This northern English city in the West Riding of Yorkshire has an Italianate style Town Hall, a long industrial history and a native pride in itself that brooks no criticism. Its wealth (and grime) was built on wool, and many of the huge mills that once deafened their workers with the sound of ceaseless machinery, are now empty or have been redeveloped as housing or warehouses.
Like several of the West Riding mill towns, the city is built in a valley beneath the hills that surround it. On one of those hills is the village of Haworth. The parsonage there was the home of Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte who wrote some of the finest English novels of all time. ‘Bronte’ country has become a place of pilgrimage for many enthusiasts and the rugged country around is a wonderful walking area and a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.
Bradford has a varied cultural life and is the birthplace of several famous people including the composer Frederick Delius (who didn’t like it!), David Hockney the artist, many of whose works are housed in the converted Saltaire Mill not far from the city and whose brother has been a prominent local politician, and the novelist and dramatist J.
B. Priestley, who for many people was the voice of sanity on BBC radio during the difficult war years of 1939-46. There’s a splendid statue erected in his memory in the town centre.
One of the developments of recent years has been the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television, which has gained international recognition since it opened in 1983 and is visited by as many as 700,000 people annually. Bradford University is also notable for its Peace Studies, established in 1973 at the initiative of the Society of Friends; my daughter was a student there. The department is often consulted on contemporary conflicts and their possible resolution.
We lived in Bradford in the early 1960’s and for me – a soft southerner –to live in a community with such a strong regional base was a learning experience I have valued ever since. It was at time when new laws enforced the introduction of smokeless fuel. One day fifty tall chimneys belched out their dense smoke above the city; we could see them from our house. The next day they were still, and you could smell the fresh air. It was J.B. Priestley who said that when you woke up in the morning in Bradford and opened your windows, you could hear the sparrows, coughing. Not any more!