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28 October 2014
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Inside an apartment at Listers Mill
Freda: 'It's just so totally different.'

Life returns to Bradford's powerhouse!

For over 100 years Listers Mills were a symbol of everything that was big about Bradford. But in 1992 production at what was once the world's biggest silk factory finally came to an end. But now life is returning to the heart of Manningham!

Once Listers provided velvets and silks for houses and palaces across the world. Now new residents have started to make their homes in the former Silk Warehouse of this once great building.

Woman weaver working in mill
Manningham people made cloth for the world!

The mill complex is a big building in anybody's book and it can be seen from most parts of Bradford. Its great chimney, 250 foot high, dominates the city and brings a flavour of Italy to West Yorkshire. The south shed alone is a quarter of a mile long. Designed by Bradford architects Andrews and Pepper it replaced an earlier mill building which burnt down in 1871.

Listers produced a wide variety of fabrics including crepes, chiffons and velvet. It was Listers velvet that adorned Westminster Abbey in 1911 for the Coronation of George V, it was Listers curtains that were hung in the White House in 1976 and the chances are, if you've ever sat on a bus or a train that's more than a few years old, then you might well have enjoyed the feel of Listers velvet.

Freda Watts
Freda started work at Listers in 1939

The mills also did their bit during World War II producing parachute silk and chord and 50 miles of khaki! But by 1992 the mills had fallen into disuse. However, the whole complex was bought by regeneration organisation Urban Splash in 2000 and building work began in 2004.

Now the once-powerful engines and looms have been replaced by ensuite bathrooms and built-in kitchens. So long a symbol of Bradford's industrial decline, the arrival of the apartment dwellers may be a sign things are changing.

Freda Watts has lived in Manningham all her life and worked as a dress silk weaver at Listers. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Freda campaigned vigorously for the building to be restored and is delighted to see the transformation: "You just stand and think, am I in the same place? It's just so totally, totally different. It's breath-taking, everything is modern apart from seeing that the beautiful stonework has been left."

Model of Listers Mill
A model of the mills in the 1960s

Freda first walked through the doors of Manningham mills in 1939 to work. She left in the 1960s but still lives under the shadow of the famous chimney. Seeing the weaving sheds abandoned in the 1990s caused her much heartache: "I was so angry to see it vandalised with squatters in. They even had foxes in as well as pigeons. I saw this place when it was absolutely covered deep in pigeon dirt and [now] here is a place that is absolutely out of this world."

But the move into these newly-created apartments is just the first phase in the regeneration of Listers Mills. Manningham-based theatre company Mind The Gap, now known far beyond Bradford for its work with learning disabled artists, will be moving to a new home in the old dyehouse of the former silk mill. We caught up with the company's artistic director, Tim Wheeler, to find out more.

Tim Wheeler
Tim: 'It's about making a creative space...'

Mind The Gap has had to raise £2 million to make the move happen but Tim is sure it will give them the chance to put something back into the surrounding community: "This centre is not just about ourselves. It's about making a creative space for people to be able to explore their ideas and express what they feel about life and the place where they live.

"With the centre we can bring people in from our local community but we are developing international links as well. We're also looking towards the East, at the rich cultural tradition that's developed in Bradford. The silk road is where the expertise came from to develop Bradford's wealth in the past and there's this wealth of cultural tradition within the city which we should be able to celebrate."

Listen to Freda Watts as she returns to Listers Mills:
audio Freda speaks to BBC Radio Leeds' Spencer Stokes >
video Watch a video clip from Listers Mills 2006 >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer
last updated: 08/03/06
Have Your Say
Do you remember Listers Mill in its heyday? if so, we want to hear from you.
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vikra b
iv'e been around lister mills for over 14 year's know and i never once hated seeing the site of the mill. The mill is like a mark showing me which way to get home, i never get lost in bradford because all i have to do is look for the mill.

Georgina (Keeping) Smith
I worked in the Stores and Buying Department for seven years. The office was to the left of the main entrance by the interview rooms. I have fond memories of the old mill. I would have to track down invoices to different departments and that enabled me to see many different departments. The electricians shop, joiners shop, burling and mending, import export offices, the counting house, the very favorite though, was the Engineering Room. It was tiled and always spotless.I have no reason to visit Bradford anymore, however, perhaps one more trip should be taken to see the transformation of Manningham Mills. I lived on Chassum Street behind the Mill.Of course the old terrace houses behind the mill were torn down before I left for San Diego in 1969.

Christine Pattison (Auckland, New Zealand)
Wow! What a wonderful restoration and a pride for all of us living anywhere in the world who have any kind of family connection with the textile industry.

Kenneth Craven Windle
At the age of 14 I left school and my first job was at the mill in the weaving shed and to see it now My father work there all his life in the dye house

yes it was a lovely place in it's tme there used to be lots of jobs then as well.

Peter Wilkinson
I attended Lilycroft Road school during the war and passed the mill every day and often wondered what it was like inside. We were told that the top of the chimney was wide enough to take a horse and cart and couldn't understand why anyone would want to do that. Good luck to the nesdent in Kent.

Jean Hainsworth
Is there a museum for Lister's Velvet? I have a lovely old 3 piece suite made in this,beautifull colours ,came from my Dad's home,I sat on this as a child,now in my seventy's, naturally it is not as good as new but if you would like it for your museum I know it will be appreciated,I love it dearly.very heavy,solid as furniture was made in those days.I cannot think that one day it may go on the tip.

linda brown
mum & dad met through working at listers mill.grandma also worked there in the weaving department.They lived on Anvil street, so they didnt have far to go. Dad used to help paint the scenery for the pantomimes that the workers put on.mum was then known as Audrey Rix(before marrying dad)-Grandma,was Alice Rix, and dad was Stanley Searle.mum always used Listers velvet for their curtains- she said it was the best.

Halina Gibson
We were one of many Polish refugee families.Dad worked in salts and when he died mum worked at the mill.We lived in Farcliffe place just across the road from Listers.

Judith Clarke
My grandfather managed the dyehouse which dyed velvet and my aunt was one of their best burlers and menders, so good that she was invited to South America to pass on her skills, but she declined, she preferred Manningham! My own daughter will soon return with her new job with the theatre company Mind the Gap, which I now read will actually be in the dyehouse; that really is a family link. I am delighted by this re-generation.

Peter Greenwood
What a wonderfull thing to happen to Listers Mill and being an old Bradfordian Listers was always an icon to me. May it stand for many years to come. Thank you. Peter Greenwood (Australia)

Tony Lockwood
It's a great shame that these mill have been made redundate from being a working environment. But for the future of Lister Mills least it will have a new lease of life and not face with demolition like most mills have around the country.

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