Not Bad Bradford…

The phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is a bit of an overused cliché these days but it might have been coined with industrial Bradford in mind.

It’s been plagued (1558), sacked (by Royalists in the civil war 1643), un-sacked (by the other side in 1644), plagued again (1645) and still managed to grow from the village noted in the Domesday book with a population of some three hundred to the half million souls living in the city today.

It was during the industrial revolution that Bradford really found its mojo. Dark and Satanic though the mills may have been, the city had the all ingredients necessary to create an industrial and financial rock star: product (textiles), fuel (labour – both native and immigrant) and transport links (Leeds-Liverpool canal).

It was probably a less-than-charming place to be before building regulations started the job, in 1854, that the slum clearance projects would go on to complete through the late 1800s. The model village built by the visionary Titus Salt in 1853 must have seemed a very Eden in comparison to the inner city, what price those enlightened living and working conditions in a time when children routinely worked twelve hour days?

Bradford’s more civilised than that now but there are nods to the old days dotted around the city; The Alhambra theatre and Cartright Hall dominate city views and speak of an industrial powerhouse right into the 20th century.

As rich as the history of Bradford is, our interest is the beers and the brewers and it’s not hard to find them. The Metropolitan Borough, the extended city, is home to a population of 1.5 million people and a solidly eclectic mix of brewers big and small, past and present.

Perhaps the brewer that evokes the fondest of memories locally is Hey’s, a family brewer which began life in 1874 when Joseph Hey and his uncle William started the business as bottlers and ‘Ale & Porter Merchants’.

Hey’s would grow their pub estate significantly before being sold to Samuel Webster, along with their 73 pubs, in 1966. Webster’s would go on to be acquired by Watney Mann in 1972 who, via an acquisition of themselves by Wilson’s in 1985 would eventually be swallowed up by Grand Met which, ultimately, morphed into the pubco giant Enterprise Inns.

That really should have been the end of the Hey’s story with the pubs nothing but memories and the brewery an interesting anecdote for historians but, for one remarkable lady, the story was a little more personal.

Having known that there was a family connection to the brewer Kathryn Hey embarked on a research project that would see the Hey’s beers back on bars in Bradford.

How does that happen? How does a piqued curiosity about beers not brewed for fifty years  end up with those beers resurrected and winning awards?

Kathryn filled the gaps for me:

“After two years research including finding Malcolm’s (Malcolm Toft – Local brewery historian / beer genius!) notes at Bradford Local Studies Library on some of the history of Hey’s brewery I decided it might be a nice idea to commission a brew to mark 50 years since Hey’s closed. That idea of a one-off brew turned into a mini business as a result of its success.

The details for the original Gold Cup, along with details about the brewery and the brewing process, were given to Malcolm Toft by Graham Coates; an ex Hey’s brewer. Graham’s father William Ray Coates was also a brewer at Hey’s.

Malcolm and I then set out to find a brewery to brew our beer. People who helped with original tasting and testing of the 50th year commemoration brew, Hey’s Gold, were a couple of ex Hey’s Brewery workers; Geoff Poole and Andrew Reed. 

Marje Wilson, an ex House of Hey’s barmaid, pulled the first pint at the beer’s launch . 

Also present were Marie Hallam, whose parents had both worked for Hey’s, and various CAMRA members including Malcolm. Our beer, Hey’s Gold, was based on the original Gold Cup and we won two awards at the Halifax & Calderdale festival.

I think the reason it has been successful is because it’s a Bradford name which people grew up with. They have fond memories of the former brewery and its pubs, they want to be part of it and love it being resurrected.  

People have enjoyed telling me their memories, anything from drinking the original ale to telling me about their  parents running one of the Hey’s pubs. It has helped people reconnect with the city they lived and grew up in; they can identify with it because it’s part of their history. 

People are drawn in because they say it is a fascinating story; it’s a nice beer too so that helps!  It’s a traditional tasting beer which has also appealed to the younger generation, partly because of the story; one girl’s grandfather for instance used to drink Gold Cup”.

There were two beers brought to life by this project. Hey’s Gold at 4.2% and Hey’s Premium Gold at 4.5%. Currently the beers are unavailable following the demise of Bradford Brewery in August 2018, Kathryn is hopeful that another local brewer can be found soon.

There’s a wider story to Hey’s, far too much for us to cover here, the stories around the ladies football team formed in the 1920s and the ladies cricket team, the first working class ladies cricket team in post war England, are fascinating and speak to the notion of community and inclusivity that runs so deep through the city.

For the curious, Malcolm Toft’s Real Beer News website can be found online ( and there’s a very active and welcoming Facebook group called Hey’s Golden Memories.


Modern Rock Stars

Modern Bradford retains its brewing traditions and has thrown up a few rock stars of its own. The larger Metropolitan area of  Bradford is now is home to enough brewers to keep most of us interested as long as we are interested in beer.

Timothy Taylor’s Landlord seems to have gone pretty much global and Saltaire are heading that way with their recent expansion. There are lots of craft brewers too, the list looks like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the brewing world:  Bradford, Salamander, Bone Idle (aka Laid Back) Saltaire, Beespoke, Ghost, Junction, Bingley, Old Spot, Timothy Taylor, Goose Eye, Bridgehouse, Wishbone, Ilkley, Wharfedale and Cobbydale.

An eclectic mix for sure, although it’s sad to note the recent demise of Bradford.

We contacted a couple who we felt represented the vibrant beer scene that the city has going on; Bone Idle and Wishbone. Two brewers who are passionate about their products and have a story we like.

Community is a running theme with those we spoke to for this piece; there’s a social conscience alive and well in this city.

Bone Idle

We started with Jimmy at Bone Idle:

“I started brewing at the age of 18 with no real success, just producing muddy and sugary rubbish. Then, once I bought the two-hundred-year-old Brigg’s Draper’s shop I decided to open a micropub.

After six months it was time to develop the beautiful barn behind the building. Initially it was going to be my workshop, I’m a joiner by trade, but as soon as I started I realised it would make a great brewery and so it was to be.

I bought a 100 litre kit from Elite Stainless in Swindon and spent six months developing our first beer, Draper’s Gold, with the former head of sales for Brewdog.

Following our move into the brewery we set about developing our three core beers: Gold, Citra and Cascade along with the odd experimental bitter, stout and IPA.

Alongside the brewery we now run a  club helping people who may be struggling with anxiety or depression and other community activities such as Spanish classes and a regular hairdresser who visits every Tuesday.

We also sponsor my beloved Bradford City plus Eccleshill United and a couple of junior football clubs.” 

There’s also a really nice scheme they operate where people can come and brew their own beers, such as the recent Darwin’s Pint-Size Explorer brewed at 4% to celebrate the birth of  Darwin.



Leeds Beer Week 2016 by Mark Newton Photography

Wishbone represent the modern for sure. They’re a nimble brewery with a cracking range and an eye on the future.

Adrian, a mechanical engineer by trade but now head brewer and brains behind the operation, earned his brewing spurs over at Saltaire. In fact, Adrian credits Tony Gartland, owner of Saltaire, with great moral support as the plan for Wishbone became reality.

They have a brewery tap at their home base in Keighley where brewing commenced on 28th August 2015 and they produce an interesting array of beers, mostly cask at the moment but they feel that kegging suits some of their products and that keykeg is slowly gaining some traction.

The brewery tap currently opens a couple of weekends each month, check online for opening hours and events, and they team up with a Keighley restaurant, the Lemon Tree, who bring Mexican, Spanish and Greek food to the party.

The current beer line up includes Black Porter at 6%. Bleep, a dry hopped session IPA at 3.5%. Blonde at 3.6%. Dassler, an NZ Helles lager at 4.2%. Drover, a session bitter at 4.2%. Flux, a session pale at 4.1%. Gohan Lager at 5.5%. Night Star, a session IPA at 3.7%. Black Imp Imperial Stout at 8.7%. Tiller Pin, a session pale at 4.2% and Zoikes which is an American pale coming in at 4.2%.

Apart from their own customer base at the brewery tap, the Wishbone range can be found at several outlets locally and as far afield as Settle and Liverpool. They brew on a bespoke 10 barrel plant built by Pureweld in Mirfield with the fermenting vessels, one 5 barrel and one 10 barrel, being imported separately.

Wishbone see at least part of their future in the small pack market space and with their budget being eaten up by the initial and ongoing brewery investment are considering crowd funding in order to pull forward the time horizon and get the products in front of customers before the end of the year; watch this space for updates.

Not Bad Bradford

Sometimes you go looking for an interesting story about beer and end up with just that plus something unexpected and Bradford delivered that. The city has great brewing roots but great people as well and in the end this is as much a people story as a beer story.

The warmth and nostalgia for a lost treasure, and then support for a new treasure, speaks of deep roots spanning the generations and that inclusivity, that sense of community, to be found at Bone Idle and Wishbone are elements now lost to many communities.

Not bad Bradford; not bad at all.



 Wishbone Images: Mark Newton Photography

Hey’s Images: Brewery History Society Archive

Bradford (City) Images: Wikimedia Commons / Jonfarman / Kaly99

Thanks are due to Dave Whitaker, Kathryn Hey, Malcolm Toft, Adrian at Wishbone and Jimmy at Bone Idle for their help in putting this article together.