The future of the past in Bradford


The first image is of Goitside, which runs roughly parallel and north of the city end of Thornton Road. Thornton Road was a turnpike created in 1827 but Goitside is far older. If you think the appearance looks bad then consider that most of the track is sealed off completely and receives no visitors except for fly-tipped rubbish. Yet when I first went brick-hunting 10 years ago you could walk the full length of Goitside without risk of injury.

A goit, or leet, is an artificial channel which takes water from a river or beck to power a water-mill. A tail race then returns it, at a lower level, to the original watercourse. The water of the Soke Mill goit, such as it is, now flows under the massive stone slabs that you can see. It is occasionally exposed by workmen. The Lord of the Manor of Bradford had the medieval right of a corn-milling monopoly at the Soke Mill (later called Queens Mill), which had stood above Aldermanbury for centuries. Soke Mill goit took water from the Bradford Beck near Water Lane, and provided power for the mill. Consequently the goit itself is likely to have been a medieval creation. There were other mills, and other goits, in the Bradford area.

In 1870 Bradford Corporation bought out the Soke Mill rights from the Ladies of the Manor, Mary & Elizabeth Rawson. At that time the cluster of buildings round the mill included a blacksmith’s and a small school. The whole area was cleared between the 1861 and 1871 maps of the city. The intention of the borough planners was to raise the ground surface to culvert the Goit and to create Godwin Street at a gradient of 1:12, well above the level of the watercourse. This plan brings me to the second image taken about 200m from the first.


Sunbridge Wells is a new development in what is described as a ‘Victorian tunnel system’. The main entrance is shown here, next to Brewery Steps in Millergate, off Aldermanbury (OS grid ref SE 16212 33054). Unfortunately I cannot find a map of the tunnel system superimposed on the surface features. Evidently the visible course of the tunnel runs beneath Sunbridge Road and then, a few degrees west of due North, under Upper Millergate. I gather it turns south-east beneath Ivegate where there will be a second entrance. After development it will contain units which will be occupied by restaurants, bars and arts projects. The tunnels have never been open in the 35 years we have lived in Bradford but some parts were used as a night club, owned by wrestler ‘Big Daddy’, in the early 1960s. Previously sections had been a World War 2 air-raid shelter, a 1900s bottling plant for the nearby brewery, and an eighteenth century gaol. There is even supposed to be a medieval quarry edge.

Some of the buildings that will be displayed when the tunnel is open are described as ‘Victorian houses’. Welcoming the public to the whole area has been promised several times over the last two years. Some lucky people were shown round the system in 2014 but the best I can offer is a picture taken by thrusting my camera through the entry bars. It does look as if Sunbridge Wells will soon be finished.


If you would like to see many more pictures of the tunnel they are available on-line on the project website:

Interesting though they are it’s hard to orientate yourself in an unfamiliar location. It is clear that in sections the weight of structures above the tunnel is being taken by masonry arches. Elsewhere supporting steels, and a metal steel staircase, have been inserted. I assume that the entrance in Aldermanbury was constructed when Sunbridge Road was created, like Godwin Street, in the 1870s. Other sections seem to consist of cellars of the buildings above and I assume that those portions are the property of the owners of those buildings. How everything came to be linked together I do not know. Hopefully I shall soon be able to see for myself.


3 thoughts on “The future of the past in Bradford

  1. Another fascinating post.

    60 years ago I was in the first form of Carlton Grammar School. The journey home with my schoolmates provided scope for exploring Bradford’s lesser known places. The Goit Side was a favourite. It could be approached via Paradise Street and Water Lane. Paradise Street did not live up to its name but all was buzzing with activity. I imagine that in a few years Goit Side will have disappeared completely so thanks for the photo. I shall keep it as a memento of my great- great- great uncle Nathan Knowles. He was surveyor to the Ladies of the Manor and responsible for the goit and mill..

    Peter Knowles


  2. Hello Derek and my apologies.
    The surveyor was Jonas Knowles. I mistakenly typed Nathan – who was a building contractor and Jonas’s brother. I must be getting brain fade in my old age.

    Peter Knowles


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