It is nearly 25 years since the Belle Vue Hotel opposite Valley Parade was a part of the pre-match routine of supporters. By the time it closed as a pub in 1994 it had long since fallen out of fashion. Certainly it would not have appealed to a family audience having resorted to female strippers and a topless DJ in the 1970s as a means of attracting custom. Neither was its reputation enhanced by the proximity of the red light area of Lumb Lane and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper is understood to have been a regular drinker in the pub.
Despite its disrepute of the modern era and the numerous urban legends about what went on behind its doors, the Belle Vue Hotel deserves recognition for having played a big part in the history of Manningham FC and the early existence of Bradford City AFC. This is where club dinners were held and where Manningham FC members celebrated the achievements of their team. In 1903 it is where club officials discussed the conversion to soccer. It is also remembered for the fact that on 11 May, 1985 it was a gathering point for survivors and relatives in the aftermath of the Valley Parade fire.
The building was listed in 1983, described by the www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk website as ‘Circa 1870-80 public house of slightly French Chateau design, possibly by Milnes & France in view of corner treatment comparable with Bavaria Place Police Station. Two storeys, fine quality sandstone ashlar with mansard slate attic. The south corner forms a circular tower carried up into the mansard attic with a conical slate roof. A first floor balustered balcony is carried round the tower and over porch with florid Composite columns. Canted bay to north end of ground floor. Dormers in attic.’ (NB According to the Leeds Times of 27 May, 1876, the architects were Andrews & Pepper.)
(Floor plans for the hotel from 1875 are featured in a blog by Bradford Museums & Libraries from this link.)
Another claim to fame of the building is that it features a cut mark for mapping purposes and this can be seen on the second course of stone blocks to the right of the cellar beer chute on Drill Parade. The modern day garage on the opposite side of Drill Parade was probably the stabling block for the hotel. As the advert below from 1911 shows, this was converted to a garage before World War One.
It was boasted that the bay windows of the hotel afforded an unprecedented view along Manningham Lane down to North Parade and hence the opportunity to watch the comings and goings along Bradford’s northward boulevard. The building was constructed over a quarry that gave it deep cellars. However this proved problematic in 1882 when there was a serious issue with subsidence of the foundations at the rear of the building; this forced the licensing authorities to withdraw a music licence on account of it being unsafe.
The Belle Vue Hotel took its name from the nearby terrace (that dates from around 1840) which was said to enjoy an excellent panorama of Bradford and surrounding countryside from its raised elevation. On the site of neighbouring school was once the Belle Vue cricket pitch. In 1855 there is mention in the local press of an earlier Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane although investigation of maps does not suggest that it was in the same location.
Whilst few supporters would have remembered the Belle Vue as a respectable venue, when it was opened in May, 1876 it was considered one of Bradford’s premier hotels and restaurants, advertising itself as a venue catering for commercial and family guests. In its prime as a Victorian establishment, the Belle Vue Hotel would probably have been better described as a public house that had large function rooms and dining provision with overnight accommodation being a secondary offer. Indeed, in 1880 the proprietor, Robert Breuer was on record that the bedrooms were rarely fully booked. Furthermore, the second floor attic rooms on the south side of the building appear never to have been plastered, suggesting only occasional use in their time.
The architecture of the building in the style of a French chateau and the carving of grapes on the vine over the front entrance offers clues about the original commercial strategy for the venture. Indeed, early adverts boasted about the choice of wines available and it seems a fair bet that it had similar culinary standards supported by its large basement kitchen. On the first floor of the building were two large function rooms that would have allowed for the likes of private dining parties, smoking concerts, business meetings and/or club committee meetings. On the ground floor was a billiard room.
The Belle Vue Hotel hosted an extensive range of gatherings. Other than social events it hosted commercial auctions, formal meetings of creditors and also political assemblies. On match days at Valley Parade the same function rooms were probably used by journalists and match day officials.
The Belle Vue Hotel was also well situated to meet the social needs of the officers of the Rifle Volunteers at the nearby barracks. (Background about the Bradford Rifles from this link) For others it may have served as a private gentlemens club and by virtue of being within walking distance of Manningham’s middle class villas, it was well situated to attract wealthier customers.
For those requiring accommodation, it was claimed that there were twenty bedrooms across the second floor and in the rear of the building. Those at the front overlook Valley Parade and would have provided vantage of the pitch. Press reports confirm that the hotel was utilised by touring sides playing at Valley Parade.
In January, 1882 the proprietor Robert Breuer was declared bankrupt. This resulted from the foreclosure by a building society of a mortgage on the Prince’s Theatre on Morley Street, Bradford in respect of which Breuer was a part-guarantor. His problems had been compounded by the subsidence issue mentioned above that required rectification. Hence it is possible that looming financial difficulties encouraged him to be more entrepreneurial, something which was probably continued by his successors who embraced Manningham FC.
A good example of such initiative and opportunism was the advertising of balcony rooms overlooking Manningham Lane for those seeking a view of the Royal visit parade in June, 1882. However it probably meant that the Belle Vue Hotel never attained the social exclusivity that its original owner had probably aspired to. For example the dram shop which operated in 1882 adjacent to the side door of the building and the tap room was a distinctly down-market venture. In February, 1894 neither would perceptions of the Belle Vue have been enhanced by a drunk being found in possession of a firearm on the premises. Even so, JB Priestley is understood to have named the Belle Vue as one of his favourite pubs in Bradford.
Even before the opening of Valley Parade in 1886, the Belle Vue Hotel was popular with Bradford sportsmen – not only rugby players but athletes, harriers (runners), cyclists, cricketers and rowers – and it was used by a good number of clubs for meetings and dinners. The Belle Vue also came to be adopted in 1894 by the Bradford & District Junior Football League for its meetings and later the Bradford & District FA. Its proximity with the adjacent barracks reinforced its links with local sportsmen given that many of them were also involved with the Rifle Volunteers based at the drill hall. The status of the Belle Vue in the Bradford sporting community was further illustrated by it being the destination of the popular cyclists’ lantern parade from the Branch Hotel, Shipley in October, 1889.
The hotel’s proximity to the new football ground ensured that links with Manningham FC would be strengthened. Newspaper reports infer that Manningham FC kept club records and paperwork at the hotel from which we can assume that there was a room dedicated for use as an office. I believe that this was probably on the ground floor near the side entrance which would have been convenient on match days. Tickets for games at Valley Parade were also sold at the Belle Vue.
Advert from BCAFC Handbook, 1911
In his history of Bradford City published in 1927 William Sawyer referred to the (Manningham FC) players changing in the outbuildings at the rear of the Belle Vue Hotel. Quite likely these would have been in what is now the car park, bordering the barracks. Thus for Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC, the Belle Vue Hotel would have served extremely well as a headquarters and it was a venue distinct from most other town pubs. In terms of the pecking order that existed among Bradford hotels it was a credible, if not functional alternative to the more prestigious Talbot Hotel on Kirkgate or the Alexander Hotel, Morley Street which were favoured by Bradford FC.
It was a convenient arrangement for Manningham FC to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Belle Vue Hotel that allowed the club to avoid the expense of developing its own meeting areas and offices at Valley Parade. Prior to relocation Manningham FC had used the Carlisle Hotel on Carlisle Road as its headquarters and dressing facilities. In 1886, changing rooms (which were said to have included baths and lavatories) had been incorporated under the grandstand at Valley Parade but these were likely to have been fairly basic and of questionable adequacy.
Manningham FC had previously had an arrangement with the Thorncliffe Hotel at 148 Manningham Lane and in December, 1884, the club opened its own rooms there. The Thorncliffe Hotel was a fairly large establishment with 14 bedrooms, a large billiard room, sitting rooms, stabling for 24 horses and carriage accommodation for 12 vehicles. In April, 1882 however its owner had been refused (for a second time) a licence to sell alcohol. The refusal was on account of the proximity of the Belle Vue, 210 yards away on the opposite side of the road. Other local pubs included The Spotted House, 880 yards distant and The Standard which was 814 yards away in the direction of town.
By modern standards Bradford already had a considerable number of pubs and hotels and in March, 1899 the Bradford Daily Telegraph claimed there to have been 538 hotels and beerhouses in Bradford in 1875, equivalent to one per 313 people in the town. This number undoubtedly fostered keen competition among publicans and the owner of the Thorncliffe had presumably turned to Manningham FC as an alternative source of income. In 1884, the Thorncliffe Hotel was already being used by the Bradford Harriers and from the perspective of Manningham FC it offered a means of gaining facilities at limited cost to enhance its respectability and status. The same club rooms were later used by Airedale Harriers and Manningham Cycling Club, reinforcing links between the respective sporting organisations.
The initiative by Manningham FC had been intended to attract new members and it reflects the spirit of the club that at the time it considered itself a recreational body catering to the needs of its members. Although Manningham FC boasted that it was the only football club with its own reading rooms, the comments of a member at the club’s AGM in May, 1887 suggests that the same rooms were used for other entertainments: ‘A member said he thought there was a great deal of harm done by card-playing at the club. He had been several times and had been sorry to see young men sitting at card tables with heaps of money beside them. He thought if parents knew that their sons went to the club to do such things they would forbid them being members.’ The Yorkshireman of 26 May, 1887 reported that ‘I am assured that when gambling did occur the stakes were so trifling that a modest threepenny bit would cover a night’s run of hard luck. However, it has been decided that in future halfpenny naps and other allurements shall be summarily suppressed.’
Nevertheless, the cost of the club rooms became onerous as a result of declining patronage and four years after opening, the club was forced to renegotiate terms. At the club’s AGM in May, 1887 the cost of the room was stated as £56 which was more than double the rent that the club ended up paying at Valley Parade. Although Manningham FC and later Bradford City AFC staged social events at the Belle Vue Hotel there is no record that reading rooms for members were again secured but this reflected how Manningham FC had matured. By the late 1880s for instance, the club was much less a recreational body as an emergent business that was channelling resources into the upkeep of Valley Parade.
Thus the Belle Vue enjoyed an ascendancy over the Thorncliffe Hotel by virtue of its alcohol licence. Had the Thorncliffe Hotel thrived there is a chance that Manningham FC might never have moved to Valley Parade. Faced with eviction from its Carlisle Road ground in 1886 the Manningham FC officials identified Valley Parade as an alternative site which had been virtually abandoned by the Midland Railway who owned the land. The Midland had originally planned to develop a consignment warehouse but the trade depression in Bradford after the imposition of French tariffs in 1873 forced a rethink. By 1876 the cost of the recently completed St Pancras Hotel as well as the construction of the Settle & Carlisle Railway had impacted on the company’s finances and the railway company was forced to revisit its plans. The collapse in the Bradford property market for example meant that the Midland was unlikely to benefit from its real estate ambitions along an extended Midland Road through Manningham and Frizinghall towards Shipley (which would have cross-subsidised the building of the new warehouse).
Prior to occupation by Manningham FC the Valley Parade site had been let for temporary, ad hoc uses. For example it had been used for grazing horses by the proprietor of Thorncliffe Hotel and in May, 1886 it had even staged a travelling circus. Had the Thorncliffe been able to secure an alcohol licence it is quite possible that Valley Parade would have continued to be used for stabling by the hotel but it was the popularity of the Belle Vue and the proximity of other local hostelries that forced the licensing authority to reject the application. Likewise the proprietor of the Belle Vue Hotel had lobbied for such a decision to optimise his commercial position.
The redevelopment of Valley Parade in 1908 and the opening of club offices and dressing rooms on Burlington Terrace meant that Bradford City AFC finally became self-sufficient. However the formal links between the club and the Belle Vue Hotel were effectively severed in 1906. A Football League Management Committee enquiry into the riot at Valley Parade in the February of that year ruled that Bradford City could not have its offices in a licensed premises.
The economics of the Belle Vue Hotel business would have suffered from the flight of middle classes out of Manningham, a trend that was ironically beginning just as it opened and one that accelerated with the improved tram connections to Frizinghall, Heaton and beyond as well as the growing attraction of a house in Ilkley, accessible by train. The Belle Vue found itself isolated, an urban pub on the edge of the central town area and increasingly reliant upon custom from the football and the territorial barracks to survive.
With each decade the downward slide of the once proud Belle Vue Hotel continued and by the end of 1960s its viability was becoming threatened. With the influx of muslim immigrants, the demise of Manningham as an attractive residential district and for that matter the drop in spectators at Valley Parade, it had to resort to other ways of attracting drinkers. The reliance upon female strippers in the 1970s was an act of commercial desperation but one that also condemned the reputation of the pub for the rest of its existence.
Its listing as a building of architectural importance probably also represented a financial burden. Therefore in 1994 it was hardly surprising that the owners of the Belle Vue should decide that it no longer had a future – of all the tied houses it was one of the least likely to survive.
Until the last couple of years the former Belle Vue Hotel has been used as a muslim religious school. Retrospective planning permission was granted in 1998 out of an enforcement action taken in the same year for it being used as a community centre without consent.
In the rooms where once there had been meetings of Manningham and Bradford City club officials, and in the main bar where strippers used to do their thing, there are finely woven islamic carpets for community praying. The building itself is in a poor state of repair and attic rooms are infested with pigeons and bird lime. The former Belle Vue Hotel has thus become a metaphor for Bradford and poor Robert Breuer would turn in his grave if he knew what had happened to his proud hotel.
Above, BCAFC programme advert 1929
At the time of writing (February, 2018) the Belle Vue stands empty awaiting a new use and a buyer with £0.5m to buy the freehold and yet more to fund renovations. If money was no object I can’t think of a better place for a Bradford City AFC club museum and heritage bar / diner. For that matter it could become a museum of Manningham to tell the fascinating history of the area and allow BCAFC to reconnect with its roots in the neighbourhood. The agents are Starkeys on Manor Row, Bradford 01274 307910
By John Dewhirst
*** Read about other historic pubs in Bradford and their links to the early development of football – another feature on VINCIT by the same author
John has contributed to and written a number of books about Bradford City, the origins of sport in Bradford and the rivalry of the Park Avenue and Valley Parade clubs. His most recent titles are ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP, both published as part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series. He is currently working on a new book about the twentieth century rivalry of Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue. His blog can be found from this link: https://johndewhirst.blog
John contributes to the Bradford City match day programme and his features are also published on his blog Wool City Rivals
On Saturday 19 May, 2018 John is giving a talk in the Bradford Local Studies Library on the origins of spectator sport in nineteenth century Bradford and the development of the city’s sporting culture and identity. This will cover principally cricket, rugby and football and include a Q&A session.
Further details tbc.
Post Script: Feature in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus about the Belle Vue Hotel 09-Jan-22
Turret bedroom and rooms on upper floor overlooking Belle Vue (Tesco); former ground floor bars; former basement function room; toilets and exterior view.