A STONE’S throw from Lister’s Mill, tucked up a leafy lane, is a place known by those who live there as the ‘secret garden’. They call it that because most people don’t know this picturesque square of terraced houses exists.

The Bradford Tradesmen’s Homes are in Manningham, surrounded by busy streets, but you’d never know. The terraced square resembles a quaint Dales village. “It’s our little Shangri-La,” smiles one resident, sitting on a bench outside his pretty house.

The houses, at Lily Croft, were built in 1868 for self-employed tradesman who fell on hard times or became too ill or old to work. For many, this meant the workhouse. Bradford’s textile industry couldn’t have happened without builders, stonemasons, joiners, carpenters and plumbers - and wealthy wool barons repaid them by building these homes for their retirement. Applicants had to be pensioners of Bradford Tradesmen’s Benevolent Society or people who “once occupied a position of respectability and who, from any cause not dishonourable, are unable to provide for themselves”.

In a chapel, built into the middle terrace, are engravings dedicated to tradesmen and benefactors. Names of the first trustees are listed on a wooden plaque, and on the walls are photographs of residents over the years. Leather-bound account books date back to Victorian tenants.

Sir Titus Salt donated 2,000 guineas for the first properties - two-storey houses built along three sides of a square. Two stone alpacas, donated by Salt from his garden, stand either side of the chapel, where stained glass windows are dedicated to him. In 1878 a third terrace was built to complete the square, bringing the number of houses to 43, and in 1887 a house and office for the Trust Administrator was built. Three bungalows were later added.

Today the Grade II-listed almshouses are owned by the Bradford Tradesmen’s Homes Charity, and the criteria is that tenants must be retired and able to look after themselves. In recent years the age has been reduced to 60-plus.

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Tradesmen’s Homes, and residents recently celebrated with a garden party. A plaque was unveiled in memory of late trust chairman John Behrens, a trustee for over 50 years, who oversaw the modernisation of the properties.

People residing here aren’t technically tenants, they are beneficiaries of the charity. Rent is £87 a week, which includes water rates and window cleaning. There was once a waiting list - now there are four vacant houses and the trust is keen to fill them.

“People don’t know it’s here. Even those living nearby don’t know about it,” says Trust Administrator Darron Broughton, who lives on site and looks after the properties on behalf of the trust. Anyone interested in living here is invited to visit, then there’s an informal interview with Darron and trustees.

Darron first came as a painter/decorator two years ago and fell in love with the place. “I was working on some of the houses and half the time I couldn’t get anything done because of people chatting and bringing me cups of tea and biscuits,” he smiles. “You can’t beat the people here, they’re a friendly, close-knit community. Everyone looks out for each other.

“It’s secure - there’s CCTV, railings around the site, and just one entrance. I’m on hand to deal with any queries and repairs. I go to the coffee mornings and socialise with everyone. There are couples here, others are widowed or single. They’re a great bunch of people. Some people move from houses to the bungalows when they can no longer manage the stairs.”

The grounds, with neat lawns, flower bed, benches and pretty lamps, are looked after by gardeners David Beaumont, who has lived here 30 years, and Vicki Rae. They also grow vegetables for residents.

The houses have two bedrooms, central heating, fitted kitchens and bathrooms. Some have cellars and downstairs toilets. Whenever anyone moves in, the property is newly decorated.

Frank and Jenny Smith have lived here 10 years. “Frank saw a piece in the T&A about it. I wasn’t sure at first, then I came to see it I loved it,” says Jenny, 72. “We have everything we need here. There’s a bus to town at the end of the street. We have get-togethers, day trips, everyone is friendly. We love it.”

“It’s secure, we have privacy and social events too,” adds Frank, 82. The couple’s beautifully decorated home has a spacious garden with patio. “Each resident takes care of their own back garden and the gardeners cut the hedges,” says Frank.

There’s a lively coffee morning in the chapel, where residents enjoy bingo, dominoes, indoor bowls, keep fit, crafts, and social evenings. Social committee chairman Jenni Holdsworth and husband Alan had their wedding reception in the chapel. “I heard about the houses from a friend who lives here, when I saw them I thought ‘Wow’”, says Jenni.

Jack Rogers came with his late wife, Joyce, and has lived here 25 years. "It's well protected and there's always someone around to chat to. It's how communities used to be," he says.

* Call Darron Broughton on (01274) 543022 or visit bradfordtradesmenshomes.co.uk