Improving Bradford’s Heritage Offer : a personal view

Copyright R L Walker 2014 & 2015 All rights reserved (See sidebar right →)

This is an up-dated version of content that first appeared on the rediscovering Ripleyville web-site in one of four linked posts on the blog. These were in response to the Cloth & Memory (2) exhibition held in Salts Mill towards the end of 2013. It was originally published at the end of the fourth post of the series.The last of the four also included a set of photographs showing the industrial works, the key features of the industrial model villages of Ripleyville and Saltaire and of their sponsors Titus Salt and H W Ripley. The posts were:-

Cloth & Memory 2 : Absence make the Crafts case stronger

Cloth& Memory 2 : Mutable Frame of Reference

Missing : The Colour Supplement in Bradford’s Heritage offer – part 1

Missing : The Colour Supplement in Bradford’s Heritage offer – part 2

set of images including photographs of exhibits in Cloth & Memory 2

Missing Colour Supplement

These posts picked up on the theme of absences in some of the works in Cloth & Memory 2 and developed the idea that a Colour Supplement  was missing from Bradford’s Heritage offer. Focusing on the District’s Victorian past this included; worsted dyeing and finishing, Bowling Dyeworks, south Bradford’s industrial model village of Ripleyville and H W Ripley, later Sir Henry William Ripley, Bart. For reasons that are made clear in the posts, what is missing in the Heritage offer is referred to as an emptiness.


Missing from Bradford’s Heritage offer

The central claim of this page is that there is an emptiness in Bradford’s heritage offer and in its understanding, interpretation and promotion of a broad swathe of its Victorian history.  A list of what stands for, contains or supports that Heritage offer might include; surviving Victorian buildings, archives and museum collections, past and present contingencies and the policies of local authorities, NGOs and private institutions and the research environment. This is sustained and complimented through Local History and Family history groups, community-based projects and organisations like Bradford’s Historical and Antiquarian Society.

What follows can only shine a light on certain corners or features within this field of concern. I can only speak from the position of a halfie; an outsider but long-term user of at least some of Bradford’s and West Yorkshire’s archives and collections and member of the local environment for historical research. I start below with the factors that constitute the emptiness in Bradford’s Heritage offer, as I experience it and understand it.

Factors constituting emptiness in Heritage offer

It is my view that amongst the 5 factors that constitute that emptiness are:-

  1. the demolition of the northern site of Ripleyville, and all except the almshouses on its southern site
  2. the demolition of Bowling Dyeworks, the dyeworks at Salts Mill and the repurposing of other Victorian Dyeworks in Bradford,
  3. the concentration within the District’s Museums Department and Saltaire’s heritage offer on preparation of fibre, spinning & weaving,
  4. the attempt to present Saltaire industrial model village as unique in and separate from Bradford and Titus Salt and Salts Mill as outside Wostedopolis and the Worsted District
  5. the failure to join up the heritage offers of the local authority and those of other collections or archives, (public or ‘private’, Bradford 0r Worsted-district wide).

In putting together the list I am clear that the processes that got us to where we are now are of often of long duration; processes involving choice, chance, force of circumstance or custom. I am also aware that Bradford as a local authority and this part of the country finds itself experiencing government cuts or receiving allocations from NGOs or Lottery sources that are inequitable.


The next section reviews the five factors listed above, goes deeper to make new more detailed claims about particular voids. It then qualifies those claims and makes observations that identify some of the opportunities and challenges for making good deficiencies in the present Heritage offer. The balance of review, new claim and observation(s) changes between factors. More so where these are material facts or more contentious. The research environment is touched on implicitly and explicitly under factor 4. My own personal experience is that this has worsened since the demise of SLED.

Challenges and Opportunities

Material Facts

1.   the demolition of the northern site of Ripleyville and all except the almshouses on its southern site.

2.  the demolition of Bowling Dyeworks, the dyeworks at Salts Mill and the repurposing of other Victorian Dyeworks in Bradford

Below are listed links to pages and posts on this website that give indications of survivals from the demolition of Ripleyville and Bowling Dyeworks. The list is not exhaustive.

There is a need to follow these up:-

  • What remains unseen, below ground and where access is private, needs adding.
  • A thorough in-depth desk-based and on-site survey needs conducting and a comprehensive record of findings produced.
  • Beyond the point where the feasibility of such a project has been tested, this will require a partnership approach & resourcing that acknowledge the particular constraints of the sites and in building community involvement.

New Claims

3.     the concentration within the District’s Museums Department and Saltaire’s heritage offer on preparation of fibre, spinning & weaving,

3.1    The public offer is empty of artifacts, interpretive media and other records relating specifically to the science (proto-science), the techniques of dyeing (the Dyers arts & crafts) and its mechanisation before the aniline era.

I am unaware of local exhibits of the vats, jiggers, or other worsted dyeing apparatus and machinery from the early to mid Victorian period. I know of only one image (in various print forms) in local collections that shows the interior of a dyehouse from early in the 19th century. It is unclear if the image is of dyeing in the local Worsted District.

link to Flickr images of abandonned Dyeworks of Wool and Worsted manufacturing firm, Wellington

The ad hoc nature of how Bradford’s collections were acquired in the past is recognised in this Policy Document from 2010.

The Fabric of Bradford a relatively small Heritage Lottery funded project is tasked with producing a time-line about worsted-dyeing locally as part of its activities. I understand this is scheduled for the second year of the project i. e. late 2014 to late 2015.

The archive collection of the Society of Colourists and Dyers now housed with Bradford College provides items that cover the mid-Victorian period, Bowling Dyeworks, pre-alinine and post-aniline period dyeing. The Bowling Dyeworks : Working the Chemistry page on this web-site is largely based in documents in that collection.

3.2   Nowhere does the public offer present a full and coherent statement with appropriate interpretive media, real or virtual models, that show and explain, from fleece, fibre and dye source to Draper’s counter, the processes that went into making a world-beating worsted cloth mid-nineteenth century in Bradford.

The nearest that Bradford’s offer comes to a coherent statement or ‘official’ history is in the side galleries on the 2nd floor of Salts 1853 Mill and the focus is Titus Salt, Salts Mill and Saltaire and extends the story beyond the period when Worstedopolis and its trade grew to its world-beating position.

While we need to be aware of the way in which mid-century workspaces (manufactories, warehouses, Mills and dye-works) and textile machinery both dwarfed and massed together individual workers, my experience of the Edward Akroyd and Akroydon exhibits in the Bankfield Museum in Halifax was a reminder of how a story may be made more comprehensible in smaller more intimate spaces.

An exhibit in Cloth & Memory {2} can be used to indicate something of the conceptual and interpretive challenge of meeting this absence. It offered an interesting response to the Spinning Room’s size and manufacturing capacity through a miniturised, measured and hand-woven re-presentation.

detail 'Warp + Weft' by Katherina Honsberg

New Project

4.    the attempt to present Saltaire industrial model village as unique in and separate from Bradford and Titus Salt and Salts Mill as outside Wostedopolis and the Worsted District.

The consultation for the second Management Plan for Saltaire, by Bradford Council is in process.

In parallel there has been the bringing together of SWHEA; Saltaire World Heritage Education Association.

An earlier assessment of the learning/educational potential of Saltaire appears here

In looking for big ideas for the village, lobbies have appeared for re-building the bridge across the Aire at the bottom of Victoria Road and for solutions to the parking problems including an underground car-park.

4.1    Additional idea : Excellence Hub

  • Use Akroydon, Ripley Ville and Saltaire villages  Calderdale and Bradford’s archives and collections (public or ‘private’, Bradford or Worsted-district wide) as starting points.(1)
  • Create a properly resourced cross-disciplinary Excellence Hub for site-specific and comparative research into these Victorian industrial model villages, their sponsors, the linkages between their histories and the development of the worsted industry in Bradford and the wider Worsted District.
  • Such a project would need support from Bradford Council Departments, Bradford University, local Colleges, projects like ‘Now Then‘ at Yorkshire Archives, Bradford Science Festival, the Society of Colourists and Dyers – to name a few.

Are there even connections to be explored through Victorian science between photography and dyeing?

And finally : What role could or should UNESCO funded Saltaire take in such a project?


5.   the failure to join up the heritage offers of the local authority and those of other collections or archives

The Just Visiting posts on this web-site and the one recording a visit to the Collection of Bradford’s Industrial Museum sketch in something of what is available on public show and behind the scenes in archives and collections in the Worsted District. Visits to the Textile Archive at Bradford College may feature in future posts

The re-opening of Bradford’s Local Studies and the relocation of the Bradford branch of Yorkshire Archives from its temporary venue return two very valuable resources to Bradford’s city-centre.

Doing the research that feeds into rediscovering Ripleyville over the past ten years it is clear that archives in Leeds & Wakefield, Sheffield, Whitby, Norfolk and the British Library hold items in their collections relevant to the missing Colour Supplement and Bradford’s Heritage offer.

If you have information that adds information or can otherwise help move forward the ideas set out in this post please use the contact form below.


(1)  The list of three villages would, from a Halifax perspective, include Copley, Edward Akroyd’s earlier foray into improved worker’s housing and West Hill Park built for the Crossleys. Using a different set of definitions contributions to ‘Model industrial communities in mid-nineteenth century Yorkshire’ (Jowitt J A et al 1986) also include Wilshaw & Meltham Mills. Excluded from most lists but of interest is Lilycroft built in Manningham for Listers.

last updated 2014/03/16

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