Something from Nothing

Apologies to Bradford, but on my last visit I was struggling for material. In fairness my working hours, the shortening hours of daylight, and a reluctance to go driving further afield once checked into my hotel narrow the options.

So what was I left with?  The view from my hotel room revealed little to lift my spirits; multiple lanes of traffic by-passing the city centre and then the industrial units that are inevitable where road and rail converge.  Ah well time to embrace the wisdom of Jagger and hope I can still get what I need.

From my hotel vantage point I’d thought to shoot the dispersal of car lights as they left a nearby junction and diverged uphill, but at ground level I was thwarted, though prompted to come up with a new collective noun; an unkindness of trees!

To business then; in the opposite direction I could at least do something with the evening traffic._pw_8290

Timing my efforts so that the banks of traffic lights didn’t staunch the flow proved challenging, but I persevered for a while._pw_8307

Whilst the addition of a little light rain was a slight discomfort it at least made surfaces more reflective, so I decided to see if I could make something of the metal crash barrier beside me which was becoming more mirrored.

It wasn’t happening for me; nothing really appealed and the rain was now becoming unpleasant.  (Neither my camera or I had come prepared).  As I fled the scene juggling camera, tripod and backpack I accidentally triggered the shutter.  Abstract, random but much more fun than everything I’d shot so far.  I shot another as I ran.

This was much more fun, but not wanting to end up trying to persuade my insurance company that a wrecked camera was entirely accidental, I returned to my room, where with fresh impetus I turned my attention to the rivulets on my window and the coloured bokeh beyond.

The coloured sphere suggested something celestial and so I set to tweaking.  Not quite sunshine after the rain, but you can see what I was after._pw_8319-edit

The things a solitary photographer can get up to when bored in a hotel room.  Could have been worse I suppose.


With a Pinch of Salt?

_pw_7741William Blake’s poem that questions whether there is any truth to the legends that Jesus Christ once came to England refers to England’s dark Satanic mills, and though there are conflicting interpretations, many take the literal option that this refers to the fruits of the industrial revolution.

Bradford was a fertile ground for the mills to take root, being ideally situated to access stone to build the mills, coal to power them, and the soft water of the Pennines to wash and dye the textiles produced there.  There were over 50 built here._pw_7794

The mills needed a workforce, and in the first half of the 19th Century the town’s population is said to have grown from 6000 to over 100,000 with a reliance on immigrants that continued for another century after that.  The work was hard, the hours were long and the environment was hazardous.  Children as young as five worked alongside the adults.

_pw_7746Home was no refuge.  Without housing regulations many lived in unsanitary slums.  Whole families might share a damp cellar room.  An epidemic of cholera claimed over four hundred lives.  Dark and Satanic?  It’s easy to reach that conclusion.

Enter Sir Titus Salt.  Builder and owner of Salts Mill which on completion in 1853 was the largest industrial building in the world, but also a philanthropist who build the adjacent Saltaire village (a conflation of his surname and the name of the nearby river) to house his workers in what were then exemplary conditions.  As well as the housing there were washhouses, a school, a hospital, almshouses and an institute for public meetings, concerts and education.  It incorporated a library, a gym and a scientific laboratory.

Titus, it seems, cared for the minds and bodies of his workers, and their souls too.  My favourite structure there is the Congregational Church which could accommodate 600 worshippers, though rarely Titus as he and his family often worshipped elsewhere.  He did return to take his place in the family mausoleum which stands to one side of the church looking a little like an ostentatious afterthought.  Salt was a devout Christian himself and many believe this to be the driving force behind his enterprise.

Others see a more selfish motive; he was looking after a critical asset of his business and their productivity.  Perhaps this is why Saltaire is a rarity in being an English village without a pub (and check out the name of the licensed restaurant that is now at the heart of the village)_pw_7800

And then there’s a third option.  Self aggrandisement.  If he wasn’t out to impress, why adopt an Italianate architectural style in the embellishment of many of the buildings (the chimney of the New Mill building being a direct copy of a Venetian campanile for example)?  Would Victorian millworkers really appreciate the cultural reference?  At one stage the mill, village and park all bore his name (though a subsequent owner imposed his surname on the park).  Perhaps Titus just lacked imagination.


Stencil of David Hockney, Salts Mill, Bradford

Whatever his motivation he has left us a village that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and even the mill has found a modern use.  Converted into smaller units it features, warehousing, specialist retailers and galleries.  It’s the perfect place to exhibit the output of a more modern Bradfordian son of note.

So Saint or Sinner, Control-Freak or Egotist?

Or maybe a soupçon of each.

Just a pinch?

Rest in peace Titus._pw_7765_6_7



A couple of weeks ago I found myself driving on Hamm Strasse.  It wouldn’t have been so surprising in 1991 when I visited North Rhine-Westphalia, staying with relatives of my ex-wife who were stationed near the city with the British Army, but this time I wasn’t in Germany, or even a Germanic country.

I was in Bradford.APW_5528_29_30

There is a part of Bradford that came to be known as Little Germany (in the same way that New York has Little Italy and San Francisco Little China).  It’s the part where the warehouses of wealthy merchants were sited, close by the rail network and the city’s Wool Market.

Those warehouses were at their most active in the 19th Century, but after a period of neglect are once again of interest for their architectural splendour and so consequently are finding new life as apartments and offices.  The buildings aren’t particularly Germanic in design (one is distinctly Scottish Baronial in its appearance), it was their occupants that gave the locale its name.

They were mostly European Jews and of these predominantly German which adds another twist to their choice of location, for grand as their commercial temples may be the area is dominated by the tower of Bradford Cathedral, which was once the only church in the city.  APW_5646_7_8The other building of note here is more secular.

How times change.  A place once dominated by German Jewry is now one of the most important centres of the British Muslim population. What surprises might the future hold?

For me there were a couple more.  Having spent way to long trying to get a shot of the pigeons roosting in one of the remaining derelicts, I abandoned the task and walked to the end of the road…

…and then this:APW_5485_6_7-Edit



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.

APW_9353_4_5And 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.

APW_9350_1_2-Edit-EditThe 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.  APW_9359-Edit

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”.

APW_9392-EditThe 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.