TIBSOB Listening Notes – Bradford Canal 1774

This information adds to the experience of listening to the Bradford Canal 1774 audio story created by The Informal Busing Society of Bradford. You can also find a transcript of the recording here. Written and recorded in Autumn 2022.

Shipley, Bradford

Listen to the story at Canal? What Canal – Stories from the Bradford Canal – Ignite Yorkshire

Historical Notes

The Bradford Canal opened in 1774, around the same time as the nearby section of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was built in Shipley, It was built as a to connect Shipley at Windhill with the centre of the growing city of Bradford. Canals would connect the Bradford to the North Sea and eventually to  Liverpool and beyond to the whole world. Most of goods moved on the canal has short journeys to start with though and in the first years boats were mostly loaded with stone and coal. The original investors in the canal owned coal mines in the area and the canal allowed the iron making and lime kilns to grow locally.

The canal was 3.5 miles long and had ten locks. The place marker is on one of the many bridges that were built over the canal, although nowadays it is hard to imagine the canal even being there.

In 1774 the route of the Bradford Canal between Shipley and Bradford was very rural – it would be several decades before Saltaire and other textile mills would start to develop on a larger scale. It was the beginning a time of invention and innovations that meant that industries would grow. The spinning jenny was invented over in Lancashire the same year that the canal opened and many more new ways to spin and weave in mills were to follow along with larger buildings and more jobs in factories.

Also in the 1770s Britain was increasingly looking beyond this small island to colonise new places and to increase trade overseas. The same decade that the canal was built Captain Cook was arriving in Australia and it was the peak of British involvement in the transatlantic trade in enslaved African people. Connections to new places and transport were important. and new wealth that came from the expansion and exploitation  was invested in more transport, trade and machinery.


We found out that the the first boat along the canal was called The Good Intent but the characters in this story and their names are imagined. We did find out that children worked on the canal, which inspired the character, James.

Our imagined characters from 1774


Narrator:      Paige

Caroline:     Sage

James:        Alistair

Henry:         Tom

Technical team:  Jack, Elliott and Mary


Bradford Canal, 1774 by The Informal Busing Society of Bradford and James Varney

September 1774. Caroline and Henry Richardson, and their horse boy James, are preparing their boat, The Good Intent, for the first voyage down the Bradford Canal, with a load of coal.

Narrator: You are listening to one of three audio stories set during the life of the Bradford Canal in Shipley. These stories were written together with James Varney and the TIBSOBs: The Informal Busing Society Of Bradford. The project was funded by Historic England and delivered by Marie Millward and Nicola Murray for Ignite Yorkshire.

It is September 1774. We join Caroline and Henry Richardson preparing their boat, The Good Intent, to deliver a load of coal down the Bradford Canal. It will be the first boat ever to travel down the canal.

[SFX: Birdsong; the occasional whinnying of a horse; the water of the canal]

Caroline: You made sure Ajax is fed, James?

James: I have.

Caroline: He’ll seize up and get mardy if he’s at all hungry you know.

James: I know. He’s fed, he’s ready.

Caroline: And you all set too? Ready to get going?

James: I am, ready to go.

Henry: Are you biting your nails, love?

Caroline: Maybe I am.

Henry: You shouldn’t bite them so much, you’ll go too far and chew your fingers off one of these days.

Caroline: You’re being silly.

Henry: I’m being very serious. I’m concerned for your fingers. After your fingers, what next, your hand? Your arm?

Caroline: Silly. I’m excited. I’m nervous.

Henry: I know.

Caroline: We’re at the start of something big.

Henry: I agree.

Caroline: These canals, they connect us to the world. We’re here and the water connects us to the whole country.

Henry: And us the very first boat here. The first load of coal, our Ajax the first horse.

Caroline: How much coal do you think they’ll ship along here? Tons and tons, I expect. Thousands of tons.

Henry: Oh millions of tons.

Caroline: Yes, millions! Do you think, in hundreds of years, they’ll know about us, taking the Good Intent down here for the very first time?

Henry: They might do.

Caroline: They might.

Henry: But I think the important part is that we’re here now, I think. Being part of the bigger thing, being here at the start of it. And as long as we’re able to say, as long as we know, we were here. That’s the part that’s important to me.

Caroline: You’re a poet, Henry.

Henry: I’m just a boat driver.

Caroline: Oh Ajax is the driver, you’re much more, Henry. You’re the captain.

Henry: If you say so.

Caroline: So modest.

Henry: Well.

[SFX: Ducks quacking and squabbling]

Caroline: Do you suppose the ducks realise we built this? Do they know it’s new, it’s not a river.

Henry: I don’t know darling.

Caroline: Do you think the ducks ever use the canal? Swim along it all the way from one end to the other?

Henry: I’d like to think so.

Caroline: Yeah.

Henry: Maybe they’ll come with us today. Follow us and the coal all the way.

Caroline: Oh that’d be nice. Have some little friends to keep us company.

Henry: They’ll be chattier than Ajax.

Caroline: Yes, he’s terrible conversation.

Henry: Oh. kingfisher.

Caroline: Oh.

Henry: He’s just gone under. Wait. There he is.

Caroline: You should be an archer with those eyes, Henry.

Henry: Oh spotting birds is the best thing for them. Besides. The boat I can keep how I like it. This is where I belong. Everything in its place, everything tight and clean and where it needs to be and doing what it needs to do.

Caroline: Everything shipshape.

Henry: Just so.

Caroline: Our little ship. Ready to sail.

Henry: Ready to sail.

Caroline: How long do you suppose we’ll last, running our little canal ship?

Henry: Hard to say.

Caroline: Hm. The canal’s here to stay though. No reason this little miracle won’t last.

Henry: Oh true. Hundreds, thousands of years. All eternity, this stretch of water carrying coal to Shipley.

Caroline: And we’ll last a couple of hundred won’t we?

Henry: Oh definitely.

Caroline: That’ll fly by. Sooner than you can imagine it, we’ll be waking up and you’ll be two hundred and twenty-six, I’ll be two hundred and thirty-four. And I’ll say ‘Can you believe it’s our two hundredth anniversary of working on the Bradford Canal?’

Henry: ‘Can’t believe it at all. Seems like it was only this morning we were making our maiden voyage on it.’

Caroline: Seems just like that doesn’t it.

Henry: Hm. Red kite, up there.

Caroline: Where?

Henry: There, see the forked tail.

Caroline: Not seen one of them in a while.

Henry: Must be an omen then.

Caroline: And the pigeons, are they omens?

Henry: Yes, they’re good omens too.

Caroline: And the sparrows.

Henry: The sparrows, very good omens all of them. And the ducks, and the blackbirds, the crows, the goldfinches. The kingfisher. A whole zoo of omens.

Caroline: Good day for a maiden voyage then.

Henry: Very good day for it.

Caroline: Best get going then.

Henry: Mm.

Caroline: James! Get him going, let’s set off.

James: Aye aye.

[SFX: A horse begins clopping along the canal; ropes tightening as he hauls the boat]

Henry: So many good omens. A very good start, I reckon.

Caroline: I reckon you’re right.