Category Archives: Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns

Tunnel vision

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (February 6th 2019)

When we walked the stretch of the Great Northern Railway Trail from Thornton to Queensbury, my mate Richard and I were puzzled by the undulations in the former trackbed.  There were steep sections that couldn’t possibly have carried a railway train.

It became apparent that whole stretches of the line had been infilled.  Indeed, at the site of the triangular Queensbury Station it’s impossible to work out where the railway went without recourse to the old maps on the very useful interpretation boards.

We walked a couple of hundred yards along the trackbed towards Halifax to look at the north portal of Queensbury Tunnel, where repair work is underway in preparation for filling it in (if the Historical Railways Estate has its way) or restoring it as a cycle path (if the Queensbury Tunnel Society succeeds in making its case –

Outside the portal stands a new wooden cross commemorating the ten navvies who died during the construction of the tunnel.

Landfill in the Strines Cutting at the southern end of the tunnel has flooded it to half its length:

We could only guess the location of the nearby Clayton Tunnel on the line to Bradford, because its approach has been completely obliterated by landfill.

In fact, the west portal is visible and accessible if you know where to look –!cid_.jpg – and almost all of the tunnel’s 1,057-yard length is intact though dangerous, but the east portal is filled in – – and the approach cutting has completely disappeared beneath a housing estate.

In the 1960s, when these railways lost their traffic to road transport, hardly anyone envisaged their alignments might have a future purpose.  Campaigners argued to retain the train services, and routinely lost.  The conservation argument that planning policy could safeguard miles-long continuous corridors of land by making them available only for reversible purposes simply wasn’t made in time.

Opening up abandoned railways in the Derbyshire Peak from the 1970s onwards has given millions of tourists healthy pleasure on the Tissington, High Peak and Monsal Trails.

Indeed, in Sussex the Bluebell Railway cleared a huge filled cutting as part of a successful scheme to restore services from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead, removing much of the spoil by rail.

The Great Northern Railway Trail is a laudable attempt to bring people into the West Yorkshire countryside, but the short-sighted disposal of solid Victorian infrastructure a generation ago has compromised the vision for the future.

That’s why it’s so important that the practical, economic case for the reopening of Queensbury Tunnel is sustained.

There is a well-written and well-illustrated account of the railways that met at Queensbury – Martin Bairstow, The Queensbury Lines (Amadeus 2015):

There is also an oddly spooky evocation in the virtual world of railway simulations:

Bradford’s cup

Clayton Fireclay Brickworks chimney, Brow Lane, West Yorkshire

My mate Richard and I have explored the extant parts of the Great Northern Railway trail, a work-in-progress to give public access to as much as possible of the trackbed of the former Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury Lines, the so-called “Alpine Route” built in pursuit of competition and in defiance of geography between 1874 and 1884.

We walked from the spectacular Thornton Viaduct south to the former Queensbury triangle, where trains from Bradford, Keighley and Halifax met at an unusual triangular six-platform station sited four hundred feet lower than the town it was supposed to serve.

North of the line, at a place called Brow Lane, is an unusually decorative tall chimney – not, as you’d expect in the old West Riding, a woollen mill, but a brickworks.

Clayton Fireclay Brickworks was founded in 1880 by Julius Whitehead (1839-1907), at the time when the nearby railway between Queensbury and Keighley was being built. The works closed in April 1970.

According to the Grade II listing description, the chimney dates from c1890 and was erected by Julius Whitehead’s son, Claude.

The enamelled brick panels on the chimney depict an urn, and are said to represent the FA Cup, celebrating Bradford City’s victory in the 1911 Cup Final when, following a goalless draw after extra time at Crystal Palace, the team captain Jimmy Speirs (1886-1917) headed the only goal in the replay at Old Trafford. 

I’m grateful to John Dewhirst, who knows more about football and Bradford than I do, for explaining that there’s no evidence that the Whiteheads had any strong football connections.

He suggests that the decorations were probably installed earlier than the 1911 Cup Final, and the story was probably a Bradford City FC fans’ wind-up to annoy rival fans passing on trains to and from Horton.

By a curious coincidence, the actual trophy – the same one in use today – had been manufactured by the Bradford jewellers Fattorini & Sons, a family with strong connections to Bradford City FC and its historic predecessor, Manningham Rugby Club.  The 1911 final was the cup’s first outing.

Regrettably, it has proved to be its only visit to Bradford so far.

The Alpine Route

Queensbury Tunnel, West Yorkshire (1979)

Anyone who’s visited the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway will be familiar with Keighley railway station, where main-line trains between Leeds, Skipton and beyond connect with the Oxenhope branch that is now the heritage railway.

Keighley branch platforms used to serve another route, spectacular to ride and difficult to operate, known formally as the Great Northern Railway’s Queensbury lines and unofficially as the “Alpine Route” for its steep gradients, sharp curves and heavy engineering works, a Y-shaped system connecting Bradford, Halifax and Keighley.

Opened in stages between 1874 and 1884, the junction between the three routes lay in the valley bottom at Queensbury, a highly unusual six-platform triangular station.  The only other true triangular station in Britain was at Ambergate, Derbyshire.

The village of Queensbury, home of the famous Black Dyke Mills, was four hundred feet higher, accessible only by a dimly-lit footpath.  By 1901 Queensbury had electric tram services to Bradford and Halifax, so most of the rail passengers used the station simply to change from one train to another.

Queensbury station has, sadly, been obliterated, but its location is the starting point for the Great Northern Railway Trail, which Sustrans and Bradford City Council have developed, firstly between Cullingworth and Wilsden in 2005, and then a separate section between Thornton and Queensbury between 2008 and 2012:

The long-term aim is to provide a trail along much of the original rail routes between Bradford, Halifax and Keighley, but there is an immediate problem which needs an imminent solution.

Immediately south of Queensbury station, the line to Halifax ran through Queensbury Tunnel, 2,501 yards long, which has a constant gradient of 1 in 100, so that the north portal is seventy feet higher than the southern one.

After the track was lifted in the early 1960s, the Strines cutting to the south of the tunnel was sold as a landfill site, without adequate drainage, so that the run-off from within the notoriously wet tunnel backed up to a depth of thirty-five feet in the cutting, flooding the graded bore to almost half its length.

This accumulated water was pumped out in 2016 to enable a detailed engineering inspection, which found that though the tunnel had inevitably deteriorated and the brick lining had collapsed in two locations the tunnel itself was safe and capable of restoration.  (The lining doesn’t actually hold the rock tunnel up;  its function was to prevent loose rock falling on to the track or, worse, passing trains.)

The Queensbury Tunnel Society has mounted an energetic campaign, supported by Bradford City Council, to reopen the tunnel as a lit, paved cycle-way, using resources that the current owner, Historical Railways Estate (HRE), part of Highways England, had allocated for a short-sighted scheme to infill the bore.  Infilling for 150 metres at each end and capping the ventilation shafts was estimated to cost £5.1 million;  a cheaper scheme filling only 20 metres at each end would cost around £3 million.

The Queensbury Tunnel Society’s estimate for remediation to Network Rail standards would cost £3.3 million, and the installation of a cycle path and lighting would cost a further £1.5 million. The Society argues that taxpayers’ money would be better used for a scheme which delivers social and economic benefits, rather than one which renders the empty tunnel permanently unusable.

Providential curry

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Former Providence Place Congregational Chapel, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

When my curry-loving mate Richard and I go to Bradford to meet my friend Mohammed he usually takes us to one of the many curry houses in inner-city Bradford, but on our last meeting we set off on a mystery tour to Cleckheaton.

Our destination was Aakash, which claims to be the largest curry house in the world.

It occupies the former Providence Place Congregational Chapel of 1857-1859, a gigantic temple of nonconformity designed by the prestigious Bradford practice of Henry Francis Lockwood and William Mawson, who built much that is fine in the Bradford area in the mid-nineteenth century including St George’s Hall (1851-52), the Wool Exchange (1864-7), the City Hall (1869-73), and almost every building in Saltaire (1851-76).

Providence Chapel cost about £9,000, an impressive sum that sounds considerable until it’s compared with the £16,000 that Sir Titus Salt spent on the Congregational Church in Saltaire.  At the time you could get a modest but respectable Gothic parish church for around £4,000.

For their money, Cleckheaton Congregationalists were given seating for 1,500 and a grandeur that would flatter a municipal town hall.  Its ashlar façade has a giant portico of five unfluted Corinthian columns supporting a pediment containing a roundel, surrounded by carved foliage, with the inscription “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to all men”.  In front are cast-iron gates and lamp standards.

Listed Grade II*, the chapel was described in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England as “amazingly pompous for a religious building”.

It closed in 1991 when the remaining congregation combined with the amalgamated Spendborough Group of United Reformed Churches at Grove, Gomersal, and it became an Indian restaurant founded by a former taxi-rank owner, Mohammad Iqbal Tabassum.

It was named Aakash, the Urdu word for “sky”, and the coffered ceiling was painted with clouds.

The box pews inevitably went and the rake of the gallery floor was levelled, but the organ and the pulpit, described by a reviewer at the time as “skip-sized”, remained as a “lookout post” for the restaurant manager.

Sometime before 2008 it closed and reopened under new management.  Perhaps that was when the pulpit was replaced by a series of staircases linking the main floor with the gallery.  The organ pipes remain, heavily painted, but the organ has gone.

The buffet-style curry is as splendid as the surroundings:

Little Germany

66 Vicar Lane, Little Germany, Bradford

66 Vicar Lane, Little Germany, Bradford

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:

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 £10.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Wainhouse Tower

Wainhouse Tower, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Wainhouse Tower, Halifax, West Yorkshire

John Edward Wainhouse (1817-1883) was the owner of the Washer Lane Dyeworks on the side of the Calder valley below King Cross, on the southern outskirts of Halifax.

In 1870 he leased the works to Henry Mossman, and at the same time responded to complaints about atmospheric pollution, particularly from a neighbour, Sir Henry Edwards Bt (1812-1886) of Pye Nest, by commissioning an extremely tall chimney, 253 feet high, connected to the works below by an underground flue.

Construction began in 1871, the year after the passing of the Smoke Abatement Act which required that industrial smoke should be carried away at a height.

J E Wainhouse instructed his architect, Isaac Booth of Halifax, to encase the functional brick chimney in stone, with a spiral staircase of 403 steps to the top.

The purpose of installing a staircase at considerable expense to the top of a smoking chimney was never clear:  a regularly repeated legend is that J E Wainhouse wished to annoy Sir Henry Edwards, who was High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1872, by overlooking his residence.

In 1874 J E Wainhouse sold the dyeworks to Henry Mossman, who declined to take on the cost of the chimney, so instead Wainhouse took on the liability of what became a tower instead of a chimney, resolving to turn it into a “General Astronomical and Physical Observatory”.

He dismissed Isaac Booth, who in any case appears to have grown sick of being caught in the midst of the feud between Wainhouse and Edwards, and commissioned Booth’s assistant, Richard Swarbrick Dugdale, to finish the architectural treatment of the tower with an elaborate gothic cupola that is so densely embellished that it is practically useless as an observatory, except to look down on neighbouring properties and to admire the distant views.

By the time this second phase of construction was completed on September 9th 1875, the entire project had cost £14,000 or £15,000.

By 1893, ten years after J E Wainhouse’s death, it was open as a public attraction and in 1909 it was operating a radio transmitter.  Suggestions in 1912 that it should be adapted as a crematorium came to nothing, but in 1919, prompted by a campaign in the Halifax Courier, Halifax Corporation bought it;  the Corporation and its successor, Calderdale Borough Council, have maintained it ever since.  Its only practical function appears to have been as an observation post in World War II.

It was substantially repaired and restored in 2008 at a cost of £400,000, and reopened to the public on May 4th 2009.  It is open on bank holidays, and available for private openings at other times.

People of the Book

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Reform Synagogue, Bowland Street, Bradford, West Yorkshire

The Bradford Jewish communities were never numerically large, perhaps a hundred families in the late-nineteenth century, but they were extremely influential.

The German and Danish Jews whose warehouses are now called “Little Germany” were not refugees, but came in search of prosperity in the early decades of the nineteenth century.  They assimilated, and then coalesced into the city’s Reform Congregation.

From their ranks came four Bradford mayors, including Charles Joseph Semon (1814-1877;  Mayor 1864-5) and Jacob Moser (1839-1922;  Mayor 1910-11), as well as the merchant Sir Jacob Behrens (1806-1889) and Professor Friederich Wilhelm Eurich (1867–1945) who led the search for a cure for cutaneous anthrax or “wool-sorter’s disease”.  The composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934) and the painter Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945) both came from Bradford German-Jewish families.

This Reform Congregation built the magnificent Moorish Grade II*-listed Reform Synagogue on Bowland Street, designed by T H & F Healey in 1881, a rare and fine survival of the Islamic Revival style.

In the 1880s, fleeing the pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, came Russian Jews who disliked the practices of the Reform Synagogue and founded their own Orthodox Synagogue in Spring Gardens in 1906.

The Orthodox community were sufficiently confident of their future to close the Spring Gardens synagogue in 1970 and move to a modern building at Springhurst Road, Shipley.  The Spring Gardens building, with the inscription above its doorway, “How goodly are your tents, O Israel”, is now the Al Mumin independent Muslim primary school, and the Orthodox Congregation had to close their Shipley synagogue in April 2013 because they no longer had sufficient numbers to hold services.

Meanwhile, the Reform Congregation of around thirty-five people somehow manages to maintain their building and hold monthly services:

Among the supporters who have helped this tiny community financially are the Bradford Council of Mosques and other members of the local Muslim community:

The local MP, George Galloway, tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons which congratulated “the members of the Bradford Muslim community for their extraordinary ecumenical gesture in raising a very large sum of money to repair the roof of Bradford’s last remaining synagogue, thereby enabling members of the Jewish community to continue to worship there;  and believes that this generous gesture shows the true spirit of Islam towards other People of the Book.”

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Eat your way round Todmorden

Former Todmorden Industrial & Co-operative Society Limited branch, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Former Todmorden Industrial & Co-operative Society Limited branch, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

When I’m hungry in Todmorden, on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border, I head for the old-fashioned Co-op.  It’s not a co-op any more, though it retains its splendid iron-and-glass two-storey shop front emblazoned with the title ‘Todmorden Industrial & Co-operative Society Limited’.  The building dates from the 1860s, and was refurbished when the Co-operative Society took it over as its haberdashery department in 1910.

Now it’s the Bear Café [], a vehemently wholefood shop and café bringing the very finest local produce in conjunction with the food hub Incredible Edible Todmorden Unlimited

Sometimes you simply can’t get a seat at the Bear Café, so next door is Bramsche Bar [], a little more relaxed and slightly less purist, offering alcohol and meat for those who’re so inclined.  I had eggs Benedictine, which is a combination of the ham and spinach components of Benedict and Florentine.

There used to be a nice little café with interesting posters in the loo which has now been transformed into Hanuman Thai & 3 Wise Monkeys Pub [] which might be worth a look.

And that’s just for starters.

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.

Scott’s best church

All Souls' Church, Haley Hill, Halifax, West Yorkshire

All Souls’ Church, Haley Hill, Halifax, West Yorkshire

At the same time that Colonel Edward Akroyd set out his model village of Akroyden in 1855-6, he began work on his greatest gift to the locality, All Soul’s Church, Haley Hill.

He employed George Gilbert Scott, who also provided the original layout for the village, to design the grandest possible statement of High Anglican pride, a fourteenth-century Gothic church with a tower 236 feet high, one foot higher than that of his carpet-manufacturing rivals, the Crossleys’,Congregational Square Church down in the valley below.

Scott was and is generally regarded as the best architect alive at the time, and Scott himself described All Souls’ as “on the whole, my best church”.

As might be expected, the finest decorative materials were used – Minton tiles, glass by Clayton & Bell, Hardman & Co, and William Wailes, ironwork by Skidmore & Co, the font of Lizard serpentine marble standing on an Aberdeen granite base, Caen stone for the pulpit, alabaster for the reredos.

The tower houses a ring of eight bells by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, and the four-manual Foster & Andrews organ of 1868 was the biggest in Halifax.

This huge church became redundant in 1979, and stood neglected until 1989 when the Churches Conservation Trust took it over.

Unfortunately, the Steetley limestone Scott chose for the structure reacted badly to atmospheric pollution, and the twin tasks of conserving the fabric and securing it against vandalism are prodigious.

Details of access and coming events at All Souls’ are at All Souls’ Church, Halifax Haley Hill, West Yorkshire | The Churches Conservation Trust (

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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.

Akroyd town

Salisbury Terrace and former co-operative store, Akroydon, Halifax (1992)

Salisbury Terrace and former co-operative store, Akroydon, Halifax (1992)

When Colonel Akroyd came to build his second model village in 1855 (the first was Copley), he went upscale, as the Americans say.

Influenced by the growing permanent building society movement, he planned housing for his Haley Hill Mills, overlooking the centre of Halifax, to be purchased rather than rented by his workers.  He donated the land, adjacent to his own residence, Bankfield, and arranged for the cost of building to be underwritten by the Halifax Permanent Building Society.  The community was named Akroydon and all the streets were named after Anglican dioceses.

He hired George Gilbert Scott, the greatest Gothic Revival architect of the day to design 350 houses in terraced blocks of eight to ten in the style they called domestic Gothic, “the original style of the parish of Halifax”.  Akroyd considered that “intuitively this taste of our forefathers pleases the fancy, strengthens house and home attachment, entwines the present with the memory of the past, and promises, in spite of opposition and prejudice, to become the national style of modern, as it was of old England.”

However, he found that potential freeholders are not so pliable as prospective tenants.  Being Yorkshire people, they first regarded the whole thing as a speculation, and shunned it.

Then they objected to the Gothic style:  “…although they liked the look of it, they considered it antiquated, inconvenient, wanting in light, and not adapted to modern requirements.  The dormer windows were supposed to resemble the style of almshouses, and the independent workmen who formed the building association positively refused to accept this feature of the Gothic, which to their minds was degrading.”

Scott’s former pupil, W H Crossland, later the architect of St Stephen’s Church, Copley, recast the scheme as 92 houses “clustered around a market cross in a toned-down Gothic style ‘simple, yet bold in detail’”.

These were duly built, and still remain.  The original owners, long gone to their rest, left their mark as a result of an inspired appeal to their vanity:

The occupiers find their new homes commodious in every respect, with abundance of light;  and their prejudices against the pointed style are now finally uprooted.  They are much gratified by one feature recently introduced, viz, the insertion of the owner’s monogram or device, on a stone shield, placed over the door, with the intent to give individuality and a mark of distinction to each dwelling.

These Englishmen’s homes were indeed their terraced ancestral castles.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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.