London vs. Bradford

March 18th, 2016
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I’m London Welsh, fiercely proud of both Wales and London WGC*, but even I sometimes get the feeling that Great Britain Ltd pays a little bit too much attention to the Great Wen.

London Wasps play their rugby in Coventry, 100 miles from Charing Cross. When Yvonne was flying, she flew me into London Lydd, which is 80 miles from Charing Cross in the opposite direction. That is a BIG city.

Wouldn’t it be easier for all concerned if England was renamed London? Just a thought. After all, the rest of the world knows this sceptred isle as England, with not a thought for poor Wales or Scotland.

I was driving through Belgium last October when I heard a radio sports announcer previewing the forthcoming Belgium – England Davis Cup tennis tournament. I wondered how the Murray brothers would like that.

Where am I going with this? It’s the news that the Royal Photographical Society’s archive is to be moved, along with 400,000 other photography-related items, from the National Media Museum in Bradford to the V&A in London, to be replaced by a light show.

Whatever the merits or demerits of this move, we can be sure that the 400,000 objects out of the NMM’s 3 million strong collection being taken from Bradford will be the pick of the crop, leaving behind assorted knurled focussing knobs from a few old Thornton Pickards and a couple of Box Brownies.

When the NMM opened in 1983 it was called the National Museum of Photography, and it was hailed as a brave new initiative to devolve a part of Britain’s artistic heritage out of London. I worked with them on a number of projects, notably with Brian Coe and the Kodak Gallery (there’s a Harlech connection for you — Kodak’s first UK boss George Davison built his summer house in Harlech).

Now the best of the best is being shipped to London, which already has more and better museums, theatres, art galleries and entertainments than anywhere else in the world, leaving Bradford with a light show, an IMAX and a couple of curry houses.

As a proud Londoner, I say it’s simply not fair. We’ve got enough down here. Why do we have to have more? Make Bradford a destination for all photographers!

London’s got it all. It doesn’t need this. Bradford does need it. Please think again.

*World’s Greatest City

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26 Responses to “London vs. Bradford”

  1. Peter Cope says:

    I have to concur with much of what you have said. Particularly as I was born in Wales (Ystradgynlais no less) and then when I was small my parents emigrated to Sudbury Town, London WGC. Infact, we lived within shouting distance of London Wasps who then played at Vale Farm, before flogging it off for non-affordable housing.

    I have to admit a degree of ambivalence about the Museum though. Brave to sight it in Bradford and great that this area – which has quite a good catchment area has something so bold – but can’t help thinking ‘national’ museums should be showcased not only to the UK audience but further afield too. And that means London because, with the best will in the world, visitors from overseas are not going to visit Bradford specifically for the museum whereas they might well do so in London.

    I live now in Bristol and our only national museum – that of British Commonwealth and Empire – also did not succeed as it failed to attract (any) visitors (okay, so in Bristol you can’t visit most places because of an anti-car dogmatic mayor, but that’s beside the point).

    Too many people in my circles (which is obviously photography / media based) have not visited the NMM because they have no reason to travel all that way ‘just’ to visit ‘NMM’. I believe a proper (and emphasise proper) home in London would make good practical sense for these artefacts even if it goes against all talk of dispersement of resources to the provinces.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Very even-handed, Peter, but Bradford’s hardly the back of beyond — 10 miles from Leeds and 40 from Manchester. It even has an airport you can fly into from Budapest, Geneva and Venice once you’ve tired of those cities. You are reinforcing my point that London is engulfing England. And Commonwealth and Empire is not the most fashionable subject around which to base a museum, is it? Let’s hope Bristol Uni students don’t have an attack of the PCs currently afflicting Oxbridge!

      • Brian Murray says:

        And the great white elephant that will be HS2, apart from getting MPs from “remote constituencies” to Westminster, would presumably persuade Londoners to take the trip to Bradford. Once we’ve persuaded them that there really aren’t any polar bears here.

      • Paul Moore says:

        Sorry to wake you up to reality, Gwyn, but Bradford is world’s apart from Leeds in every way. Leeds may be only 10 miles away, but it’s like travelling between Europe and Asia (and I don’t mean that in a racist way; simply as a fact). The airport you talk about is located in a pleasant, rural area not far from the town of Horsforth in Leeds. The airport is actually called Leeds-Bradford Airport. There’s little point in being tactful. Bradford is quite a mess and it’s getting worse. Moving the museum is probably a good idea.

  2. Ian Whiting says:

    I agree with you even though it is much easier for me to visit the V&A than Bradford.

    But I have tried twice to visit the Bradford museum and both times failed as it was unexpectedly closed the day I arrived.

    Whilst I am sure I have just been unlucky and hope this is not indicative of its normal state it does leave one with a “can’t be bothered again” attitude.

  3. I have been to the NMP in Bradford several times, the last being for the Don McCullin exhibition. It was terrific – as of course is he as a photographer and describer of what he does and thinks.

    But somehow the museum is a sad place – just a bit faded and jaded and big and hollow with families there ‘for the kids’.

    The ones like me (photography nuts) are a minority – and the museum tries to be everything to everyone. So maybe it will feel more at home in London. Maybe.

    A friend from the USA asks me how life is in London. I live in Edinburgh but he treats England/Scotland/OtherBits as thought they are all ‘London’. And in some ways he is right. The USA has 39 times the area of the UK, so from his remote viewpoint surely there is only enough room for London?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Maybe it hasn’t had a lick of paint in 30 years? I have to confess I haven’t been there since the ’80s when it was glittering and new, but one thing we Brits are really good at is building something new and exciting then neglecting to maintain it until we have to knock the ruin down. The most dangerous time for a building’s survival is when it’s between 30 and 50 years old; once it’s past that hurdle it becomes a much-loved old relic, like me.

  4. Steve Simons says:

    I have wanted to visit the “National Museum of Photography” for years and had planned a a trip later this year only to find it’s been renamed the “Media Museum” and now, as mentioned, the pick of the Crop moved down to London.

    As far as I’m aware there is no information yet about what is going to be displayed at the V&A. Anyone have ANY news?

  5. Brian Murray says:

    Many Londoners appear to believe that anywhere north of Watford is a cultural desert. And since it plainly isn’t, maybe this is one way of enforcing this?

  6. Paul Moore says:

    Perhaps, Gwyn, they’re moving it because Bradford is basically a dump that’s on a road to rapid self-destruction and they don’t want the National Museum of Photography to become yet another victim in a long list of destroyed buildings.

    I say this with a lump in my throat because I have a special affection for Bradford. I studied in Leeds in the 70s and occasionally popped over to Bradford for a curry or fish and chips. I lived in Bradford for a year when the riots took place and witnessed the destruction first-hand. Most of it took place in the area where I lived and I watched it from my window. Buildings were destroyed and cars were set on fire and left to burn in the streets.

    Then I moved to Bradford again in 2011 to teach at the University. I stayed for 10 months before moving (temporarily) to New York. Ten years after the riots, the city was even more of a wreck. In the 10 months I was there, at least three old warehouses were burned to the ground. It was shameful. Of course, some people do care. I have friends there who are deeply saddened by what’s happening. The city center is a mess: a mish-mash of ugly buildings with liter everywhere.

    In 2011, they spent a fortune digging up the Town Hall square to turn it into a vast fountain, which was immediately adopted as a swimming and paddling pool by local people. It isn’t a pool. The water isn’t chlorinated (as far as I’m aware).

    In 2014, my wife and I had to spend a couple of weeks in Bradford (don’t ask why). We stayed in a hotel in the center and hardly slept the whole time. Every night, yobs were breaking bottles in the streets and screaming at each other. It was disgusting and neither the police nor the hotel did anything to stop it. The hotel told us that it wasn’t worth calling the police because the yobs would just throw bricks through the hotel windows. Each morning, there was glass all over the roads and pavements.

    Lovey old warehouses get burned down or are left to crumble; and all of this while Leeds prospers. The Bradford people are to blame (a sweeping generalization, I know). They don’t have any pride in their city. If there’s no pride, there’s no future. Maybe the powers that be don’t want to take the risk that thugs will burn down the National Museum of Photography, as well. Perhaps it’s a wise move.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Wow. I had no idea. Bradford doesn’t feature in the London media, which is all I read (apart from the rugby pages in the Western Mail and the Cambrian News). So it sounds like we have our own Detroit? Could that be the real reason for the move? Of course nobody in any elected position would ever dream of admitting it, but you may well have hit the nail on the head.

      • Paul Moore says:

        I would suggest that this is the one and only reason why they’ve decided to move it. It’s sad, but it’s called ‘self-preservation’. Bradford is actually a massive region that includes part of the Yorkshire Dales, Bronte Country and lovely villages like Haworth. Sadly, the city itself is a wreck, and that’s probably why they want to move the museum.

        • Paul Moore says:

          By the way, comparing Bradford with Detroit is pretty accurate. There was even a drive-by shooting in Bradford a few weeks ago. It’s only going to get worse.

  7. Dave Carton says:

    Reasons for moving seem to have been well covered here, but why London? Why not tour it around the country, or site it somewhere like Lacock Abbey the birthplace of photography? Just my tuppeny’s worth. Dave

  8. Paul Moore says:

    If anyone wants to know what’s really happening in Bradford, read this:

  9. David Thompson says:

    I find some of these comments about Bradford very offensive and very wrong – the worst kind of North versus South prejudice. I have lived and worked in Bradford and district since 1972, 5 years in Bradford itself and in Shipley and Haworth for the other years. It is in the middle of some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain and has a fantastic history and welcoming people. The comments about burning mills and disorder in the city are nonsense. The City Park with its lake and fountains has become a centre for cultural activities and has been a great success. The Museum has been recently refurbished and is not run down in any way. We are disappointed to be losing all the photographs and exhibits to London and there has been a lot of local action to try to prevent this happening, including David Hockney’s recent comments. I thought when I read some of these comments that I had clicked onto a Daily Mail comments page by mistake – I often read them when I want a good laugh!

    • Paul Moore says:

      So, David, my comments about burning mills and disorder in the city are “nonsense”, are they? Which planet have you been living on since 1972? With all due respect, you are either completely out of touch with reality or you are walking around with your eyes and ears closed. Two mills have been burned down in Bradford in the past 12 months alone and there have been several recent arson attacks on family homes and other properties.

      Drummonds Mill in Manningham was burned to the ground in January this year. Did that one slip your notice? Since you don’t seem to follow what’s happening in your own city, you can read about it here:

      And what about this in November 2015: Prospect Mills in Thornton severely damaged by fire:

      You can read more about it here:

      And this:

      And clearly you missed this one, as well: A five-story mill in Little Germany set on fire in August 2014:—7618993

      And this in October last year:

      And in early 2015 an arson attack destroyed the clubhouse of Bradford model boating club:

      Need I go on?

      These are just a few of the numerous arson attacks that have taken place in Bradford over recent years, so please don’t say that you find the truth “offensive and very wrong”. There is no “North versus South prejudice” here. I’m from Sunderland. That makes me even more northern than you!

      I have great affection for Bradford, but facts are facts. You are right when you say that Bradford is close to “some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain and has a fantastic history and welcoming people”. Sadly, some of those people also enjoy setting fire to buildings (although I suspect that some were insurance claims). You are also right when you say that Lister Park (I presume you mean Lister Park) with its lake and fountains “has become a centre for cultural activities and has been a great success”.

      Unfortunately, the center of the city is a disgrace and many wonderful old buildings – many of them mills – around the city have been either allowed to rot or have been the objects of arson attacks. If you want proof, I took multiple photos of abandoned and destroyed buildings in Bradford when I lived there in 2011-2012 and when I stayed there for a few weeks in 2014. Even better: go for a walk around your own city, but this time with your eyes open.

      If you thought you were reading the Daily Mail when you read some of the comments here, you were sadly mistaken. So please feel free to have a good laugh! After all, its your city that’s crumbling around you while you live in denial.

      I know many Bradford people – some of them good friends – who are disgusted with the things that are happening in Bradford at the moment: arson attacks, people leaving litter everywhere, neglected buildings, lack of effective policing, drugs and alcohol abuse, vandalism etc.

      Finally, you are right when you say that “the Museum has been recently refurbished and is not run down in any way”. I know that people are disappointed to be “losing all the photographs and exhibits to London”, and so they should be. I also know that there has been a lot of local action to try to prevent this happening, including David Hockney’s comments (Salts Mill is absolutely wonderful, by the way: But there must be a reasons for the move. Perhaps you could find out what that reason is.

      I apologize if the truth is painful. Sadly, it often is.


      Here are a few more news items to keep you occupied:

      Drive-by shooting (2013):

      Another drive-by shooting:

      • David Thompson says:

        Hi Paul,
        Have you any evidence that there are more arson attacks and violent crime in Bradford than in Leeds, Wakefield, or Huddersfield or any other large Northern town? Have you any evidence that London has less arson and violent crime than Bradford, per head of population? Have you any evidence that there are more derelict buildings in Bradford, per square mile, than parts of London or other northern towns? The Park I was referring to is the City park in the centre of Bradford which has the mirror pool and fountains you were talking about in your earlier comments. As for keeping my eyes open I am a photographer!

        • Paul Moore says:

          David, Bradford city centre is immeasurably smaller than Leeds or London. You can walk through the centre in about 20 minutes, that’s how small it is. It makes no sense to compare Bradford with Leeds, and especially not with London, which is gigantic. The Metropolitan Borough of Bradford is massive, but the city itself is surprisingly small.

          The point of this thread was to respond to Gwyn’s post about the National Media Museum being moved to London. It’s irrelevant whether or not there are more arson attacks and violent crimes in Bradford than in Leeds, Wakefield, Huddersfield or London. One thing I’m certain of, however, is that when I moved to Bradford in June 2011, I was shocked by how many derelict buildings there were in and around the centre. Some of the mills had already been (or were in the process of being) converted into so-called luxury apartments, but many mills were in a terribly state; literally empty shells full of garbage and rubble. I have photos to prove this. Bradford was a mess when I arrived in June 2011, it was a mess when I left for New York in May 2012, and it was still a mess when my wife and I stayed there for 2 weeks in July 2014. That’s the truth and I’m sorry if it hurts you.

          I can’t provide the evidence you ask for and I have no idea why they’re going to move the museum. It’s a terrible decision as far as I’m concerned. All I know is that crime is on the increase in Bradford and this fact can’t be ignored. A lot of people want to see Bradford rise from the ashes, but a much larger number don’t give a damn, and these are the people who are wrecking the place.

          You say that you are a photographer and you keep your eyes open. Why, then, did you say that my comments about burning mills and disorder in the city were nonsense? As I said in my last post, two mills have been burned down in Bradford in the past 12 months alone and there have been several recent arson attacks on other properties. Do you still think that my comments were nonsense?

          I suspect that, along with money, the numerous arson attacks and the rise in crime influenced the decision to move the museum. London has immeasurably more tourists than Bradford, and tourists spend lots of money.

          At the end of the day, Bradford is its own worst enemy. It used to be a thriving mill town with merchants from all over the world. But those days are gone and racial unrest, arson attacks and drive-by shootings aren’t helping matters.

          Sorry, but it’s time to open your eyes.

          • Simon Forty says:

            Can’t believe what I’m reading. The argument seems to be (a) Bradford is a crime-ridden dump so (b) let’s take anything of value away, send it to London (where it will get subsumed within a million other sights and destinations) and leave Bradford to rot. With a subtext that says anyway who cares it’s more like Asia than Europe! Sorry, Mr Moore, so wrong on so many counts.

  10. Gwyn Headley says:

    Passions have certainly run high here if young Simon’s been drawn in to the discussion. As I haven’t been to Bradford since the 1980s I really can’t comment, except to say that the point of my original blog post was a plea for decentralisation. London has enough stuff already; let places like Bradford, for good or bad, have at least a shot at glory.

    • Paul Moore says:

      To Gwyn: I agree with you. Let places like Bradford have a shot at glory. Bradford is very dear to me and the museum is great. In a perfect world, it should stay in Bradford.

      To Simon Forty: Why can’t you believe what you’re reading? Did you really find my suggestions so outrageous. I even supplied plenty of evidence to support my comments. So what part of what I said can’t you believe? You say that I’m wrong on so many counts. Do you say this as an authority on Bradford? You sound so sure of yourself, yet anyone who knows Bradford well will agree with me. If they don’t, they’re in denial. I never implied that it was okay to move the museum to London. I was simply putting forward suggestions as to why the powers that be might have decided on such a course of action. I don’t like it any more than you do.

      If you’re an authority on Bradford, I’d like to know why you don’t agree with me. This is a civilized debate and I’m more than happy to back down if I’m proven wrong; but please don’t say that I’m so wrong on so many counts without producing some evidence. I look forward to your response. 🙂