the use of child labour in mills.
In 1869 he was awarded a baronetcy, thus becoming Sir Titus Salt. He died in 1876, but his village is a lasting monument. Saltaire's buildings remain largely as he left it. The village is now a conservation area, and the mill has been converted into an art and crafts gallery.
The Brontë Connection
It would be stretching a geographical point to claim the Brontë sisters as Bradfordians. They were born in Thornton, near Bradford, and wrote their famous books while living in Haworth, a village some eight miles away. However, Bradford is the nearest city to Haworth, and the connection has led many a tourist to use Bradford as a base from which to go exploring Haworth and the spectacular moorland that inspired the Brontës8.
The Brontës are the most famous family of authors in the history of English literature. Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë lived tragically brief lives in the early-to-mid 19th Century. None of them survived beyond the age of 40, but all of them left behind at least one book that is still widely enjoyed today. Their best-loved works are probably Emily's Wuthering Heights (published in 1847), Charlotte's Jane Eyre (also 1847) and Anne's The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall (1848).
The whole village of Haworth is now a shrine to the Brontës. The centrepiece is The Brontë Parsonage Museum, the house where the sisters lived, It's now a museum with some of the Brontës' own furniture, clothes, writings, drawings and miscellaneous possessions on display.
Getting to Bradford
Bradford is situated in the centre of northern England, approximately 200 miles north of London, 40 miles east of Manchester and 208 miles south of Glasgow. It's easily accessible by road: the M606 motorway comes within a mile and a half of the city centre, and connects to the M1 and M62. Help in planning road routes to and from Bradford (or anywhere else in Europe) can be found at the AA9 and RAC websites.
Bradford has two main railway stations, Bradford Interchange and Bradford Forster Square. When travelling from Bradford Forster Square Station, it is easy to identify those would-be travellers who do not use the station regularly. They are the ones who, after buying their tickets, look at the screens that supposedly supply platform information, believe what they read and proceed to a platform. They are also the ones running around from one platform to another when trains arrive, and the foolishness of believing the screens becomes apparent. The seasoned Forster Square Station users are the people waiting in the little paved area next to the ticket office and the newsagent's shop, peering into the distance and waiting to see where, and indeed if, their trains appear. Long-distance rail journeys to and from Bradford usually, though not always, involve changing trains at Leeds. Detailed information on rail journeys to and from Bradford can be found at the Total Journey website.
The nearest airport is Leeds Bradford International Airport, situated in Yeadon, about six miles northeast of Bradford.
Further Bradford Resources
BBC Online has a comprehensive Bradford Online site, with local news, sport, entertainment reviews, discussion boards, and even web cams so that you can actually take a look at Bradford.
Bradford's main local newspaper, the Telegraph & Argus, has a truly excellent website offering detailed local news and information, interactive sections and a directory of Bradford curry houses.
Bradford Timeline is a superb historical site listing the biggest events in Bradford and elsewhere from 1066 to the present day.