WHY did the Lord Mayor of Bradford read the Riot Act, on the Town Hall steps, on a Sunday afternoon in April, 1891?

What became of the old dungeons beneath Sunbridge Road? And did the two people who ended up at the bottom of a lift shaft at the Midland Hotel fall, or were they pushed...?

These locations and others in the city centre will feature in a new walking tour exploring Bradford’s crime and policing history.

The tour is being launched this year by Bradford Police Museum, thanks to a £7,821 grant from Bradford Council to help it recover from the pandemic. The Assisted Recovery Grant will also be used to help restore the museum’s fleet of historic police vehicles.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Martin Baines, third from right, with volunteers at Bradford Police Museum Martin Baines, third from right, with volunteers at Bradford Police Museum

“We held a walking tour pilot a few years ago and it was a sell-out. We’ve wanted to launch one on the back of that success for a while now,” says museum director Dr Martin Baines. “We have an excellent guide, Alan Willum Whitrick, and visitors will have ear pieces to hear him as they’re guided around the city centre, visiting scenes that form part of the rich history of law enforcement in the city.”

The tour will include locations such as City Hall steps, where the Lord Mayor, accompanied by the Chief Constable, read the Riot Act to mill-workers during the Manningham Mills strike. Workers at Lister’s Mill went on strike in December 1890, in protest at wage cuts, and with public sympathy swelling, tens of thousands of people attended open meetings in support.

On Sunday April 12, 1891 huge crowds defied a ban on public meetings to gather in the public square by the Town Hall. After the Riot Act was read, a battle likened to the French Revolution broke out, as police and soldiers set about clearing the streets .

Adds Martin: “The tour also visits Bradford’s original police station, on Swain Street, where the Broadway shopping centre is; the former courtroom on Hall Ings which became the T&A’s print room; and the dungeons at what is now Sunbridge Wells.”

Bradford Police Museum is the only police museum in the county, and one of only a handful in the country, to own a fleet of historic police vehicles. The grant will also help restore the vehicles, stored at a satellite site in Keighley, which include a Mini Metro police car and a black Ford Consul with blue light.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Martin Baines with a vintage Velocette motorcycle Martin Baines with a vintage Velocette motorcycle

“When the pandemic forced us to close, our revenues stopped overnight and funds to refurbish this important vehicle collection simply weren’t available,” says Martin. “This grant will help us make a start on refurbishing the vehicles so that once again they can attend events in the district.”

The grant will also enable the museum to launch a pilot scheme partnering with local independent traders to provide a discounted hospitality offer. “We already attract new visitors into the city centre, supporting the local economy, but we’re keen to do more. This pilot will help us do that,” says Martin.

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Phil Read, says: “As for all the heritage sector, the pandemic was extremely challenging. As a registered charity, we rely on paying visitors and our finances suffered enormously. However, our volunteers rallied round to raise funds. We’ve also received some substantial donations. We are supported by Museum Development Yorkshire and look forward to actioning our expansion plans.”

Bradford Police Museum has one part-time employee but is mainly run by a team of dedicated volunteers, many of them retired police officers, in a range of roles, including front-of-house, tour guides, curator team and mechanics and drivers for the vehicle fleet. Located in Bradford’s old police station beneath City Hall, the museum has Victorian police cells where prisoners were locked up for over a century. Among them were murderers, children, German airmen whose plane crashed in Idle in the Second World War, and illusionist Houdini, who escaped from a cell in a stunt. The cells have appeared in TV’s Peaky Blinders and The ABC Murders and the film Official Secrets.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The museum has old police equipment on displayThe museum has old police equipment on display

The museum site was a working police station, court and chief constable’s office from 1873-1974. In 1974, when the Tyrrells police HQ opened, the cells were taken over by the prison service and used until 1990, while the courtroom was a crown court. Graffiti by people held overnight in the cells in the 1980s is preserved on the walls.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Record of Victorian prisoners in the cellsRecord of Victorian prisoners in the cells

The museum offers tours, with visitors led to the cells and up to the Victorian courtroom, where scenes in Emmerdale and Coronation Street have been filmed, and occasional ghost nights featuring candlelit tales of spooks said to haunt the cells, not least ‘Chains Charlie’, a notorious Bradford burglar, and tales of police figures such as James Berry, a constable who became a hangman in the 1880s.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: PC James Berry, who became a hangman in the 1880s PC James Berry, who became a hangman in the 1880s

The museum was set up in 2014 by Martin, a retired police inspector, and his daughter, a historian. It’s a fascinating journey through Bradford’s history of policing, crime and punishment, attracting visitors from around the world. Artefacts on display in the former parade room include truncheons and uniforms. An early 20th century office has old radio equipment, a detective’s coat and a 1930s restraining chair.

The museum highlights Bradford’s pioneering police work, including the first conviction by fingerprint evidence outside London, in 1905; the first colour photograph of a crime scene, from the 1930s; the first short wave radio transmission to a police vehicle, from Northowram to Bradford, in 1936; and a copy of the first tape recording of a murder confession used in court, in 1964.

“Policing is social history,” says Martin. “This museum traces and preserves the history of policing and the men and women who worked here.”

l Visit bradfordpolicemuseum.com