When I First Came Here There Was Nothing
“A praty quik market toune.”
John Leland, 1536
By the Middle Ages, Bradford centred around just three streets: Kirkgate, Westgate and Ivegate. In the 15th century, Edward IV granted the town a right to hold two annual fairs, allowing Bradford’s woollen trade to flourish.
Increasing prosperity and trade from the late 17th century was later helped by the development of canal links and turnpike roads. In 1801, Bradford was a market town with a population of just over 13,000 people, becoming a hub for surrounding townships, such as Great and Little Horton, Manningham and Bowling. By 1821 the population had almost doubled to just over 26,000 and by 1851 had increased to nearly 104,000 inhabitants.
Throughout the 19th century, Bradford’s developing industries, from textile manufacturing to coal and iron works, attracted workers from surrounding areas.
A growing number of workers came from Ireland, attracted by the prospect of employment, escaping the poverty and hard conditions of home, and aided by cheap passages offered by steam shipping lines. By 1851 Irish-born inhabitants accounted for just under 9% of Bradford’s population.
“The natives of Scotland are here, the natives of Ireland are here, from the pleasant vales of Devonshire men and women have come: from the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe they are coming.”
Rev. Jonathan Glyde, 1835
The first German cotton merchant, Leo Shuster, came and settled in Bradford in 1829, and Jacob Behrens, a German Jewish merchant, opened a factory in Thornton in 1839. These were the first of a small but significant number of Germans who came to the town during this time.
Surrounding townships were absorbed as houses, factories and shops sprung up, creating a bigger urban spread. Bradford was now an international powerhouse in the textile trade.
In these early industrial years, Bradford’s dramatic, rapid expansion was chaotic and disordered, with little thought given to overall planning. A town council was not established until 1847. Bradford’s first Lord Mayor was Robert Milligan, a Scottish draper.