When my work in Liverpool was complete there was another stop on my itinerary before returning home, another unfamiliar place to explore, another opportunity to learn something.
I wasn’t hopeful. My scant knowledge of the place didn’t suggest anything attractive or interesting about the place, and this was compounded when two colleagues with greater local knowledge advised me to keep my car doors locked and not to be seen on the streets with a camera! In fairness they relaxed their advice when I talked about the city centre, but nevertheless I kept my Canon under wraps while walking about, only taking it out to fire short bursts of bracketed pictures before stowing it safely away once more.
And yet there was something intriguing about the place. The streets were strung with celebratory illuminations, remnants from the recent Muslim Eid feasts, and on my way into town I spotted road signs directing me towards Little Germany, an area of grand warehouses built by an influx of Jewish Merchants in the city’s 19th century heyday. An unlikely juxtaposition of cultures? There were other influences too. Architecturally it may have little to do with the great Moorish palace and stronghold in Andalusia, but the name was clearly chosen to reflect its opulence, and indeed this theatre is recognised as one of the UK’s finest outside of London.
The skyline is dominated by clock tower reminiscent of some Tuscan palazzo, and though the Centenary Square could not stand comparison to the Sienese Piazza del Campo, the City Hall dominates in much the same way as the Palazzo Pubblico does there. Despite the Florentine inspired bell-tower the rest of the building is more Venetian in style. Opened in 1873, its exterior features sculptures of 35 consecutive monarchs from English history, though the decision to include Oliver Cromwell in this group provides another unlikely juxtaposition.
The Town Hall, as it was originally, was designed by local architects Lockwood and Mawson, who were also responsible for the grand St Georges Hall, Britain’s oldest concert hall, and another equally striking edifice within the city; The Wool Exchange.
Even to my untrained eye, this building scream Venetian so loudly that you could be forgiven for checking your step for fear of falling into The Grand Canal. It’s exterior is resplendent in multi-coloured masonry and regularly studded with sculptures of explorers, industrialists and politicians who, as Wikipedia colourfully puts it, were “heroes of the textile industry”.
The city is of course Bradford, once seated in the Pennines surrounded by the mills that once brought wealth to the area, the same mills fell into disuse as foreign imports took their toll on the British textile industry, the same mills that, where they survive, now become apartments blocks, photo studios, and heritage centres. Most of course have gone and the forests of chimneys that once were synonymous with the M62 corridor are vastly reduced, though you don’t have to look far to see their dormant fingers reaching up to the sky.
Mostly dormant anyway.