Tunnel vision: Bradford plans underground shopping mall

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OVER 300 tonnes of rubble have been removed from subterranean tunnels in Bradford city centre ahead of plans to create a base for up-and-coming young entrepreneurs and artists.

The little-known warren of tunnels looks set to be transformed into nine Victorian-style shops, two bars, a restaurant and 23 market stalls under plans that are due to be submitted to the city council within the next two weeks.

Graham Hall in one of the tunnels. Picture by Simon Hulme

Graham Hall in one of the tunnels. Picture by Simon Hulme

And the development company behind the £1m scheme expects the tunnels to be clear of rubble within a fortnight.

The plans also include the conversion of the building above, called Millergate House, into six flats.

As previously reported in The Yorkshire Post, developer Sunbridge Wells has been working on the project for some time but details of the scheme only emerged last month.

Teams have been digging out rubble which, in some places, was within two feet of the ceiling.

Project manager Graham Hall said: “It is now looking the part; it looks really good. You can really see what it’s going to be like. There’s nothing like it in Bradford; it’s unique. It is certain to become a tourist attraction.”

Picking through the mountains of debris has taken some time, he says.

“The top floor used to be a cellar bar but was filled in with rubble - thousands of bricks and beer barrels - which was within two foot of the ceiling. Since we started we have removed around 340 tonnes. We have had to wheelbarrow a lot of it out.”

Once the rubbish has been cleared, work can begin on preparing the 12,000 square foot of space for a damp proof course and for the removal and relaying of stone floors. The stonework will be sandblasted.

The next big hurdle will be securing planning permission to convert the space into units for various businesses, including low-rent units for young entrepreneurs, graduates and student artists, jewellers and other crafts people.

The proposals have been well received in the city, according to Mr Hall.

“Our website (www.sunbridgewells.com) has had about 17,000 hits in the last month and everyone seems very enthusiastic about the proposals. We want to encourage 18-30-year-olds into ‘easy start-up’ businesses.”

The idea is that those who take on the start-up units will only pay a modest rent and can easily walk away if the business fails to take off. The walls of the network of tunnels will be used to showcase work by artists.

The developer is keen to discover more about the history of the tunnels, which are believed to date back to the 1700s. Some of the space is thought to have been used as cells.

A plaque on Ivegate commemorates the imprisonment in 1744 of a famous preacher with the words: “John Nelson of Birstall. Stonemason and Methodist preacher. Helper of John Wesley. Was lodged in a dungeon near this spot, May 5 1744.”

More recently, the underground tunnels were turned into bars.

The developer’s website records the existence of The Little Fat Black Pussy Cat nightclub which was owned by Shirley Crabtree, better known as the wrestler Big Daddy.

Acts listed as having played beneath the city streets include the Beatles who played an “after hours gig in the Old Cellar Bar on Ivegate,” the website notes.

Other acts said to have appeared include The Pretty Things and Jimi Hendrix.