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A Bradford Street Scene 1938 - Photograph by C H Wood

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A Bradford Street Scene, 1938

There are over 300 000 images in the C H Wood photographic archive, held here at Bradford Industrial Museum. I’ve seen, scanned and worked on many of them; maybe 500 or so.  This one, of Busbys’ department store on Manningham Lane, Bradford, is still my favourite.

Each week, perhaps in response to an enquiry, in preparation for an exhibition, book or magazine article, another dusty box is opened, another photographic gem transferred from murky glass negative to computer screen, its detail and quality fully revealed.

And what a range there is! Pictures of mills, sporting arenas, shops, streets, and much more.

Hundreds, thousands of images. Why am I particularly fascinated by this one?  Sometimes, I think it’s to do with the evocation of an aspect of Bradford life that’s long since disappeared.  This scene, of Manningham Lane, just after twelve on a sunny day in 1938, is lost forever.

The famous Busbys’ department store, known to all as ‘The Store With The Friendly Welcome’, selling just about everything, has gone. Closed in 1976 and destroyed by fire three years later, the site has changed so radically, it’s now difficult to remember exactly where it was.

I also like the liveliness. Everything looks so purposeful. Even the vehicles seem to know what they’re doing and where they’re going.
Most of all, though, I like the unanswered questions thrown up by the scene. The two pairs of women walking towards us along the pavement. Out on their lunch break, perhaps. What are they talking about?  Are the two disappearing off-frame, mother and daughter?
Another character, one who would have disappeared beyond the edge of the image if the shutter had clicked a second later, is the mysterious woman in the rear of the car. Who was she? Where was she going?

There’s the four men. They seem to be a group together. Do they even know each other? One’s just stepped onto the pavement. Two are either looking across the road or waiting to cross. Between them is a suitcase. Belonging to whom? The suited one with the raincoat?
The year 1938 is now moving beyond living memory so these questions are unlikely ever to be answered.

Although many of these people would already suspect that war was on the horizon, they would have had little idea of the suffering and devastation it would bring to their lives.

It’s perhaps our awareness of these events that gives this image its poignancy.


Text by John Ashton.

Click the links below to watch the video or listen to the audio track of this digi story (of which the above is a transcript).

Another digital story on My Yorkshire features one of C H Wood's famous photographs - an aerial shot of the 1954 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final Reply at Odsal Stadium (see Related Links below).

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