The early development of Valley Parade, 1886-1908

A number of people have asked for details about the historic development of Valley Parade and this feature provides some background as well as links to other online references. You can find historic photographs of Valley Parade from this link and others will be uploaded in the future. The following is intended principally to provide some context to the footprint of the ground and its evolution.
The origins of Valley Parade is told in my book Room at the Top (volume #3 in the BANTAMSPAST History Revisited series) which includes previously unpublished material and details of the ground in its early existence discovered during the course of my research.

The Valley Parade that existed in 1985 was generally recognisable from the stadium that had been developed in 1908. Between 1903 (when Bradford City AFC was elected to the Football League) and 1908 Valley Parade was transformed through a series of projects that were relatively ingenious in terms of developing a ground capable of hosting Division One football within the physical constraints that existed. The story of that development is best told through comparison of historic maps which also demonstrate the extent to which the housing in the immediate surroundings of Valley Parade has disappeared.

Architect's plan for the development of Valley Parade.

We start with the plan (above) for the original development of Valley Parade in 1886 by Manningham FC. The story of the origins of the ground is told here.

The early history of Valley Parade continued to be closely linked to that of Bradford’s railways. The background to the latter and the story of the saga for a cross-town rail link in Bradford can be found from this link.

VP 1900

This map shows Valley Parade in 1900 with its uncovered grandstand (better described as a viewing platform).

The original grandstand dated from 1885 and was transferred from Manningham FC’s Carlisle Road ground to Valley Parade in 1886 – an open viewing platform that was reassembled at the new ground. By 1897 the timbers had rotted and it was condemned as unsafe by Bradford Corporation who bought the timbers which were used for the civic bonfire to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years as monarch, 1837-97).

During the 1897 close season new terracing was developed on the South Parade side of the ground comprising 25 steps which it was claimed could accommodate 10,000 people. In the centre section a new uncovered ‘grandstand’ was erected as shown in this map and which can be seen in the archive footage of Bradford City AFC’s first ever game in September, 1903: refer BFI Mitchell & Kenyon archive.

Manningham FC had originally intended to develop a ‘pavilion’ on the site – by which was meant a covered stand, the term ‘grandstand’ being used by Victorians to describe a basic viewing platform. Other plans for dressing rooms were also deferred until funds would allow and in the meantime the club resorted to use of the Belle Vue Hotel. (The story of the Belle Vue is told on VINCIT)

Until 1908 there was little depth to the Bradford end whilst at the opposite end of the ground the terracing was limited to probably no more than 20 steps. At the top of those was a flat area which can also be seen in the 1886 plans. The Midland Road side was similarly cramped with a pathway to the road.

The photo below is of the Midland Road side from 1903. It was then bordered by a 20ft advertisement hoarding on which people can be seen sitting on the occasion of the first ever FL game at the ground.

The northern part of South Parade is now covered by the main stand at Valley Parade, extended in 2000. The reason why the stand does not extend the length of the field is that otherwise it would block the thoroughfare between Valley Parade (ie the road up the hillside) and Holywell Ash Lane at the back of the Bradford end.

vp1906 (2)
This map published in 1906 shows the dressing rooms constructed in 1903 in the south west corner of the ground on the Bradford end adjoining the pitch. The illustration below is also from 1906.

Valley Parade 1906.jpg
The grandstand was by this stage covered (completed January, 1904). In the north west corner a retaining wall from Burlington Terrace bounded the ground. At the corner of the playing field this would have been at least 20 feet high.

VP 1908

The above shows Valley Parade in 1908 by which stage the Bradford end had been extended and the pitch moved towards the Manningham end by re-developing the north-west corner of the ground. This was achieved through the demolition of the Burlington Terrace retaining wall and the creation of (curved) terraces. A tunnel connected the pitch with the cellar of the bottom property in Burlington Terrace that was used for offices and dressing rooms.

The extension of the Manningham end terraces was commenced in the close season of 1906 and finally completed the following February. This was banked to create the kop, originally known as Nunn’s Kop (link here to background about John Nunn who masterminded the development of the ground) and latterly as the Spion Kop.

The main stand was extended the full length of South Parade in 1907 and was covered. (You can find background here about the construction of the old main stand.) This structure was the one that burned down in 1985. (Photos below taken by myself in August, 1983.)

This view of Valley Parade in 1951 was much the same as it had been in 1908.

1951 VPde stand and Bfd End

The risk of fire at Valley Parade was clearly discounted when the main stand was erected. Or rather, the implicit assumption was that any risk of fire could be managed. It was not as if grandstand fires were unheard of – my own research has identified at least nine cases of fire between 1900 and the construction of the main stand at Valley Parade: Liversedge (1900); Darlington (1901); Swinton (1901); Hearts (1903); Celtic (1904); Nottingham Forest (1904); Falkirk (1907); Penarth, Cardiff (1907); Burton United (1907). Wood was used in the construction of stands at other grounds and the potential risk of fire was accepted as an occupational hazard – at Park Avenue, in September, 1897 a fire in the grandstand had been reported incidental to the account of the game itself. No-one could have imagined the probability of a fatal disaster. But what tended to encourage complacency was not just that there had been no fire-related deaths; incidences of fire had tended to be when grounds were unoccupied and therefore the risk was associated with sinister reasons rather than as an issue of crowd safety.

The irony is that even when completed in 1907, the structure was always considered to be of a temporary nature and its design was deliberately basic to allow for the possibility of it being transported to another ground given that the club had concerns over security of its tenure at Valley Parade. (The concept of a portable structure was consistent with the practice in 1886 when Manningham FC’s wooden grandstand had been transported from Carlisle Road to Valley Parade.) In 1912 and again in 1919 the club looked at the possibility of constructing a permanent cantilever stand on the South Parade side (to replace the temporary structure) but financial constraints prevented this coming to fruition.

Throughout its existence Valley Parade had always drawn unfavourable comparison with Park Avenue, considered the more prestigious of the two grounds. In contrast Valley Parade was considered far more basic, utilitarian and undeveloped. The early reputation of the ground was also damaged by the tragic death in 1888 of a spectator on the Midland Road side when a boy had been crushed with the collapse of a boundary fence. The boy had been sat pitch side and the fence had collapsed on top of him with the weight of the crowd.

The Bradford Observer of 26 December, 1888 reported that ‘an accident of a shocking and unprecedented nature in this district happened on the ground of the Manningham Football Club, Valley Parade yesterday. Painful to a degree in itself, the occurrence was rendered all the more distressing by reason of the presence of, it is calculated, about 10,000 people.’ The matter of fact editorial referred to his instantaneous death. (Further detail provided in my book Room at the Top).

The ‘low-side’ – the Midland Road side – remained undeveloped but in 1906 a single bench was constructed that ran along its full length to provide seating. Football architect Archibald Leitch was commissioned to build a new stand in the close season of 1908 and the photo below shows the part completed stand at the time of Bradford City’s first home fixture in Division One against Manchester City in September, 1908.

City v Man City Sep-08

Leitch’s Midland Road stand was constructed with ferro-concrete (at the time an innovative approach) and opened on Christmas Day, 1908. In 1907 Leitch had designed the new stand at Park Avenue that faced both the football and cricket pitches, another innovative structure that provided a solution to constraints of space.

1908 Mid rd stand

The stand featured an impressive central gable, originally adorned with the coat of arms. The image below is from 1949 which illustrates the gable and the ornate steel work that provided a distinct character. Because of its elevated position it was vulnerable to gale damage and to an extent this was remedied by later including ventilation gaps in the rear structure, evident in the photo.

Originally it was intended that the Midland Road stand should be all-seater but it was decided to make this standing in order to optimise capacity. It held roughly 8,000 and addressed the need for covered accommodation, a critical investment to ensure that gates were not adversely impacted by bad weather.

Midland Road stand 1940

In 1907 there had been discussion about constructing cantilever stands on each side of the ground. Presumably Archibald Leitch did not entertain this concept on the Midland Road side on the basis that it would have been an expensive proposition. However the idea of a cantilever stand on the South Parade side was revived just before the outbreak of World War One. Whilst this was considered as a means to further increase seating capacity, lack of finance meant that it was never progressed and by 1922 the project was finally dismissed as unaffordable. Hence the temporary Main Stand that had been extended in 1907 became permanent by default and remained in place until the fire of 1985.

After the Bolton tragedy in 1946, the stand was condemned on account of safety concerns relating to steep exit stairways to the road below. In 1948 the club was ordered to reduce its capacity and to restrict access to the rear which was sectioned off. (Refer to this link for further detail / images of the circumstances in 1948/49.)

VP 1957

The 1908 footprint of the ground remained unchanged until redevelopment in 1986. In the meantime the principal alterations were: (i) the demolition of the Midland Road stand (begun in 1949 and completed in 1952) and its replacement with a series of modest covers – photograph above shows the cover erected in 1954; (ii) the construction of the current office block and dressing rooms in the south west corner in 1961 (that involved demolition of part of the stand to accommodate); (iii) the subsequent demolition of the Burlington Terrace properties that had served as club offices and changing rooms; and (iv) the covering of the Bradford end in 1961.

Compare the photo below of the Kop from August, 1983 with that 75 years before (as above). The principal changes in that period had been the addition of segregation fences and a scoreboard.

1983 VP v Sheff Utd G

The photograph below was taken on 11th May, 1985 in the aftermath of the fire (rotated to provide comparison with the maps).

VP 11-may-85 X

The stand that caught fire was the same structure as that erected in 1907 which was always intended to be of a temporary and portable nature, a subtle but crucial point previously overlooked in earlier accounts of the history of Valley Parade. Even at the time of its construction it had always been intended that the stand would be replaced.

The then Midland Road cover (at the time of the disaster) was relatively narrow and until 1985 the remains of the ferro-concrete foundations of the former Archibald Leitch designed stand from 1908 could still be seen at the rear. (Refer to photos from this link.)

Links to other archive photos of Valley Parade

Valley Parade: Then and Now


The story of the origins of Valley Parade and its early development as a Football League ground is told in my books ROOM AT THE TOP and LIFE AT THE TOP published as part of the BANTAMSPAST HISTORY REVISITED series. These include previously overlooked yet crucial details about the development of the ground that were not included in earlier publications about its history. If anyone has any specific questions about the historic development of Valley Parade, by all means contact me by email as below. I am also keen to be put in touch with people with archive images of the ground for future publication in a book.

The above menu provides links to other features that I have written about the history of Bradford sport as well as articles published in the BCAFC programme and book reviews.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Updates are tweeted @jpdewhirst and I can be contacted by email at johnpdewhirst at geeeeeeeeemail dotttt commmmmm.