Bradford is a resilient community and a city that has been through the mill, in more ways than one. Now enjoying a cultural renaissance, it’s a true Pennine city with lots in common with the nearby towns of Huddersfield and Halifax in particular.
It’s also one of the biggest cities in England by population size, coming in fifth after Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham and London. Many first-time visitors are surprised by the sheer number of attractions and a newly emerging leisure scene. Here are ten facts about Bradford that you might also find surprising.
- Officially Britain’s ‘curry capital’
Bradford has been named Curry Capital of Britain for five years running, annually soaking up praise for its fine curry restaurants.
- Home to the biggest water fountain in the country
Bradford City Park was conceived as part of the 2003 masterplan to regenerate the city centre. A large public space right in the centre of the city, the park is very near the Grade 1 listed Bradford City Hall, and its main feature is a mirror pool containing the highest fountain in any British city.
- Home to the largest former industrial building in the world
Salts Mills was designed by Lockwood and Mawson for Sir Titus Salt in 1853. Today it’s a shopping centre, art gallery and restaurant complex and houses many paintings by local artist David Hockney.
The former textile mill was the largest industrial building in the world when it was built and didn’t close its doors as a manufacturer until 1986. Entrepreneur Jonathan Silver bought it a year later and turned it into a retail, cultural and business centre.
- Experiencing a large population boom
Excluding London, figures show that Bradford is currently undergoing the biggest population growth in the UK. The city also has the largest proportion of under-fives and under 19-year olds, and the largest average household size.
Between 2001 and 2011 when the last censuses were taken, the overall population grew by 11% to 470,800. The next census is due in 2021 and is expected to show a massive increase in general population.
- Home to the oldest concert hall still in use in the UK
St George’s Hall opened on 29 August 1853 and it’s still going. Not only is it the oldest in the UK, but also the third oldest in the whole continent. Originally designed for a capacity of 3,500, it now seats 1,500 and was financed by German Jewish wool merchants who moved to Bradford for its textile industry. It was temporarily closed in 2016 for an £8.5 million restoration project and is due to reopen later this year.
- Also home to the Alhambra Palace theatre
Right in the centre of Bradford, the Alhambra is much loved within the theatre community. Built in 1913 at a cost of £20,000 as the project of a local impresario, Francis Laidler, it opened on 18 March 1914. Over the last century it has welcomed many big names, including Laurel and Hardy, Morcambe & Wise, Peter Sellers and Rik Mayall onto its stage and was awarded Grade II listed status in 1974.
It’s one of the finest theatres in England, and now hosts large-scale touring theatre companies of all kinds to an audience of up to 1,456.
- Known as the former ‘King of Wool’
The 19th century was a golden time for Bradford, when it rose to prominence as an international centre for quality textile manufacture and, in particular, wool. It was a classic boomtown of the Industrial Revolution years and quickly became the wool capital of the entire world.
As the wool and textile manufacturing grew, so did the population and investment in the city. You can still see it today in the architecture of Bradford City Hall. In more recent times, the textile manufacture has moved abroad but the city’s rich past can be seen in its landmarks, including Salts Mill and Manningham Mills.
- The ‘City of Film’
In 2009, Bradford roundly beat Cannes, Venice and LA to be named the world’s first UNESCO City of Film. Bradford was awarded the title for its long association with filmmaking, going back to the very start of cinema. Today, Bradford hosts a number of high-profile and internationally recognised film festivals and film related events.
- Bursting with entrepreneurial spirit
Bradford has a young and dynamic workforce, and a host of creative entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of the unique culture and global business links in the city. There is a high level of self-employment and business start-ups. The fact that it’s the youngest city in the UK, with almost a quarter of its population under 16 years old, suggests that this youthful spirit will continue to revitalise the city going forward.
- Home to major company headquarters
In Bradford and the surrounding district, a number of major companies have their headquarters, including Yorkshire Building Society, Morrisons, Provident Financial, Hallmark Cards, Arris (Pace) and Yorkshire Water. More than 40 large companies have their headquarters in the district and employ more than 370,000 with a combined turnover of around £30 billion.