Forgotten footage traces Bradford’s history through a century of filmmaking

Young girls in Eric Hall's film on Saltaire. Picture: Yokshire Film Archive
Young girls in Eric Hall's film on Saltaire. Picture: Yokshire Film Archive
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The old cobbles could still be seen beneath the Tarmac as Eric Hall’s camera captured two young girls skipping down Titus Street.

The footage was shot less than 50 years ago but Mr Hall’s commentary, and the grainy colour film, makes it seem older.

Mill workers in Bradford. Picture: Yokshire Film Archive

Mill workers in Bradford. Picture: Yokshire Film Archive

It has been little seen for generations, but its resurrection, as part of an archive tracing the local history back to the dawn of film, sheds new light on a city that could once claim to be Yorkshire’s mightiest.

Mr Hall had been shooting amateur footage of the people and customs of the county since 1929, and his work now forms part of the Yorkshire Film Archive.

Researchers there have unearthed his individual take on the model village of Saltaire, This Wonderful Creation, for a retrospective event next month that will mark the centenary of Bradford Cathedral.

The former parish church of St Peter had been elevated just 22 years after Bradford itself became a city, and footage from the time reveals its thorough­fares to have been as crowded as Titus Street was empty.

Wealthy wool merchants, top-hatted like the man on the Monopoly box, weave their way past the approaching trams, crowds fill every inch of pavement as they celebrate the end of war, and scarcely a seat is spare at Odsal speedway track.

“My biggest challenge has been what to leave out,” said Graham Relton, manager at the film archive, who curated the screening to take place at the Cathedral on October 4.

But the old footage has to be seen in context, the organisation advises. In particular, the praise lavished by Mr Hall on the mill owner and philanthropist Tutus Salt “needs to be tempered by Salt’s employment of child labour and his big brother style of policing his workers”, say the screening notes.

“There are conflicting accounts given why he wouldn’t have pubs in Saltaire, as he wasn’t opposed to alcohol.

“Some say it was because of a fear of debauchery, others that he didn’t want his workers plotting in them.”

Even Mr Hall concedes in his commentary that Salt’s staff spied on residents and reported any who hung out their washing in public.

The Cathedral screening is the first such event in Bradford for six years, but its history is steeped in filmmaking – not only through locally-shot classics like Billy Liar and The Railway Children, but also the work of those like Mr Hall who made movies for clubs, businesses and their own enjoyment.

Among them was Bob Sharp, a former Deputy Lord Mayor and director of Bradford City, who ran a flooring company and outsourced some of his filming to a local police sergeant.

The Dean of Bradford, Jerry Lepine, Dean of Bradford, said it was “wholly appropriate” for the Cathedral to host the event.

“As the oldest building in the centre of Bradford, holds the story of the city,” he said.