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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