rediscovering Ripley Ville : the Beginning after the End

A previous post announced ‘the Beginning of the End’ for the rediscovering Ripleyville blog; the slow retirement of the blog while I carry on with research and writing. This post set out what comes after – A New Beginning!

Or is it?

As this first post shows, it depends on what you have read. If you have read ‘When was Ripleyville built?’, my booklet from December 2008 on the old Borough of Bradford’s only industrial model village, then what comes next will look more like a return to earlier concerns. For those who haven’t read the booklet – and those who have – this post explains the booklet’s origins, my connections and its connections to activities and projects from between 1981 and 2001 in West Bowling, south Bradford.

It then gives the research-based reasons why writing about rediscovering Ripley Ville will come to a temporary halt and gives an indication of what might be achievable and usefully done in the interim.

Cover of booklet, 'When was Ripleyville built?'

Cover of rediscovering Ripley series – booklet 1, ‘When was Ripleyville built?’

rediscovering Ripleyville : the Beginning after the End

Backstory : A new Beginning or is it?

Annual Surveys of ‘Greater’ West Bowling

My interest in Victorian Ripley Ville and the history of the Ripleys and Bowling Dyeworks developed out of two projects that I became involved in while living in West Bowling between 1980 and 1996. The second of these, lasting between  1991 and 2001 – so beyond when I moved from the area – included 11 annual walked surveys of Greater West Bowling. These yielded maps and a very large amount of data about the area.

Map : Greater West Bowling 1991

Pasted up black and white map of Greater West Bowling area showing ward boundaries and land use

Original hand drawn, pasted-up map of ‘Greater’ West Bowling area (no fancy desk-top publishing then) Part of a Neighbourhood Information sheet ‘Spatial Description’.  Copyright SEQUALS 1991

West Bowling Community Enterprise : ‘The Huts’, Clipstone Street

I had also been involved, from ten years earlier in 1981, as a founder member and progressively and over time as a committee member and then in the early 1990s, as chairperson for West Bowling Community Enterprise (WBCE). This was based in portakabins on Clipstone Street and usually referred to as ‘The Huts’ by its many users. The huts also housed West Bowling Advice Centre. I had become involved with WBCE as someone who had been made redundant three times and had short and longer periods of unemployment over an 18 month period in 1980/82. (1)

Portakabins of West Bowling Community Enterprise

monochrome image of portacabins used by West Bowling Community Enterprise

The portacabins of West Bowling Community Enterprise on the corner of Clipstone Street and Little Cross Street c 1990


The idea for the annual walked surveys grew out of the WBCE experience. They were a response to the question ‘What is West Bowling like now? – in summer 1991, 1992, 1993 etc. Their purpose was to provide information for neighbourhood or community self-advocacy. By that time the WBCE project had become the best resourced and most significant community project out of the many in the area, with the exception of the McMillan Adventure Playground Association (MAPA) , and acted in support of other local groups.

Cutting from West Bowling News

Cartoon and Item about AGM from West Bowling News Oct 1988

The cartoon and item about the Community Association AGM referred to a move by Eric Pickles, the Tory leader of Bradford Council in 1988, to limit public access to Council meetings. Eric Pickles is now a member of the House of Lords. Cartoon courtesy S J Rennie.

The surveys provided the kind of information that West Bowling Community Enterprise and other community and neighbourhood groups needed to secure grants and funding. It could be used to influence plans and policies at local level and on two occasions had impact on central Government programmes and what was delivered by them in the area.

In summary the surveys were about ‘the plot’ of Greater West Bowling’s social and economic geography.

From Geography to History

A Different Question : from late 20th century geography to Victorian history

At some point, while the surveys were carried forward, a different question stated to crop up; ‘How did West Bowling get to be like it is now?’  As part of a planned longitudinal study, the annual surveys were snap-shots in time. From the first year and being data about ‘now’, i.e. the last week of June and first week of July 1991, they became documents of a less recent and gradually more distant past. They mapped change and created a specific kind of record of the history of; Community and Welfare resources, places of work, land use and housing in the area from 1991 to 2001 inclusive.

For Greater West Bowling the surveys showed:-

  • the predominance of Victorian housing
  • the scattering of surviving Victorian mill buildings across the area
  • their greater concentration on some parts of Manchester Road, at road junctions on Bowling Old Lane, in Ripley Street, Spring Mill Street and Upper Castle Street

So, in considering ‘How did West Bowling get to be like it is now?’, the surveys suggested that the most obvious period to look back to was its Victorian history.

Through Ripleyville to history of West Bowling

northern site of Ripley Ville : marginal interest

The northern site of Ripley Ville was never included in the walked annual surveys, though the site of Bowling Dyeworks and the village’s southern site and the alms houses were. By 1991, many people living west of Bowling Park and south of Ripley Road experienced Hall Lane and the area on which the buildings of Ripley Ville’s northern site were built, as an industrial ‘buffer zone’ and disconnected from West Bowling. (2) Though boundaries are likely to be porous, like ‘tea-bag’ boundaries – interactions here were more likely to be skewed towards East Bowling or centred around lower Wakefield Road.  The area of Ripley Ville’s northern site was, at least initially, viewed as marginal.

Map of Land Use : Greater West Bowling 1991

Two colour map-of-land-use-for Greater West Bowling from-1991-survey

The map formed part of an overview of  the Greater West Bowling Study Area. The emphasis is on; transport links, business and employment sites including larger industry and employment zones (in red) and as the key shows a simplified plan of the location of different categories of housing. The northern site of Ripley Ville is in the top right corner. From’ A Profile of Greater West Bowling 1991, page 5, revised November 2001. Copyright SEQUALS 2001.

Victorian Ripley Ville of secondary interest

The Greater West Bowling study area was expanded in 1993. My memory, faulty on this point, was that the northern site was put ‘on the map’ and of equal interest from that year. The status of Ripley Ville within the study, however, remained somewhat fuzzier. It was still of a lesser and secondary concern. This is shown by a ‘Work in Process’ chart for the project for 1991 through to 1993. Under its ‘Secondary’ resources/research column it includes ‘Cudworth and Others’. In the same column ‘Ordnance Survey Maps (1890-1970)’ appear as a resource to be used. In the chart, both sources are linked to two research products (3)  One of the research products based in the two sources was to be a briefing paper with the title ‘Development of Housing & Land Use 1800-1993′. So the intention at that time was to produce a document that would show the morphology, that is the change, in West Bowling’s built environment.  The second research product was a map (or maps) of’ ‘House Type and Location’. The sources would help in putting together a typology for Greater West Bowling’s housing stock ( e.g. age, style, built form, size, tenure) and show when and where housing of different types were built.(4)

West Bowling doesn’t make the map

The second of these outcomes was met but the first mentioned document was not developed. Fairly early on and as the study proceeded, it became clear that Ordnance Survey maps were not adequate to this task. The first ones date from the early 1850s and the interval between their up-dating is long – too long if trying to track house-building. The scope of the task; the size of the area in the study and 150 year plus time-scale, was also too onerous for the project to fulfill. It was while looking for maps of the area for the Victorian period, in Bradford Central Library and finding out what information on west Bowling’s history did exist that the idea for a different and more limited approach to investigating this period of its history started to form. (5)

Heritage Matters : Bradford’s industrial model villages

Saltaire : north Bradford’s industrial model village

With my family I moved to Shipley in 1996. This brought me to within easy, regular walking distance of Saltaire. By 2001, the village and its surrounding area was starting to enjoyed benefits from tourism that were almost unmatched within the Bradford District. Its reputation and renown are now used to ‘brand’ activities in multiple ways and for places beyond the limits of the village. (6)

Saltaire : Offer and Branding

Three images related to the Saltaire brand

The single event attracting the largest crowds to Saltaire is its annual festival (Image top). The benefits of its ‘brand’ are taken up not just by the local college based in Saltaire’s Trade Schools building (image middle) but as the business plate from Mercury Quays (image btm) shows, by those based outside the village itself.

Saltaire’s cultural offer and the round of yearly events, promoted at a range of village venues and supported by its various local groups makes the absence of Victorian Ripley Ville, the old Borough of Bradford’s only industrial model village, look ever more criminal in its neglect and lack of foresight as time passes. Looked at now, in late October 2016, Ripley Ville’s proximity to Bolling Hall and Bowling Park shows how an opportunity to conserve a cluster of three important heritage sites was tragically missed. A recent post on this site suggests one way in which that absence might be acknowledged.

Available resources and West Bowling as example of over-arching history of Bradford

Back in 2002, when the annual surveys of Greater West Bowling were at an end, that question, ‘How did West Bowling get to be like it is now?’ started to come into better focus. From a mass of tangled stories, a few clearer, if interlinked, threads might be drawn out. A more limited approach to understanding West Bowling’s Victorian past seemed feasible.

  • There were relevant maps in Bradford Central Library’s Collection. There were secondary accounts of Ripley Ville and of Bowling Dyeworks.
  • There were brief snippets of H W Ripley’s role in Bradford’s affairs and in innovations in worsted dyeing in a wide range of local history books.
  • There appeared to be very adequate records of the Ripleys’ dealings in and ownership of land and property at the Wakefield Registry Office.

The over-arching story of Bradford’s rise to be the country’s richest city on the basis of its worsted trade before the First World War and its subsequent decline was poignantly and clearer mirrored in West Bowling. According to official statistics, by 1991, the ‘Greater’ West Bowling area included some of the most deprived households and most deprived ‘area of stress’ in the country. (7)

Could investigating the development of Bowling Dyeworks, one of the most prominent businesses of the worsted industry in Victorian Bradford together with the building of the industrial model village of Ripleyville offer a way into understanding West Bowling’s history during that period of Bradford’s rise?

Could an explanation of the circumstances leading to the disuse and piece-meal demolition of buildings within the northern and southern  sites and the eventual clearance of Ripley Ville’s northern site provide a way of understanding, at least in some part, how West Bowling was as it had become through from 1991 to 2001?

Stories that were glossed and correcting William Cudworth

Cudworth corrected

Getting at the plot of Greater West Bowling’s Victorian history replaced plotting more recent socio-economic indicators and community resources. I had already started to read around the subject. As I have mentioned above and as many do, one source that I started with was William Cudworth’s ‘Histories of Bowling and Bolton’. I didn’t commit to any sustained period of study of Ripley Ville’s past and its history until 2003. I enrolled for a number of modules on a Local and Regional History course at Bradford University over the following years. At that point in time, I did not realise how much H W Ripley’s extraordinary role in Bradford’s and west Bowling’s affairs had been glossed. I certainly didn’t expect that I would have to spend many, many hours spooling through film of the Bradford Observer (B O) from 1861 to 1867 in Bradford Central Library  – no simple on-line searches then –  just to correct Cudworth’s dating of when the first houses of Victorian Ripley Ville were built and to arrive at the sequence for the buildings that followed, like, for example, Ripley Ville’s schools building.

Table : Building Contracts from ‘When was Ripleyville built?’

Ripley Ville 'Contracts to Let'

William Cudworth’s dating of the building of Ripleyville to 1863-1864 corrected from ‘Contracts to Let’, advertised in the Bradford Observer. Table, page 15, ‘When was Ripleyville built?’ Copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2008

Revising ‘When was Ripleyville built? – and other questions’

Update and redraft

Fifteen months ago, I began work to update and redraft ‘When was Ripleyville built?’. The booklet is now out of print. Some time into what I hoped could be a quick revision of the text, correcting errors or omissions, I realised a much more thorough revision was needed. (8)  The full title of the booklet is ‘When was Ripleyville built? – and other questions’. The other questions were about the relationship of the Ripley Ville ‘model’ housing to West Bowling housing and how the activities of the Ripleys, particularly H W Ripley had influence on what West Bowling looked like, was built like and was like to move around and live in.

As I wrote in the booklet almost 8 years ago:-


Recent research : water-closets and water-use

By 2008, I was very much aware of the extent of the Ripley’s land ownership in West Bowling up to 1865 and their attempted disposal of large tracts of land in 1878. This, as well as the Ripleys’ and Ripley Ville’s impact on the townscape of west Bowling, are dealt with at some length (pages 17 -22) in ‘When was Ripleyville built?’

I have spent a large amount of time since the booklet was published, rechecking and collecting additional information and examining the sequence of events from 1860 up to 1885, that led to and then involved the building and the later adaptation of the houses and back yards of Ripley Ville. As posts on this web-site show, a core concern has been whether water-closets were installed in all the Ripley Ville terraced houses. This has also, by extension, meant investigating H W Ripley’s huge ambitions for Bowling Waterworks and for water-management and supply in south Bradford in the early 1850s. This was the subject of two of the more recent blog posts. A further two posts, in preparation, will expand on this topic.

Another strand in the Ripley Ville story that I have been following up on is the development of the worsted industry in Halifax, Bradford, Shipley and Saltaire and of worsted dyeing in Norwich, in Bradford, in the old and ‘New’ Bowling Dyeworks and at Salts Mills.

These are the kinds of new information, in summary form, that needed to go into an up-date of ‘When was Ripleyville built? They would also inform the story of why H W Ripley had the village built. However, the research on water-closets is still lacking conclusive information on a small number of key events. With this  resolved, it might possible to move beyond when the Ripley Ville houses were planned, as set out in the table above, to their actual or more probable dates of construction and occupation. This means any revision of the booklet, made now, would need further significant revisions later. This would not be a good use of time.  In addition, the need for new emphases or interpretation of research data or a re-ordering of its narrative threads could make the booklet impossible to up-date. A major re-write might be needed. Some six months ago I set the work aside. I have abandoned the attempt at the booklet’s revision, for now. Similar lines of reasoning, though quite different technical and resource problems, lie behind the decision to postpone replacement of this blog with a new web-site in the immediate future.

Something Else


The option now is to do nothing while the above problems resolve themselves or to do something else. That something would need to draw on the research already carried out, benefit from existing note-taking and the work to index and scan these, and either help in a direct way to to make better sense of strands of the Ripley Ville story or do so more obliquely.

The plan

Based on the what has brought me to research the Victorian history of Ripley Ville in the first place, that something could provide context if it:-

  • extended its time frame backwards to the beginning of the 19th century
  • covered a wider area to inner south Bradford and Bradford more generally

and included:-

  • a fuller range of topics related to the living conditions of south Bradfordians and Bradfordians in general across that period
  • efforts, beyond those of H W Ripley and those who worked for him, to bring about change and improvement in these conditions
  • a broader range of people and events than those directly related to H W Ripley, Bowling Dyeworks or Ripley Ville

As I had written before, there are a few further posts in draft form or planned for this site. While working these up, as opportunity allows and other work progresses, the intention is to look at developing the above idea.




The post has drawn on unpublished papers related to the Annual Surveys project including:-

Oct. 1998   ‘Thinking about community and doing research : How and why the Greater West Bowling Study Area came into being.’


1891  Cudworth W, ‘Histories of Bowling and Bolton’, Thos Brear & Co, Bradford

1993   ‘Areas of Stress within Bradford District, a report from the 1991 Census and other sources’, Research Section, Chief Executive’s Dept. City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, Bradford


(1)   Two possible jobs, one in Cairo and one in Goole, or making a career change and retraining were job/career choices at one point. I chose to retrain, to stay in Bradford but moved from production management in the clothing industry through qualifying to teach in Further Education. I eventually worked in community enterprise development across the Bradford District and later as a consultant on Third Sector projects across England.

(2)     A 20 year absence of the Ripley Ville housing and the new use of the land for employment changed why it might be visited and what it was known as or for. This change in what was ‘on the ground’ was a key determinant in the locality’s exclusion in 1991.

(3)   The different time-frames attached to the sources might be taken as indicating both an, as yet, undeveloped knowledge of the area’s history and what dates were significant for house building and a concentration on the housing that still stood rather than what might have been built and demolished. That the GIA (General Improvement Area) consultation and plans feature in the ‘Sources’ column shows, however, that the extensive clearances of ‘unfit’ Victorian housing after 1970 and the rebuilding that ensued were also under investigation.  The GIA consultation was carried out in parallel with and was in part based in similar concerns about poverty, health and housing conditions that led to the demolition of the Ripley Ville houses.

(4)   A research focus over the duration of the decade-long study was tracking the housing market of Greater West Bowling.

(5)   An indication of the degree of frustration that the search led to is found in the title of a later set of notes; ‘Why West Bowling doesn’t make the map’. These unpicked the reasons of production and demand (cartographic, reprographic, for a commissioning agent or niche market) for why detailed whole area maps of Greater West Bowling are very difficult to find. Parts of the area appear on different O S sheets or for example almost none of it on Post Office maps centred on Bradford town. Useful information for the first 60 years of the 19th century is more likely to be found in Land Agents and Surveyors Sale or planning maps. Maps commissioned by Bradford’s Borough Council purposes or for Court cases were an additional source.

(6)   A recent item in the Saltaire Sentinel picked up on residents concerns about maintaining the village’s unique identity and sense of separateness. The article makes interesting reading as the writer reviews different official ‘administrative’ definitions in his attempts to set a clear village boundary. 

(7)   The Greater West Bowling Study Area contained 9 electoral enumeration districts identified as in the worst 10% in the Bradford District on 2 or more measures out of 4 measures for stress or deprivation (income, economic, social, housing). Two of those EEDs were in the worst 10% on four measures. One was variously claimed in the local press to be the 2nd or 42nd most deprived in the country.

(8)   The most glaring error (page 24) that needs correcting is the naming  of the Prime Minister who laid the foundation stone for the New (Wool) Exchange in 1864, and was subject to the ‘silent protest’, as ‘Lord Melbourne’. It was Lord Palmerston. H W Ripley had met Palmerston some 8 years earlier through his role as President of Bradford’s Chamber of Commerce. Palmerston stayed with Ripley at Holme House in Lightcliffe the night before the ceremony.

Except where otherwise stated copyright R L (Bob) Walker 2016 all rights reserved.

published 2016/10/28

revised 201611/03

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