Wikipedia on Victorian Ripley Ville : wrong! wrong! wrong!

The account on Wikipedia is wrong on a number of crucial points about the worker’s housing built between 1866 and 1868 in the Victorian industrial model village of Ripley Ville,  These relate to whether water-closets were installed in each of the 196 Working -mens Dwellings”, on the village’s northern site in Bowling, south Bradford. The errors are identified in this post and a better version of events laid out. The post starts with a RVr news update. It ends by emphasising how regrettable the demolition of the village’s northern site is, in heritage terms.

Copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2015 and/or rediscovering Ripleyville. All rights reserved. (see sidebar right)


News Update

Work on the new ‘Ripley Ville rediscovered’ (RVr) web-sites on the Victorian industrial model village of Ripley Ville is behind schedule.

Time has been given over instead to exploring several long trails in archival material about the village’s Victorian beginnings. The searches have focused on the water-closets that are understood to have been built in the basements (cellars) of the 196 Workmens Dwellings of the village.

The water-closet controversy : its importance

If water-closets were installed this would make the houses, in their sanitary status and arrangements, the most advanced then built for the working classes. When taken together with the number installed, this would significantly enhance the importance of Ripley Ville as an industrial model village and of ‘Messrs Ripleys scheme…’ for workers housing.

They would surpass those of the industrial model village of Akroydon, built slightly earlier in Halifax in Yorkshire’s Worsted District. Here the intent to install water-closets was not followed through.

They would also surpass the arrangements for tenements opened on Commercial Street, Spitalfields, London in 1864, or the even more contemporaneous Islington Estate for the Peabody Trust. In these water-closets were installed, though at a significantly lower ratio of water-closets per housing unit.

Installation of water-closets in all of the workmen’s houses in Ripley Ville would have been in line with H W Ripley’s intentions through the period 1886-68 during which they were built. It would comply with the plans passed by Bradford Borough council on the 29th January 1866 (Bradford Borough Building and Improvement Committee Minute Book Vol 4 : 221, see also Walker R L, 2008 : 13).

plan of basements ripley ville

Detail of basements from deposited plan, January 1866


I will be publishing an account of this recent research on Victorian Ripley Ville, in print form, in due course. It will be incorporated into revised content on the new web-site;  – when this is up and running. On-going research is, however, likely to stretch into next year.

Wikepedia on Ripley Ville : Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

In the interim and on the basis of knowledge to date, it is possible to say that on Victorian Ripley Ville the Wikipedia entry on Ripleyville is;-




and very probably wrong again!

The errors in the Wikipedia entry are listed below. They are paired with a version of events using findings from rRV research evidence based in archival and contemporary sources.(1)

rRVlogoWiki error 1

The Wikipedia article is wrong about the transfer date of Mr Ripley’s/Bowling Waterwork’s pipes and equipment to the Bradford Corporation. It has these occurring in 1866 with impacts for Ripley Ville from Spring 1867.

rRV finding 1

This is a crucial error. The actual transfer date was not in 1866 nor Spring 1867 but rather late in 1867 and it was only for most rather than all of the pipes and equipment that H W Ripley owned in the Borough of Bradford. This is because he negotiated an exemption through his solicitors. This allowed him to continue to supply water through Bowling Waterworks within a circumscribed local area beyond the conclusion of their sale and the transfer of the pipes and equipment to the Borough for municipal use. (NB2202701-NB2203102 & NB2213601-03).

rRVlogoWiki error 2

The Wikipedia article is wrong to deduce that ‘ash closets’ were installed in the workmen’s houses in two distinct stages; for contracts 3 & 4 (built without wcs) and then for contracts 1 & 2 (built with wcs) – and all of this within the initial building period 1866-1868.

rRV finding 2

Archival evidence to hand on the workmen’s dwellings is that the houses were all provided with an outside privy at the same time. There may have been exceptions; two of these possibly being Nos 63 & 65 Ripley Terrace (NB3501303) but these were paired blocks converted in ‘trials’ preceding the eventual agreed change.

Ripley Terrace & Schools building c. 1950

Ripley Terrace circa 1950s with No 65 at end of terrace and No 63 to its left.                          Photo source : G M Gaskill

Action, when taken, was ‘for the whole of [Mr Ripley’s] houses’ at Ripley Ville (NB3502703). This was not during the period 1866-1868 when they were first built.

rRVlogoWiki error 3

The Wikipedia article is, in consequence, also wrong when it deduces there was a sudden change to H W Ripley’s initial plan and that required a ‘retro-fitting’ of ‘ash-closets’ to houses in contract 1& 2 houses.

 rRV findings 3

When it first came to light, information about ‘imperfect water-closets’ at Ripley Ville was either remedied, ignored – or dealt with through something of both (NB2205904 & NB2205801). The decision to install privies -and ashpits – followed a site visit to Ripley Ville to inspect ‘the yards and conveniences thereat’ (NB3500703) and various periods of activity and inactivity over a further longer period. New ashpit and privy blocks were built in the yards of the Ripley Ville houses at a significantly later date and to the standard required by the Bradford Borough council at that later date. It is these privies, together with new ashpits of a design from that later period, that are shown in the large-scale OS map 216-8-24 of the northern site of Ripley Ville published in 1891 and which was based on a survey done two years earlier.  It is what remained of these structures, though not necessarily the fitments, that residents of ‘the Villa’ would have seen (and used?) in the village in the 1950s & 60s. (See e.g. Stanley Goulding’s comment to my post on Saltaire’s privies in July 2014 )

rRVlogoWiki error 4

The Wikipedia article states that water-closets were installed in only some of the Ripley Ville working men’s houses. It states ‘ No wcs were ever fitted to type 3 houses built under contracts 3 and 4’. These are elsewhere identified as the Saville Street houses, Nos 2 – 62 and 38-62. It comes to this conclusion using:-

  • the number of houses of each type in each contract
  • the dates when contracts for workmen’s houses were let
  • the different built forms and internal structures, including staircases and ventilation, for the houses in each contract
  • their floor layouts and dimensions (as indicated in large-scale maps and as remembered by residents from the 1950s and 1960s)
  • and, crucially, through guesses at; when the installation of water-closets was stopped and why the building plan was changed.(2)

The Wikipedia article draws its conclusion even though it admits;

‘the reasons for the change of plan from water-closets to ash closets are obscure’.

rRV findings 4

I have found no archival evidence that water-closets were not fitted in the basements of all of the workmen’s houses in Ripley Ville. (Yes, read that carefully – that is a double negative.)

Irrefutable evidence for installation of water-closets in all the workmen’s houses at the time of the initial build is still lacking but we may be getting closer to the point where it cannot be disproved.

H W Ripley’s publicly stated aversion in November 1866 to seeing ‘cottages with nasty privies about them’ and in favour of the installation of water-closets are unequivocal – see previous post. H W Ripley was not a man to be thwarted in his plans, even in the face of good advice.

The archival sources quoted above write of changes for ‘the whole of [Mr Ripley’s] houses’ – not ‘some’, not ‘the ones having water-closets’, nor ‘the ones not having earth-closets’.

So, on the number of water-closets installed in the workmen’s houses, the Wikipedia article may very probably again be wrong.

It’s broader account of what happened to bring about a disuse of the water-closets in the basements, both as to cause and timeline, certainly is.


The Wikipedia entry makes use of a statement from Mr Gott, Bradford Borough Surveyor, about how only 1 in 18 or 5.7% of houses in the Borough of Bradford had a water-closet. Gott was speaking at the same Rivers Commission Inquiry as Ripley, held in Bradford in mid-November 1866.(3)

Charles Gott’s statement can be misread as evidence of the statistical probability that H W Ripley did not have 196 water-closets installed in his workmen’s dwellings in Bowling, south Bradford.

An alternative reading, based on the findings above, requires the proper recognition of how unusual and advanced a step H W Ripley was, through his architects and building contractors, in the early stages of taking.

In heritage terms, the degrading of Ripley Ville through conversion of the school, the loss of the vicarage and then the demolition of all of the buildings of the village’s northern site by 1970 look very regrettable.


(1)    I have restricted myself to indicating chronological order and only some approximate dates. The letters and numbers in brackets refer to items in my research notebooks. A complete chronology and full archive references will be substituted when the research is written up and made available in print.

(2)    See Wiki error 1 above and also footnote 15 of the Wikipedia article for its speculations on ‘expense of water’ – inferred from Halifax and the houses of Akroydon – and ‘shortages of water’ as supplied by Bradford Waterworks.

(3)    George Sheeran (1990 : 24 & 65) in ‘The Victorian Houses of Bradford’, includes a photograph of ‘the powerful Gothic entrance complete with original lamps and gate piers’ to the house in Manningham that Charles Gott designed for himself.


1990, Sheeran G, ‘The Victorian Houses of Bradford’, Bradford Libraries and Information Service


Copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2015 and/or rediscovering Ripleyville. All rights reserved. (see sidebar right)

2015/11/19  – today is ‘World Toilet Day’

last amended and updated 2015/12/19


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