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The History of Little Germany
Once a small market town, Bradford grew into a prosperous city thanks to its development in the wool trade in the late 18th century. By the middle of the 19th century, Bradford manufactured an estimated two-thirds of the UK’s wool. It took less than a decade after that for Bradford to become the wool capital of the world. All thanks to Little Germany.
Bradford experienced a boom in the economy as the wool trade grew in the 1800s. Germany had an existing strong market for yarns and similar goods, so saw fantastic potential in Bradford. Several German businessmen relocated to Bradford because of this, in hopes of expanding their textile market. In doing so, they established large merchant houses for trading and shipping. The businessmen built their district between the two retail heads of the Exchange and Forster Square stations to maximise trade. Their German and Jewish heritage mirrored the ornate constructions of their European homelands, characterised by the narrow streets and tall buildings. These were built between 1855 and 1890 and are known as some of the finest textile warehouses in the UK. They have remained standing and become the pinnacle architecture of the city ever since.
While the German merchants helped widen Bradford’s markets and simplify the wool business, they did not limit themselves to the textile industry. Many had a wealthy background and had a highly influential hand in the development of the town. Some merchants helped finance many projects, including the construction of St George’s Hall. Sir Jacob Behrens, a well-known German businessman, was a main contributor. He founded Bradford’s Eye and Ear Hospital and the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, which promoted Bradford in a worldwide stance. It is without a doubt – the German influence made Bradford a global city.
The German merchants were an integral part of the city, having a massive impact on culture. So much so that the names ‘Germania’ and ‘New Germany’ arose for the district, with ‘Little Germany’ coming into common use after the 1870s.
Little Germany Conservation Area
Without the German influence, it is believed that Bradford would not have become so prosperous. Little Germany is one of the best-preserved Victorian merchants’ quarters in the world. For this reason, this Bradford district is a conservation area.
Today, 55 of Little Germany’s 85 buildings are listed, and its district includes the Bradford Playhouse Theatre and the city’s cathedral. While just yards away from the city’s shopping centre and train stations, this Bradford district has grown popular among tourists and filmmakers.
Little Germany is the heart of Bradford’s UNESCO City of Film. Over the years, famous productions like Downton Abbey, Gentleman Jack, and Peaky Blinders have all filmed in this Bradford district to make use of Little Germany’s picturesque period streets. Even Oprah Winfrey found herself in Bradford earlier this year for an upcoming WWII Netflix drama, Six Triple Eight. She was joined by co-stars Kerry Washington and Susan Sarandon, who used the characteristic narrow streets and tall, ornate buildings of Little Germany as the perfect backdrop.
The Future of Little Germany
Seen as Bradford’s creative quarter, there are plans to invest further into Little Germany to grow into its potential. Bradford Recovery Plan itself believes Little Germany can become a ‘regional creative centre’ which would encourage more street-level businesses to relocate there, boosting the local economy and desirability of the area. Little Germany is attracting many investments to convert some of the empty heritage buildings. Such investments are for creating affordable apartments and repurposing spaces for creative industries.
Including Little Germany in Bradford’s regeneration schemes would improve the experience for both visitors and residents. A variety of offices, bars, and restaurants offering world cuisine already lie within the beautifully ornate buildings, with plans to expand. The plans aim to utilise these buildings to ensure the area becomes a thriving community with mixed-use amenities, offering both street life and economic life, to make use of the public space. Reintroducing the area as a ‘low traffic neighbourhood’ will surely, too, attract further demand.
Little Germany is a hotbed of opportunity. It is already home to people from around the world, including healthcare professionals and students, and is seeing growth. Headquarters for Freeman Grattan has already moved into a listed building and an announcement of a new Coroner’s Court will soon be opening on the iconic Cater Street – a favourite filming location. With further plans on the horizon for it to grow in residential, work life and leisure, Little Germany will undoubtedly become a thriving community paying homage to its ancestral self.
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