Flashback: Views of Bradford 30 years ago
“DON’T look down! He snapped, as I nervously clung to the narrow iron staircase on the whitewashed wall inside the 200 foot tall Florentine tower of the town hall.
Carefully, I made my way to the top of a ladder with a steep drop – only to be rewarded for my courage with a great view of the city. It was the cold of November 1983 and I was with Clock Superintendent Bob Watmough, a fascinating and informative man who had just completed 30 years of service on the board.
At the time, it was a very different city. In the following article in the T&A, November 19, 1983, I wrote: “Bradford reveals itself as a city of domes: the three threatened cities of the Alhambra are in the foreground; the two green ones from the Odeon; and those of Britannia House, Yorkshire Bank and the Rawson Hotel. Fortunately my fears for the survival of the theater were unfounded.
From the four views of the windy parapet, 180 feet high, it was easy to appreciate the beauty of the city’s bowl shape. It seemed to offer an endless succession of views of itself, compact, busy, gray – silver in the dim sunlight – merging with midtones and receding towards the peripheral greens. From there, teasing glimpses of distant hills.
It is of course the height that gives the noblest views. There is a dizzying perspective of Walker Wood of Baildon Green, Saltaire in the foreground the color of the sand of the river, the mill a magnificent Italian fortress that I never tire of contemplating.
From Carr Lane meandering Crags to Wrose, the sweep of an exploded city skyline to a strip of green stretching all the way to Keighley still takes my breath away. I used to take an evening walk here in the late 1960s with my Staffordshire Bull Terrier and quite frequently witnessed the depressing and telltale sight of smoke billowing from another redundant mill some leaves in the city that had sort of set itself on fire.
Speaking of long views, I know little better than that of a walk around Beacon Hill, Wibsey, one of Bradford’s many places steeped in history. It was once one of the many lighthouses forming a chain across the country, ready to give warning of an invasion – or, luckily, to celebrate an important achievement. This eminence, nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, features an unbroken curve from the trees of Bowling Park to the rolling heights of Queensbury. The tall buildings of Manchester Road point a prominent line down where the eye goes to where modern structures clutter the familiar central tower. The roof of the Midland Road stand in Bradford City, the legacy of Geoffrey Richmond, still seems to evoke the exciting football era in which it was built. The city is there at your feet.
There was a time when much of Bradford looked dark and drab from afar, but the modern city wears only the lightest haze, making the views, even in the depths of winter, the most spectacular. A distant cluster of reddish rooftops in the Bolton Woods area catches the sun, and the eye is drawn to Wrose and the farthest bluish-gray of Aireborough. Rombald’s moor has a brownish-purple hue, rolling, lonely, mile after mile.
Though stretched out towards the horizon beyond the straight streets of Girlington, the eye inevitably focuses on a huge chimney, Lister’s 250-foot monument, still the central landmark of most perspectives of Bradford and formerly the largest silk factory in the world. It was here, during the winter of 1890-1891, that workers took part in one of the first and longest strikes of its kind. It is no coincidence that the Independent Labor Party, the forerunner of the modern Labor Party, was formed in Bradford soon after, at a TUC conference in January 1893. The great Keir Hardie was elected first president. The current party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, bears his name.
Heaton is marked by this squat spire of St Barnabas Church, an endearing and original sight since 1863. An expanse of olive green must be the leafy edges of Chellow Dene. Allerton has apartments and housing estates in open spaces where once there was not much except Aldersley Farm. Brown and red roofs clearly separate the old and new Thornton. And around the well-marked old Yews Green Road are open fields, an assortment of dark greens and browns. Queensbury and Denholme Road are five smooth curves with today a touch of textured pencil rain. I find the distant and local outlook one can get from walking around here, venturing into the lovely Shibden Valley, via Ambler Thornton, all the way to Queensbury, to be incredibly beautiful. From the aptly named mountain, located nearly 1,200 feet above sea level, the views are breathtaking, stretching on a clear day to the smoldering towers of Drax Power Station.
One of my post-Covid ambitions is to make a nostalgic return to City Hall, where I once worked at the Treasury Pay Office, to climb the tower while I still can, to watch the people have fun in City Park and compare the modern city with how I remember it. It is here very clearly that I remember hearing the mechanism of the clock click and click endlessly – a vivid metaphor for the passage of time! I don’t want to leave it too long.