Bradford: Edge lands

John Bromley

My family lived for 25 years with a view across an urban golf course towards Bradford Moor. Once the golfers had gone home I enjoyed the undulating landscape for taking dusk-time ambles; in later years accompanied by our dog. He alarmed us one time by disappearing into the gloom but happily found his way home a few hours later.

We also became aware of Undercliffe Cemetery, another large local green space. In the early 1980s it became redundant as a commercial cemetery, so we were able to venture behind its stone walls to look at the colossal memorials and to gain extensive views across Bradford. 

No doubt, in the past, these 2 open spaces had been on the edge of the developing city and its ‘spider-web’ outward expansion. I did come to believe in the words of the 1980s tourist slogan: ‘Bradford – A Surprising Place’. In an almost universal organic process, the city spread outwards and gobbled up what were originally a lot of separate villages. 

From our home we could walk eastwards into Fagley and Moorside. We were regular visitors to Bradford Industrial Museum, established in 1974 at Moorside Mills. At that time I was oblivious to the presence of 2 derelict steam cranes on the quarry site of adjacent to the museum. 

Copyright Creative Commons: Chris Allen / Fagley Quarries / CC BY-SA 2.0

The cranes shown in the photograph were rusty relics of a busy past when vast quantities of stone was dug from the many quarries across the district to fuel massive industrial and housing development. No doubt quarries created edge lands that would become prime sites for development once the accessible stone had been exploited, such as the modern housing estate in the background of the photo. 

The steam cranes are fascinating to me. When were they invented? What was their function? How many years did they last? Looking at railway steam engines I realise that steam cranes in a quarry would have had limitations. They would have needed supplies of coal and also water to generate the necessary steam and, without rails, they would have had limited mobility. I guess the advent of diesel engines would have brought about their demise to be replaced by more flexible machines.

Proceeding further down Fagley Road you come to the old railway line that originally ran between Shipley and Pudsey. This was useful for us to take leisure walks including, on the left-hand side, into the delightful woods that border Ravenscliffe Estate, one of Bradford’s over-spill housing developments from the 1960s. The walk goes behind the estate and, in due course, takes you down into Greengates.

Going beyond the railway line, with the Blue Pig pub on the left side, you would come to Woodhall Road; actually an unsurfaced minor road. Going forward for several hundred yards, on the right-hand side you would be on the edge of the very deep and extensive excavations of Woodhall Quarry. At that time it seemed rather forbidding to me with its high sandstone cliff faces and on occasions the roar of scrambler motorbikes ringing around. 

Again, you had the feeling of being in another edge land from the distant city centre.  Proceeding further uphill was a useful route to the main road with a choice, either, turning left down into Calverley or right onto Pudsey. Leeds was like a mirage in the distance with the white clock tower of the University visible on clear days.

Recent visit (June 2020):

The steam cranes have gone from the former Radfield Quarry site and it is in the process of being covered by a very large housing estate. The nearby Industrial Museum is closed because of the Covid 19 pandemic. All around seems strange and in a state of flux, perhaps it is also my state of mind, – influenced by ‘social distancing’ as the strange new norm of behaviour. Buses are coming to the Lower Fagley terminus empty of passengers then, after a pause, leaving empty again.

Going past the site of the old railway line, passing the now derelict pub, the former farm buildings are less distinct, nowadays surrounded by a mixture of temporary buildings or containers. It is not clear what trades are practiced apart from two fields occupied by good-looking horses. Other fields look neglected. Smoke plumes emerge from another nearby site, with male voices in the distance accompanied by metal being struck and engines running.

Personally, I am saddened that an area which had seemed in the past to be working in some sort of harmony now seems somehow disconnected.

Proceeding up Woodhall Road I climbed over a makeshift barrier into the former quarry site which, to my surprise, has been filled in and transformed into a huge grassy meadow flanked on one side by mature trees. My mood began to change.

Near the top of the track behind a broken stone wall was a small wood of mainly beech trees. It was a pleasing sight. The leaves of the trees were animated in the stiff breeze. Looking more closely, they were growing on an area of humps and bumps, I guess spoil heaps resulting from small-scale quarrying in the past. One tree had a dangling rope, presumably from youthful play activities. On the adjacent golf course players were moving about busily. People on leisure walks exchanged friendly greetings with me at a distance. 

This was a strange contrast to the landscape I had passed through down below. The contrast spells out some sort of message, although I am just not sure what it is.

Edge lands in urban areas are a puzzle…Will this area be ‘tamed’? What will we lose if it is? What will the houses look like when they are completed, or occupied? Is the landscaped quarry busy with wildlife? Where do people come from who take leisure walks through the area? Edge lands raise so many intriguing questions and yet we often race through them on our way to more conventional landscapes.

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