This Island’s Mine – performing Dockfield

This was the scene just last night, in one of the flats at Amber Wharf. That’s the new-build properties next to the canal, in the Dockfield area of Shipley.

Sitting at the end of the table is Kat Martin, my co-performer in This Island’s Mine, the two-person play that we’ve devised and written about the history of Dockfield, and the close relationship that industry and residents have always had here with the River Aire, the Bradford Beck, and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. This was the latest in a series of performances we’ve been giving in homes and pubs/clubs over the last week or so.

The other folk in the picture are last night’s audience (who prefer not to be identified by name, but were happy for me to share this pic), and strewn across their kitchen table is the “stage” of our drama — a map of Dockfield built up during the course of the play, using ordinary household objects from Kat’s shopping bags. Meanwhile, this was the view out of the window…

This particular flat overlooks what was once the junction of the Leeds-Liverpool and Bradford Canals. That’s Junction Bridge, built in 1774 at the same time as these sections of the canal network, to allow horses to get across from one tow-path to the other. This junction features prominently in our story, during the play, and it’s been one of the fun things, in performing it, to be able to point directly to where we are “on the map” as we speak. We’re talking about places and things that our audiences know well, but bringing a different perspective to them. So far, the reactions have been great!

One of the key locations on our map is Saltaire Brewery, whose main buildings were built as an electricity works for Shipley Council at the beginning of the 20th Century (later nationalised under Yorkshire Electricity Board). We were privileged last week to present a public performance of the play in the beer yard outside the Brewery Tap — on a gorgeous April evening in the setting sun (which kept everyone just warm enough!).

The picture above was snapped early in the performance (at a historical moment when the fields of Dockfield-to-be are farmers’ fields, yet to be built on… hence the animals) by Janet Wojtkow, one of our spectators… Janet is the partner of Tony Gartland, the Brewery’s founder and owner, so she took particular pride in snapping this picture…

… at the moment when we talk about how the former electricity works (represented by the light bulbs) is now the Brewery (represented by the bottle of Blonde). I actually had to pause mid-performance for a moment while Janet took the picture — much to everyone’s amusement. But that’s one of the nice things about the informal, round-the-table set-up for this play… there is a script we’re following, but people can also interrupt, ask questions, make observations, and we try to improvise satisfactory responses. It gives the show a lovely sense of liveness and one-off-ness every time we do it.

This conversational approach is also designed to elicit further contributions from the audience after we complete our story. The talking continues… At the Brewery, for instance, Janet shared the full story of why Saltaire Brewery is not in fact located in Saltaire but in Dockfield (it would have been in Salts Mill, it seems, but for the untimely death of its owner Jonathan Silver – and the subsequent hesitations of the interim manager). And this was just one of the additional tales we’ve been told… Take Geoff Roberts, for instance, pictured here in blue just behind my head on the right of the picture…

Geoff worked for decades in water quality control — for Yorkshire Water and its predecessors — and following our tales of Dockfield’s sewage works and plumbing, he told us how his very first work assignment, as a new employee in 1973, was to visit the pumping station next to the footbridge at the bottom of Dock Lane (again – very much part of our map!) in order to remedy a fault. It was quite the trip down memory lane. This performance at Shipley’s Kirkgate Centre was also attended by some with even longer memories, who told tales of Shipley and Bradford in childhoods before World War II.

Our most responsive and vocal audience so far was at Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club last week, where our audience was almost entirely made up of people who grew up in Dockfield itself, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Since the characters that Kat and I play — Barbara and Danny — are amalgams based on interviews with a number of folk of this sort of age (and also a bit younger… we’re deliberately vague about exactly how old the characters are), the performance sparked especially vivid memories from those watching. In the picture below, on the right, Tony Brannon is offering an observation, mid-performance…

… and you can tell its mid performance because the objects on the table are different from those we end up with at the end (see below!). Truth to tell, Tony had been one of my interview sources, and he’s also a regular at the club, so for him the performance really was like an extension of our previous conversations. He and the others became as much a part of the show as we were — in fact our 30 minute running time stretched to more like an hour, with all the interjections, observations, and debates prompted by our script! Personally, I loved the way that the line between ‘play’ and ‘audience’ became almost indistinguishable…

… and for all that they corrected — or at least disputed — some of our “facts” (as Tony said, everyone remembers things differently anyway), this audience was also especially appreciative of what we’d made. Mary (in the foreground on the left in the picture above) was especially keen, after the play, to know why we’d chosen to focus on Dockfield. She seemed delighted by the thought that the place she grew up in — the landscape of her own childhood, if you like —  was being celebrated and remembered in  a play (however low-key and informal it might be as a play). I had the sense that her own sense of pride in the specialness of that place was somehow being confirmed by this outside intervention. And she had a few additional stories to tell of her own — like the way that the railings along Dockfield Terrace had been cut down during the war, to feed the urgent need for metal for the war effort…

What I’m really proud about with this play, so far, is that it seems to “work” in different ways for different audiences. For these people at Woodbottom Club, it provided an opportunity to look back and remember together — they carried on talking for hours (literally) after the performance, but were still thanking us for this “special evening” when they left. Conversely, our hosts last night at Amber Wharf are relatively new arrivals in Dockfield, and so the play helped to ground them in the history of the place and answer some of the questions they had about it. In the end, I suppose, that’s the great thing about storytelling… a story has a shape of its own, but it can mean different things to every spectator, depending on the interests and experiences they bring to it.


Postscript. This was tonight’s performance — Wednesday April 19th — at Saltaire Brewery Tap. This week we came inside (no setting sun to warm us this time), and were joined by the biggest and most diverse audience we’ve had yet… Diverse in terms of both age and background. Gathered in two rows around our table, they included long-term Dockfield residents, more recent arrivals, and visitors from right out of town!

Indeed, among those present were a family from the Midlands… theatre and cinema enthusiasts who had come up to see the “magic lantern” collection at the Bradford Media Museum (an old-fashioned form of colour slide projection), only to discover that the collection has been shunted off down to London. They seemed delighted by our show, though (as if reassured that the North had managed to keep some culture of its own!). Despite knowing nothing about the Shipley area, they said that the history of industrialisation — that we tell through the microcosm of Dockfield’s story — was one they very much recognised from their own Black Country background.

“You’ve invented a new paradigm”, one of them told me afterwards. I confessed to not knowing what he meant. “A new model for doing plays,” he explained. “You could take this format and tell the story of anywhere.” And I suppose you could…  Personally, I wouldn’t claim to any enormous originality in the format of this piece: the component parts come from a range of theatre forms. But it’s true I haven’t seen them combined in quite this way before, or for quite this purpose (telling the up-close story of a place, through the use of characters, rather than the story of characters, that’s set in a place). As I say, though, what’s most special to me about this piece is the way that it seems to invite such spontaneous, conversational responses — even as we’re performing it.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks are due to Kat Martin, my wonderful co-performer in this piece, and to Simon Brewis – our director, who also guided us skilfully through the play’s development phase, from my initial draft script. Simon also took the pics of the Woodbottom performance. Thanks also Janet Wojtkow (whose pics I pinched off our Facebook feed, where she’d uploaded them), Paul Barrett (for the Kirkgate Centre pic), and Ruth Bartlett (for tonight’s Brewery pics).

Beck memories on World Rivers’ Day

This Sunday, September 25th, was World Rivers’ Day. Not to be daunted by the fact that Bradford’s river is largely invisible — culverted underground through the city centre ever since the later nineteenth century — the Friends of Bradford’s Becks (FoBB) organised a special celebration in City Park to mark the occasion. It’s time that modest Bradford Beck (formerly mucky Bradford Beck) takes its place alongside the cherished rivers of the world! I was there to represent Multi-Story Water on one of the many stalls that FoBB had arranged around the edge of the Mirror Pool…

Steve and Eddie

Here I am at our “songs and stories” stall with my good friend Eddie Lawler, who performed, among other compositions, his song “Bradford Beck” — which calls for the river to be “resurrected from its rat-ridden cave”, and “to be a treasure, be a pleasure….” The song dates back almost 15 years now, to a time when very few people were even talking about the Beck, but it has now become kind of a signature tune for FoBB. (Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Geoff Roberts, of Aire Rivers Trust — thanks Geoff!)

rose starting walk

The central action of the day was at the FoBB stall itself, which served a number of purposes including being the starting point for a well-attended walking tour — presented by Rose Reeve and Pauline Ford — of the 15 plaques that FoBB has had installed in pavement sites over recent months, to mark the underground course of the Beck through the city centre. (See this previous blog post.) Along the way, walkers also encountered this little spot, just a block away from the City Park area…

bottoms and beck

Yes, it’s an open manhole cover! The only way to check out the Beck in the city centre… Still, the city seems serious about treating its watery heart a bit more thoughtfully in future, and the presence of the Lord Mayor of Bradford at the Rivers Day event was one sign of this. Here he pictured is with the Lady Mayoress and, to the right, Barney Lerner — Chair of FoBB and the main co-ordinator of the day’s events. Barney, who lives safely uphill from the local rivers in Baildon, recently retired from Sheffield University and is really dedicating his retirement to pushing for further progress for the Beck. (Go Barney!)

Mayor and Barney

The Lord Mayor’s speech, at the FoBB tent, concluded with him awarding a prize to artist Alex Pavey

Lord Mayor shakey Blakey

winning sculpture design

Alex is the designer of the winning entry in a FoBB-run competition to design a “listening sculpture” for the Beck — the sketch for which is pictured here to the right (and is part-hidden by her body in the photo above!). The competition organisers came up with a shortlist of the best entries, which were then put to a public, online vote — which Alex won. The challenge now will be the realise the sculpture in reality — completion is scheduled for some time next year. There will be various engagement activities around the building/opening of the sculpture, which Multi-Story Water will hopefully involved with. Our involvement might even lead on directly from what I was up to with Eddie…

I’ve been doing quite a bit of story-telling lately (see, for example, my last blog post on the Too Much of Water performance for Saltaire Festival), and as a contrast — on this occasion — I was story gathering… with a view to possibly using some of what came up in future presentations. Using a map of the Bradford Beck system that was kindly provided to me a while ago by Bradford Council, I was inviting people to locate themselves on the map, sticking on different coloured dots to represent different things…

Steve pointing

So a red dot was “where I live” (or used to live), a yellow dot was “where I work” (or used to), a green dot signified environmental improvements, a blue dot was for places associated with happy memories, and finally a purple dot was for problem spots or issues. I snapped the shot below relatively early in proceedings and we’d accumulated a good deal more dots by the end of the afternoon!

IMG_1718The map served as a real drawer for passers-by, many of whom were fascinated to see the city like this — with the river system (and possible flood risk areas) highlighted as central and prominent, rather than merely forgotten underground. Visitors to the stall with longer memories told me about their recollections of the 1968 flood, for example, when the city centre was partially underwater and the subway passages underneath main roads were completely impassable. Another visitor, remembering even further back, recalled the flooding in 1947, when she was a child. Her recollection was that a stretch of the Beck to the west of the city centre was not, at that time, culverted underground as it is now (so the culverting does not all date back to the 19th Century!). A brother and sister, both now in early middle age, recalled growing up in the vicinity of Bradford University and how, as kids, they would enter the Westbrook culvert and explore it with candles lighting their way… Since that time, the beck has been fenced over in the University area — perhaps partly to discourage such explorations — but also contributing further to the general sense of the river as something dangerous, poisonous, hostile, rather than something to be embraced. These now-grown-up childhood explorers clearly recalled their adventures with real affection and nostalgia… In today’s world, perhaps, we’ve taken the obsession with health-and-safety a little too far, at the expense of natural curiosity?

fishing demo

Fortunately, a number of the other events and presentations at this World Rivers Day celebration provided interactive opportunities for curiosity and exploring new things… The Wild Trout Trust, for example, laid on a fly fishing demonstration in the Mirror Pool (or, at least, the small part of it that wasn’t drained on this occasion…). I don’t think anyone caught anything (!) but kids of all ages seemed to be having fun learning how to use that rod… Meanwhile, JBA Trust were on hand with their water flume demonstration (below), to show passers-by how water flow works, and how it is affected by installing different constructs that modify flow patterns (weirs, tunnels, etc.). On one level, this is quite technical, but its also a really accessible demonstration that people find genuinely intriguing…

JBA demo

Another interactive demonstration model was provided by the Environment Agency, on the stall next door to ours. This one has a miniature landscape in it, with a river channel, and you can use dripping trays to demonstrate the effects of rainfall on the landscape, where the water runs off to, and so on. The rainfall is heavier or lighter depending on how big the sponges in your trays are… Great fun. This model is populated, rather mysteriously, by Marvel superhero figures (I spotted Iron Man and Wolverine, for starters)

EA Rachel

In the foreground of the shot here, you can see photographs of the 1968 Bradford flood also on display… At our story/memory stall, though, there was also much discussion of the more recent floods in Shipley, Bingley and the wider Aire valley, and about the possibility of future events of this sort. Indeed, it wasn’t just memories that passers-by were sharing, but some very current concerns about recently-announced Bradford Council plans for building new houses — on green spaces to the west of the city centre, not far from the Beck and its tributaries. Were these flood plain areas, people wanted to know? Was there any joined-up thinking going on? In light of Bradford Council’s quite critical “scrutiny report” on its own handling of floods last Christmas — published just this week — there are clearly still some questions to be addressed… But that’s a topic for another blog.

A big round of applause, then, to Barney Lerner and all at FoBB, the Aire Rivers Trust, and other contributing organisations, for creating a memorable day in City Park. Let’s hope that progress on the Beck’s future can “kick on” from here…

Mirror pool and catchment poster



The Bradford Underground…?

Yesterday I was with some of the Friends of Bradford’s Becks, representing the Beck in the city centre as part of the, er, Ilkley Literature Festival’s contribution to this weekend’s Bradford Festival. Thanks to Geoff Roberts for this group photo of the contributors…


This was a poetry event, presented in Waterstone’s (in Bradford’s historic Wool Exchange), and hosted by FoBB chairman Barney Lerner (second on left). This year FoBB has published a book of poems about Bradford Beck, by a range of local poets, and has even recorded a CD of many of them being read. It’s all part of an ongoing attempt to raise awareness of the Beck, to speak of it in language even when it can’t be seen with the eyes…


It should be noted, though, that Eddie Lawler and I were cheating slightly, by (1) presenting song and narrative rather than poetry as such… (though nobody seemed to mind!), and (2) by offering “The Ballad of Little Beck” rather than a meditation on Bradford Beck itself. Eddie’s song written was for Salt’s Waters (a double act we have twice presented at Saltaire Festival), and features my narrative interjections about the ruined Milner Field House. (Soon to be part of a new downloadable audio tour available at

Still, in an effort to direct our attentions back to the city’s main watercourse, Eddie and I headed outside following the poetry presentation (as heard by a small but appreciative audience). We set out to hunt down the trail of plaques that have recently been installed by FoBB to trace the underground route of Bradford Beck through city centre. This one below, located on Bank Street, is typical: it bears the FoBB logo and the name of a supporting sponsor (Feature Radiators) in opposite corners, with a striking visual in the centre. Each plaque has a slightly different choice of wording – this one speaks of the beck “whispering in the dark … waiting for a rebirth” — perhaps a return to daylight; a “resurrection from this rat-ridden cave”, as Eddie’s song Bradford Beck so memorably puts it…


The map below tracks the 15 plaque positions — and Eddie, his wife Olga and I tracked them backwards from number 15 (near the end of Canal Road) towards the first one by the Odeon cinema — which is built directly over the top of the Beck. We discovered, however, that only plaques 8 through 15 have so far been installed. We hunted high and low for the others, but they’re not in place yet.


Hopefully the others will be in place by September, when FoBB is planning a number of activities for World Rivers Day. Among them will be guided tours of the plaques route — and Eddie and I were scouting them out with a view to planning such a tour.


As this picture shows, the plaques can be unobtrusive — barely noticeable even, unless you’re looking for them — but that is part of their charm I think. They’re subtle reminders of the presence of something that is literally invisible… buried 2 or 3 metres beneath our feet. A tour will, I think, have to play with that question of the visible or invisible, absent or present… We will also be hoping, frankly, for better weather in September than we’ve had this weekend. Water is a wonderful thing, but when it’s drizzling out of the sky, it doesn’t half put a dampener on “festival” spirits…



A walk in Bradforddale?

DSC_0038A spectacular view out across the valley of the Bradford Beck, taken last Saturday. On the far hillside is the unmistakable outline of Lister’s Mill at Manningham (complete with its Urban Splash- designed roof bubbles). On this side, a scrubby bit of non-descript moorland uphill from Bolton Woods. But what a view!

DSC_0036Here’s a more direct shot looking across to Lister’s, with the valley in between. The line that you can make out across the middle of this shot is of course the line of the Canal Road and its attendant industrial estates. Bradford Beck itself is invisible here, tucked away along the edge of that green area to the right of the shot, and then disappearing underground on the left. But this is the valley of the Bradford Beck, which Irene Lofthouse — poet, storyteller, and last Saturday, walking companion — should therefore be called Bradforddale. (If you Google Bradforddale, though, you get Bradford Dale in Derbyshire. If you Google Bradfordale, you get – unsurprisingly – Bradford Ale…)

DSC_0037Here is Bradford, by the way… a view looking south along the valley, with Valley Parade football ground the most prominent feature… And below, looking north, you can make out (despite the low-ish quality of my cameraphone) Shipley and Saltaire, where the Beck meets the Aire. The white box of the Shipley clock tower to the left, the unmistakable chimney of Salts Mill slightly to the right… Puts the town perspective a bit!


These views from this Bolton Woods promontory were a particular highlight of an organised walk run by a very smart, lovely man called Bob Davidson, as part of the Baildon Walkers’ Weekend. We started out from Baildon roundabout (somewhere across from, up the hill and to the left of Shipley, in relation to the shot above!) and then made our way downhill into the Aire Valley to pick up the Bradford Beck as the spine of our walk (guess that makes Baildon the brain and Shipley the shoulders?). The photos below track some of the highlights along the route, all the way into Bradford.

We walked down from Baildon via Ferniehurst Dell (where Titus Salt's son Edward once had a mansion...)

We walked down from Baildon via Ferniehurst Dell (where Titus Salt’s son Edward once had a mansion…)

... via the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Shipley (this shot is at the junction of the former Bradford Canal)

… then headed towards Bradford Beck via the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Shipley (this shot is at the junction of the former Bradford Canal)

Heading out across the savannah... (aka the meadow between Bradford Beck and Shipley station, currently threatened by Morrisons)

Heading out across the savannah… (aka the meadow between Bradford Beck and Shipley station, currently threatened by Morrisons)

Tracking the Beck upstream along the greenway on Canal Road... Barney Lerner, chairman of the Friends of Bradford's Becks, told us about plans to remove this "box culvert" that the river currently runs through - if the money can be found!

Tracking the Beck upstream along the greenway on Canal Road… Barney Lerner, chairman of the Friends of Bradford’s Becks, told us about plans to remove this “box culvert” that the river currently runs through – if the money can be found…

We stopped for a little liquid refreshment in Bolton Woods, across the valley from Frizinghall.

We stopped for a little liquid refreshment in Bolton Woods, across the valley from Frizinghall. (and fell over drunk, hence the sideways photo…) (or is it a technical glitch…?)

... from Bolton Woods we climbed up to the top of the hill for the views at the top of this blog post...

… from Bolton Woods we climbed up to the top of the hill for the views at the top of this blog post…

Down from the hilltop via a path warning of weddings!

… and then down again from the hilltop via a misspelt path warning of weddings!

Working our way down through the woods, we came to the Boar's Well, where Irene Lofthouse told us the ancient tale of the Last Boar of Bradford.

Working our way down through the woods, we came to the Boar’s Well, where Irene Lofthouse told us the ancient tale of the Last Boar of Bradford.

Irene Lofthouse and Eddie Lawler at the Spink Well - another of Bradford's ancient water sources...

Irene with Eddie Lawler at the Spink Well – another of Bradford’s ancient water sources…

... we finally popped out of the (thin end of the woods, almost in Bradford city centre!

… we finally popped out of the (thin end of the woods, almost in Bradford city centre!

Thanks to Bob, Barney and everyone involved in the walk for a very enjoyable few hours. Definitely a route to recommend! 







Bradford’s “Conceptual” Canal

Just last week, the new cycle route between Shipley and the centre of Bradford was officially opened. Broadly speaking, it runs parallel with the line of Bradford Beck — which also means that it traces the former route of the Bradford Canal.2015-04-10 11.05.16

This shot looks south down the green space that runs alongside the Canal Road towards Bradford. The canal itself would (as I understand it) have run along on the left, roughly where you see the path, while the Beck — then as now — ran at the bottom of the valley. This is the spot, in fact, where my short film Wading to Shipley begins from – except that in 2012 when we shot that material there was no such clear access to the Beck at this point (that new bit of fence demonstrates that access might be a bit too clear without it!). This next shot is a few yards further downstream past the bridge…
2015-04-10 11.03.42Here you can see the high retaining wall/flood defence that pens the Beck in at this point. The area to the left (east) used to be an impassable area of undergrowth…

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But it’s now been cleared out completely in the construction of this path. Hopefully in due course there’ll be some replanting and other improvement because it looks a wee bit bleak just here…

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As you begin to walk towards Shipley, the new path forks neatly in two directions. The main path follows what would have been the route of the canal, while the lower path heads down to a small footbridge across the Beck…

2015-04-10 10.59.49The bridge has been there for a long time, but access to it — and across towards the station — is now much clearer… also making the Beck that bit more accessible.

2015-04-10 11.00.24Here’s a close-up of the notice in the last-but-one picture above. Bradford Council (as it has done in other places flagged up on this blog) has taken care to ensure that this new path is designated as a temporary right of way — that no precedent is being set which might, through use and custom, establish this as a permanent public right of way. This means that, in the future, they can choose to close the path, build over it, whatever. An understandable disclaimer perhaps, but a rather disappointing one for anyone dreaming of a greater sense of “public commons” rather than slightly grudging “permission”…

2015-04-10 10.59.08This shot, taken further along, looks back down the path towards the back of the sign, and Bradford beyond. This might become quite a pleasant, wooded walk in time…

2015-04-10 10.58.26Further along still, the trees open out and you can look across the valley to Shipley station. Here the Beck is only visible via the retaining wall that cuts across the land…

2015-04-10 11.11.08And here the path brings us out onto Carnegie Drive, Windhill, looking towards the main Leeds Road — with the railway crossing the bridge to the left… Remember again, this is roughly the trajectory of the old Bradford Canal. And now, closer still to the road, take a look across to the red-brick building just visible, in the middle distance, between the two blue cars pictured below…

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The red-brick building, pictured again on the right here (this time we’ve crossed the Leeds Road to the other side), is the old pump house for the Bradford Canal… and the path marked out down the middle of the car park you see here would have been the line of the canal itself… connecting towards the route we’ve just traced.

The pumphouse was built in 1872, by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Company, after they took over the Bradford Canal. It had been closed for some years, following a major canalside cholera outbreak! The seriously polluted condition of the water was in part due to the poor water supply from central Bradford, as it trickled down through the many locks on the way to Shipley… So the LLCC’s solution in the late nineteenth century was to establish a pumping system that re-cycled water from the Leeds-Liverpool end all the way back up to the Hoppy Bridge end in Bradford….

2015-04-10 11.15.42Here’s the pumphouse viewed closer up, on Dock Lane — and beyond it the original lock-keeper’s cottage, built in 1774 when the canal first opened. (The first sections of the Leeds-Liverpool canal to be cut in 1773 and 1774 were those between Shipley and Skipton: together with the Bradford Canal branch line, this allowed the first cargoes to be shipped between Bradford and Skipton…)

2015-03-05 13.35.50And here is all that’s now left of the Bradford Canal — the stumpy-looking mouth opening out onto the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, just a little further down Dock Lane from the pumphouse. So although the new cycle route stops rather abruptly when you hit the Leeds Road, all cyclists need to do is cross over it, whizz down Dock Lane, and then join the LLC towpath on the other side of the swing-bridge… They can then follow the towpath all the way to Leeds if they want — meaning a clear cycle route from Bradford to Leeds, via this northern hinge at Shipley (exactly what the canal system used to do, and what the Leeds to Bradford Forster Square train route still does…). But let’s head back to the pumphouse…

2015-03-05 13.41.05It’s a simple but also rather beautiful, chapel-like structure which currently stands empty. It had been converted for private residence a few years ago, but then it came up for sale and Bradford Council purchased it strategically — with a view to the so-called “Bradford Masterplan” scheme of 2003 (by architect Will Alsop) which would have involved re-opening the Bradford Canal. So for example the lock chamber behind the pumphouse — pictured below — would have been dug out again and filled with water.

2015-04-10 09.59.32The white barriers here aren’t original canal furniture – apparently they were put in by the people who last owned the pumphouse, for a bit of, well, fake authenticity… Anyway the point is that nobody is now talking seriously about re-opening the canal, which would be ludicrously expensive (in an age of austerity…) and of dubious economic, cultural or ecological benefit… Much better to treat the Beck properly if you want to make a feature of water along this particular valley… But people in the Council are apparently still talking about the notion of a “conceptual canal” — marking the line of where the canal once stood, by interventions such as the new cycle path. So the pumphouse stands at a strategically important juncture in this “concept”… Let’s take a look inside…

2015-04-10 10.13.01The building is now subdivided into upper and lower floors, where once it would have just been a single chamber housing a pump engine. The lower floor is currently without light (the windows are shuttered; electricity cut off), but in torchlight you can see some serious bowing in the floorboards that will need sorting out if the building is ever to be useful again… Upstairs it’s much brighter and more welcoming…

2015-04-10 10.17.00xx… except that it is weirdly subdivided by things like this mezzanine, presumably added to create an extra bedroom space. The master bedroom, pictured in the two images below, is the largest room, but has a very peculiar-looking WC in one corner…

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Pictured on the left here is Dave Partridge, Economic Development officer with Bradford Council, who kindly showed us around the building. Dave is interested in the building being used for socially constructive purposes, in line with the “conceptual canal” idea… and so my colleague Trevor Roberts, pictured below, is concocting a little scheme to put the pump house back into use…

2015-04-10 10.17.09Trevor runs a social enterprise called Canal Connections, which is all about using the waterways to reconnect people and places in novel ways. He sees the pump house as a potential meeting place — a site for conversations, exhibitions, and so forth — that highlight the importance of the waterways to the history, heritage, and perhaps futures of not just Shipley but also — by extension to the south and east — Bradford and Leeds. The pumphouse stands at an axis point, a conceptual hinge if you like. It has spaces that could be put back into social use, both inside and outside. What would you dream up for it, if you were planning Bradford’s “conceptual canal”…?

Bradford Beck, running orange

So apparently this was what Bradford Beck looked like last Friday (Jan 30), running under the railway arches in Shipley…
B8leUOwIMAAkC4SBright orange water flow… Looks a little apocalyptic! I didn’t see this myself (though I wasn’t far away that day), but I pinched this picture from the Telegraph and Argus website, which has lots of other images and video too, under the title “Why has Bradford Beck turned bright orange at Shipley?” Of course the headline is misleading: the river turned bright orange across a great deal more of its catchment than the section in Shipley — and the Environment Agency (EA) eventually traced the source of the pollution to Clayton Beck (tributary running through Clayton, obvs.). But given how much of Bradford Beck runs underground through the city, it’s only in Shipley that people really noticed the problem!

Barney Lerner, chairman of the Friends of Bradford’s Becks, yesterday circulated this explanation from the EA’s Stuart Jenkinson:

I can confirm that on Friday 30th January we received several reports of pollution of Bradford Beck. Environment Agency officers attended the scene. It was traced to the vicinity of Clayton Beck. We believe it was due to a ‘blow out’ of iron ochre from historically abandoned coal workings. We have classified the event as category 1 under our incident classification scheme. That is to say it had a major effect on water quality, albeit for a relatively short period of time. The iron contained in such discharges is largely insoluble and so chemically has little impact on ecology.  Chronic events can however harm the aquatic ecology through their ‘smothering’ effect on the stream bed. The Environment Agency is aware of disused mineral workings in the Clayton / Queensbury area, however we are not aware of them ever giving rise to such a noticeable discharge. We are not planning to take any enforcement action as result of this incident. In general water pollution from abandoned coal mines is dealt with by the Coal Authority. Treatment plants are expensive however and limited funding is allocated on a priority basis.

So now you know. Big mess, nothing to be done about it.

The problem seems to have gone away now, but I would briefly draw attention to this picture that I took almost 3 years ago now, shpwing a small confluence on the Red Beck tributary in the Norwood Avenue area of Shipley (which flows down into Bradford Beck by Canal Road) …

shipley & frizinghall 071Iron ochre looks to be popular around here…

Up in Salts Mill… JBA

Last week I had an intriguing meeting with Steve Maslen, of JBA Consulting — an engineering company based in offices on the top floor of Salts Mill. They’re right in the northwest corner, looking down directly over the Victoria Road canal bridge, with the slightly lower roof of the Visitor Centre building down to the left, and a grandstand view of Saltaire’s weir just to the right (I really should have taken a picture, but it felt a bit rude to ask!). This is the company that has consulted on the actual hydrological designs for the proposed hydro-electric turbine on the weir – and there it is right outside their window! Also in their “current” file, here in the Shipley area, is a consultation being carried out for Friends of Bradford’s Becks (with the blessing of Bradford Council) looking at the logistics of removing the box culvert over Bradford Beck (the covered bit on the green space next to Canal Road, just as you’re getting from Shipley to Frizinghall). Watch this space on that one.

Anyway, Steve Maslen (who used to run his own separate company, Maslen Environmental) is a very interesting and helpful man, and he gave me this Youtube link to a film about the work of JBA Trust — a not-for-profit organisation established to help educate and inform the public about environmental issues. When I asked if this was a form of corporate tax avoidance (as their charitable trusts often are), Steve politely but firmly said no. This is a company that prides itself on its ethical approach to business — so giving something back and sharing knowledge is a key part of what they do. “We’re not just an engineering company,” as Steve put it. Anyway, here’s the video (blog post continues below…).


Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas (or alternative festivities) to anyone following this blog… We’ve been quiet in recent months, but the latest news is that the Multi-Story Water project has recently secured substantial new funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to pursue further work in the Shipley area (as well as other community locations elsewhere in the UK) over the next couple of years. We’ll be working closely with Kirkgate Community Centre to enhance community contacts and discussions, and working towards a range of public events with Shipley’s river and canal as their focus. Watch this space for more details…

In the immediate short term, we’ll be participating actively in Kirkgate’s day-long Shipley Connected event, on 25th January (2014) at Shipley College’s Exhibition Building, in Saltaire. Full details to be circulated in the New Year.

And finally, a little Christmas gift – a reminder of this year’s July heatwave as we endure gale-force December winds… We’ve just, belatedly, finished editing this short film, City of Rivers, shot back when everyone was looking slightly moist with perspiration…

The film isn’t directly about Shipley, but is definitely a spin-off from our work in the area. It relates to the “river stewardship” initiative being pursued by our friends at the Environment Agency… Mostly set in Sheffield, the film is topped and tailed by anonymised footage of Bradford Beck (out-takes from the film Wading to Shipley…). Besides that, it should be pretty self-explanatory…

Wishing everyone happy holidays and all the very best for 2014.

Steve Bottoms


Wading to Shipley

We’re pleased to announce the online premiere of a new short film, Wading to Shipley, which we’ve been finishing this summer since the conclusion of our live performance dates in July. The film traces a walk down – and in – Bradford Beck, coming into Shipley, and combines music and narration with visuals. To view the film and read more, just click on the “Bradford Beck” tab on the menu bar above, and selected “Wading to Shipley”. Enjoy!

Beck under Bradford…

A short post, this one, just to connect with a fascinating blog post I recently discovered here, from someone who has actually walked the full stretch of Bradford Beck as it flows underground through the city centre… It doesn’t finally emerge until the Canal Road corridor in the Frizinghall area on the way to Shipley. A very good read.

As if to link up… I’m currently working on a video edit of the film we made for our Multi-Story Water performances last year, for which I walked the daylit stretch of the Beck (with handheld camera) from Canal Road to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Aqueduct (where the Beck passes underneath it). The video will be posted soon on this site.