Urban Decay

Lister's Mill in Manningham, Bradford.

Lister’s Mill in Manningham, Bradford.

And on the pedestal these words
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare[….]

From ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Growing up in Bradford in the 80s was a bit like growing up in an urban representation of the poem ‘Ozymandias’ by Shelley. All around, staggering works of Victorian ambition and optimism slowly crumbled after the collapse of the textile industry that had once made the city. It made for a unique and fascinating backdrop to my life, and as I got older I had more and more chance to explore.

North Bierley Workhouse, later Thornton View Hospital, Clayton, Bradford.

North Bierley Workhouse, later Thornton View Hospital, Clayton, Bradford.

When I was around eleven, my friends took me to an old closed-down hospital. They’d somehow managed to befriend the security guards at the place who let us in. It was another large Victorian building, still very institutional, the wards caked in that industrial lime-green paint which was ubiquitous in all schools and hospitals of the period. But up at the top, there was what looked like a courtroom decorated in a very different style, all dark wood, leather and velvet. It really impressed me at the time as being strange and out of place in the hospital. I don’t know for certain what it was doing there. Perhaps it was for the directors of the hospital, or for teaching. I later learnt the place had been a workhouse before it was a hospital, so perhaps that previous purpose gives some clue to the strange room. I like not knowing—it’s a mystery that’s stayed with me, and that I’ve included in my story.

I recall visiting the massive Lister Mill in Manningham, an old textile mill, during a brief stint at art college. The place was largely gutted, although most of it was still structurally intact. We were taken there to study perspective, as the empty mill, which hadn’t at that time been renovated into flats, contained long street-sized rooms with nothing but rows of pillars and rows of windows. Up in the broken roof, the floor was covered in a moon-like landscape formed entirely from bird shit. The mill still dominates the Bradford skyline with its huge chimney, now accompanied by the domes and minarets of mosques.

I’ve used these locations, and others, as the backdrop for my dystopian noir novel, Signs and Shadows. The backdrop is a love letter to my home town. That sort of scene gets under your skin, and in your blood, and nowhere else is as real. There’s beauty in watching something so grand fall apart.


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