TIBSOB Listening Notes – Bradford Canal 1922

This is information to add to the experience of listening to the Bradford Canal 1922 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

Sadly the Bradford Canal did close on 15th July 1922, 148 years after it opened. Over that time the area it passed through changed from a quiet rural one to a wealthy industrial city where two thirds of the country’s wool was processed.

There were lots of reasons why the canal closed but the main one seems to have been the operating costs of the pumping stations that were installed when the canal reopened in 1872. The competition from the railways was not the main threat that Matthew mentions in the story. The canal had been competing with the railways since the Leeds and Bradford Railway opened in 1846. He would not have imagined how cars and trucks would come to dominate how we transport things now, despite the fact that cars were already being made in Bradford by Jowett Motor Company.

In the years after the Bradford Canal closed it was gradually filled in and there is now just one short section of the canal left in Shipley where the canal branched off the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. There now remain clues in the landscape and leftover parts of the canal’s features including the bridge where the place marker is installed. The building next to the bridge, Merchant House, was once a canal-side warehouse and had doors in the side of the building to crane goods directly on and off canal boats. The neighboring building along Dock Lane is one of the lock-side pump houses and the filled in lock forms part of the garden.


In this story we have mixed fact with fiction for the characters. Matthew and Victoria are fictional characters. The owner of the Beta was a man called Ben Wall whose family continued to be involved in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal for many years, We do not know if he was on the boat on that last journey but it is likely that he was.

Two characters in the story have names taken from real people who worked on the canals in the 1920s. They are Tommy Ninetoes, which was the nickname of a man called Tom Carrington, and Joe Salt, who did indeed claim to have worked on every canal in England. We recommend getting your hands on a copy of a book called The Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Yorkshire by Dr Graham Firth where you can see photos of the real Tommy, Joe and also a photograph of the last voyage of the Beta along the Bradford Canal.

1922 Character sketches


Narrator 1:    Sam

Narrator 2:    Grace

Matthew:      Tom

Victoria:        Maisie

Joe:              Elliott

Tommy:        Jack

Photographer:   Alistair

Technical Team:  Paige, Alistair, Mary






Bradford Canal, 1922 by The Informal Busing Society of Bradford and James Varney

July 15th 1922. Victoria and Matthew Richardson are on the Beta, a steamer and the final boat to travel down the Bradford Canal.

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 the 15th of July, 1922. We join Victoria and Matthew Richardson on the Beta, a steamer barge, and the last boat to travel down the Bradford Canal.

[SFX: The engine of the boat; the water of the canal; indistinct conversation from the men at the front of the boat]

Victoria: I don’t see why we have to give everyone a ride.

Matthew: Victoria.

Victoria: They’ve got legs haven’t they? Why couldn’t they walk?

Matthew: They wanted a ride. They wanted to be part of history.

Victoria: Part of history, what history?

Matthew: The canal. This is it, the end of an era. And we’re here for it. People will remember this. They’ll talk about how the Beta was the last boat to go down the Bradford Canal.

Victoria: You talk like we’ll be famous.

Matthew: Not famous, just here. And the boys wanted to be here for it too.

Victoria: And they all had to be on our boat.

Matthew: Well they got up a little late.

Victoria: Your man Joe Salt he’s ancient enough – he’s been around for most of history, you’d think he’d be sick of history.

Matthew: He’s a man of the world, Victoria, he’s /worked every canal-

Victoria: /Yes, he’s worked every canal in England, I’ve heard.

Matthew: He has.

Victoria: I don’t believe it.

Matthew: Well.

Victoria: And so what if he has? He’s worked every canal? That sounds to me like he’s good at getting fired. He’s worked every canal… If he was good at what he did, wouldn’t he just work on one canal? He’d be able to stay in one place wouldn’t he?

Matthew: Maybe he likes seeing the world. Travelling the country. The canal is for people who don’t like being tied down. Restless people.

Victoria: Well give me ‘tied down’ any day if it means getting indoors. Restless? More like windswept, more like freezing my fingers off.

[SFX – steam train whistle]

Matthew: Ugh. Trains. Horrible things.

Victoria: Mm.

Matthew: Noisy, smelly, ugly. Dangerous things!

Victoria: I know, Matthew.

Matthew: You get hit by a barge, you get nudged aside, maybe you get a bruise, if you’re really unlucky maybe you break something.

Victoria: Yes.

Matthew: You can walk away, is what I’m saying. But a train – you get hit by a train you’ll be marmalized, a train will turn you into paste.

Victoria: Thanks Matthew, I’ll make sure I keep away from trains.

Matthew: They won’t let you. They’ll keep putting in train lines everywhere, keep connecting everything with steel. We’ll have trains coming out of our ears. What’s wrong with canals? What’s wrong with them?

Victoria: Canals are slow.

Matthew: Hmph.

Victoria: Everyone wants things quickly these days, they can’t wait around. Things are going to change, Matthew. They’ll keep changing.

Matthew: Hmm.

Victoria: And I think we should consider making a change from the canal.

Matthew: No. No. Why?

Victoria: Well we can’t work this route any more can we? And the trains are getting more and more popular, canals are on their way out, Matthew.

Matthew: I can get another job, I’ll find something on the Leeds Liverpool canal. We don’t have to leave the canal.

Victoria: I don’t like the canal. I don’t like the cold, I don’t like the wet. I want to live in one place and I want to live indoors – I want a fire, I want walls between me and the wind.

Matthew: And what about Buster? Keeping him all cooped up in a house, he loves the outdoors, the air, the canals.

Victoria: Are you suggesting your ratty little dog takes priority over your wife?

Matthew: No, it’s just-

Victoria: Because that’s what it sounds like. It sounds like you’re more concerned about Buster’s opinion of how we live than about mine.

Matthew: Victoria, I’m trying to drive, can we talk about this another time?

Victoria: We can talk about it tonight.

Matthew: I’m going to the Bells tonight.

Victoria: Matthew you’re at the Bells every night. We need to talk about the future.

Matthew: I am not. I wasn’t there last night.

Victoria: You’re there a lot.

Matthew: You said every night. Last night I wasn’t there.

Victoria: We weren’t in Shipley last night, don’t be daft.

Matthew: And it’s important I go tonight. It’s historic. It’s a historical event we’re part of, monumental. Me and the boys, we’re celebrating.

Victoria: You and Joe Salt and Tommy Ninetoes?

Matthew: Yeah. And Dick and George – we’re all going to toast the canal, drink to its memory. Celebrate its life.

Victoria: You’re having a wake for the canal.

Matthew: Come if you like.

Victoria: I don’t like. I won’t come.

Matthew: Don’t then. But I’m going. It’s important.

Victoria: It’s important now, is it? Going to the pub.

Matthew: One hundred and forty-eight years old, this canal. One hundred and forty-eight years old, three and a half miles long – that’s three and a half miles of history, more than a century of history, of industry, of livelihoods. Of culture, Victoria. This canal is our culture.

Victoria: One hundred and forty-eight years of husbands finding any excuse for a booze-up.

Matthew: Well and why not? There’s lots of reasons for a booze-up. We’ve so many things to celebrate.

Victoria: Oh aye, you’re very grateful, very jubilant you lads. [Raises her voice] Is that the plan then, Tommy? Lads? Sending off the canal with some beers is it?

[Tommy and Joe are down at the front of the boat, forty or so feet away.]

Tommy: Aye! Down at the Bells, come if you like.

Joe: Yeah, come along Vic! There’ll be a few faces down tonight I should think. Big occasion, this. History this is!

Tommy: Yeah this is historic!

Joe: We’re the last, the very last boat.

Tommy: Come and celebrate with us Vic, yeah?

Victoria: Well, maybe I can have one.

Tommy: That’s the spirit Vic!

Victoria: Here we are then, the last boat.

Matthew: The very last one.

Victoria: Goodbye Bradford Canal… I’m not finished, mind you, Matthew. I want to talk this out. The world is changing and I want to be sure of my place in it, yes?

Matthew: Yes. Yes, fine. We’ll talk about it.

Photographer: Hello!

Matthew: Hello.

Photographer: This is the Beta, isn’t it?

Matthew: That’s right. This is the Beta. I’m Matthew Richardson, what are you after?

Photographer: I’m taking pictures, recording the occasion, for posterity. History. Do you mind?

Matthew: Go on then.

Photographer: Smile!

Matthew: We are smiling.

[SFX: 1920s camera shutter.]