Since the mid-nineteenth century the district of Little Germany has been one of Bradford’s architectural glories, but I have become interested in its earlier history. During most of the eighteenth century the area was pasture with a few cottages; much of the ownership was vested in the Vicar of Bradford. Some of the land, like so much of the city, was mined for coal although I know of no records that identify the exact location of the collieries. Changes occurred at the end of the century associated with the name Edmund Peckover.
Edmund was born in 1757 at Fakenham being descended from an old Quaker family. I am not sure what tempted him away from rural Norfolk: Horace Hird believed that ‘he could see at an early date that Bradford was going to play a dominating part in the world of wool’. If this is true then Edmund was percipient indeed since the city’s textile triumphs were a generation or two in the future. Another possibility is that his future partner, John Hustler (1715-90) of Undercliffe House, Eccleshill, was already acquainted with his fellow Quakers of the Peckover family and encouraged the move. Nobody was to be more influential than Hustler in promoting the growth of Bradford and its connection with the outside world through its canal (1774-77). He was also instrumental in the building of the now demolished Piece Hall (1773).
Whatever the circumstances of his arrival Edmund seems to have rapidly evolved into a prosperous merchant and wool stapler with warehouses in Canal Road. Although initially in partnership with John Hustler he later (Cudworth says in 1795) commenced banking on his own behalf. In 1803 he was joined in this enterprise by his cousin, Charles Harris, in the firm of Peckover, Harris & Co. Edmund never married and had no children of his own. The new company evolved into the Bradford Old Bank at Bank Street and then, in 1813, Kirkgate whereupon the Bank Street accommodation was offered for sale. Switching from wool-stapling to banking was not so very surprising since many Quaker families (Gurney, Gibson, Barclay, Hoare) were involved in such financial institutions. In the year 1803 Edmond was to be an important figure in supporting legislation enabling a commission to undertake various local government responsibilities such as night-watchmen, water supply and scavenging. He died in Bradford in 1810 at the early age of 53, still a bachelor. His name is commemorated in Peckover Street in Little Germany which you can see on the illustrated Council information sign. After his death Charles’s two brothers, Henry (1812) and Alfred (1824) became partners at the bank.
In 1797 Peckover had purchased an estate close to the centre of Bradford which had previously been glebe land. He began to construct a town house for himself called Eastbrook House (the East Brook being one of the tributaries of the Bradford Beck). The house was surrounded by a park and had a lake several hundred yards long. From the eventual lease advertisements (Leeds Mercury 1811) we know that the estate consisted of an orchard, gardens and 20 acres of meadow. The house had a dining room, breakfast room, drawing room, six good ‘lodging rooms and dressing rooms’, with attics, cellars and adequate accommodation for servants including a butler’s pantry. It was furnished by Gillows of Lancaster and London who were a famous furniture-making firm as yet un-united with Warings. The extent of the property shows well in the Bradford map of 1802. Eastbrook House is the central block marked ‘hall’.
The further development of the estate only began after Edmund Peckover’s death. His partner Charles Harris seems to have attempted to lease the house but eventually he evidently decided to live there himself, although at his retirement (in 1840) he moved to Fulford Grange, York where he died in 1847. The original Eastbrook Hall (Methodist) was built in 1825 on land purchased from Harris although this was replaced in 1903 by the more familiar Edwardian building. In 1832 a Quaker School was built nearby in Chapel Street on land given by Harris. This was opposite the first Temperance Hall built in 1837 (again on land given by Harris).
Despite the sales and gifts of land it can be seen from the first OS map, surveyed around the time of Charles Harris’s death, that the estate was left largely intact. Much of the adjacent land was the property of the Rev. Godfrey Wright who has featured several times in my accounts of Bradford nineteenth century history. Charles Harris’s brother Henry is well known to those of us who live in Heaton since for a long period he leased Heaton Hall and was known for his philanthropic work. His brother Alfred Harris took the lead in creating Bradford Fever Hospital off Leeds Road, and laid its foundation stone.
Eastbrook House had always been close to the Barkerend Bradford Union Workhouse (built 1790) but the map reveals how closely coal mining, in the shape of Bunker’s Hill colliery, had intruded on the estate. There were open country views only to the east. It may be that instability due to the mining led to the removal of the Bradford Workhouse to the St Luke’s Hospital site in the mid-nineteenth century. The final map shows how dramatically the built environment changed in the next 40 years. Modern Peckover Street marks the southern boundary of the old estate and the eastern border almost reaches Garnett Street. Harris Street and East Parade run through the centre.
Eastbrook Hall, formerly the Methodist ‘Cathedral’ of the North, was opened in 1904 but had stood empty since the 1980s. A major fire in 1996 left it derelict, burnt out and roofless. Restoration was finally completed, as apartments, in 2008. Much of the old estate is occupied by Little Germany, which is a 20-acre conservation area in the heart of the city. Is anything left of Eastbrook House itself? Horace Hird, writing in 1972, recorded that a remnant remained in the shape of three arched windows and a little tower, once part of the southeast wall. An hour’s walk up and down in the rain revealed no sign of it today, so perhaps it has followed the rest of the estate into oblivion. The area’s warehouses, or even its simple Victorian houses, are well worth investigating however.
Having totally failed to find Horace Hird’s tower and arched windows I was corrected, not for the first time, by local photographer and historian Kieran Wilkinson. By following his directions they are not difficult to locate. You need to walk right to the top of East Parade and turn left onto the Shipley Airedale Road. The are protected by a metal gate and fence. Kieran also provided me with this Google Street View link:
Horace Hird, Bradford Remembrancer, McDonalrd Book Co., 1972.
Susan Duxbury-Neumann, Little Germany: a history of Bradford’s Germans, Amberley, 2015.
Peter Higginbotham, Barkerend workhouse: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Bradford/