Bradford’s German quarter

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The district known as Little Germany is close to Bradford Cathedral. It is famous for a large collection of magnificent Victorian textile warehouses. In many cases their creators were German merchants, which gave the area its name. The pictured building was originally the premises of Thornton, Homan & Co. They traded with the US, hence the eagle over the door. In 1977 John S Roberts produced an invaluable short pamphlet entitled Little Germany which is full of essential information. Roberts explained that most of the building occurred in the period 1860-67. I have been researching the earlier history of this part of Bradford. On an 1800 map it was simply a green field site. Fortunately Church Bank and Vicar Lane have retained their names since that period which makes the placement of this area on modern maps easier. Immediately south of this area is Leeds Road which originally formed part of the Leeds-Halifax turnpike created in the late 1820s or early 1830s.

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The Bradford Local Studies Library has this plan of the piece of land which is now the lower part of Little Germany. This map is annotated on the back as ‘Colliers Close’. I have found no other record of this name but it is perfectly credible since coal was mined all over the city. In fact Roberts reports that building on some of the Little Germany sites was difficult because of old mine workings. A huge help in dating this plan is that Bradford is referred to as a Borough, a status only achieved in 1847. On the other hand the first OS map of the area, which was issued in 1851 and surveyed in the late 1840s, shows no sign of any new street development. If we said that this plan was from 1848-49 I do not suppose we should be far wrong. It is interesting to note the location of two smithys and a joiner’s workshop. So, to recap, in the 50 years since the green fields of 1800 the area was mined for coal, transected by a major road, and was the site of small necessary businesses. The first Bradford Mechanics Institute, just visible at the bottom right, was founded in 1832. Leeds Road on the plan, confusingly, is not the major route of that name but a short branch that was soon renamed Well Street. The name Lee Street was soon changed to Currer Street but there is a pencil annotation describing it as ‘Abram Street’ as well. Field Street seems to have been so named originally and retains its name today.

The land-owner at this time was Rev. Godfrey Wright (1780-1862) who seems to have possessed land all over Bradford and district in the mid-19th century. He was born at Kimberworth and was educated at Hipperholme School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He obtained an MA in 1807 and later took Holy Orders. His address was Bilham House, Hooton Pagnell. S.Yorks. In census returns he describes himself as ‘Clergyman without cure of souls’; he reports an indoor and outdoor staff of a dozen or more and must surely have lived in some style. Wright left £80,000 at his death. I have learned a good deal about him but two questions remain. Firstly did he ever actually live in Bradford and if so where and under what circumstances did he become such a prodigious land-owner? He certainly was the largest in Bradford having land in: Baildon, Otley, Eldwick, Manningham, Bowling and Hall Ings as well as the future Little Germany. He is said to have inherited it, but from whom?

The people that the second map records as new owners do not seem to be the same as those who built the famous Little Germany warehouses 10-20 years later. There are several interesting individuals nonetheless. Augustus Silvestro (AS) Sichel were a Manchester textile firm. Augustus’s son, Sylvester Emil Sichel, later lived at Shipley Grange. As early as 1856 Sichel Bros were trading in Well Street. I’m not sure what their relationship was with Victor Sichel, manager of Reiss Brothers yarn and stuff merchants in Currer Street. Victor was the father of the Bradford artist Ernest Sichel (1862-1941). Both familiies originated in Frankfort am Main, Germany. Thomas Mills was a Bradford furniture merchant and upholsterer. Thomas Fison was in the partnership of Fison & Lister, wool merchants at Well Street.

Nicholas Hermann Heydemann (1817-89) was both a cloth merchant and German Consul. He is buried at Undercliffe cemetry. In 1859, on his land at 4 Currer Street, the premises of Nathan Reichenheim, yarn merchants, was constructed. This is probably the oldest of the surviving buildings. In 1874 on GB Smith’s site at the junction of Field Street and Vicar Lane Law Russell’s opulent Victorian warehouse was erected.  It is a fitting memorial to Bradford contractor Archibald Neill who died soon after. Both the mentioned buildings were designed by local architects Lockwood & Mawson. The Borough Map of 1871 shows the area almost completely filled. I imagine that by 1875 the appearance was very much as it is today.

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