I’m going to visit the city of Bradford next week – now the curry capital of the UK, so I’ll definitely be trying out curry and banghan bharta.
But the main reason I’m going, is because the protagonist of the novel I’m working on comes from there. Her name is Annie and she was one of thousands of girls and young women who moved to Bradford to get work in a woolen mill. Here is a picture of what I imagine her to look like.
Originally Bradford was a small market town, with a population of about 7000 people. Up until about 1800, women came from the surrounding villages to sell their spun wool and cloth. But as technology developed, the home-spun work these women did couldn’t compete with the hundreds of yards of fabric that could be produced every day in the mills of Bradford.
It ended the century’s-old spinning and weaving tradition in the countryside. As a result, thousands of girls and women migrated to Bradford from the surrounding towns to get work in the factories, swelling the population to nearly 200,000 by 1850.
By then the city had earned a reputation for being the wool capital of the world, but at a cost. There were frequent outbreaks of typhus and cholera and mill workers in the city had a life expectancy 20 years.
More than 200 chimneys spewed out sulphurous smoke, polluted the waterways with dyes and other chemicals and had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in England.
Annie and her sister Mavis are only 10 when they get pawned off by their orphanage, and sent to work 12-14 hours a day in one of the textile factories in Bradford