To see what we could of Bradford’s underlying history, John, Chris, and I hoped to visit the Bradford Beck, a river that now runs underneath Bradford in a series of culverts and bypasses. The river flows toward Bradford in a nearly straight line from the west, curves in a U-shape beneath the very heart of the city, and then meanders north-east to join the River Aire, about four miles away. Along the way it passes nearly underneath the 19th-century City Hall building, and flows along the side of the 15th-century Bradford Cathedral.
We met with Will, a Bradford native, who would guide us through the Beck. “It’s not as big as Sheffield’s tunnels,” he told us, “but it’s a lot longer. It goes about six or seven kilometers underground.”
With Will, we had two cars, which was convenient in allowing us to leave one car at our exit, instead of having to walk back wet to one car through sub-freezing weather. (It would be much warmer than that underground, protected from the wind and warmed by the city above.) We deposited the car and drove back toward our entrance, where we suited up with hip- or chest-high waders, jackets, gloves, hats and headlamps, a carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide gas meter, and more.
In the parking lot where were getting dressed, our preparations seemed a little ludicrous for what was, essentially, a walk through a city. We’d never be more than a few dozen linear feet distant from busy roads and sidewalks where people in normal clothes went about their lives without worrying about backup headlamps, spare batteries, or gas meters. Nonetheless, I was enjoying our preparations. They helped to accent the fact that we weren’t simply visiting the Bradford that everyone else sees. Venturing into this unfrequented and usually unseen layer of the urban fabric, we would indeed be cut off from the surface, and the fact that our destination was so removed from the contemporary, aboveground city made it all the easier for me to imagine that we were actually journeying into the city’s past.
When we were finally ready, we climbed down an embankment and into shallow but fast-moving water in a wide open-cut channel. We followed it downstream, and soon came to the beginning of the main culvert under Ingleby Road. We were under the eastern neighborhood of Four Lane Ends; we would not come back aboveground until we had passed Canal Road near Frizinghall, having covered more than half of the distance between the Bradford city center and the Bradford Beck’s outfall into the River Aire.