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.

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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).

Dockfield – going through Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes…

On Saturday 1st April, from 4pm-8pm, the Multi-Story Water project will be co-hosting a special event for residents of the Dockfield area at Saltaire Brewery – in conjunction with the Brewery and with Shipley’s Kirkgate Centre. It’s an opportunity for people in the neighbourhood to get together for a drink and a bite to eat — to celebrate Dockfield’s distinctive heritage and community — and to share some thoughts about what’s happening in the area now… Do come and join us!

IMG_2377Dockfield is in a state of transition today — just as it always has been. Residents and businesses come and go… buildings go up and come down. Right now, there’s a new residential building going up right at the junction of Dock Lane and Dockfield Road…

IMG_2378In this picture above, taken a couple of weeks ago, you can see the distinctive outline of the Amber Wharf flats — just across the canal from this construction site –about to be obscured by the rising walls of the new building. Of course, the previous building on this site was single-storeyed, but not this one…

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Not so long ago, the flats were still clearly visible across the site… And just last summer, the area was completely clear… just awaiting new development….

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The sense of ongoing change that, in many ways, defines Dockfield is perhaps summed up in the picture below… Here, on the other side of the Dock Lane junction, looking east, you can see a lump of old wood on top of a post… leftover from who knows what? … which currently serves as a makeshift sign for Saltaire Angling Association — warning away unlicensed fishermen…

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The sign makes a claim to private rights, but it’s clear from our interviews with local residents that the canal always used to be seen as a community asset. People fished in it, swam in it, you name it… One interviewee memorably referred to it as “the Leeds-Liverpool Lido”…

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The canal itself has been in a state of transition recently. Just last year, the Dock Lane swing bridge got a complete makeover… This followed on from the re-paving of the towpath the previous year – although the new surface only extends as far as the swing bridge (as you can see in the last but one picture, cyclists are then advised to switch over to the road from the rough track beside the canal).

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Here’s the lovely new, railinged platform area for the swing bridge operating panel. This has gone all high-tech and automated now, replacing the crank handle system that had been there for decades… It used to require 18 full turns, I’ve been told, to open or close the swing bridge… And if you didn’t do enough turns when closing it, then the bridge wouldn’t be lowered properly back into place, and there’d be a horrible banging noise any time a car drove across it… This would keep some nearby residents awake at night, so hopefully the new system is an improvement!

A continuing issue for residents, though, is the far more unsightly state of things directly across the swing bridge, where a big row of containers — effectively just skips full of weight to prevent them being moved — hugs the edge of Dock Lane…

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I’ve been told that the containers were put here some time ago to prevent travellers from moving onto the land just east of Dock Lane here, next to the canal… That land is still earmarked for new residential development, and the owners don’t want squatters.

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But I gather there are various complications for the site owners here — including a lack of existing service infrastructure (eg water and sewage pipes), as well as issues around financing etc. Whatever the reason, the site has remained empty since the last pre-fab industrial building was removed from it… leaving just an exposed concrete floor through which nature somehow finds its way…

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I must admit that the persistence of nature in this long-industrialised area is one of the things that appeals to me about Dockfield. There’s this rather lovely row of self-seeded birch trees, for example, which has grown up at the edge of what remains of the Bradford Canal (at its junction, here in Dockfield, with the Leeds-Liverpool…).

IMG_1406And then of course there are the local swans, much loved by the residents here, who have adopted the area and seem to be in no hurry to leave. For the last couple of years, they have nested right here, along the snicket alongside Junction Mill, that links from the towpath through to Dockfield Road…

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This picture is from last year… when the swans returned to nest in the same spot despite having been plagued by some unscrupulous egg-thieves the year before (or so I heard). I wonder if they’ll nest here again this year…? In the shadow of Junction Mill and the local razor-wire…

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Dockfield is a special place. An “island”, one resident told me, sandwiched between the river, the canal, Bradford Beck to the west, and – to the east – a road dead-ending in fields. It’s maybe not a place people come to visit, but it’s got a special history that we’ve been exploring through both interviews with residents and archival research. In April, we’ll be presenting the findings of this research in the form of a specially-written play, This Island’s Mine. We’re hoping to perform it (free of charge) in residents’ living rooms and kitchens, as a conversation starter… Just call us if you’d like to book us in! (Steve is on 07504 417323)

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Dockfield and Lower Holme: A story in maps

This time last year, I was trying to keep this blog updated with the crisis that was the Boxing Day flood of 2015. Thankfully, things have been a lot quieter this Christmas, so I’ve been able to devote a bit of ‘down time’ to some more historical water stories. Specifically, I’ve been puzzling over old maps, trying to figure out the history of how homes and industry developed in the Dockfield area of Shipley (and the Lower Holme area of Baildon, just across the river footbridge). It’s more fun than a jigsaw puzzle…

1837 Shipley Kirkstall turnpike plan

Dockfied is an area defined by water on all sides — the River Aire to the north, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal parallel to the south, and Bradford Beck to the west (flowing north to meet the Aire). But as you can see from this 1837 map, above, it was not even dreamed of at that point in time. Shipley was then a small town whose centre was slightly further west than it is now, clustered around the road leading off the original Canal Bridge (now Victoria Street Bridge), before the Otley Road bridge and Foxes Corner junction even existed. East of the Beck (or “Brook”, as this map has it), was simply farmers’ fields. By 1852, though — the date of this next map — there are sure signs of industrialisation…

Dockfield 1852 detail of larger Shipley mapNot far to the west, Salts Mill was nearing completion and about to open — in 1853. But here, in addition to Baildon Mill (the old water mill on the Aire, also visible in our earlier map), we can now see Junction Mill — in the spot where it still stands, directly to the east of Bradford Beck, and facing Junction Bridge — the original canal bridge that allowed horses to cross from the towpath of the Leeds-Liverpool to the towpath of the Bradford Canal (hence “junction”). Also in what’s to become known as Dockfield, there on the southern bank of the Aire, is another, as-yet unnamed “Worsted Mill“.

Neither of these two new mills would have had water wheels (or their attendant weirs). This was now the age of steam engines. But still, you need water to make steam. Junction Mill appears to have been getting its supply from the river via the “Junction Aqueduct” (Salts Mill had a similar pipeline set-up), but the smaller worsted mill had clearly opted to site itself right next to the river. This meant that it didn’t face onto the canal, as Junction Mill did, so to get access to this vital transport and haulage route, a road of sorts has been constructed between the mill and a small “Dock” on the southern edge of the canal. And a swing bridge (or “Turn Bridge”) has been installed to provide access across the canal itself. Notice that, at this stage, Dock Lane does not appear to extend any further: it is literally just a lane linking the riverside mill to the canal dock.

Taken together, the appearance of these two mills gives a clear indication of what the appeal of this area was to industrialists: you needed both the river for a ready water supply and the canal for transportation, and in the Shipley area you had both, running in parallel. Of course, rail is another transport option, and already in this 1852 picture above you can already see the clear line of what was then the Midland Railway, running roughly parallel to the canal, just to the south. But stations were fewer and further between on a railway, so the canal still had a clear appeal for its readier freight access (just as road haulage is, today, much more convenient than rail for most businesses).

Now let’s spool forward another 40 years, to the first modern Ordnance Survey map, printed in 1893:

Dockfield OS 1893 (first edition)Notice, first, the appearance of the words Dock Field on this map. The area has found its name — a name that presumably refers simply to the fact that there is a dock right there in the middle of a field… But the words actually appear next to the first row of houses in the area, which have no doubt been built to house the worsted mill’s growing workforce. These houses, now known as Dockfield Place, are still in use today. 

Notice, though, how the riverside worsted mill has now been dwarfed by the erection of the Lower Holme mill, directly across the river. This Baildon site, bought up by Titus Salt in 1850 (apparently before he decided where to site Saltaire), was sold on to C.F. Taylor in 1862, and it was Taylor who then built the large mill building next to the river (again, water supply…). He must also have been responsible for building the bridge across the river, in order to connect to Dock Lane and, thus, the canal dock. Although the present, 1960s bridge structure is just a footbridge, it must originally have been wide enough for wagons — which also explains why the road running down to it has always been full road-width (at least until the arrival of the controversial “landscaping” — aka a long row of dumped earth — that was left along the edge of the Wickes overspill car park when the site was redeveloped in 2014… still a sore point with residents!).

I can’t easily show you the Lower Holme cottages north of the mill, because in a quirk of OS mapping, there’s a key grid line that runs through here that always carves the mill and cottages onto two separate pages of the maps. So we’ll come back to the Baildon side of things at the end of this post… Sticking for now with Dock Lane, notice how — in the 1893 map above — the lane now continues alongside the railway and then underneath it by the canal junction. It then runs alongside the Bradford Canal (long since filled in, of course) to connect with the Leeds Road, just as it still does today. Finally in the 1893 map above, note also the massive expansion of railway sidings to the south of the mainline.

The next map is from 1908, just fifteen years later…

Dockfield OS 1908 revisionAt first glance you might think this looks much the same as in 1893. But notice the developments to the east of Dock Lane, between river and canal. A small row of houses has now appeared along the towpath to the east of the swing bridge — houses which still stand today on Dockfield Road (though the road did not yet exist when they were built). These houses and the other new buildings to the north have apparently been built to service the new Sewage Works that Shipley Urban District Council has recently been building. The long, rectangular in the top right of the image above will soon be more clearly delineated as sewage settling tanks. So… the outlines of the Dockfields “island” (as some residents call it) are now clearly defined: river, beck, and canal to the north, west and south, and wastewater treatment to the east…

The sewage works’ arrival was the result of developments in local government and sanitation around the end of the 19th Century. The SUDC was created from the old Shipley Local Board, and one of its main reasons for being was to bring proper drainage and sewerage to Shipley — by eliminating the old middens and cesspits, and providing new homes with proper plumbing. A new sewage main running west to east along the Aire valley through the whole of Shipley parish now emptied into these wastewater treatment works at what was then the easternmost edge of the town. Indeed, technically (as 19th C. maps make clear), the area east of Bradford Beck was in the parish of Idle, not Shipley, so in effect Shipley was dumping its waste on the threshold of its neighbour.

But Shipley Urban District Council was not done yet… Look at this next OS map, from 1922 (? ish).Dockfield OS 1922 probably

The new sewage works are more clearly labelled now. The worsted mill on the riverbank has now finally acquired the name of Dock Mill. But most strikingly, we now have the spanking new Dockfield Road, leading all the way up from Otley Road, at Baildon Bridge. The road has been built by the SUDC to provide better access to the sewage works and thus take the pressure off Dock Lane (which was no longer fit for purpose, with the mounting volume of traffic, and with that low bridge under the railway). Along Dockfield Road and the adjoining Dockfield Terrace (which links to the older homes nearer the mill) we now have two rows of early council housing — homes literally built by Shipley Council, with the very latest spec in plumbing and drainage… This was an early statement about the unsuitability of the old back-to-back homes in the Windhill area — visible in the bottom of the 1893 map above, and eventually demolished by SUDC in the years after World War II.

If we fast forward again to 1934, the full scale of Dockfield’s industrial development has now become apparent…

Dockfield OS 1934 (1)West of Dockfield Terrace, the Hammond Sauce works has now set up shop, and there’s also a weaving shed and small engineering works alongside the sauce. Dockfield Mills has now been built on the canal bank next to Junction Mills (also still standing today). Dock Mill itself has further expanded, and there are more buildings around the canal dock (presumably warehousing, to cope with the increased capacity now needed). This is Dockfield at its industrial height.

Now then… All of these map images are close-up photographs I’ve taken from the large maps on display to the public in Bradford Central Library’s Local Studies section. (There’s no indication there of any copyright issues with the maps, so hopefully I’m not breaking any laws here.) But for some reason the library’s big maps don’t go past 1934. After that we move to a different scale of OS mapping, but we also make a huge leap to 2003…

Dockfield OS 2003What’s perhaps most noticeable here, apart from the altered graphics, is just how little has changed since the 1930s. In the map above, Dock Mills is still there, and the various “Works” to the west of Dockfield Terrace. But Junction Mills has been renamed “Regent House” and Dockfield Mills is “Staveley House”. These name changes are indicative of a change in use from industrial space to office space, in this “post-industrial period” after Mrs. Thatcher murdered the country’s manufacturing base in the 1980s…

Notice, too, that at some point since the 1930s, the old canal dock has been filled in (the canal’s “super slow way” no longer being a viable freight transport option in this high speed era). More “works” have been built over the docks area, although — in 2003 — these are just about to be demolished. One of these buildings, Amber Works, will very shortly give its name to Amber Wharf, the new-build apartment complex built along the southern bank of the canal. (The first flats at Amber Wharf were sold in 2007 — right before the bottom fell out of the property market…) Dock Mills, too, will shortly disappear, to be replaced by the new-build riverside flats whose street address is still Dock Mill.

Notice that, at some point between 1934 and 2003, the OS maps also seem to have moved their grid slightly, so that the page cut-off now happens south of the river, rather than north of it… Below is the connecting page, from 2003, with Dockfield now linking clearly across to Lower Holme, via the modern footbridge structure…

Dockfield OS 2003 + Lower Holme

The Lower Holme mill has yet to be demolished (that would take another 5 or 6 years). And notice, on this map, that there are still “County Works” east of Dock Lane on the Shipley side of the river. Shipley’s sewage works were long gone by 2003, the wastewater treatment having been moved down to Esholt back in the 1950s (the land to the east that had once been an array of settling tanks and filter beds was redeveloped for more manufacturing, such as the Metal Box engineering plant that’s still there today). That said, there’s still a sewage pumping station next to the river, pushing the stuff on towards Esholt, and there are still electricity substations on this site, as on the map above. What’s changed now, of course, is that the County Works site has been sold off to the local success story that is Saltaire Brewery. Personally I’m a big fan of the Saltaire Blonde and their other beers, but next time you have a pint of theirs, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that it was brewed in a building that was once (according to the maps above) the “Refuse Destructor” for Shipley’s wastewater.

On that note, let’s cross the river again and jump back to the earlier maps for Lower Holme, across that OS boundary line…  Here’s the 1893 OS map for the area immediately north of the river, around the junction of Otley Road and Baildon Road:

Lower Holme cottages 1891The “inn” at the junction (aka the Junction pub) stands on the corner just as it does today. And south of Otley Road you can already see the distinctive twin lines of the Lower Holme mill cottages, also still standing. However, the area immediately west of these homes (where KFC is today!) appears to be green space at this point (note the little tree drawings!). The houses are separate from the mill itself, even though they’ve been built to house C.F. Taylor’s workforce. The mill is set back from the road because, as was noted earlier, it’s the water supply from the river that Taylor needs most. That and the canal access, across the river bridge.

Lower Holme cottages 1913

Jump forward to the 1913 revision (above), and the Lower Holme mill works are starting to encroach on the land west of the houses. There’s also been more development on the site to the east (also originally part of Taylor’s operation). And along the main road, notice the apperance of “Urinal” and “Trough” — all part of the public sanitation drive being pursued by Baildon Urban District Council at this time, in parallel with Shipley’s.

Lower Holme cottages 1934By the time of the 1934 revision, above, the houses are pretty much surrounded… Industry at its height! The mill buildings, of course, have all now been demolished — within the living memory of some of those still living on Lower Holme.

So all in all, this area is a story of industrial rise and fall… industries dependent on water supplies, water transport, and (arguably most important to the area’s modern development) water treatment. But if the manufacturing has largely gone, or transmuted into service-sector industries like brewing and (down Dockfield Road at Funopolis) recreation, it’s important to remember that the homes built to house the area’s workers are all still standing. None of these have been demolished, because they’re good homes… the solidly domestic legacy of a bygone industrial era.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canal Child

The recent celebrations for the bicentenary of the opening of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal were marked by all sorts of activities up and down the canal’s 126 mile length. Pasted in below is a charming document of one of these initiatives — a musical collaboration between “the bard of Saltaire” Eddie Lawler (also a good friend of, and collaborator with, the Multi-Water Story project) and the children of Saltaire Primary School. The film speaks for itself really, so I need say no more… Enjoy!

Rain on the Parade: Canal Bicentenary

Yesterday, Sunday 16th October, the Shipley area had a big occasion — the Bicentenary celebrations for the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. The canal was finally completed through to Liverpool in October 1816. But it’s worth remembering that its construction period dated all the way back to the early 1770s – when it was begun with cuts linking Skipton, Bingley, Shipley and Bradford… This area is key to the history of Britain’s longest singe canal.

IMG_1840To commemmorate the bicentenary, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Society’s historic cargo boat, the Kennet is making a journey along the entire 126 miles of the canal. Having started off from Leeds on Saturday, it was coming through the Bradford area on Sunday.

Act 1: Shipley (or, The Silence…)

Getting off the train at Shipley station, in  a light drizzle, I headed past the Fox and across the main Leeds Road towards the little alley through to Gallows Bridge. Crossing the bridge to get down to the canal towpath, I then walked the short distance from there up to Shipley Wharf, expecting to see some signs of local celebrations. But the place was completely deserted.

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Apparently, news of the bicentenary had not, er, floated any boats in Shipley — despite the town owing much of its history to the canal. To be fair, walking from Gallows Bridge I did pass a few stray people standing around under umbrellas, who might possibly have been waiting gamely for the Kennet…

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… But it wasn’t until getting to the bridge under Salts Mill Road that I found the first clear sign of celebrations… a rosetted Rob Martin (former chair of Saltaire Village Society) waiting with his smartphone… His mission was to call the bell ringers in Saltaire Church as soon as he caught sight of the Kennet coming west…

Rob was sheltering sensibly from the drizzle, which was getting steadily heavier. He and I had a wee chat about what was happening in Saltaire. “You’ll find them under the bridge.” He said. “You won’t be able to get past.”

Act 2: Saltaire (or, Waiting for the Bells…)

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He wasn’t kidding about finding people under the bridge. This was the huddle beneath Victoria Road as I  came past Salts Mill. Didn;t look like many people from a distance, but it turns out there was a whole world under there! Hall Royds brass band were pom-pom-pomming away to try to keep everyone’s spirits up…

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And then past the bridge, lots of anoraked people were waiting on the towpath under rain gazebos (good bit of planning there by somebody!).

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I tucked in and stood around chatting. The general point of agreement was that everyone was patiently waiting for something to happen, but nobody was really sure what it would be or when. It all seemed classically English, somebody pointed out. Standing around in the rain for no apparent reason, but merrily cracking jokes about our own foolishness…

With no sign of the Kennet, still — and not even the church bells to herald its arrival — I decided to nose around the temporary signage that had been posted on the towpath, sandwich-board style, to mark the occasion… This was my favourite bit…

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As this colourful diagram-map confirms, we were standing alongside one of the oldest stretches of the canal (which of course predates Saltaire itself — it’s a key reason why Titus put the village here). Although apparently a stretch at the other end was also completed around the same time. It was a bit disappointing, though, that the signage (which seemed to be generic to the whole canal) didn’t do anything further to highlight the specific local history and significance of the waterway…

But never mind that — someone had convinced the Lord Mayor of Bradford that this anniversary was locally significant, and he here was now, complete with Bradford-crested brolly…

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And where the Lord Mayor goes, cameras also go. Just along the towpath I found a soggy-looking camera crew from BBC Yorkshire. They were there for Look North, they told me. Saltaire was clearly the scenic choice for telly…

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After much damp waiting from all concerned, the bells finally sprang into life and – shortly afterward – the Kennet hoved into view, heading slowly west… They looked at first as if they were going to try and moor in front of the brass band, just past the bridge…

IMG_1865… But then they seemed to decide that there were too many people huddled in there and it would be better to head a bit further along to a more open bit of towpath… Which is understandable but rather ironic given that the huddle was there to greet the boat…

IMG_1872So here’s the scenic shot, complete with Kennet, Salts Mill, and lots of brollies…

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The Kennet was decked out in bunting celebrating the “uniting” of Yorkshire and Lancashire through the completion of the canal. Red roses on yellow, and white roses on blue. And rather wonderfully, there was a big red and white rosette (a giant version of the ones that volunteer stewards like Rob were wearing) carefully sequestered in its own waterproof plastic bag…

The boat crew got off and the official ceremony got underway. Rather disappointingly, though, the ceremonials seemed to consist entirely of a photo op for the Lord Mayor. He duly posed for various shots with other someones, and with the costumed lady bargee to advertise the Canal Society’s Navigator beer… although to be fair I’m not sure the Mayor was quite sure what this bit was about…

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Anyway, the pictures were taken, the camera crew packed up, and everyone sort of drifted off. No speeches. No celebratory brass band serenade for the boat and the Mayor. Just a sort of general uncertainty as to what was happening. As I say, it all felt rather endearingly English…

Act 3: Hirst Lock (or, Something Lasting)

Drifting away from the general shuffling at Saltaire, I continued walking west, up to Hirst Lock. Here, I came across a lasting piece of signage marking the bicentenary…

IMG_1887This rather elegant noticeboard (helping to mask the eyesore view of the neglected old garden centre greenhouses beyond) has historical information about the canal’s significance in the area, and recommendations for walking routes. It’s a nice addition to the visitor offer in the Saltaire area, but it’s the work not of Bradford Council or UNESCO — but of that fantastic group of neighbourhood volunteers, the Hirst Wood Regeneration Group.
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Here on the lockable ‘news’ panel on the new noticeboard is news that HWRG have won, just this last week, a national award from Biffa — the waste disposal company — whose sponsorship enabled the construction of Hirst Wood’s new Nature Reserve (which opened last year on the other side of the canal). Well done indeed!

This year, HWRG have been continuing to maintain and develop the nature reserve, while also taking very seriously their “adoption” of a stretch of the canal — from Dowley Gap aqueduct, through Hirst Wood itself, Hirst Lock, and down towards Saltaire as far as the sports club. This adoption is apparent not only in the new signage and walk routes, but in strategically placed benches at intervals along the towpath, carved with the HWRG initials.

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These benches are a really welcome addition for walkers, enabling them to sit down and take in the surroundings for a bit. This sterling work by HWRG seemed somewhat overlooked, though, by the official celebrations. The Kennet duly arrived at Hirst Lock…

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…and then motored on straight past, with a few merry waves to the bystanders…

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Yet with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps, Hirst Lock would have been a much better place to have the official brass-band welcome and Mayoral moment — not only to acknowledge the new HWRG contributions to the canalside, but because there’s so much more space for onlookers! Instead of being crowded in a huddle on the towpath under the bridge, people could have spread out and appreciated the occasion a bit more. And the act of the boat going through the lock is also much more visually engaging for spectators than what had happened at Saltaire… But what do I know?

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As the Kennet disappeared off towards Bingley, the sun finally started to appear through the clouds, and Eddie Lawler rounded things up with a rendition of his beautiful new song, “Canal Child” — written specifically to mark the occasion (“I’m a canal child, born on a boat, brought up to keep the whole family afloat, for one hundred and twenty six miles…). The lyric celebrates the children who worked the canals back in the 19th Century, and the original idea was that Saltaire Primary School would sing the song with Eddie — there’s a verse or two specially written for them to sing chorally. In the event, though, not enough of the children’s parents were able to commit the time on a Sunday to bringing their kids and picking them up again, so (rather disappointingly) this plan had to be shelved. The song will instead be recorded with the kids this week, at school, as a video document instead.

Still, Eddie performed the song beautifully on his own, and against the appropriate backdrop of HWRG’s other new piece of canalside signage — a colourful mural also created with Saltaire Primary School children, under the supervision of Sharon Snaylam. It shows Bingley Five Rise to the left, Hirst Lock to the right, and canal boats in between. It’s a lovely, vivid piece of work in bold colours, which would not (at least in my view) be out of place in a modern art gallery. And it’s also fully waterproofed! 

IMG_1928As onlookers began finally to disperse, a group of the Hirst Wood Regen volunteers lined up for a celebratory group photo in front of the mural. Third from the left is the HWRG’s dynamic secretary, Pauline Bradley-Sharp — and third from the right, local Green councillor Kevin Warnes, who actively supports the group. I’m afraid I don’t know the other folk here, but nonetheless, I salute you all! Fantastic work making the canal and its surroundings seem loved and cared for. 

The Kennet will continue its journey across the Pennines all week, arriving in Liverpool next weekend. No doubt there will be more celebrations in other locations along the way. For me, though, this was a day that highlighted the value of hard work and longer-term thinking over empty ceremony. And the importance of carrying an umbrella.

 

 

Meadows and Bridges (…Looking back on a very busy few weeks…)

The Multi-Story Water team have had an extremely busy few weeks, so this blog has got a little behind with updates… We’ve had two big weekends — this last one, July 11th-12th (of which more shortly), and a fortnight before that, June 26th-28th, we were involved with two simultaneous water-themed festivals — in Shipley and downstream in Leeds.

The Shipley Street Arts Festival, co-ordinated by our friends at Q20 Theatre on Dockfield Road, was an ambitious attempt to combine traditional street entertainments in Shipley’s town square (jugglers, stiltwalkers, and the like) with a thematic emphasis on the town’s rivers and canal… So a second ‘hub site’ for the festival was down on the canal towpath beside the Ibis Hotel. Here’s what it looked like with the big letters SHIPLEY on display…

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Multi-Story Water was involved in various aspects of the festival — for example, there was a successful screening of our short film Wading to Shipley at the Ibis on the Sunday, and we’d also arranged with JBA Trust (based at Salts Mill) to display their water flume in the town square… It demonstrates different forms of water flow, when you place different kinds of constructions or obstacles in a channel. On one level quite technical, it’s actually really interesting to watch, and there was a lot of curiuos interest from passers-by…

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Our main contribution to the festival, though, was an interactive performance piece called Seven Bridgeswhich used the Ibis as its starting point. Spectators (participants, is probably a better word) toured themselves east along the canal towpath towards Dockfields in groups of 4 or 5, and along the way they were given some game-like challenges to complete. They also would encounter various performers. Here’s David Smith, for example, as a heritage tour guide from three hundred years in the future (2315), dressed as an ordinary canal buff from 2015 (geddit?), and pontificating about the significance of the “art” (aka graffiti) on Otley Road Bridge:

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And here’s Lynsey Jones, as a Victorian lock-keeper’s wife (who did all the work opening the locks…), talking to spectators on Junction Bridge…

Shipley Arts Festival. 28.06.15Participants would make their way as far as the old Bradford Canal pumphouse, on Dock Lane, where they would share what they had gathered en route, before returning the way they had come, accompanied by the performers…

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There’s more pictures and documentation of Seven Bridges (Shipley) if you look under the “Performances” tab on our menu bar… But for now, let’s turn our attention to its partner piece, Seven Bridges (Leeds)which we presented on the same dates at the Leeds Waterfront Festival. The idea was to “bridge” the two festival locations, upstream and downstream, if only conceptually… Obviously the Leeds version was on a bigger scale, with bigger bridges, and this one took the form of a guided tour rather than a self-led journey… Here’s musician Eddie Lawler (on a day out from his home in Saltaire) kicking the piece off at Clarence Dock (with Crown Point Bridge in the background) with an old canal song about the founding of the Aire and Calder Navigation, which turned Leeds into a “seaport town” in 1700…

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But Eddie was just the “local colour” wheeled in to warm the crowd up by Don Freshwater (played by Steve Bottoms, below in the suit)… Don is a both little sinister and a little nuts… he claims to be the CEO of something called the “Leeds Re-Development Corporation”… As Don explains below (in front of Knights Way Bridge and Clarence Dock on the far side) the audience has been gathered as “consultants” to help decide how to redevelop the waterfront… The “ordinary people of Leeds” were never consulted in the past about these matters, so Don wants to consult them now… except that he doesn’t really, because he likes the sound of his own voice too much.

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Again, there’s more photos and more detail on this slightly barmy performance (with a serious edge to it) if you look under the “Performances” tab above. Both versions of Seven Bridges were very well received, and pointed us in some interesting directions for future work.

But in the interests of catching up with ourselves, let’s turn our attention now to this last weekend, spent in the flood plain meadow between the River Aire and the Higher Coach Road estate, west of Roberts Park (is it Saltaire, Shipley, Baildon..? you decide – there’s a case for all three). Preparations for the weekend began, in fact, a week earlier, when we sledgehammered a series of fence posts into the field in a rectangular pattern…

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Three fenceposts in a row… that’s Steve’s hand in the foreground, Pat Gledhill with the second one, and Matt Blakeley with the third, obscured by Pat because our line was so straight! (well…)

Notice how much longer the grass is than even last month (see previous post, “Meadow Madness”, where it’s much shorter and greener, with more buttercups visible). Basically Bradford Council have said that – with austerity cuts and the resulting loss of manpower and mowers – they will not cut the grass in this field as often as they used to. They did, however, oblige us by at least sparing the time to cut a swathe around our staked-out rectangle, so that by this last weekend, it looked like this:

DSC_0043On Saturday afternoon (July 11th), in the cleared area on the outside of the staked-out rectangle, we held a community barbecue for residents on the estate – with conversation, games for the kids, etc…

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This was part of our ongoing engagement with residents here, as we (and our colleagues at Kirkgate Centre) work with them on developing some plans for this riverside field… People would like to see a proper footpath, for instance, and other improvements, but the main focus today was the grass… Some residents, understandably, think it’s a disgrace that the grass has been left to grow this long — they feel it looks scruffy, and embarrasses the neighbourhood, and want us to pass on their anger about this to the Council. Others, though (perhaps a majority of those we spoke to this weekend?) seem to think that, if this is to be a meadow in future, then perhaps something more could be made of it — by planting colourful wildflowers, for example, and cutting at least some areas so that it all looks a bit more intentional and a bit less scruffy…

In an attempt to help focus this discussion, by drawing attention to what long grass is actually composed of up close, we created “A Meadow Meander” within the fenced off area. This is a mazy walk created by treading the grass down into a carefully planned set of looping pathways… So for example, in the picture below, you can make out a “Y” junction, where the “lie” of the grass could take you in one of two directions.

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As this picture also starts to suggest, left to their own devices, there are a LOT of different kinds of grasses and other plants growing in the field, and they merit some close up attention… “A Meadow Meander” is the creation of artist Baz Kershaw, and his Earthrise Repair Shop. Baz has created similar installations in various other UK locations, and for this one he had placed a series of jars on small plinths, to be discovered as you move around the maze…Picture3

Each of the jars contains a secret to be puzzled out — just as the winding paths in the grass also follow a particular pattern that visitors are invited to guess at… Baz calls it an “open secret”, because if you’ve done the meander, he’ll happily tell you what the pattern represents… but sorry, if you’re just reading this blog, we’re not going to tell you! The only clue we’ll share is that it might have something to do with the way that long grass looks a little like waves when it is played with by the wind. The River Aire, alongside this meadow, is not the only reason why the meander was appropriate for “Multi-Story Water”…

DSC_0044A Meadow Meander was presented both on the Saturday, along with the barbecue, and on the Sunday, when we put the entrance on the other side of the rectangle, right next to the riverside path. This meant that, where on Saturday it was mainly residents in the meander, on Sunday it was mainly passers-by — walking between Roberts Park and Hirst Wood. We wanted to get their ideas too, on the great meadow debate…

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A big thankyou to everyone who made the events described happen… and especially — on the Higher Coach Road estate — a huge thanks to Sarah Muller and to Stewart and Pat Gledhill for so enthusiastically helping to create (and indeed dismantle) the meadow meander… The fence posts are at Stewart and Pat’s as I write, and we have some future plans in store for them…

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric -- who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!

Pat Gledhill, with her Troutbeck Avenue neighbour Eric — who kindly donated alcohol to the cause!

 

 

 

Seven Bridges, Two Cities

The Shipley Street Arts Festival is coming up at the end of June (26th-28th), and this year is taking the river and canal as a linking theme. We’re delighted to announce that the Multi-Story Water project is working actively with Q20 Theatre to make this happen. In case you’re wondering whether there is any “street art” in Shipley, well lookee here…

DSC_0320A genuine (as far as I can tell) piece of Banksy graffiti, tucked away on the footpath that goes up to Gallows Bridge – across the canal – just up the hill from where Aldi and McDonalds sit by Bradford Beck. In case you don’t know his work, Banksy is a famously anonymous, Bristol-based artist whose graffiti has become internationally renowned. People sometimes rip down entire walls so as to be able to flog things he’s painted on them… This particular metal panel looks like its secure enough where it is, though. I’m not sure how long the painting has been there, but it’s tucked away in this wonderfully unassuming location… Here’s the image in close-up:

DSC_0318OK, that’s all I have to say about Banksy. But Gallows Bridge will be featuring as one of Seven Bridges in the Shipley area that will be linked by a looping promenade performance that we are making for the Street Arts Festival. I’m pleased to confirm that this will be performed by David Smith and Lynsey Jones (both of whom co-created and performed in our original Multi-Story Water tours back in 2012), and will be directed by Simon Brewis (who directed them). Always nice to keep things in the family…

Meanwhile, though, we are getting delusions of grandeur. Because simultaneously with the water-themed Street Arts Festival in Shipley, the Leeds Waterfront Festival will be running the same weekend. So to provide a kind of conceptual “bridge” between the two festivals, we will also be presenting another performance — with the same title, Seven Bridges — in Leeds. If you’re really keen, you might want to see both… (!)

DSC_0285This is me being anonymously artsy (if not banksy) while researching the Leeds end the other week. That’s Leeds Bridge you can see reflected in the plate glass — the crossing where the city began. Leeds’s whole history was built around the river, which is why it’s so strange that the city has sort of turned its back on the waterfront: you can live there for years and barely even be aware of its existence…

DSC_0304Here’s another of the Seven Bridges — Victoria Bridge, which was built (unsurprisingly) in the 19th Century to replace a longstanding ferry service. It’s one of the major road links to Leeds station … right beside Bridgewater Place — the unnecessarily tall building better known as “the Dalek”! But even though there’s a clue in the name — Bridge — water — place — you can drive across Victoria Bridge a thousand times and barely even notice that you’re crossing a river…

Now… notice the white, ‘canal style’ railings to the right of the shot above. That’s because this image was taken at the junction where the River Aire (aka the Aire-Calder Navigation) connects with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. And here it is…

DSC_0303… the footbridge that crosses the end of Lock 1 on the Leeds-Liverpool… the very, very beginning of the 109 miles of canal, that goes through Shipley and all the way to the Mersey… Meanwhile, if you turn through 180 degrees and move upstream on the Aire a little (also in the direction of Shipley, of course…) you come to this…

DSC_0298This is the brand new entrance to Leeds Station, currently being built by Carillion. I like the sign on it: “this is civil engineering“! (as opposed to uncivil engineering…?) Notice that because space is so tight around the station, the building materials are having to be floated upstream on pontoons (in the foreground of the shot) in order to get to the site. Notice also the angle this shot is taken from… I was standing on – you guessed it – a bridge. Granary Wharf Bridge, to be precise — quite a new, modern one… That’s the western end of our Seven Bridges route… and here’s (almost) the eastern end…

DSC_0256This is the entrance to the weir and lock at Crown Point (Clarence Dock), with the Crown Point Bridge arcing overhead… another road bridge that you can merrily drive across without ever noticing the river… And in the shot below is the weir itself, viewed a little further downstream from Knights Bridge (footbridge)…

DSC_0261Notice the black holes in the middle of the shot here. Not technically a “bridge” perhaps, but this is where Meanwood Beck enters the Aire… a rather lovely beck that flows down through Meanwood Park and its attractive, surrounding valley, but then disappears into underground culverts before it gets close to the city centre (shades of Bradford…).

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This is Knights Bridge itself, viewed from the Clarence Dock side, and looking across to the building that operates as the headquarters for the Canal and River Trust in Leeds (hub of the CRT Northeastern partnership, if that means anything to you). Some very nice people work there… This bridge, as you can tell, is pretty modern, but I need to do some more research about it…

What strikes me here is the proliferation of white-painted metal, which even extends to these cage-like railings in front of the CRT building itself…

DSC_0262I like the little bit of signage here, pointing you to the next bridge (“hey, you’ve just crossed the river, fancy doing it again in the opposite direction?”). But there’s no shortage of signage in the vicinity of the river in Leeds… Check these out, for instance…

DSC_0239DSC_0242DSC_0251DSC_0272 DSC_0243Everywhere you go, it seems, you’re being warned that you’re on private property… that you are walking at the permission and indulgence of property owners… that you are on CCTV… There’s no sense in Leeds at all that the banks of a river might be public space, for anyone to walk along. The riverside paths are constantly broken up, interrupted by buildings or private spaces that you can’t enter. There is no “ancient right of way” here, in the way that there is in Shipley… And then the city wonders why people don’t engage more with the waterfront…

O Banksy, where art thou…?

 

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”…?

‘Hydro-Citizens’ visit Shipley

DSC_0049Taken yesterday: an evocative shot of Salts Mill and New Mill from the deck of the Lady Jane… a working boat run by the JAMES project. At the front, you see one of the crew members with a barge pole attempting to break up the surprisingly thick ice that had formed on the surface of the canal as we made our way west.

DSC_0020In the shot below, a beer bottle just out of the ice at a jaunty angle – not quote sure of the physics there (how did the water freeze around it with most of the weight of the bottle above the surface?) – but I guess that’s the laws of nature (and litter) for you…

DSC_0042The occasion for this chilly but stunningly beautiful boat ride (perfect blue sky, crisp air, stunning light) was the visit of the full national team of the ‘Towards HydroCitizenship’ project — the three-year research project around water, communities and arts practice for which Multi-Story Water in Shipley is one of four, regional case studies (the others are in Mid-Wales, Bristol, and London). The team convened for two days of discussion and provocation, sharing what we’ve been doing so far and looking at future plans (the project kicked off last year but we’re still mostly in the developmental stages, starting to decide of activities and events). On Day 1 (Thursday 5th) we met at Yorkshire Water’s complex in Esholt … which took some of us quite a while to find (!) … where we heard from some YW staff about various innovative initiatives, before moving into our own project discussions. Then that evening, after dinner at the Waterside restaurant on Shipley Wharf (to keep with the theme…) we headed down to Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club — on the banks of the Aire — where club secretary Philip Moncaster hosted a pub quiz event, for ‘our university friends’ and some regulars too. Teams of four, and some utterly random questions generated by the quiz machine that the club has apparently had for years but never used. Philip, it turns out, is a skilled host/DJ and it was great to see him perform. Much fun had by all (thanks Philip!) and I won’t gloat too much in mentioning that my team won…

Tom Payne and Sara Penrhyn Jones (both Aberystwyth University) share a pint with Anthony Lyons (Bristol-based artist) at Baildon Woodbottom

Tom Payne and Sara Penrhyn Jones (both Aberystwyth University) share a pint with Anthony Lyons (Bristol-based artist) at Baildon Woodbottom, prior to their failure to win the quiz.

The next morning we were up bright and early and back across the other side of the river, where the owner and developer of the Victoria Mills residential complex, Andrew Mason, talked us through the complexities of building luxury apartments in a flood zone.

DSC_0010Here is Andrew, central, entertaining Ozlem Edizel (Middlesex University) and – to the left, Peter Coates (Bristol University). (The red-head is our own Lyze Dudley, who co-ordinated the programme for the two days with great aplomb.) It was somewhat surreal for me to see Andrew telling us about the Victoria Mills site, given that in 2012 and 2013, for our Multi-Story Water performance tours of the area, two different actors performed as Andrew — using edited, verbatim transcriptions from an interview I had conducted with him indoors. So to see him now acting the role himself (and repeating some very similar lines – he clearly has a good ‘spiel’ worked out) was, at least for me, a little bizarre as well as thoroughly entertaining. Even the most sceptical of our visitors was won over by Andrew’s obvious passion for the site, and his extraordinary grasp of detail in discussing every aspect of its construction. (His formidable powers of memory were also apparent when he instantly recognised and greeted me – even though we’ve only actually met once, in 2012, when I interview him…)

Anyway, after the Victoria Mills visit we reconvened at Kirkgate Centre in the centre of Shipley for more conferencing discussions about various aspects of the ongoing project. Overall I think we struck a pretty good balance this kind of broad, conceptual stuff and the more locally-specific events showing our visitors something of the water locality. The last of these was of course our boat trip on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, yesterday afternoon (Friday 6th). The JAMES project, based at Shipley wharf, generously offered two boats to carry the assembled Hydro Citizens — and like myself, these brave gentlemen (below) chose the Lady Jane, on the grounds that an open working boat might give us better views as we travelled, even if we got a little chilly on the way…

DSC_0017Here are Peter Coates again, Simon Read (Middlesex University) and Iain Biggs (Bristol-based artist/researcher), as we’re about to set out from Shipley Wharf. Note how low in the water the boat sits — only our upper bodies were above water level. Meanwhile, another group of us travelled on the larger “Two Shires” boat, which had a lovely warm stove going inside, to compensate for having less all-round views! The Two Shires actually ended up taking over from the Lady Jane as lead ‘ice-breaker’, since its greater width and more powerful engine meant that it could get through more easily. Anyway, here is the Two Shires coming into Hirst Lock, at the end of our upstream journey…

DSC_0056We had come to visit the site immediately adjacent (and south) of the lock, where Hirst Wood Regeneration Group is transforming a neglected piece of marshy land into a nature reserve complete with bird hide and pond. Here’s the site viewed from the top end, looking east back towards Saltaire. Lyze (again viewed from behind!) is here seen walking down with Pauline, the secretary of Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, and Jason (?) from the JAMES boat crew…

DSC_0058Pauline is a really remarkable woman, the driving force behind a number of transformational projects in this area. I’d heard a lot about her but never actually met her before: before we left I arranged to come back and talk with her in more detail about the group’s work, as part of our research. Pauline gave a great introduction to the nature reserve project from the warmth of the Two Shires, before we went for this reccy.

DSC_0070Here’s a closer-up shot of the viewing platform for the pond area, which as you can see is still under construction! (The platform is necessary because this area is essentially wetland, and gets very marshy underfoot in wet weather.) I’m looking forward to seeing how this project develops… Speaking of construction, here’s a shot I snapped on the way back down the canal of the Italianate tower of New Mill, partially covered in scaffolding. Presumably some kind of restoration/maintenance work going on – but I was primarily struck by the light, the shadows, and the colours of sky and stone. Quite pleased with this shot…

DSC_0080As the light began to die, we made our way back towards Shipley Wharf, at the end of a memorable couple of days. Our visitors all professed to have enjoyed their trip very much – Shipley has much to be proud of! Next time we all meet, it’ll be Wales, in the summer…

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