Life has been full with work, events and visitors, but a couple of weeks ago one of our daughters was giving a lecture at the British Science Festival, which was held in Bradford. We were very proud of her and took the chance of going up to Bradford to hear her lecture.
I'd taken a look at Bradford on Streetview and it had looked pretty depressing, so I wasn't expecting much. I was wrong, though. It is run down, but it used to be a big important city and gives the impression of being almost on the verge of turning the corner so it will be one again. It really felt quite welcoming. The station at Bradford Interchange was brightly decorated with flowers, and had helpful, friendly staff.
The city centre streets were clean and it was only a short walk to City Park. There, the City Hall dominates a new public space with an elaborate water feature/fountain/lights pool, which is surrounded by cafes and shops.
Every time we passed this pool, we saw kids having a lovely time. This little lad (below) caught my eye, he was enjoying himself so much, splashing with all his might and singing at the top of his voice. Unfortunately he was wearing his everyday clothes....
Suppose it was a bit mean of me to laugh when his mother suddenly noticed
We discovered that we had arrived during the few weeks of the year when City Hall opens its doors for self guided tours. It's a fairly new initiative, with volunteer guides of all ages, and items from the city's museums on show. So we went into the imposing front door....
and almost the first thing I saw was a miniature City Hall made by a local resident. I'm a sucker for miniatures.
The stained glass windows show Bradford's motto LABOR OMNIA VINCIT, "Work Overcomes All"- and the boar's head represents an old legend called the Boar of Cliffe Wood (click the link to read it). There is more about the coat of arms here, I expect the ram is a reference to Bradford's history of weaving.
The City hall is in best traditional Victorian sstyle (although in fact some of it is post-Victorian) and I am glad to report that it was obviously cherished - it was immaculate. The rooms are grand and high, and the corridors are long, with lots of mahogany, tiling and well polished brasswork. This fireplace in the banqueting hall must be twenty feet high, and the frieze above it shows various symbolic characters in life size.
I really did love this fireplace, very much the kind of fireplace you might find in Hogwarts. The marble looks like magical blue flames and that's the Royal coat of arms on the fireback.
My eye was caught by a large multi layered tapestry hung on the wall in this room. It's too intricate to show in detail, so I can only show you a part, but you might recognise the Bronte sisters, who lived nearby, and David Hockney, one of my favourite contemporary artists, as well as that boar's head again. It's a community effort made with all kinds of media by people of all ages, and it is called "The Threads that Bind Us." It was commissioned to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and the people behind it are a couple of artists called Morwenna Catt and Lucas Stephens. I liked the tapestry so much that I'd like to see more of their work.
Elsewhere in the hall, the city plate and regalia were on display, among other interesting items - including one of the few death masks of Oliver Cromwell in existence - Bradford was a Parliamentary place in a sea of Cavaliers at the time of the Civil War. Below is the Lord Mayor's Evening Jewel, although I have no idea if or why it is only worn in the evening.
Bradford was a cradle of the Industrial Revolution, so its heyday was in the nineteenth century. Its prosperity was built on wool and textile manufacture, and had about 130 spinning mills in its prime. If I'd had a car, rather than coming by train, I'd have taken a short ride out to one of the most famous of these mills, Saltaire. I've wanted to go there for years, and if I do I'll post about it, but meanwhile here's a link so you can see why I want to go.
So there was a display about weaving in one of the rooms, where local weavers and spinners were demonstrating on looms of various types. I think this lady is weaving jute.
Around fifteen years ago Bradford had race riots, but I have to say everyone we met seemed cheery and positive, specially compared to London. I only visited the city centre, so it might be different in other places, but it was nice, anyhow. When I left City Hall I came across these ladies from St. Vincent de Paul Society who had set up a living room tableau in the square. It was created from donated second hand furniture and ornaments in order to encourage local people to recycle large objects to help others.
One thing I have wanted to do for years is visit the National Media Museum (below)- which is free of charge and actually overlooks the City Park. It contains, among many other wonderful things, the National Photography collection and a BFI mediatheque where you can dial up a huge variety of films. But I only managed half an hour in one of the galleries when I had to go out and meet people so that's another thing that I'll have to write about another time.
In the evening the City Park fountains light up, and although it's hardly Piccadilly Circus, the cheerful atmosphere attracted quite a few party goers all dressed in Mexican sombreros. The atmosphere was fine, but there are a lot of pubs around - too many, in my view, for a city centre - and I'm not sure I'd want to be there by midnight.
However, all this sparkly modernity is only one aspect of Bradford. It is impossible to avoid noticing the large areas of dereliction and the neglect of so many bits of potentially wonderful cityscape. Many of the mills are derelict. The result is lots of beautiful wild flowers, but - !
It is sad indeed to see some of the ugly development that was inflicted on the city in the 1960s when many of the Victorian buildings were ripped down, The ugliest is a concrete monstrosity called Kirkgate, It was so hideous I didn't take a photo although I suppose I should have done. It's sad to see how neglected some of the solid well built Yorkshire stone buildings are which remain. These would make impressive offices, don't you think?
Too much of this, whole streets with crumbling shops, bookies, gambling parlours, pubs or low cost businesses, all built from this beautiful local stone.
I discussed Bradford's problems with a few people at the university and a couple of people said that one issue is the lack of middle class jobs in the town. An even bigger issue was that for eight years the site for a Westfield shopping centre lay completely derelict in the city centre - although it's now being built and will open soon. When that happens, perhaps footfall in the city centre will increase, and more of the old buildings will be brought back to life.
I was encouraged to see a bit of that already - this is the Wool Exchange, which has been re-used by a Waterstones bookstore.
Here is an interior shot from ground floor level.
There's a cafe upstairs, and this is the view from that.
Managed to cut my hand and bought band-aids in a fascinating pharmacy. This had been taken over by one of the chains, but the area was so run down they couldn't make it pay. It is now owned by a private individual who has turned it into something of a tourist attraction, as well as providing friendly service for prescriptions.
The splendid old drawers are all intact, complete with names, but it's a bit of a lucky dip what you will find - from fabulous expensive perfumes to cheap, cheerful ornaments, local products, and - yes, band aids.
... with all kinds of items from the shop's history on display.
I'm glad to say that it seemed quite busy and the staff were really delightful.
I don't see myself returning to Bradford this winter - last time I visited in the winter I nearly froze to death - but when warmer weather comes again, I'll try to go back and see if the new shopping centre has attracted more people to the surrounding streets. Bradford City centre has so much going for it, and at present it feels like a place that's just about to tip from the wrong to the right side of the tracks once more. I hope I'm right.