A Map and Timeline of Bradford’s Underground Victorian Tunnels

May is officially Local and Community History month across the UK and during this time the Historical Association is encouraging people to share information and raise awareness about the history of their local communities. Providing a portal into the history of Bradford, we recently came across this fascinating 150-year-old map. The plan, which dates back to 1881, depicts the areas originally owned by Charles Waller in blue and red and gives us a compelling insight into the historical site we know and love as Sunbridgewells. Bringing the past to life once more and using this original map as a guide, here’s a timeline of the incredible developments that have taken place in Bradford’s underground Victorian tunnels.


The section to the right of the blue area, where ‘ESQ’ appears, is the oldest part of the site. Dating back to the Georgian period, this was the most secure part of Waller’s Brewery and is where the dungeons below Bradford’s courthouse were situated. The pillars are clearly marked on the outside of the building and can still be seen at the top of Ivegate today. If you look at the map, the curved recesses actually show where the statues once stood at the top of Ivegate. This is also the area of the original quarry face and in the 1870s just as Bradford’s wool industry began to boom, almost the entire city of Bradford was built in the quarry’s distinctive Ashlar stone.


In 1802, this same site (where ‘ESQ’ appears) was converted into a public house called The Spotted Ox. And if you’re reading this blog with young’uns, just a word of warning that this is where it gets a bit racy. The area formerly used as dungeons was opened to the public as a dining hall and became infamous for its risque and bawdy behaviour. Clients of The Spotted Ox were often escorted down Millergate and lead to a green room for the purpose of engaging in ‘after-hours’ activities. The men would then be entertained away from prying eyes in the hidden subterranean area.


In 1868, the original Waller’s Brewery was purchased for £7,525 in an auction at The Talbot Hotel, Kirkgate, Bradford. Today, this value would equate to approximately £600,000.00.


The area of the map shown in pink was the land belonging to the Trustees of Mary Sugden and identifies a number of staircases. The main staircase was originally used for beer deliveries in 88-gallon barrels. The section of the map where the word ‘Trustees’ appears, later became a second public house that was linked to the Old Crown Pub on Ivegate and was aptly named, The Rose and Crown. Owned by the son of the landlord of the Old Crown, the original Rose and Crown sign was hand-painted in 1870 by Thomas Forester and currently hangs in the main atrium outside the new Rose and Crown at Sunbridgewells. The old Rose and Crown, however, with it being tucked away from the highway, attracted an undesirable array of characters, leading to much unruly behaviour which finally resulted in its closure.


The section of Waller’s Brewery shown on the map in red was sold in 1877 to Bradford Corporation for £1000, in accordance with the Road Improvement Act of 1873. To the front of this area, abutting Millbank and Millergate was also The Millers Inn public house.


In 1879 construction began to raise the ground level and create Sunbridge Road. This is depicted on the far left of the plan to the edge of Millbank as a red dashed line. The area was raised 30 feet to connect with Godwin Street and meant that the tunnel system now ran beneath Sunbridge Road, with access to the brewery and bottling plant on Aldermanbury. The plan only differs marginally from the real Sunbridge Road as it currently stands. Without the advantage of modern day equipment it’s absolutely extraordinary how closely this finished road resembles the plan.

The inner courtyard, used in those days for Waller’s Brewery beer deliveries and despatches, was built before Sunbridge Road even existed and is now the main atrium at Sunbridgewells. Originally open and exposed to the elements, this courtyard was built out of stone.


In 1906, the site of the old Rose and Crown, shown near the word Trustees in the Pink section, finally reopened as Priestley’s Luncheon Rooms and the behaviour of patrons significantly improved.

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History and more at Sunbridgewells

Hidden in the centre of Bradford for well over 150 years, it’s remarkable to think that this astonishing history has been right beneath our feet all this time. At Sunbridgewells, we are proud of Bradford’s heritage and it is our honour to open these enchanting tunnels to the world once more.

Don’t forget to get involved with Local and Community History month this May. Research it, share it and just have fun with it because ultimately, your hometown or city only gets one history. They also have an official hashtag for people wishing to take this awareness to their social media platforms. Just use #localhistory18. With Sunbridgewells proving to be a direct link to the past, we say long live the future of Bradford’s underground Victorian tunnels.

Written and published by Hannah King

Posted on May 15, 2018 .