40, North Parade, Bradford BD1 3HR
What happens to beautiful buildings when they no longer have a function? It is a question which, in the past, would apply to churches and chapels. Perhaps it is a sign of the times - but now it seems to be happening to banks. The bank in question is the magnificent old Yorkshire Penny Bank in Bradford. And the answer to the question is - they become bars.
The Yorkshire Penny Bank was founded in 1859 by the Halifax mill-owner and philanthropist, Colonel Edward Akroyd. It's aim was to encourage financial probity amongst the working classes. Its services were specifically directed towards working people - the name came from the fact that you could set up an account with the deposit of just one penny - and individual deposits were restricted to just £30 per year. Within two years of its establishment, the bank had over 100 branches throughout Yorkshire. It pioneered the idea of setting up sub-branches in schools and church halls in order to spread the great philosophical message of freedom through savings. In addition to the little sub-branches, the bank also built palatial banking halls in each of the principal towns and cities of Yorkshire. The Bradford branch was situated at the junction of North Parade and Manor Row. The building is still there although the bank has changed its name to the more prosaic Yorkshire Bank and moved down into the softer centre of Bradford. The building is now a pub - appropriately called Brass.
It is easier to comment on the building than the pub. As a building it is simply magnificent. Built in 1895 in the Italianate style, the outside is covered in fine stone carvings. Look carefully over the main doors and you can still spot wonderful stone portraits of the Banks' main founders including Colonel Ackroyd. Step inside and you immediately know why such places were known as "Counting Halls". It is a hall in every sense of the word : dark wood panelling, marble used with the abandon that only banks can display, and plaster work that would not be out of place in the Palace of Versailles. At some stage someone made a half-decent attempt to find fittings to match the splendour of the setting. There are some leather chesterfields to sit on and a boastful chandelier shining down on a surprisingly squat bar. But the pub now looks a little tired and unwanted. Someone has pushed a snooker table into the centre of the room and a one-arm bandit blinks against a oak panelled screen - like a tart in a library.
When I called in one Wednesday afternoon I was the only person there other than the barmaid. It was large and empty and rather sad. You felt sorry for the building. And even if the Yorkshire Penny Bank wanted to drown its sorrows - the scope is disappointingly limited. There was only one beer available - Tetley's Smoothflow. This seemed to say something about the whole enterprise. So the bank and I sat and talked about old times, happier times, times when it was one of the finest buildings in one of the most vibrant cities in the Empire.
As a pub it is a bit pedestrian. The choice of beer was about as narrow as it can get. But as a building ... it was truly magnificent.