Station Road is now Halifax Road. The six cottages of Bull Row are long gone, demolished in 1969. The terrace had taken its name from the Black Bull, the much older and more substantial building to which it was loosely attached. But the inn, set further back, survived the road widening scheme which swept away Bull Row.
The date that the terrace was pulled down is known, because Edgar went to photograph his condemned childhood home, or at least the back and end views. His pictures are not very clear, and later they were torn up – accidentally, it seems, before being sellotaped back together, not very successfully. ‘The Bull Row, Millbridge’, he wrote on one, ‘September 1969, shortly before demolition. 3rd lowest window was our cellar window’. The walls look firm and straight, but the cottages’ position straight on to the road meant that they were doomed by the highway improvements.
In any event dwellings like these would not have survived the attentions of Spenborough’s public health officials and their energetic programme of destruction in the 1970s. The houses of Bull Row were too small, and too short on amenities, for the modern age. It’s difficult to see how they might have been improved. As the photographs make clear, they were ‘blind back’, without rear entrance or openings above ground level. Directly behind them ran the Tanhouse beck, heading to its junction with the river Spen. At times the beck rose up and flooded the Bull Row cellars.
Why did Edgar not photograph the frontage? He lived carefully, spent sparingly, and still considered photography something of an extravagance all those years later. So he took, or asked someone else to take, only those views not elsewhere recorded. He already kept an image of Station Road, the postcard taken around 1908 or 1910, on which almost the whole of Bull Row appears. Edgar stored the three pictures together. His eyesight was very poor by then, so he used a magnifying glass to study the postcard, the tram, the traffic, the passers by. And, poignantly as it now emerges: ‘Note the ladies standing at the door on the right-hand side of the photograph.’ The penny, though, did not drop for him: the women were talking at the door of his grandparents’ house, and among them, one dressed in pale colours with her back to the house wall is Emma Matthews herself.
There is no doubt about this. The bearing and the features are the same as in another image of the grandmother standing alone in her doorway.
From Ordnance Survey maps published in 1894 and later, it seemed that in length, Bull Row was less than 100 feet, 30 metres. The house farthest from the Black Bull appeared slightly tapering, a little smaller than the rest. The others were roughly square in plan. None had more than a cellar, a ground-floor room, and over that the bedroom. More accuracy about the size did not seem possible.
The site, partly lost to Halifax Road, was not otherwise built on and is grassed and planted with small trees. Tanhouse beck, still open before disappearing beneath Halifax Road, confines it at the rear. But then I made a discovery, proof to myself yet again how important, in my sort of landscape-based history, it is to go and look. For yes, the site was cleared and some of it was swallowed by a main road. But a full length of the terrace’s back wall has been retained, as a boundary along the beckside. And, a marvel, it reveals the dividing lines between the houses. So now we know, that each house was 16ft 6 inches, 5 metres. Although they can’t be measured front to back, the maps are clear that the dimension was about the same.
And that is Bull Row.
The Station Road postcard is on another page here.
22 September 2016