IT IS a sight that few in Bradford will have seen - Bradford Beck flowing through the middle of the city.

T&A reader Ray Banyard took this photograph at the junction of Sunbridge Road and Tyrrel Street, when workers were carrying out repairs to the underground watercourse.

The photograph shows the position of the beck, which Ray also photographed, flowing beneath a series of horizontal girders straddling the road.

“I am not sure of the date but I believe it was in the 1970s,” says Ray, of Four Lane Ends. This is confirmed by a paragraph in a walks guide produced by the Friends of Bradford’s Becks, which states: in the 1950s and 1970s parts of the beck were briefly visible when building work took place in the city centre, and in 1993 an underground flood alleviation tunnel was built.”

Recalls Ray: “In those days there were no huge barriers erected when people were working. As I passed there was just a small wooden fence. People were looking into it. We could see the beck clearly running along a channel with brick-lined walls.”

Bradford Beck starts as a collection of tiny tributaries in the west of the city which merge into one waterway that flows eastwards towards the city centre, gathering momentum and size.

In the city centre, in its underground channel, it takes a northerly turn towards Shipley through the Bradford valley. From Cemetery Road downstream, the waterway is culverted and underground, hidden behind walls, or deep in an artificial canyon.

Of the 11km of the beck which flows through the city, the majority is either hidden underground or forced to run through deep artificial culverts. Many of these date back to the 19th century, when Bradford Beck was so polluted it was deemed the filthiest river in England, despite the city being, at the time, the country’s richest.

The culverts were constructed to hide the sight and smells of the river from Bradford’s growing population.

Over the years efforts have been made to bring the beck back to life. To encourage local involvement, the Aire Rivers Trust established the Friends of Bradford’s Becks group and created a website at to inform people about the river and the plans for it.

The friends are a group of Bradford-based residents and interested ecologists who are keen to see the eventual restoration of the Bradford Beck river system. They monitor water quality and organise activities such as litter picks involving local people.

Recent projects include a joint initiative by the friends group, the Environment Agency and Bradford Council to encourage more fish into Bradford Beck from the River Aire.

Projects to tackle pollution are also a key focus for the future.

Other proposals, both on-going and in the future, include nature trails, foot and cycle paths. In conjunction with the Environment Agency, the friends group has produced a booklet of walks along and around Bradford’s Becks.


Helen Mead