Officially the UK’s only underground food and drink venue, the Victorian tunnels of Bradford are home to the remarkable Sunbridgewells complex. Here, amongst the throng of happy clientele, you can enjoy the enticing cuisine and a decent posh gin and tonic at one of the city’s most popular gin bars. But in the midst of this lively activity, there lays many a tale to tell. Steeped in curious history, echoes of times gone by sweep through the tunnels as though they occurred just yesterday. The old complex has played witness to many events over the centuries and if walls could talk, these are the stories they would reveal. Allow us to delve deep into the history of Bradford's Victorian tunnels.
The Foundations of Bradford
Starting out as a quarry in the 13th century, the tunnels can trace their roots back to around 1230 and they rest on the T-junction that formed the original foundations of Bradford City Centre. Establishing the areas of Kirkgate, Ivegate and Westgate, the T-junction was exposed as part of the developments groundwork and if you pay a visit to Sunbridgewells, you can view the quarry face for yourself which is an impressive 30ft underground.
Incarcerated in the Victorian tunnels
During the middle ages, the tunnel system was used as prison cells and is where Wesleyan Methodist John Nelson was famously held in the 1700’s due to his refusal to abstain from preaching. As word would have it, Bradford’s underground tunnels were also once used as a women’s prison, however, this is a case that remains shrouded in mystery.
Beer has always played a major part in Bradford’s Victorian tunnels with three brewery companies being housed here from the early 1800s right up until the 1950’s. Formerly the old courthouse, The Spotted Ox opened for business in 1802, local brewery Brewhouse was established here until its sale in 1868 and in the early 1900s, the original Wallers Brewery traded with a bottling plant in the tunnels before being taken over by The Leeds and Wakefield Brewery.
The Air Raid Shelter
Famous for being the largest air raid shelter in Bradford, the Aldermanbury entrance was used throughout the Second World War. Once rammed to the rafters with nervous locals, it was safety in numbers between the years of 1939 and 1945 in Bradford’s Victorian tunnels.
The 60’s Nightclub
1964 saw part of the tunnel being the original location of the famous Little Fat Black Pussy Cat nightclub. Hosting rock acts from The Pretty Things to the rumoured Beatles, the club sadly closed down with the year. Luckily for any die-hard music fans, our revival nights of this fondly remembered club take place every month at Sunbridgewells so you can enjoy the swinging sixties for many more years to come.
Easter at Bradford’s Victorian Tunnels
After lying vacant and abandoned beneath Bradford for decades, a new lease of life can certainly be found within the city’s Victorian tunnels. Interestingly still, many Easter traditions also originated from the Victorian era including practices such as Easter egg hunts and brightly coloured greeting cards. Why not join us this Easter weekend at Sunbridgewells as we host our Special Easter Fair, Friday the 30th of March until Sunday the 1st of April. With an Easter egg hunt throughout the tunnels, a colouring competition and an Easter market showcasing the wares of local businesses, you can enjoy a fun, family day out at Bradford’s underground Victorian tunnels.
Written and published by Hannah King