A History of Bradford

Written by Tammie Ash

What do you think when you hear ‘Bradford’? Curry? Comparisons to Leeds? That’s what I hear the most. But this city that started off as a little Saxon settlement back in 1086 (back then, named “Bradeford”) has more to it than you might realise. Here are some snippets of Bradford’s history:

Wool City

Bradford was a small rural market town in 1801 but the Industrial Revolution transformed it into the “wool capital of the world”. Titus Salt was a major wool employer and businessman specialising in cotton, silk and alpaca. He built Salts Mill and a village to house the workers in Saltaire – which then became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.

The city eventually became known for its mills and factories – not to mention one of the most polluted places to live in the Victorian era. Bradford contributed a quarter of all the coal and iron produced in Yorkshire in 1868 and housed the largest dye company in Europe, the Bowling Dye Works, by 1880.

Courtesy of Bailey, D., Saltaire. Available at: https://saltairevillage.info/

The Brontë sisters

Arguably the most famous sibling writers on the planet, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë created literary classics whilst living in Bradford. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) by Anne were all penned here.

The sisters are such a significant part of the city’s history that Brontë Country is the name we give to the area of the Pennines, west of Bradford, in which they lived. This area includes the (now, touristy) village of Haworth and the Brontë Parsonage Museum which was their former family home.

Haworth Main Street. Available at: https://www.visitbradford.com/haworth.aspx

The birthplace of Morrisons

As well as being home to big companies such as Hallmark and Seabrook, Bradford also birthed supermarket giant Morrisons which started off as a market stall selling eggs and butter in 1899. The stall was run by William Morrison who created a handful of successful stalls and would then pass these onto his son Ken in 1952. Sir Ken Morrison as we now know him, created the first town-centre shop in Bradford in 1958 to offer self-service and to have prices on its products – truly revolutionary for its time. Morrisons is now the fourth largest supermarket chain in the UK.

The First Morrisons Store. Available at: https://www.morrisons-corporate.com/about-us/company-history/

 The first UNESCO City of Film in the world

Awarded in June 2009, global organisation UNESCO decided to give Bradford this honour as a result of its contribution to film over the years. As the first in the world, this was and still is a huge deal for Bradford. Peaky Blinders, Gentleman Jack and the Kiera Knightley-starrer Official Secrets all had filming locations in and around the city. The Cities of Film network has now added 17 more cities including Bristol which is the only other UK name.

City of Bradford. Courstesy of Farman, J.,Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Bradford-England

These are just a handful of notable events in Bradford’s life but its history lives on through its architecture, its inhabitants and their stories. Today, the city has the youngest population outside of London and is the third-largest city in the Yorkshire and the Humber region with a growing economy. There’s certainly more history to be made here and change is happening everyday – watch this space!

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