PUBS have often been scenes of heated debate and violent conflict, particularly in 19th century Bradford, as historian Paul Jennings - author of The Local; A History of The English Pub - points out in his profile of The Bedford Arms.

Writes Paul: “Despite all the changes, Bradford still has many survivals from its Victorian past. One of these, overlooking the inner ring road at the bottom of Wakefield Road, is the former Bedford Arms, pictured here in the mid-1980s.

On the wall above what was once a corner entrance is the date 1843 and the initials J & MH. Joseph Hanson was the owner and he converted it in 1869 into a beerhouse which was later sold to Ramsdens brewery of Halifax, whose window design can still be seen here to the left, and then to Tetleys in 1964.

I could never pass it without thinking of a rather grim episode in the city’s history. On Boxing Day 1876 John Johnson, his lover Amelia Sewell, ‘boon companion’ Amis Waite and other men were drinking there in the snug as they often did, as the pub had previously been kept by Johnson’s brother. Some ribald chat seems to have been exchanged about the measurement of Sewell’s thigh and a man’s bet that he was stouter. Since she adjourned to the pub’s yard to have it measured, Johnson took offence and fastened it on Waite, eventually coming to blows in the street outside, in which he bit off part of Waite’s finger.

Waite went off to get the wound dressed, returning with his wife and met up with Johnson and Sewell again in front of the pub and the argument re-started. But before further blows were exchanged, Johnson shot him with a revolver saying, ‘That’ll do for you’.

He had bought the gun while living in America, where he had left a wife and child about a year before.

Waite was from Knaresborough and had come to Bradford with his father, a master plasterer. He now left a widow and six children.

At his trial at Leeds, Johnson pleaded insanity, which was in the family, plus the effect on him of his wife’s infidelity. The jury, however, took just 25 minutes to find him guilty of murder. He was hanged on April 3, 1877 at Armley gaol, just a few years after executions had ceased to be public spectacles outside the prison, thereby probably ensuring that such barbarity should continue for nearly a century. Compounding the horror, the execution was bungled, as owing to Johnson’s size the rope broke and a thicker one was needed.

He took five minutes to die, according to the newspaper account. As was the custom, he was buried in the prison yard but later reinterred at an undisclosed location.

I thought about this rather tawdry tragedy the last time I was there not so many years ago, before it was closed and the building put to other commercial uses.

I had first visited it sometime in the early 1970s when it seemed to do a good trade and was popular with Irish customers.

Indeed, I recall the juke box at the time had some ‘rebel’ songs on it. Many Irish people had lived in the Broomfields district behind the pub, long demolished.”