In Praise of Cartwright Hall and Ostentatious Architecture

Whilst wandering around ListerPark the other day, I was impressed, as I often am, by Cartwright Hall. Stood gazing at a wonderful, beautiful, awe-inspiring building, I wondered why we don’t do buildings like we used to.

Living close to ListerPark, wanders round the gardens are a frequent pleasure. Cartwright Hall, one of Bradford’s art galleries and a sublime building, sits in the Park’s grounds, managing to own the landscape without dominating it, managing to be ever-present without being intrusive. When you look at it, though, it sings.

The other day, my thoughts went off and I wondered about buildings. My mind quickly turned to York Minster, in my eyes the greatest building I’ve ever seen. I considered the intricacies, the effort, the amazing feats of engineering such buildings are. I looked closer at Cartwright Hall, built when Bradford was the Empire’s Silicon Valley and richer than it ever would be again. I considered the delicate carvings, the conscious effort to impress and amaze, the outlandish, ostentatious expression this building represents. The architect and stonemasons must have said Let’s do summat special here and that they did. Angels, cherubim and seraphim look down from on high, and some visit you on the mortal coil and smile upon us. Towers tower and huge blocks of local stone stand immovable making statements and testament to the city’s wealth and stature and presence. The stone work is carefully carved to look exquisitely crafted yet natural, showing what Bradford is or was famed for: doing stuff with nature to the amazement of the rest of the world. Cartwright Hall shows us just how big Bradford’s boots were.

I thought about today’s great buildings and they are incomparable. Huge swathes of glass, glass and more glass, reflecting rather than drawing in the eye. They are big – huge – but where’s the beauty, the craftsmanship, the care? Does size matter that much? Maybe, in today’s world, it does. We’ve stopped building buildings and started throwing up steel and glass towers, from nought to 100 storeys in a few months. Where are the intricate novelties, the follies, the carvings created solely to please the eye? We don’t do that anymore. La Sagrada Famillia maybe the last building built to the lasting glory of God and hubris of man.

And that’s a shame, because what will inspire the everyday buildings?

The streets of Manningham have personality and individuality. Each row is slightly different from the last – just take a look at the windows with the variety of shapes and sizes. Built to house mill workers, some of the poorest people in a city of unimaginable riches, the architects and builders cared, putting in Bradford’s personality into the stone and mortar inspired, no doubt, by Bradford’s big boys, the mills. Now, new homes are boxes, uniform, dispassionate, barren and dry. And why? Money. Ease. Simplicity.

We don’t build Cartwright Halls anymore. We don’t indulge ourselves. Maybe we should. If we build great buildings, maybe we’ll be inspired to be great again.


About jatkinson1977

I'm in my 30s and married to Sharon, the beautiful woman who keeps me in check. We live in Shipley, just outside Bradford, with our black lab, Nipper. I'm an English teacher in secondary school and, after working as a Teaching & Learning Consultant with the local authority, have returned to the classroom to become a Lead Professional in English at a large comp in Bradford. I'm also trying to become a little more cultured, especially by seeing what culture's right here on my doorstep in Bradford and West Yorkshire (please see my blog, 'Am I Kulchad Yet?'). I've got a third and final blog which is filled with things that, essentially, don't fit into the other two but are interesting enough to share (please see my blog, 'Things That Occur To Me').
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6 Responses to In Praise of Cartwright Hall and Ostentatious Architecture

  1. Rachel says:

    Great blog as always John. I am getting married at Cartwright Hall next year and then we are going to stroll through the lovely park to our reception venue… I can’t wait! 🙂


    • That sounds amazing! We’d looked at Cartwright Hall for our wedding but plumped for a Dales wedding instead.

      Enjoy your day. Such a salubrious setting bodes well for a perfect day and a long and happy marriage.


  2. PETER FOX says:



  3. Love the sentiment, I couldn’t agree more. The time, effort and money that went into some of Bradford’s buildings is amazing. Many of these building are now in areas that have fallen on hard times but the quality of the buildings still shines through,


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