It is now almost impossible to imagine Bradford as it was nearly 200 years ago. Areas which today are completely covered by roads and housing were then essentially breezy uplands crossed by tracks and streams. Farms with their barns and fields were still plentiful but, if you knew what to look for, the remains of colliery spoil tips were had long provided evidence of the mineral riches available to landowners underground. Rural trades such as spinning, tanning and corn milling had been practiced for centuries but within the last generation or two important new industries, iron smelting and factory based worsted weaving & dyeing, were already transforming the town. Bradford was, geographically speaking, rather a backwater but turnpike roads and a canal spur had recently made the movement of goods far easier, a process that was about to be completed by the construction of railway tracks. I shall do my best to describe a part of the present city at this time using another map from the Local Studies Library as a guide.
This map covers quite a wide area of south Bradford and must date from the mid-nineteenth century. It is written on tracing paper and is not going to last much longer without conservation. There is little internal evidence of its original purpose but I think unquestionably the main interest of its creator must have been the watercourses. I’m ashamed to say that until I started studying such maps in detail I used to talk vaguely about ‘tributaries of the Bradford Beck’ whereas all such watercourses once had their own individual names. The true Bradford Beck flowed from the west into the city roughly parallel to Thornton Road. Now hidden from sight in culverts it turns almost 90 degrees and flows out north towards Shipley, close to the course once taken by the canal, to join the River Aire. Its main tributary, the West Brook (formed from the junction of Horton Beck and Shear Beck) is still visible flowing in front of the Phoenix Building at the University, where generations of archaeology students have noticed it. The West Brook joins the Bradford Beck near the site of the old Beehive Worsted Mills, Thornton Road. But neither of these watercourses are mapped here. What we have are the Low (or Law) Beck to the left which joins the Bowling Beck, to the right, above Bowling Old Mill. The result, called Bowling Mill Beck I believe, then went under Cuckoo Bridge to join the Bradford Beck itself. The map surveyor also recorded goits, dams and sluices and, in use, someone has identified points along the Low Beck with written letters of the alphabet.
Between L & M, near Chapel Green, some map user has written ‘pit quarry’ but in general however the map-maker was not interested in the extraction industries. In reality the whole area would have been covered by both working and disused collieries and quarries, as the first OS map of the area illustrates. The lower part of the map would also have been crossed and recrossed by mineral ways supplying nearby Bowling Iron Works with locally dug iron-ore and coking coal.
Determining the plan’s exact date is quite difficult. The overall arrangement of buildings closely resembles the 1849 borough map. It is odd that St James’s Church (constructed in 1838) is not drawn. Possibly the map-maker used an older original and simply added only those additional features that concerned him. A straight but interrupted line marks the course of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway into Drake Street station (1850), although the station itself is not mapped. The curved track from Bowling Junction to Laisterdyke is drawn as a continuous line. This railway, constructed in 1854, enabled Halifax to Leeds trains to avoid the delays caused by reversing out of Bradford. Drake Street then, like Bradford Interchange today, was a terminus. Plans to construct a line through the city connecting it to Forster Square station, and thus allowing through rail traffic, have always come to nothing. I assume that, since none of the stations or junctions are named, the lines were added after the map was drawn or perhaps when it was copied from an older original. I cannot say why the Adolphus Street station to Leeds line, also opened in 1854, was not included at the same time.
It is interesting to note that although south Bradford is largely rural both Bowling Dye Works and Bowling New Dye Works are present. It seems that soft Yorkshire water was very satisfactory for textile dyeing. Bowling Dye Works had been built at Spring Wood in 1822 but the business had been founded much earlier by the grandfather of a Bradford immortal, Sir Henry William Ripley (1813-1881). An aerial photo of the works, taken by CH Wood, is on the Bradford Museums and Galleries website. What is missing on this map are a huge reservoir and several dye pits which are clearly present at the Bowling Dye Works on the 1849 Borough plan. I’m not sure exactly when the New Dye Works was constructed but it was another Ripley enterprise and was certainly in existence by 1849. Between the two dye works you can see Bowling Lodge, built for Henry Ripely in 1836. But, as a builder, he is most famous for his creation of a model village, Ripleyville, beginning after 1866 and continuing until his death. This was situated between the two rail tracks east of the New Dye Works and included terraced housing and almshouses. It was Bradford’s only industrial village since the world heritage site of Saltaire, built by Sir Titus Salt around 1850, was created in the then independent township of Shipley. Everything in Ripleyville was demolished and redeveloped in 1970, but many people still living remember it fondly.
In the ‘V’ formed by the two railway lines was the Broom Hall estate on which Ripleyville was built. Rather confusingly on this map is drawn what appears to be a large artificial lake and sluice. This is simply an enlargement of the same feature drawn, at a much smaller scale and a slightly different orientation, to its left. The watercourse ends at a Mill Dam overlooked by Ivy House and Bowling Old Mill. A body of water existed in Bowling Mill Field as early as 1839 because a little boy was reported drowned in it. It stood in a field called Mill Holme. The corn mill itself was certainly present a century before this map was made when the miller was one Reuben Holmes. The corn mill here may have had a much earlier, even medieval, foundation associated with the Manor of Bowling. Bradford historian William Cudworth records that a walk along Bowling Beck was notable for the frequency of rabbits and partridges.
To draw the water supply to Bowling Corn Mill twice must indicates its importance to the maker of this map. Could this arise from a notorious legal case around this time? Henry Ripley had some highly controversial plans concerning the profit to be made from south Bradford’s water supply in the area downstream of Bowling Dye Works which he came to dominate. You can read about this dispute, and much else besides, on Bob Walker’s truly excellent Ripleyville site:
It’s not easy to envisage all this from a decaying map so I should be grateful if you would please try to ‘piece out my imperfections with your thoughts’.