Some months ago I posted an item explaining the background to the creation of Sunbridge Wells in Bradford, which was built under Sunbridge Road, Upper Millergate and Ivegate. My Bradford local history blog tends to bumble along with 20-30 hits per day but earlier in the week this item alone received more that 1300 hits in a single day from the UK. I’m not accustomed to this blogging big-time but I assume it has been shared somewhere rather more prominent than Bradford Unconsidered Trifles. Anyway it seems timely to return to the topic.
The new development was officially opened in December 2016 and yesterday the developer Graham Hall kindly gave me a conducted tour of his creation. I’m not often lost for words but that was the effect of what I saw. Graham knows the maze of corridors, bars and retail outlets very intimately of course. As we moved from location to location I was usually left wondering both what was immediately above our heads, and what would have been present at the same site 200 years earlier. I was provided with a nineteenth century sale plan but I have a great deal of enjoyable studying to do before I can claim to fully understand how Sunbridge Wells developed.
A truly enormous amount of work has been undertaken. Simply clearing out decades of accumulated debris, or sand-blasting and re-pointing all the external and internal stonework must have been major tasks. All is now restored to its original beauty. I feel quite comfortable underground, and in artificial light, but not everybody does. It was a wise decision to dig out an old courtyard to bring natural light down into the atrium at the centre of the development. There can’t be many parallels to Sunbridge Wells anywhere, although if you have visited Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh you will have some idea of the original appearances. You can see pictures for yourselves on:
If you live near Bradford, and intend to visit, there are several points to consider. You can’t see more than a tiny fraction of the delights on display by simply walking through the passageways connecting the entrances. Most of the attractions are located in the various bars provided for the thirsty visitor. So it will be necessary for local historians to pause for refreshment while pursuing their investigations, but then we have to expect some minor sacrifices in the hunt for knowledge! My personal favourites are the cells from old Bradford magistrates court, long hidden and invisible. What makes them especially noteworthy is that they were evidently built into an old sandstone quarry face. Bradford is of course famous for its fine building stone and it is no exaggeration to say that there must have been hundreds of large and small quarry sites within the current city boundaries. I hadn’t appreciated that there were such quarries so near the city centre, but then most of my map studies are undertaken in nineteenth century material. The area in question was already long built over by the time of the 1800 Bradford plan and could, I suppose, well be medieval.
Graham Hall has obtained a great many objects to add interest to the ‘visitor experience’, most of these have a Bradford connection. The best-known is a miniature locomotive which I believe used to pull trains at Shipley Glen. Also noteworthy are a sign displaying all the patents granted to Hattersleys, the Keighley textile engineers, and the ledgers and old pharmaceutical bottles once belonging to Rimingtons the chemists. But my personal favourite has to be an astounding display of chemical glassware. The final stage of the development will be the recreation of an old city centre pub called, if I remember correctly, the Rose & Crown. The plan is to retain as many of the original beams, and as much of the original brickwork, as possible. It was in this space that I recognised my only marked brick, from Wrose Hill Fireclay Company in Shipley. So, have you got to visit? Of course you have: it’s the first unique location created in Bradford in decades and finally a good news story concerning our city. See you there soon I hope. If you’re one of the 1300 hits please identify yourself.