Bradford pubs

As Bradford rapidly expanded in the early decades of the nineteenth century, the building of new pubs provided groups of all political persuasions more options for meeting spaces. The New Inn on was opened in 1800, and shortly afterwards the magistrates began to hold their weekly petty sessions there. By 1830, there were a total of 79 public houses in Bradford alone.[1]

[1] Jennings, Bradford Pubs, p. 23.


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The Bull’s Head

The Bull’s Head inn off the marketplace was the main pub used for commercial and political transactions of all kinds, ‘in the days when Bradford consisted of little else than Westgate, Kirkgate, and Ivegate’.[1] Cleckheaton resident Thomas Wright recalled: ‘our earlier merchants and manufacturers used to occupy the best front room upstairs to hold a kind of Chamber of Commerce’. It was the site where commercial and political news and conversation combined: Wright continued: ‘During the wars of England with the elder Napoleon the news from our armies was retailed and discussed by these gentlemen when they met on the market day at the Bull’s Head’.[2]

John James’s history of Bradford noted that the master woolcombers’ club house was held at the Bull’s Head and they used it as a headquarters to organize the septennial Bishop Blaize guild procession: ‘at this time an Oyster Club was held at that Inn and the Talbot alternately, where the spinners, manufacturers and gentry of the town met to enjoy oysters and cold punch, and discuss politics and the commercial news, brought fortnightly by the Hamburgh Mail’.[3] The Bull’s Head was associated with sites of justice – it was opposite the pillory.[4]

[1] Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, p. 168; P. Jennings, Bradford Pubs, pp. 23-4.

[2] Thomas Wright, ed., Autobiography of Thomas Wright, p. 4.

[3] John James, Continuations and Additions to the History of Bradford and its Parish (London, 1866), p. 95.

[4] John James, The History of Bradford and its Parish (Bradford, 1841), p. 298.


The Sun

The Sun Inn on Ivegate was rebuilt in elegant style in 1745. It was one of the most prestigious pubs in the town, ‘noted for its great dancing assemblies’. During the massive 1825 woolcombers’ strike, the master manufacturers based themselves at the Sun. The striking woolcombers planned their next moves in the Roebuck, only 200 yards away.[1] Contesting interests were therefore divided only by a small distance. Both pubs continued to be frequented by opposing groups. Feargus O’Connor and the Radical Association held a rally outside the Roebuck in December 1835.[2]

[1] WYAS Bradford, DB16 C32; Bradford poor law book, f. 82.

[2] WYAS Bradford, DB3 C39/5, account of 1825 woolcombers’ strike.


The Bowling Green

Drinking establishments continued to play a vital part in the running of elections, even after the 1832 Reform Act attempted to cut drunken bribery. Significantly, boroughs newly enfranchised by the act adopted electoral culture as if it had always existed there.[1]

The other most important pub in Bradford was the Bowling Green on Bridge Street, situated close to the Sun. Its role as a posting house and coaching inn, situated along the turnpike between Leeds and Manchester, meant that it was the obvious choice for itinerant lecturers (including George Whitefield and John Wesley), and visiting election candidates. The author of Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford recalled the excitement of the first general election in 1832: ‘the Bowling Green front, and the space facing the Sun Hotel formed a grand arena for the Liberals, who had command of both hotels for election purposes, and here the leading lights of ‘Yellows’ displayed their eloquence’.[2] Abraham Holroyd recalled how ‘there used formerly to be held here meetings on particular subjects, and the speakers addressed the crowds assembled in the open space in front from an old balcony which yet runs the whole length of the hotel’.[3]

Talbot Hotel

The Talbot Hotel on Kirkgate was the Tory headquarters during elections, ‘and it was said that there was one room in the hotel that was kept sacred for the leading Tories, into which none other were ever allowed to enter’.[4] The Talbot was distinguished as a place for elite action against workers’ combinations and campaigns – master spinners met there during 1830-1 to organise their defence against campaigns to reduce working hours, and magistrates held an emergency meeting there about how to restore public order during the plug strikes in 1842.[5] The Bowling Green, by contrast, became the venue for reform meetings from 1835 onwards.[6] During the agitation against the Corn Laws in the 1840s, crowds paraded the effigy of Sir Robert Peel in front of the inn before ‘being burnt on the very spot where the statue of that eminent statesman now stands’.[7]


[1] Frank O’Gorman, ‘Campaign Rituals and Ceremonies: the Social Meaning of Elections in England, 1780-1860’, Past and Present, 135 (1992).

[2] Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, p. 169.

[3] Thomas Wright, ed., Autobiography of Thomas Wright of Birkenshaw, 1736-1797, p. 3.

[4] Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures, p. 169.

[5] Halifax and Huddersfield Examiner, 12 February 1831; Peel, Risings of the Luddites, p. 332.

[6] WYAS, Bradford, SpSt 5/2/86; DB4 C1/4

[7] Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures, p. 171.


For more on old pubs of Bradford, see


The Roebuck was the Chartist orator Peter Bussey’s pub, and thus provided a useful spot for woolcombers and worsted weavers’ meetings and later Chartist meetings.

Alfred Peacock, Bradford Chartism (York Borthwick paper, 1969):

List of pubs in Bradford, from Ibbotson’s directory, 1845:

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