Lister’s Pride: the Manningham Mills chimney

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Periodically I am asked questions concerning the massive chimney which was built in Bradford for the Manningham works of Lister & Co. The dimensions of the chimney were huge, but are about the same as the Salt’s mill chimney in Saltaire, another familiar local land-mark. The chimney known as Lister’s Pride may not have been Bradford’s tallest but its commanding position on high ground results in it being visible from most parts of the city. There must be an element of Victorian monumentality in its design and position; form did not simply follow function. The chimney has rightly been described as the single finest piece of Bradford’s city architecture. On completion the dimensions of the chimney were published in the local newspapers. I have also had access to the written account of W.H. Watson. Although this account was written 80 years after construction Watson had partially scaled the chimney shaft as a young man!

The architects of the chimney, along with the vast mill it served, were the Bradford firm of Andrews & Pepper. The design was based on the Campanile in Venice. The builders, at a cost of £10,000, were J & W Beanland. John & William Beanland (Horton Lane) were famous Bradford contractors responsible for the construction of the Leeds Infirmary, Bradford’s Swan Arcade, Saltaire Mill (partly) and the Wool Exchange. A longer list of their activities has been given by John S Roberts (Little Germany, 1977). John died in 1890 and is buried with his wife Isabella at the city’s famous Undercliffe cemetery.

Construction took two years. The completed chimney was 249 feet high and, externally, 22 feet square at the base. The internal width was 10-11 feet. The design is notable for the presence of two elaborate cornices, one at 190 feet and one at the top. Although the visible material is beautiful honey coloured sandstone masonry there may well have been an inner skin of brickwork. There would certainly have been a final lining, in the lower part of the chimney at least, of heat resistant fire-brick. Beanlands possessed their own brick-works.

There are two stories told about the great chimney although the first is not well-known. In 1900 steeple jacks were working on the shaft and had laid ladders to the top. Mr W H Watson, then about 20 years old, decided to climb up and took the opportunity when the workmen were having a lunch break. He reached the first cornice, at 190 feet you’ll remember, and then thought better of it and came down. In his recollections he sounds disappointed at this failure of nerve but my feeling is, in free-climbing the ladders with no previous experience, he showed remarkable courage. He survived to become the mill’s manager and be recollected by my friend, the late Philip Townhill, as ‘the old man’ – a very respected figure at Lister & Co.

The second story concerns a lunch party held at the top of the shaft on the day the chimney was officially completed. This sounds highly improbable but was reported in the Bradford Observer of 19 November 1873. A group consisting of: Samuel Cunliffe Lister, Messrs. Andrews & Pepper, William Beanland and Francis Lepper (Lister’s project manager and agent) ascended. At the top a bottle of champagne was broken as a baptismal ritual. After this speeches were given and a ‘champagne luncheon’ served. There are occasions when it is hard not to admire the energy of the Victorians.

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3 thoughts on “Lister’s Pride: the Manningham Mills chimney

  1. I enjoyed this reminder of Bradford architecture, Thank you. What about the local story that it is possible to drive a horse and cart around the top? Do you know the dimensions of the very top?

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    1. Internally the chimney is an 11 feet square. Assuming there is no ‘batter’, in other words the chimney goes straight up, it will be a 22 feet square outside. So the thickness of the masonry will be 5.5 feet unless there was an external overhang, which there isn’t. If you had a coal truck with wheels that fitted the standard gauge (4 ft 8 inches and a bit) you could stand it on the masonry but it could not follow a circular path. Anyway unless you had external and internal shuttering fixed an intelligent horse would be much too sensible to move. Sorry, it’s a myth as far as I can see.

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