The big idea

Social commentator Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrases ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘the global village’. Given that, he’d adore Bradford, England’s fifth largest city.

With the huge National Media Museum; official status as the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, world-class exhibits of media such as literature, photography and art; along with the original and biggest celebration of South Asian culture outside of Asia, the Bradford Mela, this is a city that not only celebrates, but revels in, diversity.

A trip here can only broaden your horizons.

The medium is the message

If a medium is simply a channel through which to express something, this city is ideal for appreciating and understanding different, and evolving, media.

Let’s start with the written word. Bradford district includes Brontë country, home to the famous Brontë sisters, who penned such classics as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. This area centres on the pretty little village of Haworth, and includes the Brontë Parsonage Museum, their original home, and many of the local inspirations for their writings.

For more visual media visit the Impressions Gallery right in the centre of the city, one of the country’s most celebrated independent photography venues, and a chance to check out emerging talent. Or visit the 1853 Gallery at nearby Saltaire, home to one of the largest collections of painter and photographer David Hockney’s work. For something more contemporary, try the stunning Cartwright Hall to the north of the city, or the Bradford 1 Gallery dedicated to contemporary and historic arts.

If that’s whetted your appetite, then just wait until you visit the National Media Museum. Formed as an offshoot of the Science Museum in London less than 30 years ago, this stunning modern centrepiece offers seven floors of interactive galleries. It houses: the country’s first IMAX cinema; three 3-D screens; the Magic Factory (exploring the principles of light and colour); historic artefacts such as the country’s first TV footage; and the camera that took the first picture, among many other engaging exhibits and collections. It really is an impressive venue, bringing together photography, film, TV, animation and the changing digital landscape to present a complete historical and future perspective on changing media – simply inspiring. Recently awarded the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, the museum also promotes three nationally acclaimed annual film festivals.


Bradford had two big waves of new arrivals: first, in the 1850s, German and Irish immigrants came over encouraged by the booming wool industry; then, in the 1950s, settlers came from the West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India to make Bradford their home. The impact of both waves of immigration can be seen in different ways in the city. Firstly, in the area north-east of the city centre known as Little Germany, you’ll find imposing buildings built by German wool merchants to store their goods. And secondly in the influence Asian culture has had on the city in terms of the plethora of cracking curry houses, a strong global music scene, and, most significantly, in the massive Bradford Mela event that takes place every year in Peel Park.

The Bradford Mela, founded in late 1980s, is the biggest Mela outside Asia (these festivals originate from the Indian sub-continent, the word ‘Mela’ meaning ‘to meet’ in Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language). Traditionally a gathering of people celebrating their community, it has now grown into a massive celebration of global culture, street theatre, fusion foods, and quality stage entertainment, attracting over 100,000 visitors from across the country. And although several other cities have their own Mela, this is the original.

Finally, as diversity doesn’t always spell harmony, it’s perhaps fitting that Bradford has the only museum in the UK dedicated to harmony in the Peace Museum. Through the collection and conservation of posters, photographs and other memorabilia relating to the history and development of peace, non-violence and conflict resolution, this museum aims to help build a ‘culture of peace’ in the here and now. Thought-provoking stuff.

The essence

Diversity and communication

How it can make you feel/who should visit

A trip to Bradford can remind you of how diverse our world is. And the multitude of methods of communication inspires you with possibilities. It’s therefore a great place to go when you need ideas or want inspiration – or for people who want to take a wider view of things.

Add in the surrounding countryside, including such gems as Ilkley Moor, and the brooding moorlands surrounding Haworth and you’ve got a wonderful outdoor experience to complement a visit.


The name Bradford was coined by Anglian tribes in C500 AD and means ‘broad ford’.  By the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, it would have been a pretty large village made up of three streets in the centre of the city, Westgate, Kirkgate and Ivegate with a population of about 300 people.

In the Middle Ages it grew steadily with a trade in leather and wool, and by the start of the 16th century would have been a town, about half the size of its neighbour, Wakefield, with a strong reputation for wool.

However, the town was transformed in the late 18th century by the Industrial Revolution and the advent of mechanisation. Perfectly placed with access to soft Yorkshire water for cleaning cloth and locally-mined coal as a power source, business boomed, and the mills started to appear.

The very first ‘spinning jenny’ appeared in Bradford in 1765, but further industrialisation met with resistance from workers who smashed up many machines (even an attempt to open a spinning mill pioneered by the trendy new steam power was met with violent demos by local workers fearful of losing their jobs: this is a city with a long history of protests).

But in the early 19th century Bradford boomed, with the population soaring from just over 6,000 in 1800 to 103,000 some 50 years later, and in 1874 it was granted city status. Conditions were harsh, and this led to Titus Salt building his model workers’ village in nearby Saltaire, as well as a spate of buildings in the Victorian era, the heyday of the city (see the Wool Exchange, now a shopping centre, built in 1864, and the grand Italianate City Hall built in 1874).

In the early 20th century, Bradford was so intrinsically tied up with the manufacture of worsted cloth it was popularly known as ‘Worstedopolis’. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the trade declined, and although war production provided a temporary boost, it was an industry in long-term decline, to be replaced in the late 20th century with clerical work, tourism and retail (Morrison’s first set up shop in Bradford in 1899).

In 1974 it became a district with nine other townships, such as Ilkley, and, in a further effort to boost tourism in 1983, a Science Museum director, the local council and Dame Margaret Weston hatched a plan to create the country’s first photography, film and television museum on a disused site in the centre of town – now, that’s imagination for you.

How to experience or ‘get under the skin’ of the city

Why not start in Haworth? From here you can do the steam railway, check out the dramatic and rugged landscape and take yourself back a hundred years to see the world through the eyes of the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. The Bronte Parsonage Museum was home to the sisters from 1820 to 1861, and it was here that Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, Anne The Tenant of Wildfell, and Emily created Wuthering Heights. Not a bad line up, eh?

When you’ve soaked up the atmosphere here, head east to Saltaire to see the model village built by Sir Titus Salt. The massive Salt Mill is also here, a former mill which is home to shops, crafts and art and includes the 1853 gallery showcasing pieces by David Hockney.

Now it’s time to head into Bradford; one the way in look out for Lister Mills, a Bradford landmark that was the biggest mill in the city, and at one time the largest silk factory in the world.

On the way into the city, try skirting around and heading for Bradford Cathedral (special features include William Morris windows, Flaxman sculpture and embroidery designed by Ernest Sichel); it’s in the Little Germany area, so you can get a feel for the scale of warehouses needed to store the woolen garments at the height of Worstedopolis (you’ve also got the JB Priestley theatre around the corner, named after the famous Bradford-born playwright).

Also check out the Bradford Playhouse on Chapel Street in the area; a buzzing, lively and ever-changing experience.
Next head into the city centre on the Leeds Road. St Georges Hall is on the left hand side; another theatre in the city, this one renowned for the quality of the acoustics, and home to one of the UK’s longest-running orchestral seasons, with the Halle as resident orchestra.

You’re now in the city centre and can marvel at the sheer scale of some of the buildings. There’s something about the space around many of the central buildings in Bradford that is quite simply BIG. Here you’ll see (they’re very hard to miss) the impressive City Hall (the exterior is designed in the Venetian gothic style, with the imposing 220 ft clock tower inspired by Palazzo Vecchio in Florence), the Impressions Gallery and the big screen next door at Centenary square: then there’s the brand spanking new City Park. Opening in Summer 2011, this 6-acre park is designed to showcase the City Hall and provide a unique area for rest, play and relaxation- including the Mirror Pool, which will incorporate over 100 fountains, walkways and lighting effects to become the UK’s largest water feature, and one designed to look different each time you visit.

Over the road, are the refurbished Alhambra theatre, a magnificent Grade II listed building and receiving theatre for large-scale productions- and the National Media Museum; 8 floors,3 major film festivals, 2 galleries and 3.5 million items of historical importance- the finest museum for all things media in the country. Head next into the town centre, and things start to get much more cramped: this is the old part of the city, featuring the three original streets from the time of the Domesday Book. From here, off Kirkgate, you’ll find The Peace Museum and The Wool Exchange, which is now a small shopping centre: check out the ceiling at Waterstone’s for a stunning reminder of what was there.

To the north east of the city you’ll find Peel Park, the first park opened in the city in the late 19th century, and the Bradford Industrial Museum, a permanent display of textile machinery, steam power and engineering prowess.

After all that scale, theatre and media, why not finish off your visit in the nearby Yorkshire Dales? Get your walking boots on, head on out to the delightful former spa town that is Ilkley and reflect on some of the amazing sights and sounds you’ve just experienced.

The dramatic Ilkley Moor, with its panoramic vistas, is a beautiful setting for the town. Why not visit in October for the Ilkley Literature Festival, the largest of its kind in the North, where celebrities from the worlds of literature and entertainment gather in the town for a fortnight of performances and readings. Combined with a trip into the theatrical and media city that is Bradford, what a creatively inspiring itinerary.

When to visit

City pics