Saturday, 20 November 2010

Bradford's Lost City

Britain’s Lost Cities is a book by Gavin Stamp, subtitled A Chronicle of Architectural Destruction. The destruction was by war and planning, the latter by local councils, but sometimes by other bodies like universities.

Bradford, my home city, features prominently, as it deserves to, and the pictures bring back memories of when I lived in the suburb of Great Horton, or perhaps Wibsey, on a hill on the western, Pennine side of the city, into the centre of which I would descend each morning on the bus, often leaving sunshine and sinking into smog that lasted all day, to get to the grammar school along the valley, running north from the centre, that carried the Beck in a sewer pipe to meet the Aire at Shipley. And at the end of the day I would emerge into late sunshine half way up the steep embankment of St Enoch’s Hill to Wibsey. (We speculated that St Enoch was probably a waistcoated and watch-chained Bradford Alderman, Enoch Priestley or Murgatroyd or some such.)

The trip involved two Corporation buses each way, both good and modern -- Bradford ran things well -- a regular motor bus down into town and a trolley bus out to Frizinghall, or possibly Manningham. (Your place names in Bradford depended on who you wanted to impress.) I got off the first bus in Tyrell Street and walked through to Forster Square (that’s Forster of the 1870 Education Act, another famous Bradford chap) for the trolley bus.

But if I had time I might walk up through the town centre for a change and get the trolley bus on Manningham Lane outside Busbys, the less posh but still respectable one of the two department stores. I’d be even more likely to take that route in reverse on the way home, when I had time to dawdle. One way would be via Ivegate, that looked like this.

Bradford had proper hills -- this was the foothills of the Pennines, all millstone grit rock that that city was built of, little brick and hence far more handsome than Leeds or Manchester, or so I thought, and I've never since been easy living anywhere without hills.

You can see the appeal of steep streets like this, obviously once a medieval country lane, now black with soot and full of interesting shops and firms and reeking of hot pies and fish and chips.

The other way I might go was up, or down, Darley Street, a handsome, evidently planned nineteenth century street from the heyday of Bradford’s civic pride when its concert hall, town hall and wool exchange were built and its fine parks laid out, still beautifully maintained in my day (as I think they still are). Behind the buildings on the left and accessed through wood-and-glass swing doors halfway up the street was Kirkgate Market, and above the entrance one of my favourite haunts, the Central Library with its huge collection, vast wooden tables and dignified reference library, a lovely place to browse or do homework and where I found much of the reading I most enjoyed (the other sources was a good school library) and dug out accounts of Ruskin’s visit to Bradford to advise on the architecture for the town hall. (The advice was rejected but the town hall was still a fine building.)

Anyway, towards the end of my childhood it all began to be destroyed by the planners and replaced by undistinguished and unlovely blocks and road schemes that are now themselves being replaced, if they haven’t already been.

So sad. Planning had been one of sources of wartime success and Labour’s hopes of building the New Jerusalem had rested on it -- and this is how it ended up, a disaster. Hence the passion and anger and despair of Stamp’s book.

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