Bradford’s Victorian prosperity was boosted by the dyeing trade led by the firm of Edward Ripley & Sons, and the invention of mechanical combing by Samuel Lister of Manningham Mills – and from the remarkable influx of German immigrant merchants, such families as Schuster, Behrens, Zessenheim and Moser, whose warehouses clustered on the hill that is now known as Little Germany within the tight network of streets above Leeds Old Road.
Most of these companies were already established in Bradford before they moved into the grand warehouses in the 1860s and early 1870s. They were encouraged to diversify when trade was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, only to suffer a sudden economic downturn from 1875 onwards with the introduction of tariff barriers by France, Germany and Austria.
At the same time unexpected changes in female fashions caught manufacturers unprepared, and though the Bradford wool trade eventually adapted, no further buildings were constructed in Little Germany until 1902.
The impressive architectural display of the Little Germany stuff- (ie, worsted) warehouses masks a tightly-organised functional building-type, comparable with the cotton warehouses of central Manchester.
John S Roberts, in Little Germany (Bradford Art Galleries & Museums 1977), describes in detail how “grey” cloth was brought into the ground-floor receiving bay, promptly sent out for dyeing and, on its return, hoisted by steam-power to the top floor for inspection and sorting, stored and then after sale sent to the ground-floor packing area for dispatch.
Only wholesale customers and senior staff used the front entrance and the show staircase to the upper floors.
Many of the Little Germany buildings were designed by the local architect Eli Milnes (1830-1899), in some cases as speculative developments. Milnes was in partnership with Charles France (1833-1902) from 1863 onwards. The other local architectural practices – Andrews & Delauney, Lockwood & Mawson and Milnes & France, together with the Leeds architect George Corson, participated in the short-lived building boom.
After the decline of the Bradford woollen industry in the 1960s and early 1970s almost all of the Little Germany buildings were redeveloped: many warehouses became offices, and a former temperance hall was converted into a theatre, initially known as The Priestley after the novelist who was its first president, and eventually in 2012 relaunched as Bradford Playhouse: http://www.bradfordplayhouse.org.uk.
In 2012 the mail-order clothing company Freeman Grattans Holdings, an amalgamation of the London-based Freeman Company and the Bradford-based Grattan, moved into 1860s offices at 66-70 Vicar Lane within Little Germany.
FGH has a German owner, Otto UK.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.