The district known as Little Germany is close to Bradford Cathedral. It is unquestionably one of the glories of the city being famous for a unique collection of magnificent, stone-built, Victorian textile warehouses. In many cases their original occupiers were German merchants, which provided the name. In 1977 John S Roberts produced an invaluable short pamphlet entitled Little Germany which was my personal introduction to the history of the area. More recently Susan Duxbury-Neuman published Little Germany: a History of Bradford’s Germans (Amberley, 2015) which is full of information about the warehouses, and the merchants that owned them, with much else besides. Despite the existence of these excellent accounts I wondered if anything in the Bradford Local Studies Library reserve map collection could provide a useful additional ‘taster’.
On the 1800 map of Bradford the future Little Germany was a green field site. Fortunately two roads of that period, Church Bank and Vicar Lane (earlier Dead Lane) have retained their names, which makes the placement of the location on more modern maps relatively easy. Leeds Road, which originally formed part of the Leeds-Halifax turnpike, was created in the late 1820s or early 1830s. The Library has several plans showing portions of adjacent land. Some of these are in excellent condition but one has been subject to considerable deterioration.
The first plan here is essentially of the lower part of Little Germany. It shows the first Bradford Mechanics Institute which was founded in 1832 being aligned on Leeds Road. The plan is annotated on the back as ‘Colliers Close’. I have found no other record of this name but it is perfectly credible since coal was mined all over the city, and Roberts reports that building on some of the Little Germany sites was difficult because of old mine workings.
A huge help in dating this first plan is that Bradford is referred to as a Borough, a status achieved in 1847. On the other hand the first OS map of the area, which was issued in 1851 and surveyed in the late 1840s, shows no sign of any new street development. If we said that the plan was from 1848-49 I do not suppose we should be far wrong. It is interesting to note that the area was the location of two blacksmiths and a joiner’s workshop. So in 50 eventful years the green fields of 1800 had been mined for coal, transected by a major road, and become the site of several small businesses and the first Mechanics Institute. Leeds Road on the plan, confusingly, is not the major route of that name but a short branch which was soon renamed Well Street. The name Lee Street was also soon changed, to Currer Street. There is a pencil annotation describing it as ‘Abram Street’, presumably another name that was considered. Field Street seems to have been so called originally and has retained its name. The owner of the land west of Vicar Lane, both north and south of Leeds Road, was Rev. Godfrey Wright (1780-1862). A detailed account of his life was included in the description of my previous map.
The second map is essentially the same but provides more information about the purchasers.
The names recorded do not seem to be the same as those who were associated with the famous Little Germany warehouses 10-20 years later. I’m not certain if the parcels of land were sold on or whether the original purchasers simply leased the warehouses. In any case individual buildings will have had many owners and occupiers since their construction. Augustus Silvestro (AS) Sichel were a Manchester textile firm. Augustus’s son, Sylvester Emil Sichel, later lived at Shipley Grange. As early as 1856 Sichel Bros were trading in Well Street. I’m not sure what their relationship was with Victor Sichel, manager of Reiss Brothers yarn and stuff merchants in Currer Street. Victor was the father of the Bradford artist Ernest Sichel (1862-1941). Both families originated in Frankfort am Main, Germany but were they directly related? Thomas Mills was a Bradford furniture merchant and upholsterer. Thomas Fison was in the partnership of Fison & Lister, wool merchants at Well Street. Nicholas Hermann Heydemann (1817-89) was both a cloth merchant and the German Consul. He is buried at Undercliffe cemetery. In 1859 on his land at 4 Currer Street the premises of Nathan Reichenheim, yarn merchants, was constructed. This is probably the oldest of the surviving buildings. In 1874 on GB Smith’s site at the junction of Field Street and Vicar Lane was built Law Russell’s magnificent Victorian warehouse. This was constructed by Bradford contractor Archibald Neill. Both these buildings were designed by the famous Bradford partnership of Lockwood & Mawson.
The third plan is severely damaged. The section reproduced indicates that the main interest of the surveyor was surface water drainage from Burnett St, Cator St, and the upper part of Currer Street.
The original land-owner is not recorded but these lands to the east of Vicar Lane were part of the Vicarage Trust. I do not know if the vicar at this period, John Burnett, benefited personally from land sales but he presumably gave his name to the street. Another series of purchasers are recorded. Leopold Reiss has already been mentioned as one half of Reiss Brothers. As far as I can tell William Bollans and James Wilman were both publicans in other parts of Bradford. Eli Milnes (1830-1899) was the leading warehouse architect. He designed several of the warehouses and the fact that one carries his EM monogram suggests that he was also involved in speculative construction. Not all the land-owners are traceable. Jacob Philipp & Co. seems to have puzzled Duxbury-Neuman and certainly defeated me. Roberts explained that most of the building occurred in the period 1860-67. The Borough Map of 1871 shows the whole area completely filled with buildings. I imagine that by 1875 the appearance of Little Germany was very much as it is today although one or two later premises were still to be constructed. Most still survive and if you are not familiar with Little Germany do please experience its delights for yourselves.
Derek Barker, Local Studies Library Volunteer