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Summary Report

Source of this report

This report summarises the work of the Northcliffe Heritage Project and draws upon the findings in the full report, which can be found here on this website.

To download a full PDF of this summary report click button below.


The Northcliffe Heritage Project grew out of the interests of a local historian, Tony Woods,a local archaeologist, Derek Barker and John Bromley, a member of Friends of Northcliffe. The FoN committee were asked if they would be prepared to support a local heritage project based on Northcliffe. They agreed and a public meeting was held in the autumn of 2014, with both Derek and Tony talking alongside the late John McIlwaine from the Bradford University Department of Archaeological Sciences. It was well attended by local people and other Friends Groups who had undertaken similarexplorations. A citizens’ project was set up which had many people volunteering to work on the archaeological surveys and excavations or undertaking historical literature research. Tony prepared a draft report about the work and finding of the project. The full report was completed after Tony’s death and is available here.

Everything Starts With Geology

The Bradford area sits on a series of rocks called the coal measures, these rocks contain valuable minerals – coal, ironstone, fireclay, sandstone, and brick making shales. The north Bradford area contains the three deepest commercially mined seams in the whole of the Yorkshire Coalfield; the Soft Bed; the Hard Bed and 36 Yard Coal. The hard bed sits on a thick layer of fireclay, mudstone and shales which could be crushed, pressed and fired to make bricks, and a layer of sandstone, the Stanningley Rock, was quarried.

Citizen Archaeology And History

Early on it was decided not to try and apply for grants to pay specialists but to train up local people to undertake archaeological surveying and digs, together with the historical research.

An initial walk-over visual survey of all of Northcliffe was undertaken of what is visible today - walls, watercourses, tracks and paths, demolition debris, mining shafts, collapsed tunnels, spoil heaps and stone extraction sites. For every site, the team took photographs and physical measurements, described the
shape, (whether it went up or down, was flat or sloping), and its location established via mobile phone GPS. The team recorded the likely purpose for each site.

What Was Found: History

Shipley was listed in the 1086 Domesday Survey, described as waste and under the Lordship of Ilbert De Lacy. ‘Waste’ refer to the despoliation of all northern England following the Norman Conquest where buildings were destroyed, farms and livestock burnt, as part of King William’s desire to gain and maintain control of England. It was known as the harrying of the north and had an impact for the best part of a century. All lands, up until the 13th Century were held by the Crown with the management of the lands granted to individuals, such as Lords of the Manor, with part of the rents collected handed to the Crown.

Farming And Timber

Farming and woodland management had been important sources of income for the land owners from the 16th Century. The farms on Northcliffe were tenanted with the fields used for pasture, arable and meadow. The poor soil grew oats, wheat, barley, potatoes and turnips. Farmers tended to have other jobs as well. It is hard to determine the age of the ploughing marks that can be seen on site and on aerial photographs.

By 1911 only two fields were described as pasture and arable the rest being only pasture. Farming ceased shortly after Northcliffe became a park when Frank Brooksbank, grandson of Joseph who first tenanted North Cliff farm, moved to Cottingley Hall Farm.

Findings: Coal, Fireclay And Stone

The three deepest commercial coal seams in the Lower Coal Measures are found in Northcliffe: the Soft Bed, Hard Bed and 36 Yard Coal. Northcliffe shows visible evidence of two types of exploitation, shaft and drift mining, by which coal and fireclay were obtained from the Soft and Hard Beds. There is clear evidence at the western end of the park for shallow shaft mining, probably allowing access to the 36 Yard Coal seam. Coal mining started before the 17th Century and was finished by 1880.

Paths And Trackways

Several of the paths through Northcliffe were originally ‘extraction tracks’ for mine and quarry products, with some dating back to medieval times. Tracks were established for horse and carts to move coal, such as the coal road that runs through Northcliffe from High Bank Lane through to Bradford Road, linking the original
Coal Pit Close at the top of the meadow, to the newer Coal Pit Close at the east end, by Bradford Road. Part of this route can still be followed on the ground as the newer tarmac path follows it for some of its journey. It is the oldest documented track in Northcliffe – over 240 years old.

Northcliffe And Recreation

In 1911 the Rosse family put their land for sale by auction as development plots for housing. The plots that covered Northcliffe Woods and Northcliffe Park did not sell. In 1918 the newly elected Shipley MP Norman Rae offered to buy the land and give it to Shipley Urban District Council to be used as a public space for the people of Bradford. Norman Rae was a mill owner, with mills in Bradford and Batley (where he was born) and business offices in Australia. He used his wealth to support local schools and businesses, gave land to Northcliffe Golf Club and had the Norman Rae Nursing Home built. He was later knighted and became Sir Norman Rae. There is a book about his life Sir H Norman Rae. 1960-1928. Shuttleworth and Walker 2000. Available from FoN.