THEY are names linked to Bradford’s industrial heritage - Fattorini, Kassapian, Priestley and Behrens among them.

These are the past presidents and chairmen of the Bradford Club, whose names appear on wooden panels adorning walls of the historic building.

And what a building! Tucked away down a side street in Bradford city centre, it’s a hidden gem. You would probably walk past the door, with its gleaming brasswork, and not give it a second thought - but behind it is a beautiful, exquisitely furnished Victorian club where the movers and shakers of Bradford’s business world have met for more than a century.

Stepping into the grand entrance, with a sweeping staircase flanked by long stained glass windows, is like stepping into the past. You can almost hear the chatter of the city’s wool barons over after-dinner cigars. Sir Titus Salt and the father of composer Frederick Delius were among the club’s illustrious members.

In the reading room, which resembles the set of a period drama, members recline in leather armchairs beside brass-stemmed lamps. Newspapers are laid out on side tables. Beneath the ornate high ceiling of the spacious dining-room, a long table is laid out for lunch. And at the top of the staircase, a magnificent snooker room has Victorian billiard tables and leather seats, light pouring through a splendid hammerbeam ceiling, one of only two architectural features of Bradford listed in Sir Nikolaus Pevsner's famous guides to the buildings of Britain (the other being City Hall).

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The top floor snooker room at the Bradford Club is still used by a snooker club

The Bradford Club started life at the Old Bull’s Head on Westgate in 1761, with the aim of establishing a weekly meeting for good company and conversation. The club went on to occupy premises at Upper Piccadilly and Manor Row, where it thrived for many years. But in 1940 it came to an end there due to the absence of members on war service.

Its next incarnation was the amalgamation of Bradford Liberal Club and Bradford and County Conservative Club, collectively becoming the Bradford Club in 1955. In 1977 it merged with the Union Club (formerly the Bradford Billiard Club), which had stood in Piece Hall Yard since 1866. With the present Bradford Club now occupying these premises, there has been a continuous club presence there for 150 years.

Tony Emmott, current President of the Bradford Club, became a member in the 1970s, as a young solicitor working in Bradford. “I worked for Johnson Hopps & Suddards in Arndale House - one of the first things you did when you started was join the Bradford Club. It was somewhere to go at lunchtime, within walking distance, to meet other solicitors over a good meal in pleasant surroundings. I felt an instant affinity with it,” says Tony, who later became Deputy Head Office Solicitor with the then Halifax Building Society.

Traditionally, the Bradford Club was for businessmen (women were admitted in 1990). Today membership is more open, but in the modern, digital age, membership has dwindled.

“Anyone can apply to join, they’re proposed and seconded,” says Tony. “Working patterns have changed though. Professionals no longer have the traditional one-hour lunch break, and a lot of networking is online. The club has less than 200 members today. Group memberships with banks and barristers’ chambers bring in younger members, but we need more of these to take the club into the future.

“It is part of Bradford’s history and is one of the few old clubs remaining in the country. It would be very sad to see it disappear.”

Tony is a former chairman of the club’s Optimists’ Corner - stemming from ‘Corners’ established at the old Bradford Liberal Club when certain members tended to sit in the same seats in the Smoking Room for coffee after lunch. This led to four formally recognised ‘Corners’; the oldest, ‘The Corner’, was set up in 1896 by MPs, aldermen and magistrates, then came ‘The Optimists’ (1912), ‘The 30 Corner’ (1923) and ‘The Unity Corner’ (1927). The 1970s saw their demise, apart from the Optimists who continue to meet at the Bradford Club every Thursday for lunch. The Optimists Corner elects a chairman every year at its annual dinner.

When I meet Tony at the club he’s wearing the Optimists’ Corner tie, featuring its drone logo (the non-working male honey bee). Why drones? “They are there when the colony needs them, to ensure its continuity,” says Tony. “And the odds on drones mating with the Queen are more than seven million to one - true optimism!”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Tony Emmott, President of the Bradford Club

Tony’s programme of events for the year includes an exhibition marking the 10th anniversary of Bradford’s Impressions Gallery. Owned by the club’s trustees, on behalf of members, the club has expanded its use over the years. Community groups including the University of the Third Age use the facilities, and the building is hired for functions such as weddings, wedding fairs and parties. It is also occasionally used for filming, with everything from TV dramas Miss Marple and The Great Train Robbery to a heavy metal band's gothic-themed video shot there.

“It’s perfect for period dramas because it is well preserved and all intact. Bradford City of Film recommends us to production companies, and sometimes we're contacted directly by them,” says manager Peter Townsend.

“We’ve had to diversify. There’s a lot of business in Bradford, but it has changed so much. We don’t have bank managers and the like coming along like we used to, because they’re based elsewhere.”

For Tony, the club’s appeal is simple. “It’s a sociable place, where friendships are made. It’s also a haven of peace and reflection; there’s nowhere else like it in Bradford,” he says. “It has a rich history and heritage - our focus now is on balancing that with taking it forward.”

  • The Bradford Club is at Piece Hall Yard, Bradford. For more information go to or call (01274) 727036.