Bradford: a homecoming

Twenty years ago, when I was still a child, I went to Bradford for a university open day. I didn't think much of it. I was impressed by neither the city nor the campus. This was a great disappointment to my maternal family, who are all from Bradford.

With my better half attending an archaeological conference at said university, I decided it was time to give Bradford another try. I caught the train from York with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. What familial repercussions would there be if I still didn't like it?

Who could fail to be charmed by this?

Stepping out of the Interchange and walking up to the Midland Hotel, I was taken aback. Central Bradford was nothing like what I remembered. It was grand and imposing, full of tall, impressive, Westphalian buildings, exuding a sense of civic pride and importance. With the FA Cup in town, there was a buzz about the place. How could I have misjudged it so?

Relieved, I wandered my way through town, taking my time, admiring the Victorian grandeur, chuckling at my teenage idiocy.

Penny for your thoughts?

Next morning, I was woken up stereotypically. A brass band was practising in one of the hotel ballrooms. After breakfast, and after strolling up to Valley Parade to soak up the pre-match atmosphere, I hopped on a bus to Clayton to meet my mother.

I'd heard talk of Clayton all my life. The village where, at least till the mid-20th century, most of my mum's family had lived and thrived. Somehow, though, I'd never seen the place.

My first glimpse was a distracted one. As the bus pulled up to Victoria Park, I was struggling with my phone, trying to listen to the thrilling end of Ireland's World Cup cricket match with Zimbabwe.

An Irish victory put me in good stead. Having got my bearings, I went for a wander whilst I waited for Mum to appear. It was easy to imagine Clayton as a thriving village. Like Bradford as a whole, its distinctive buildings of distinctive stone, clustered in terraces round the park and Green End, gave it a strong sense of identity.

Chrisharben Court and Broadfolds, Clayton.

When Mum materialized, she led me off on a reminiscent tour of the streets she'd known as a child. Oakleigh Road. Oakleigh Terrace. Clayton Lane. The Avenue.

Back in the village centre, we sought out the Baptist churchyard, where various members of our family are buried. These include probably our most illustrious relative: Mum's great uncle; my great grand-uncle, Linton Harry Foulds.

Linton was born and grew up in Clayton, and went to Trinity College, Cambridge, before embarking on a career in the foreign office. In 1946, he became the UK's first Minister to the Philippines, and in 1951 was made Ambassador to Ecuador, though sadly he died the next year. He has his picture in the National Portrait Gallery, but his Clayton grave is very modest.

The burial place of Linton H. Foulds, Clayton Baptist Church.

Talking of modest, the Bradford-Reading FA Cup clash was about to start, so we headed to The Black Bull to watch the first half. Not much happened. It was goalless at the interval, and we retreated to the car to eat some sandwiches.

Across the road in the Clayton Library, though, postprandial sporting heroes were in plentiful supply. Asking if there was a local history section, we were directed to a few folders in the corner. And there, on the first page I opened in the 'Local Sports' folder, was a cricket team photo featuring Grandpa and Uncle Ron.

We knew the date on the picture - 1935 - was too early, but it was still marvellous to suddenly find familiar faces beaming out at us from the distant past. Stalwarts of the Clayton Baptist CC!

Uncle Ron had always been full of stories. He and Grandpa were 'off cummed-uns' for not having grown up in Clayton. They were also the sons of a 1920s petrolhead who had bought some early motor vehicles, including a ridiculous contraption called a Scott Sociable. This featured in another of Uncle Ron's legendary recollections: a childhood incident in which they Great-grandpa took them out for a drive in it, went round a corner over a bridge too quickly and, when the dust had settled, discovered Grandpa was no longer in the car. When Great-grandpa looked back, it was to find his young son had been flung out and was now clinging to the parapet of the bridge.

The Scott Sociable: the perfect family car.

There was supposed to be a surviving specimen in the Bradford Industrial Museum, so I wanted to see if it was on show.

Mum suggested we first drive up to Grandpa and Ron's (and her) old haunts on Horton Bank Top, which has a fine view out across Bradford. Then, via a rather circuitous route across the city, listening to the local radio commentators ranting about the football, we tried to find the Industrial Museum.

It wasn't that easy, which might explain why - footy excepted - it was quiet. We marched up to the information desk. Before I could even ask about the car, though, the friendly chaps on reception said 'I'm afraid the transport section is closed today'.


I explained why we were here, and they were terribly apologetic. 'We do have a photo of the Scott Sociable in action,' said the older man, and he fetched out a large colour print from the 1980s. 'Only 25 of them were ever sold,' he said, 'and I think you could see why!'

It was an unbalanced, smoke-belching, converted motorbike with machine gun sidecar. I rather liked it.

Grandpa's car might not have been on display, but the museum did have a few of my (paternal) grandfather clocks. This was inadvertently touching, and a nice way to close the circle: I'd last come to Bradford just a few weeks before he died.

Gent's of Leicester clock, Bradford Industrial Museum

As the museum began to lock up, it was time to go, and time to leave Bradford. With my new-found affection for the place, however, it won't be two decades before I'm back. The family won't allow it.