Where There’s Muck … There’s Grandeur
“Since Mr McGowan came, the Town Hall and its surroundings have arisen; the covered markets have been erected; Forster Square has taken the place of Old Broadstones, Sunbridge Road has been cut thro one of the worst places in Bradford; a splendid supply of water has been obtained; Free libraries have been provided; the town now boasts of five public parks; and the electricity works have been established.”
John Sowden, writing about the work of William Thomas McGowan, Bradford Town Clerk, 1866-91
Bradford become established as a municipal borough in 1847. Planning and construction of buildings became more organised, controlled and regulated by the Borough Council and supported by national government legislation.
The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the construction of many grand civic, commercial and private buildings in Bradford town centre. This was a reflection of the huge wealth created by individuals, companies and their workers in just a few decades. Bradford was upgraded to a city in 1897.
Bradford’s leaders, industrialists and entrepreneurs were keen to establish a sense of civic pride. While this increased their prestige and influence, it’s less certain that such enthusiasm was shared by all of Bradford’s inhabitants, most of whom lived in poverty.
Bradford gained significant civic buildings during this time. While some are no longer around, others have survived, maintaining and enhancing their status as beacons of pride within the city centre.
Some key constructions of the era were St George’s Hall, opening in 1853, the original Bradford Infirmary (opened in 1843, demolished 1937-9) and The Wool Exchange on Market Street, opened in 1867. Perhaps the jewel of the municipal crown, the Town (now City) Hall was opened six years later. By 1876 the fine Victorian warehouses of Little Germany, largely built by German merchants, were completed.
A booming Victorian Bradford needed modern ways to transport workers, resources and products. The Leeds and Bradford Railway Company brought Bradford its first railway in 1846. Forster Square station, with the adjacent Midland Hotel, and the Exchange Station, were built by the end of the century.