Bradford, like Halifax and Sheffield, sits in a spectacular bowl of hills. When you gaze across Bradford from Undercliffe Cemetery or Peel Park, the structure which dominates the entire cityscape is not the Town Hall or the Cathedral, but the Italianate bulk of Samuel Cunliffe Lister’s Manningham Mills (1873).
Lister, the son of a mill-owner, prospered by three successive inventions – the Lister Comb (1843), which mechanised the last remaining hand-process in the production of woollen cloth and condemned a substantial class of local independent craftsmen to penury, the silk comb (1857-65) which nearly bankrupted him in development but enabled him to turn waste silk into fabric for fashion-wear, and the self-acting dressing-frame, which gave him domination of the velvet trade.
The existing mills designed by Andrews & Pepper were built on the site of an earlier mill which burnt down in 1871. The Italianate chimney is 225ft high and is said to weigh 8,000 tons. This vast complex, comprising 16 acres of working floors, employed 11,000 people at its peak, but closed entirely in 1992.
For a decade the building stood empty and vandalised. The late Jonathan Silver’s proposal to house the Victoria & Albert Museum’s South Asia collection in part of the mill complex fell through.
Eventually, the great rescuer of great buildings in distress, Urban Splash, began to bring Lister’s Mill back to life in 2004.
The initial phase, providing 95 flats and 36 duplex apartments in the Silk Warehouse, sited around a full-height atrium to provide light and circulation-space, is designed by Latham Architects.
The second phase, Velvet Mill, by David Morley replaced the existing roof with glass and steel pods containing two-storey apartments.
The huge grass space to the west of the mill complex was once filled with dense terraced housing. Two of the streets were named, with blunt Yorkshire gratitude, Patent Street and Silk Street.
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 £10.00 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.