DCSIMG

The village that vanished

There are changes planned for Bramley in Leeds – but can they ever make up for what happened to the village four decades ago.

LOTS of places have history booklets about them – Bramley's is called "The Village that Disappeared".

Which neatly sums up what happened to the once-picturesque area of Leeds back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Then, at a time when the thinking was very different, its town street containing some of the city's most varied architecture in Leeds was demolished.

Down it all came: the workers' cottages in their cobbled yards, the grand Victorian mill owners' houses, the Georgian houses, the 17th century cottages, the little shops. Renovation was never even considered.

Thompson's cake shop with its mullioned shop window, the butchers where there was always a toffee for a youngster, White's bread shop, were all smashed to pieces. The scene was akin to the aftermath of the Blitz with huge piles of rubble revealing the occasional intimacy of someone's former home – a bit of wallpaper, the painted inside of a cupboard.

Walking to school became a very different experience for youngsters then as they abandoned their usual route through the village's ancient system of ginnels to scale the piles of stone or dare each other to peer into the scary blackness of the empty cottages. I know because I was one of them.

Anyway, most of the ginnels soon went too, along with most of the old St Peter's Church and the graveyard, where the old headstones were either broken up and tipped into a big hole, or made into a path.

Bramley survived, after a fashion. After the bulldozer blitz was over, one lonely cottage from the 1600s was left standing on town street, surrounded by concrete, like a bit of home transplanted onto an alien planet.

The old town street was replaced by a 1970s shopping centre, the mix of houses built over centuries houses by several estates of council housing. They were modern, they had bathrooms and they were a cut above the old slum cottages, was the message at the time.

Closure

Now change is happening again. After a period of decline Bramley is getting a boost, with that shopping centre – now almost 40 years old – at the heart of it.

There will be a new supermarket when Tesco fills the gap left by the closure of Somerfield before Christmas: the store took over from Morrisons but closed after just a year.

Tesco is doing a big 28-week refit and won't be ready to open its doors until September, meaning that Bramley residents will have been without a supermarket for almost a year, a problem in an area where many do not own a car, but Tesco is at least planning to stay, having taken a 20 year lease.

At the back of the centre, where once there was only an underused car park, there will be a Farm Foods store by the end of February and another store, which can't be named because negotiations are still going on.

A new escalator and a lift have been installed to bring shoppers up from the car park and both will be working within the next three to four weeks. And a national retailer, as yet unnamed, is also in talks to open a store. Centre manager Ian Hirst isn't putting an exact figure on the changes but he says the cost will run into millions of pounds.

Coun Ted Hanley said: "It will take time but it's good news for the centre, the whole feel of it will be upgraded."

There are other changes afoot in Bramley generally. At the bottom of Westover Road, a large empty building is being turned into apartments, on the opposite side of the road the burnt-out solicitors' premises, destroyed in a fire, will be renovated and the firm is planning to move back in again.

The site of the old Sandford Arms pub, recently demolished, is having houses built on it and the old horse trough on town street, a last symbol of old Bramley, is being replaced by a modern reproduction complete with blue plaque telling the history of the original.

But some residents feel that Bramley is still not being all that well served. Joan Dick , 72, of St Michael's Court, said: "No-one is really sure what is going on, there are all sorts of rumours flying about.

"Bramley just doesn't seem able to get back on its feet. Its character was taken away in the 1970s and now we're going through another big upheaval. It feels like there is going to be none of the old Bramley left at all."

Showpiece

Brian Dent, a retired joiner who has lived in Bramley all his life said: "It could have been the showpiece village of the North if only the houses had been demolished selectively rather than everything being destroyed.

"The problem was that everyone knew it was going to happen for a long time and so homes were neglected by landlords because there was no point keeping up to them.

"Seventeenth century cottages, manor houses, everything was destroyed. One problem was that the modern materials used in house renovation were not available, but it still could have been achieved if the will had been there.

"But Bramley was a village made of stone and there was a ready market for that stone."

Bramley councillor Denise Atkinson, the longest serving member on Leeds City Council who was being elected in 1970, agrees: "A lot of money is now being spent but Bramley would have been a very different place now if it hadn't been bulldozed back then.

"It happened because of a combination of Leeds City Council thinking it would be a good idea and a consortium of Bramley shopkeepers getting together and pushing for it to happen, because they thought they would make money out of the scheme.

"My father Eric was on the council and he warned what was happening but then he lost his seat and the decision was taken to pull Bramley down. By the time I got on the council all the decisions had been taken.

"People felt powerless to stop it and once it was all over they felt they had been conned. I'm a big supporter of the people of Bramley, but there are definitely problems."

Brian Dean, 72, is a former engineer and a member of Bramley History Society: "What happened was a total disaster, there is no other way to describe it. Bramley is a soulless place now, it can't ever recover what it lost." Centre manager Ian Hirst isn’t putting an exact figure on the changes but he says the cost will run into millions of pounds.

Coun Ted Hanley said: “It will take time but it’s good news for the centre, the whole feel of it will be upgraded.”

There are other changes afoot in Bramley generally. At the bottom of Westover Road, a large empty building is being turned into apartments, on the opposite side of the road the burnt-out solicitors’ premises, destroyed in a fire, will be renovated and the firm is planning to move back in again.

The site of the old Sandford Arms pub, recently demolished, is having houses built on it and the old horse trough on town street, a last symbol of old Bramley, is being replaced by a modern reproduction complete with blue plaque telling the history of the original.

But some residents feel that Bramley is still not being all that well served. Joan Dick , 72, of St Michael’s Court, said: “No-one is really sure what is going on, there are all sorts of rumours flying about.

“Bramley just doesn’t seem able to get back on its feet. Its character was taken away in the 1970s and now we’re going through another big upheaval. It feels like there is going to be none of the old Bramley left at all.”

Showpiece

Brian Dent, a retired joiner who has lived in Bramley all his life said: “It could have been the showpiece village of the North if only the houses had been demolished selectively rather than everything being destroyed.

“The problem was that everyone knew it was going to happen for a long time and so homes were neglected by landlords because there was no point keeping up to them.

“Seventeenth century cottages, manor houses, everything was destroyed. One problem was that the modern materials used in house renovation were not available, but it still could have been achieved if the will had been there.

“But Bramley was a village made of stone and there was a ready market for that stone.”

Bramley councillor Denise Atkinson, the longest serving member on Leeds City Council who was being elected in 1970, agrees: “A lot of money is now being spent but Bramley would have been a very different place now if it hadn’t been bulldozed back then.

“It happened because of a combination of Leeds City Council thinking it would be a good idea and a consortium of Bramley shopkeepers getting together and pushing for it to happen, because they thought they would make money out of the scheme.

“My father Eric was on the council and he warned what was happening but then he lost his seat and the decision was taken to pull Bramley down. By the time I got on the council all the decisions had been taken.

“People felt powerless to stop it and once it was all over they felt they had been conned. I’m a big supporter of the people of Bramley, but there are definitely problems.”

Brian Dean, 72, is a former engineer and a member of Bramley History Society: “What happened was a total disaster, there is no other way to describe it. Bramley is a soulless place now, it can’t ever recover what it lost.”

 
 
 

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