Unlocking the Lock’s secrets

A Wilson painting Hirst Lock 1878

This painting of Hirst Lock on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is tucked away at the end of a dark corridor off the main council chamber in Bradford City Hall.

It first came to my notice when local barber and historian Peter Randall showed me the watercolour sketch he owns which artist A Wilson did before producing the finished oil painting in 1878.

One thing puzzled me. When I went to try and find the spot where Wilson had sat to make his painting it seemed impossible. Even allowing for fewer trees, it would have been difficult to see Hirst Mill Crescent from that side of the lock. The canal is lower from that viewpoint – hence the lock – so I could only imagine that the artist had used his imagination and painted what he knew was there rather than what he could see.

But no. I did him an injustice. I’d fallen for the old trap of imagining that the rural landscape stays largely unchanged for hundreds of years.

Bridge below Hirst LockPeter put me straight, producing this old photo (right) which clearly shows there was a bridge over the canal just below the lock and that is where Wilson sat to paint his picture.

In fact Hirst Lock has changed dramatically since that artist captured the two men heading into the lock, watched by a fisherman on one bank and the lock keeper above.

The two smaller buildings next to the by-water appear to be cottages, possibly built for workers at Hirst Mill or one of the two farms on the site. We know from later photographs that one was turned into a tea bar. Some of the foundation stones now form part of a garden rockery after Hirst Wood Regeneration Group transformed the site.

Former Tea Room at Hirst Lock Hirst Lock canalside buildingThe taller building (seen here from the other side of the canal) was once thought to be the lock-keeper’s cottage but in the 1861 census it is occupied by cabinet maker John Anderton, his wife Leah and four-month-old daughter Margaret. It might well have doubled as a warehouse for loading boats with goods from Hirst Mill with the lock keeper living, as he does today, just up the canal at Dowley gap.

Across the road from these buildings, in what is now a car park leading to Hirst Wood, was Hirst Wood Farm. It was probably built in the 18th century. In the 1881 census it is described as a farm of 22 acres, occupied by John Jowett. He was still the tenant in 1911 when the Lord of the Manor put his Shipley properties up for sale but by then it is described as ‘desirable pasture extending to about 6.691 acres.’ In the sale, the farm is described as a ‘stone-built and stone-slated homestead’, comprising:

Hirst Wood Farm‘THE GROUND FLOOR –  Wash Kitchen; Scullery; Kitchen; Sitting Room; and Cellars
‘THE UPPER FLOOR – Three Bed Rooms and Lumber Room
There is a privy and ashpit outside.’
Attached to the farm were a ‘two-stall stable, with loft over; barn with mistal [cow house] for 12 with loft over and mixing chamber.’ And a separate ‘Midden with mistal for 4 (at present used as a fowl house); and Fowl House.’

The Jowetts were eventually replaced by the Whincup family and then Frank Bagshaw who became very popular in the area for serving refreshments, including delicious ice cream which many older residents still remember fondly. The farm was pulled down in 1962.

Across the canal, what are now houses in Hirst Mill Crescent were part of Hirst Farm outbuildings. The present disused garden centre was once an open field with a few farm huts on it while the woodland between the path and the River Aire was covered in garden allotments.

Hirst Mill CrescentSometimes progress seems to mark decline rather improvement.

[Thanks to Peter Randall for allowing me access to his archive]

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Posted in History, Yorkshire

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