Sunbridge Wells: Bradford Retail Quarter Inside 13th Century Tunnels (Tours Available)

Sunbridge Wells: Bradford's new retail quarter housed inside 13th century tunnels that began life as a quarry. (Image: Basil Parylo. Sunbridge Wells retail quarter in Bradford’s 13th century tunnels)

When it comes to modern city centre development projects, Sunbridge Wells in the heart of Bradford, West Yorkshire, must be one of the most visionary. Occupying medieval tunnels that have their roots in a 13th century quarry, the leisure and retail facility opened last year after a £1.9 million project to breathe new life into its 24,000 square feet.

Bradford's Sunbridge Wells redevelopment. (Image: Basil Parylo)

Over the years the three storeys of subterranean tunnel network have been used as prison cells and an air raid shelter during World War Two, as Luftwaffe bombs rained down on the industrial cities of northern England.

Sunbridge Wells: adaptive reuse of subterranean space in Bradford, West Yorkshire. (Image: Basil Parylo)

The Sunbridge Wells tunnels are perhaps best known for their role as a 1960s nightclub named The Little Fat Black Pussycat, which was owned by professional wrestler Shirley Crabtree, who older audiences many remember by his stage name Big Daddy.

(Image: Basil Parylo)

When the nightclub eventually closed, the underground space was sealed off and forgotten about for almost half a century, until developer Graham Hall came up with the idea of renovating the tunnels some 28 years ago. Thanks to his vision, an important part of Bradford’s history can now be explored and enjoyed by the public.

(Image: Basil Parylo)

Hall told ITV News: “Well I hope it increases the footfall into Bradford, i.e. the night life, and it’s not just this place, the other bars will succeed better because of this because there’s more places to come into Bradford. We’re not in competition, we’re all working together, that’s basically it.”

Sunbridge Wells has been used as a prison over the centuries and later became a wartime air raid shelter. (Image: Basil Parylo. Sunbridge Wells has been used as a prison over the years)

The mammoth adaptive reuse project required the removal of hundreds of tonnes of rubble before work could begin on transforming it into boutique shops and bars. The Sunbridge Wells development, which is accessed via an arched entrance in Millergate, is also home to a craft ale pub called the Rose and Crown.

(Images: Basil Parylo)

The stone-lined tunnels and stairwells have a Victorian feel with displays by the Bradford Museums and Art Galleries. The image below shows the discrete entrance (unless you take into account the octopus) to Sunbridge Wells as it was before redevelopment. Now clean, the masonry bears a sign welcoming customers “to the world of pure imagination”.

(Image: Google Street View; entrance to Sunbridge Wells, in Millergate, during redevelopment)

Basil Parylo, whose photographs are featured in this article, also runs history tours of the Sunbridge Wells tunnels. The next tour will take place today from 2-4 pm. Find out more here.

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