Bubbling and Babbling with Bradford’s Becks

After a year largely spent doing other things, it was a pleasure to return to the Bradford area this weekend to reprise my ongoing, water-themed double-act with singer-songwriter Eddie Lawler at not one but two local festivals. In the end, I think it’s fair to say that our Sunday gig (September 9th) was more enjoyable than Saturday’s — but ironically enough that’s mainly because of water… On Saturday (8th) it was pouring down out of the sky with enough force and frequency to, er, dampen anyone’s fun…

This was my vantage point on Tyrell Street for much of the afternoon. Eddie and I were supposed to be singing songs and telling tales of Bradford Beck, as part of the weekend’s Bubble Up festival — a water-themed arts extravaganza which had events dotted all around Bradford’s city centre. I was also attempting a bit of story-gathering as well as telling, by using a hand-drawn map of the city centre — showing the Beck’s hidden journey under its streets — and inviting passers-by to add their own annotations about memories of city centre locations. The memories added went as far back as 1968, but the map didn’t get nearly as populated with text as I had hoped, because (as the picture tells you) the footfall from shoppers was poor and getting poorer all afternoon — even as the rain poured and kept pouring…

Here’s Eddie, smiling as ever, and undaunted by the weather, even though there wasn’t — in the end — much meaningful opportunity for him to use that microphone to sing. He’s huddled under the Friends of Bradford’s Becks’ portable gazebo, along with fellow Friend Elizabeth, who was timetabled to lead walks along the route of the Beck through the city centre — via the plaques that are now placed in the pavements at key intervals.

Just past the gazebo, FoBB had opened up a manhole cover and surrounded it with a safety fence — as well as a polystyrene mock-up of a slate sculpture by Alex Blakey that’s being planned as a permanent feature… By looking down the hole, you can see Bradford Beck streaming by beneath the street. Although only the most educated observer would be able to distinguish the beck from a storm drain, passers-by were nevertheless intrigued when told that this was the hidden river around which the city was first built….

Across the street in Bradford’s City Park area, there were more under-trafficked gazebos and marquees, including the one from which Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB) was live-casting for the day. Eddie and I took time out from our stall location to speak with host Mary Dowson — who was as engaging and on-the-ball as ever — about how and why we both got involved in using the arts to talk about water.

It was actually really interesting to talk with Mary immediately after she’d interviewed David Clapham (below, left). David is a scientist and water specialist who used to work with Bradford Council: he was really excellent at talking about the material and dynamic properties of water, in an engaging rather than a “dry” way (sorry). Eddie and I were then able to follow up from the cultural point of view, by talking not about “water” singular but about “waters” plural — as they were traditionally thought of, in the days before H2O was seen as a unified resource. (Of course waters still do vary in property and character from place to place, depending on mineral qualities etc.) Eddie’s songs often give particular watercourses personal identities, by singing in the first person: “My name is Bradford Beck… If you’re wondering what the heck I’m doing singing this song, it’s cos I have to roll along, incognito… Beneath the city streets, with no credibility…”

Alas, as you can see from this shot, our time in the BCB tent coincided with one of the heaviest of the afternoon’s downpours, which left City Park itself pretty much deserted. I do hope this wasn’t too disappointing for Bubble Up’s organisers, from the Brick Box community arts organisation. Some of the Brick Box team were there, in the BCB tent, in their distinctive water-themed wigs, trying to make the best of the situation… The weather was generally a lot better on Sunday (yesterday) than Saturday, so I do hope Bubble Up bubbled a bit better with some sunshine… By then, though, Eddie and I were off on our other festival weekend mission. presenting a musical walking tour for Saltaire Festival, titled The Ballad of Little Beck.

This was Roberts Park, in Saltaire, shortly before 12 noon, with the sun very much shining. Starting at the park’s bandstand, Eddie and I welcomed an audience of 15 or 20 intrepid walkers, who had come along to journey with us along long watercourses towards the ruins of Milner Field mansion — the “lost” country home of Titus Salt Jr.

The walk was in some ways a “live remix” of parts of the Salt’s Waters audio tour (still available for download!) that Eddie and I made the other year. Our title, The Ballad of Little Beck, came from the song of the same name that Eddie wrote for the audio guide, and which tells the story of the Milner Field mansion from the point of view of the small brook that flows through the grounds and was once dammed by the Salts to make a boating lake (again: river songs in the first person!). But the balladeering theme was taken in a different direction for this new walk, as we performed a selection of poems along the way, by local poets of the Salts’ era. In the picture above, Eddie is singing — to a tune of his own devising — the poem “Come to Thy Granny” by dialect poet Ben Preston, who built the Glen pub in Eldwick. We didn’t go quite as far as Eldwick (that would have been a long walk), but instead performed this on the path towards Eldwick, just before we turned off in another direction.

A little further along the route, here I am performing John Nicholson’s poem “Bingley’s Beauties”. (Thanks to Ruth Bartlett for these pics, by the way.) Nicholson was a mill worker and poet apparently loved by Titus Salt Sr., but he died in 1843, before Saltaire itself was built, when he drowned while crossing the River Aire en route to visit his aunt in, yes, Eldwick (we had traced his steps in this direction from Saltaire). As you can see from the picture below, at this point we were standing directly over Little Beck itself — halfway along Sparable Lane, heading towards Gilstead (in the parish of Bingley).

Heading further along Sparable Lane, we turned at corner of the walled gardens on the edge of the Milner Field mansion estate (below). By this stage, the weather had turned towards rain — as you can see from the umbrellas — but we were largely sheltered by trees and it was actually rather nice to get the cooling rain after the walk uphill. The rain then subsided soon enough (unlike the day before…).

Having reached Gilstead, we paused momentarily to consider the blue plaque commemorating Sir Fred Hoyle — famous son of Gilstead, world-leading scientist, and a poet of a different kind… (On radio in 1949, he coined the term “Big Bang” as a put-down to the recently-developed theory, only for it to stick as a descriptor!) Then finally we came to the Milner Field estate…

… here we paused at the entrance gate and gate lodge (‘North Lodge’), which is the best remaining indication of the architectural style of the now ruined mansion. And then it was into the woods to find the ruins themselves… Some of what we found there is recorded on some video clips collected here.

After making our way back downhill through the Milner Field estate, we finished up the walk with a visit to Bradford Amateur Rowing Club’s clubhouse — where we shared a drink and were treated to a number of additional songs from Eddie (who even took requests). The picture above (showing Eddie, me, Molly Kenyon, Rob Martin … others were at the bar at this point!) is courtesy of Denise Boothman, who sent it over to me by email with a note saying “Thanks once again for a fascinating and enjoyable afternoon.” We certainly enjoyed presenting it… Thankyou Saltaire Festival for inviting us to present.

There’s Yorkshire Life in Salt’s Waters…

It’s almost the end of October, so this is a bit slow off the mark, but I’m belatedly proud to say that the Multi-Story Water project was featured in a two-page colour spread in this month’s edition of Yorkshire Life magazine.

IMG_1993There’s a nice overview of the project here, but the piece is specifically supposed to be flagging the launch of our downloadable audio guide, Salt’s Waters, which you can find in various digital formats at this web address. You can pick up a printed leaflet with map from Salts Mill (second floor, leaflet stand by window), from Saltaire Visitor Information Centre, or from Kirkgate Centre in Shipley (or you can print your own off via the website). Frankly we haven’t done enough of a job of advertising this sound project on this blog — but Yorkshire Life can explain a little more for you…Larger versions of the text on these pages are pasted in below.


Salt’s Waters is intended as an alternative heritage guide to the Saltaire area — which gets visitors out beyond the immediate confines of the mill village, and exploring the area to the Northwest via river, canal, tributary becks and numerous other water features. The circular tour takes you from the bottom of Victoria Road, up to the ruins of Titus Salt Junior’s ill-fated Milner Field mansion, and back to Saltaire via Dowley Gap. Along the way there’s narration, voices from the archive, sound effects, and original music by Eddie Lawler — including “The Ballad of Little Beck”, written especially for this Salt’s Waters (Little Beck is the stream dammed as a boating lake at Milner Field).

The guide is also intended to tell some of the less well-known “heritage” stories of the area. For example, on Track 4, as walkers head west from Roberts Park through the Higher Coach Road estate, the story turns to the building of the estate in the 1950s — showing how significant this area too is, in its own right, and how connected it is to the Saltaire story. This is a connection Multi-Story Water first explored in our “Green Route” performance tour back in 2012, so it’s nice to get it on the “permanent record”, so to speak…

You can of course choose to listen to the audio simply as a podcast, without doing the walk, but Salt’s Waters is very much designed to be experienced in situ — with your eyes providing the “live movie” to accompany the soundtrack… Do give it a try some autumn weekend, and let us know what you make of it… Thanks!



There’s also a side-bar that they’ve added about our short film Wading to Shipley, which has been available online for 3 years now (see under the “Films” tab above), but which the writer for Yorkshire Life seems to have taken a shine to…



Mud of the Aire / Mud of the Somme… (Down at Denso’s)

This week I visited the Nature Reserve at Denso Marston’s, in Lower Baildon (Charlestown) to meet the warden there, Steve Warrillow. My visit was motivated by my research into how the Boxing Day floods have affected people and places in the Shipley/Baildon area. In my mental mapping, Denso’s is the most easterly point of interest on this stretch of the river —  with Branksome Drive and Dowley Gap at the westernmost end. Steve, though, is a fascinating interviewee and we talked about many things besides the flooding…


Here he is down on the riverbank, pointing out to me the extent of what was lost to the river as a result of the flood. He estimates that, last year, there was eight to ten feet more banking between the river and the main footpath through the reserve — but as you can see, at this point there’s barely any gap at all. Given that much of the nature reserve is a fairly thin strip of land between the Aire and Denso’s working factory site, Steve can’t necessarily afford to lose whole chunks of it to the river… although of course he is the first to admit that it is the nature of rivers to alter their course over time.


So severe has the banking collapse been, Steve notes, that he has decided to leave a small forest of Himalayan balsam in its (self-seeded) place, to provide a kind of safety barrier along the sharply sloping banking next to the path. (The balsam is of course visible in the photo above — as is, on the opposite side of the river, some of the flood debris still hanging in trees some seven months later.) Balsam grows tall enough that it masks and deters, but it is also of course (as discussed in my last blog but one) an invasive species that wreaks havoc with native plants and soil integrity along riverbanks. Some would no doubt be appalled that Steve has allowed so much of it to remain in place — rather than trying to pull it all up before it can release more seeds downstream — but he adopts a more philosophical attitude, seeing balsam as just one issue among many he has to deal with, rather than in terms of the tabloid-style hysteria that it sometimes attracts.


Away from the river, evidence of the flood is also to be found underfoot. This, Steve points out, is river sand — left behind by the receding waters. It’s the kind of stuff that householders affected by the flood tried to get rid of straight away, not least because of the likely contaminants in it (e.g. raw sewage from up at the Dowley Gap sewage works). But of course, in a more natural setting like this one, anything organic can be left to rot down and provide nutrients for the earth. The big problems Steve had to deal with on the nature reserve, post-flood, was the huge quantity of inorganic debris that was swept downstream and left on site — everything from cars and freezers down to plastic bags and tampons. There were also quite a few dead animals, large and small … organic matter, yes, but not what you want left about to rot!

When you’re dealing with a sizeable patch of land like this, which was ten feet under water at the worst of the flooding, and has plenty of trees to act as barriers/obstacles to things being swept along, its unsurprising that so much was left behind. Fortunately, though, most of the debris was cleared away quite quickly by a major volunteer clean-up effort in January — when the Friends of Denso Marston’s customary volunteer force was joined by others from the area including the Friends of Roberts Park, Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, and Mat Holloway’s ADRI (Aire Debris Removal Initiative). Steve recalls the amazingly positive initial response to the Reserve’s calls for help — but also notes that this positive burst of energy tailed off quite quickly… He has been frustrated, in the months since, by the thoughtless remarks of visitors wondering why everything is not as perfect with the reserve as they would expect it to be… (We can all have very short memories.)


Looking at the site today, it would indeed be easy to forget about the recent flooding, given that Steve and his volunteers have done such a great job cleaning it up and restoring it to former glories. This photo of the reserve’s wetland pond — the heart of its wildlife habitats — looks positively idyllic, and belies the hard slog that has gone into managing its restoration in the months since the flood. Moreover, Steve notes, the banking all the way around the pond is perilously soft, just as it is along the river.

He has been cheered, though, by the signs of wildlife making a resurgence on the site even after so much of it was rudely displaced at Christmas. In the reserve’s education hut (a new one now located some way up the hill, at a safer distance from the river than the old one, which was wrecked by the flood), Steve proudly showed me this display of dragonfly chrysalises that he has collected from around the site this year. There had been fears that the dragonfly population would be badly affected by the flooding and its aftermath, so this little exhibition is evidence of very good news…


Even so, the reserve’s dragonfly population is also indicative of wider changes in the natural world that would be foolish to ignore. If the flooding, as many have argued, is symptomatic of a changing climate in this 21st century, so too is the fact that Steve regularly observes dragonfly species on this site that he would never have seen twenty years ago, when the reserve was establishing itself. The warming climate is pushing many species north in search of more temperate climes. (Although the chrysalises preserved in this display appear to be from species that are more “natural” residents of Yorkshire.)


Also on display in the education hut is Steve’s personal collection of First World War memorabilia — set out to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at the beginning of this month. Aside from being a keen birder and insect expert, Steve is fascinated by story of the Somme — as well he might be, given that his great-grandfather was one of the lucky soldiers to survive the slaughter (had he not… no Steve). Among the treasures collected here are his great-grandfather’s first-aid box (the black tin to the right of this shot, now displaying bullet fragments etc), and a still-unopened tin of Tommy’s rations (the gold box to the left). It’s pretty weighty! Steve has heard tell of one such box being opened quite recently, and its contents still being perfectly intact (presumably because it was completely airtight). So strange what changes, and doesn’t, over time.

Steve’s interest in the war extends to having booked a package tour to the Somme, which he is heading off on in August. It’ll be his second visit. We spoke quite a bit about all this, as well as about the reserve and the flood, and I mentioned that — on July 1st, the centenary of the Battle — I had been fortunate enough to witness the eerie presence of World War I soldiers on the streets of Manchester… I promised to post some pictures on this blog, so Steve could see them…


This was Exchange Square, towards the end of the day, as all the “soldiers” who had been positioned in different parts of the city, ever since the morning rush hour, gathered together for the event’s understated conclusion…The appearance of silent soldier figures in cities up and down the country that day was part of a commemmorative art event conceived by the artist Jeremy Deller (who in 2001 famously staged a reconstruction of the 1984 police vs. miners clash at the “Battle of Orgreave”). Titled simply “We Are Here” (after the song “We’re here, because we’re here…”; there wasn’t much more rationale for the trench warfare…), the piece consisted simply of perfectly attired actors standing — or sitting — as a silent presence within the everyday lives of commuters and shoppers. A little like the traditional “two minutes silence”, but played as an interruption in space rather than time.


Each soldier had a collection of “business cards” indicating the identity of the man he was representing (and thus, literally, re-membering). They didn’t offer them around, but if you went up to one of them to ask what was going on — or simply to ask who he was — then he would give you a card and simply walk away. Like a ghost.



It’s not just water that can sweep people away.

Thanks Steve, for a memorable visit.

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 www.saltswaters.co.uk)

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…



Catching up with ourselves…


This was the scene in Roberts Park last month after the first performance of our Saltaire Festival walking tour commission, Pleasant Valley Saltaire. That’s me, Steve Bottoms, on the left with the ridiculous robes and water pistol (“Mad Professor”), and next to me my still-more-colourful collaborator, Irene Lofthouse (“Water Sprite”). The rest of these fine people are members of our audience, one of whom wanted a group photograph at the end of what had been an almost 2-hour performance… People still seem to be smiling so I guess it had gone well! A piece of anonymous feedback we received simply states: “Without a doubt one of the best walking tours we have been on. Informative and entertaining. Thankyou.”

I’m writing up this blog a month and a half later because we’ve been a little busy ever since. In particular, since my day job is indeed as a professor (mad or otherwise) I’ve been flat out with the start of the new teaching term in Manchester. I’m just now catching my tail. But there have been lots of other Multi-Story Water activities in the meantime — both in public and in private. So, to summarise in brief:

1. Irene and I presented two showings of Pleasant Valley Saltaire on September 12th and 13th. Full details and lots of pictures soon to be uploaded under the “Performances” tab above. Both tours were well attended, and featured local guests along the way — including this gentleman, Eddie Lawler, pictured with me in Saltaire’s Washhouse Garden…


2. On Tuesday 14th September, Eddie and I presented Salt’s Waters 2 at Half Moon Cafe in Roberts Park, again for Saltaire Festival. This was a second version of an evening we also presented last year — featuring stories and songs about the local waterways in a relaxed setting, and with Half Moon staff laying on a special tasting menu for the audience. This performance was a remix last year’s show, rather than a sequel, but it did feature new material from both of us – including the world premiere of Eddie’s new song “The Mermaid of Bradford Beck.”

3. A month later, on Tuesday 6th October, Eddie and I found ourselves presenting a third version of Salt’s Waters in Scotland! Comrie, Perthshire, to be exact. We were a little out of our way and somewhat out of our comfort zone, presenting such “site specific” material nowhere near Bradford. Hardly anybody in the audience knew the places we were talking about! But we’d been invited to the “Water Innovation Lab” being run by the Canadian organisation Waterlution (and funded by the Scottish Government) to present an alternative take on thinking about water — in terms of place, history, locality. Actually the performance seemed to go down really well. The audience connected with the water stuff more than the locality stuff, but the link was there nonetheless, and a powerpoint display of photo images gave them a sense of the places we were talking and singing about. This double act gets a little tighter every time!

4. A week after that, Wednesday 14th October, and Eddie and I met up again in Leeds… This time with my friend and colleague David Calder, to revive Seven Bridges — our walking tour of the Leeds waterfront between Clarence Dock and Granary Wharf.

DSC06070 Here’s the three of us, looking shifty (David and I play executives – Don and Ron). This picture was actually taken in June, before one of the Seven Bridges performances for Leeds Waterfront Festival. We revived it for this one night only in October at the behest of a friend at the Environment Agency, who felt it would make a useful discussion point among staff there. The EA are currently among the partners working on a massive Flood Alleviation Scheme (FAS) in central Leeds, and most of our audience was made up of flood risk specialists. Seven Bridges points out some of the FAS works along the route, but the performance is mostly about other things (the history, development and re-development of the waterfront). Apparently this did prove valuable for our spectators, in helping them think about their work from another angle. As one of them remarked, we all need to be encouraged to get out of “silo thinking” whenever we can — and look at how what we’re expert in links up with other concerns. I guess this was the appeal for Waterlution too…?

So that’s what we’ve been up to in terms of performances lately. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, my colleague Lyze has been very busy continuing to develop our community engagaement work in various Shipley area neighbourhoods — in collaboration with Kirkgate Centre. Just today, in fact, she helped lay on a boat ride on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal for some of the residents in the Dockfields area who have recently formed into a local action group. Hopefully we’ll have more on that, and other local matters, in future blog posts… and with a bit of luck the next one won’t be such a long time coming!

Join us at the Saltaire Festival this coming week…

So the annual Saltaire Festival is almost upon us, and this year the Multi–Story Water project has two contributions to the festivities — we hope you’ll be able to join us.


First up is Pleasant Valley Saltaire, on the opening weekend of the festival — Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September. Billed as a “magical mystery tour”, this is a collaboration between MSW’s Steve Bottoms and local poet and storyteller Irene Lofthouse (Fresh Aire Productions). It also features various surprise guests along the way. Led by a mad professor and a water sprite, the performance maps out a gentle, circular walk through Saltaire village and out into some of the surrounding Aire valley neighbourhoods (Hirst Wood, Higher Coach Road). There’ll be some non-threatening audience participation, and some interventions both natural and supernatural! The journey starts at 2pm from outside Saltaire Visitor Information Centre. And it’s free! All welcome.

Then, on the evening of Tuesday 15th September, at Half Moon Cafe…

salts watersThis is a follow-up to a successful event with the same title that Eddie Lawler and I did for last year’s festival. We were asked to do it again, as an opportunity for Half Moon Cafe to again show off their tasting menu… We’ll be presenting some of our stories and songs from last year, and also some new material in a new “mix”. Please do join us for an intimate, atmospheric evening…


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! 







Don’t miss Shipley Street Arts Festival!

The weekend of June 26-28th is the Shipley Street Arts Festival, co-ordinated by our good friends over at Q20 Theatre. There’s lots of activities and performances for all tastes and ages, many of them taking the river and canal as a watery theme…  We’ve got a hand in various events including the water flume demonstration near Shipley Library (from noon on Saturday 27th), and the duck race from Baildon Woodbottom Working Men’s Club (1pm, same day), and on Sunday 28th there’s a special screening of our short film Wading to Shipley at the Ibis Hotel. Multi-Story Water‘s main contribution to proceedings, though, will be this:

SevenBridges-leaflet-HiResThis new, interactive promenade performance will be directed by Simon Brewis, and performed by David Smith and Lynsey Jones. All three were part of our original, 2012 Multi-Story Water performances, and we’re delighted to have them back for this project. The Seven Bridges include some obvious ones and some less obvious ones, so do come along and discover the trail… (it’ll end up not very far from where it starts, you’ll be reassured to know!)

Meanwhile, on the very same weekend, just a few miles downstream, the Leeds Waterfront Festival is taking place. So to create a bit of a conceptual “bridge” between the two festivals — and between Shipley and Leeds — we are also presenting this:

SevenBridges-leaflets2Now that’s actually a photograph from Shipley (Amber Wharf flats viewed from under Junction Bridge, at Dockfield) but the designer liked the picture, and it sort of works for Leeds too… where there’s a whole lot of new build flats by the water!

Anyway, the Leeds piece will be performed by Steve Bottoms, who will be supported musically by the very wonderful Eddie Lawler (the Steve and Eddie partnership is now a recurring one, and also dates back to our 2012 MSW performances). In theory, it’s possible to see both Seven Bridges pieces in the same day, if you do Shipley at 11.30am and Leeds at 3.30pm. Or you can do them different days. You don’t have to do both, of course, but they will, we hope, complement each other in interesting ways… And it is all free, so you can’t go wrong!



Talking and Walking (on Water)

We’ve had a busy couple of weekends, doing a lot of talking and a fair bit of walking, not necessarily at the same time. This photo was taken just this morning…

DSC_0231The location is Dockfield Terrace, and that’s my colleague Lyze (pronounced “Lizzie”, not “Lies” as one person mistakenly assumed — as Lyze says, “it’s my own fault for being pretentious”) standing with David, who kindly agreed to be photographed for this blog. David has lived in the Dockfields area since 1947 (that’s 68 years and counting), and is currently 500 pages into writing his life story — some of which we heard recounted as anecdotes! He’s one of the people who turned up to a community meeting that we organised this morning for local residents, at Q20 Theatre on Dockfield Road (thanks Q20! we are collaborating with them to deliver a river- and canal-themed version of their Shipley Street Arts Festival in June… more on that another time).

At the meeting we heard quite a few local concerns… everything from the need for speed controls on the main road (used as a rat run to avoid Foxes Corner) to very genuine concern about the wellbeing of this family of swans…

DSC_0230The swans have recently taken up residence on the canal bank above, having abandoned their previous nest — pictured below, on the track between Dockfield Road and the canal towpath…

DSC_0229… there was some debate among the residents who attended the meeting about what had happened here, but general agreement that at least one and possibly all of the swans’ eggs had been stolen by someone unscrupulous, and that the swans had been driven away from this spot in fear…  Whatever the correct story, it was striking how much the residents concerns were with the canal, and its resident wildlife, as well as with the roads, traffic, etc. Even though Dockfields is a very industrialised area with little obvious green space, the river and especially the canal give the area something special that people clearly value…  (For more on swans at this time of year, see Canal and River Trust’s page about caring for them.)

We’re working, in connection with Kirkgate Centre, to try to build community connections in the Dockfield area, with a view to ensuring that people’s concerns are listened to and acted upon. This includes understanding how their sense of connection with the local waterways might be a positive asset that can be built upon communally. We’re also working on the same process in the Higher Coach Road area, on the Baildon side of the River Aire. Last Saturday morning we had a parallel community meeting, this time kindly hosted by the Bradford Rowing Club…


What is Maggie Roe saying to Paul Barrett? Caption suggestions please…

Here’s Kirkgate Centre’s Paul Barrett, pictured outside the club after the meeting (on a gorgeous, crystal clear day!), talking to landscape specialist Maggie Roe — who is very struck by the distinctive layout of the Higher Coach Road estate (see other blogs on that!). And here’s a shot from inside the club, showing the aftermath of a very positive and productive discussion with residents… I love the fact that Paul and Sara are both checking their just-taken photographs of the post-it notes!

DSC_0219Sara Penrhyn Jones is a filmmaker who was visiting us for the weekend from Aberystwyth, in Wales (like Maggie, she is part of the wider “Hydro-Citizenship” research project that Multi-Story Water is now a part of). Maybe she’ll have some film footage for us to share on this blog soon. Here she is armed with cameras again the following day — Sunday 19th April — on the canal towpath in Saltaire with Lyze…

DSC_0223… the other people in shot are some of the people who had gathered to go for a guided walk with me from this spot. As part of Saltaire’s “World Heritage Weekend” celebrations, I led a version of our Salt’s Waters walk — which will soon be available as a downloadable audio guide, for anyone to undertake whenever they like… although on this occasion we went with the low-tech, interactive option. The walk goes from the bottom of Victoria Road in Saltaire, and then heads west along the Aire, via Roberts Park and the Higher Coach Road estate, before turning uphill – alongside Loadpit Beck – on the way towards what little remains of Titus Salt Junior’s Milner Field mansion.


A key feature of the audio mix will be Eddie Lawler’s beautiful song, The Ballad of Little Beck – written in honour of the unassuming stream that goes runs down through the grounds of Milner Field, and was once dammed as a boating lake. Eddie came along on the walk last Sunday and performed the song live, standing on the earthworked banking that takes Titus Jr’s coach road right across Little Beck (which trickles through at the base). It was a “shivers down the spine” moment, for me at least…

I don’t have other pictures of the walk, because for the most part I was too busy conducting it — talking and walking — to be taking photographs. But the merry band of travellers who came along on the journey were a great bunch to spend a couple of hours with. As I’d hoped, moreover, they had a good few suggestions (and one or two corrections!) to feed back into our work on the audio narrative…

So a big thanks to all those who contributed to a very enjoyable afternoon. Here are a few of you, enjoying Eddie’s music…


Upstream of Hirst Weir

Season’s greetings from the Multi-Story Water team! Here’s a little watery (rather than snowy) Christmas card image…

dec 2014 021This was taken last Friday, December 19th, on the bank of the Aire outside the Bradford Rowing Club (right). It had been raining in the Bradford area, but it must have been raining a whole lot more further upstream, because as you can see the river was high enough to have broken its banks here. Cyclists were having to navigate around the waterlogged path (see immmediate foreground). Meanwhile, just a few yards downstream, this was the view of Hirst Weir…

dec 2014 022The water’s so high that in the foreground the weir has almost disappeared. Those familiar with this weir will remember that it was seriously damaged during the high water of summer 2012, necessitating a patch-up repair job by the rowing club (which now owns the whole of the weir – under the holding company Hirst Weir Ltd.). A huge pile of rocks was lowered into the river on the nearside (nearside for this photo), making a more gradual descent for the water. In this shot above the rocks are, unusually, all but invisible because of the height of the river. Now, take look at this…

dec 2014 017This is the model box owned by the rowing club, showing their design for the planned, permanent reconstruction job on the weir. (For bearings: the mill is bottom right, the mouth of Loadpit Beck top right.) As you can see, the engineering solution being proposed is essentially to extend the use of loose rocks across the full width of the river, downstream of the weir, so as to make the water’s descent more gradual and thus less impactful on the river bed. (The middle section in the model, without loose stones, is there simply to illustrate the height of the drop at present – it won’t be built like that!). The laddered element at the top of the image is a fish pass design, which has helped secure Environment Agency approval for the plans. One can imagine, more broadly, that the EA approves of the design anyway, since the more gradual decline being created for the ‘new’ riverbed achieves the next best thing to a restoration of the river’s natural flow (presumably over time the river will wear the rocks themselves smoother, deposit silts on them, etc). Of course, the one thing the rowing club would not countenance is the removal of the weir, since their activities are entirely dependent on the 650m stretch of straight, flat water upstream that it permits on the upstream side. Anything less than that and they wouldn’t have a viable racing course (as it is, 650 is a modest sprint, compared to the international standard 2000m course at, say, Eton Dorney). It’s for this very reason – the centrality of the weir to the club’s existence – that they took over responsibility for the whole weir a number of years ago. Previously of course it belonged to the mill and its inheritors, but after previous damage to the weir in 2002, a repair grant from Sport England could only be secured if the weir was legally a public rather than private asset. Hence the club taking on responsibility — they they sensibly ensured arm’s-length liability by setting up the holding company.

If you’re wondering how I know so much about this all of a sudden, it’s because of meeting this man, Barry Wood (below). Barry is a self-effacing sort of person who didn’t really want his picture taken, but was happy to be seen in long shot surrounded by this view of the upstairs of the clubhouse. He has been a member here since 1957 — that’s 57 years! — so what he doesn’t know about this rowing club isn’t worth knowing…

dec 2014 019I’d been advised by my friend Eddie Lawler that Barry was the man to speak to about the club and its history, since we want to include something about it in the audio tour of the area that we’re developing (see previous post). Barry to be very generous with his time and thoughts, and it was a treat to talk to him. I didn’t like to ask a gentleman his age, but Barry says he had already been through a full education and National Service before joining the club, so he must now be pushing 80. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, though, and he maintains a very active role in the club — indeed he’s one of the three company directors of Hirst Weir Ltd!

No less extraordinary is the clubhouse itself — originally built in 1893 on the south side of the river, it was dismantled brick by brick and ferried across the river in 1922, to be built exactly as it had been (except that, now facing south, they moved the roof gable to the other end of the building so that it was still facing upstream to the racing!). This reconstruction was forced when the new owners of Hirst Mill demanded the club vacate their land, but Salts of Saltaire allowed them a spot on the opposite bank (which the club now owns). When Barry came here in 1957, the clubhouse was still very simple — with no gas, no electric, no running water — all of which has been installed during his time with them.

Now the next priority is to get that weir fixed up permanently, and for this, funds are going to be urgently needed. Hence this banner poster in the clubhouse itself…

dec 2014 018If you can chip anything in to the appeal, please do! I’m sure the rowing club would appreciate the gift, because the river isn’t going to stop pressuring at that weir any time soon…

dec 2014 020