Historic Bradford pubs and their part in the development of football

An earlier feature on VINCIT narrated the story of the Belle Vue Hotel and its part in the development of sport in Bradford. However it was far from being the only public house with a sporting pedigree.

In Victorian Bradford, rugby was the dominant football code. In that era, mention of ‘football’ related to both rugby and association codes and in West Yorkshire the term was synonymous with rugby. (On the basis that there were historic links between soccer and rugby in football in Bradford, the origins of rugby is relevant to the origins of local soccer.)

The vast majority of clubs had nominated meeting places on match day that would have served as dressing rooms in addition to being places where gate receipts could be counted and formalities dealt with. Typically, these were public houses in the vicinity of the ground and from the very beginnings, football established a close link with the licensing trade that became a profitable arrangement for breweries.

The phenomenon was not exclusive to Bradford and in his book Rugby’s Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football (1998) Tony Collins wrote that of the forty-­five rugby clubs listed in the Yorkshire Football Handbook of 1881, forty had their headquarters in public houses.

Member meetings tended to be conducted near to where players lived or in bigger venues in town such as Leuchters’ Restaurant on Kirkgate in the centre of Bradford. Certain pubs had a reputation among sportsmen generally and were adopted by running and cycling clubs for their meetings, The Spotted House, Queens Hotel on Lumb Lane and Belle Vue Hotel among them as well as the Alexandra Hotel in the centre of town.

The Peel Park Hotel (then known as Daniel Riddiough’s Hotel) on Otley Road was adopted by Bradford Juniors FC at Peel Park and the same property was used by the Artillery and Rifle Volunteers for their meetings. Riddiough owned the Peel Park Brewery and possessed the freeholds of a number of pubs in the Bradford area, the Quarry Hill Inn included.

The Girlington Hotel (of which my great-great-grandfather, Harry Dewhirst was landlord in the 1870s) likewise served the Four Lane Ends ground and at Horton, the Old Red Lion was the home of Bradford Albion FC. In Manningham, The Spotted House on Manningham Lane was used by a number of the early clubs in the 1870s who played at Lister Park. It was also a meeting place for harrier cross-country running events which often began close by. The Spotted House had a long-established pedigree, reputedly the oldest public house in Bradford.

At Apperley Bridge the Stansfield Arms was adjacent to the playing field where Bradford FC came to prominence before the move to Park Avenue in 1880. (The same venue was also significant in the history of association football in Bradford.)

The history of Bowling FC was similarly closely linked to pubs, having originally used the Bowling Park Hotel and after 1883 adopting pubs on Wakefield Road close to its Usher Street ground. One can assume that Manningham Albion FC – a forerunner of Manningham FC – likewise adopted The Branch Hotel in Shipley which was sadly demolished in 2018.

The Queens Hotel on Lumb Lane and the Belle Vue Hotel were utilised by football clubs in the 1870s for formal (advertised) meetings, presumably selected on account of convenience for Manningham resident players. The Belle Vue was popular with other sports clubs including rowers, harriers and cyclists. By promoting itself as a healthy venue it sought to attract athletic groups but nonetheless it was very much regarded as an up-market venue, far removed from the seedy topless bar that it became a century later.

Manningham Rangers FC used the Fountain Inn on Heaton Road for changing. Until twenty years ago this pub was known as a meeting place for Bradford City supporters but sadly it is now derelict. There is an amusing story of an incident in around 1890 when a German band that was playing outside was invited in by the players after a match. According to an account in the Bradford Telegraph & Argus in 1928, ‘Arthur Briggs poured a jug of ale into the bell end of one instrument and then there was a terrible row, the Germans carrying on to some tune.’

Manningham FC adopted variously the Junction Hotel (at 115 Church Street, Manningham), the Carlisle Road Hotel and later, the Belle Vue Hotel on Manningham Lane – these were utilised on match day as well as for annual meetings. So too was Leuchters’ Restaurant (opened in 1871) and the Alexandra Hotel (1877) which were both very fashionable.

Leuchters’ was well known for its bar and billiards rooms – strictly speaking it was a standard above the average public house / licensed premises in Bradford. It staged auctions and also established a reputation as a meeting place for professionals so was very much at the heart of Bradford life. Prominent pubs already played a big role in bringing people together and in turn this helped the development of a local football social network in the formative decade of the 1870s.

Prior to 1875 the Boar’s Head restaurant in Bradford had been popular with cricket clubs for annual dinners and it seems likely that there was competition among different establishments to stage end of season social events which became an institution in themselves. (The practice adopted by local cricket clubs, later repeated by football clubs, was to invite members of other sides to their events which probably resulted in fairly raucous behaviour – the reported disgraceful conduct of three Bradford Albion cricketers at the Undercliffe CC dinner in November, 1878 being a case in point.)

Until 1874 Bradford FC used the New Inn at the former junction of Thornton Road and Tyrrel Street for meetings which had previously been used by Bradford CC (and which later staged meetings of Manningham CC). Thereafter the Mechanics Institute tended to be used for club meetings. With the growing profile of Bradford FC after 1880 it was mutually beneficial for the club to be associated with the best hotels in the town such as the Talbot (Kirkgate) and the Alexandra (Great Horton Road).

The Alexandra Hotel was considered the premium hotel in Bradford and came to be adopted as the club’s headquarters where its trophies were displayed on the mantel piece of the smoke room. In September, 1906 it was reported that three trophies with a value of 130 guineas were saved from fire damage at the hotel.

The Talbot Hotel was built on the site of a seventeenth century coaching inn of the same name and had two statues of talbot hunting dogs outside its entrance. When the building was converted to retail use in 1974 the statues disappeared and with no disrespect to the mobile phone shop now occupying the premises, the grandeur of the old hotel has been completely lost. Nevertheless, it still survives whereas the Alexandra Hotel was demolished in 1993 to be replaced by a car park. The latter will be remembered as the place where the Barbarians club was established in 1890.

In Shipley, the Ring of Bells was the headquarters of Shipley FC who played on a field opposite the pub until 1901 when the land was developed for housing.

By John Dewhirst

Tweets: @jpdewhirst

The above is taken from ROOM AT THE TOP by John Dewhirst which narrates the origins and early development of football and organised sport in Bradford in the nineteenth century.