As some of you may already know I have developed a little obsession with the High Point building in Bradford, and around a year ago I announced I was working on a project about the controversial brutalist beast. I gathered a lot of research around that time but for the majority of the year the project has taken a bit of a back seat as my mental and physical energy has gone into the Herculean task of planning my own wedding, and in September I became a married man. Now that life has resumed a relatively normal pace the project has been on my mind again and I’ve been feeling the urge to share one my major developments so far.
When I announced the project I wasn’t 100% sure what form it was going to take but I knew I had gathered enough material on the subject to make for interesting reading. A little under a year ago I was fortunate enough to meet John Tempest, one of the lead designers of The High Point and my talks with him were illuminating to say the least. He really shed some light on some of the design decisions that were made in the early 70s. I’ll write more on that another time as I’m still gathering research, but one thing we agreed upon in our meeting was how shocking and sad it is that something of that size and dominance on the landscape can be allowed to basically stand there and slowly rot. I’ve said in the past - rather bleakly - that the condition of The High Point and its gradual decay serves as a potent allegory for Bradford’s decline, both economically and psychologically.
I’ve taken a lot of photos of the exterior over the years and learned some very interesting things about the history of the building and the plot on which it is built, but I knew I wouldn’t have any sort of a story or narrative thread without seeing and taking photos of the inside of the building itself. Last November this is exactly what I did.
After making a few phone calls I managed to track down the current owner of the building and asked him to let me inside. As much as I’d love to go into details about who the owner is and tell that particular story I’m not going to reveal his identity or go into the mysterious circumstances around how or why he owns it. In fact I’m not even 100% sure about those things myself, but needless to say it raises some very interesting questions. I explained to him that I was working on a project and needed photos of the interior, which left him confused and suspicious at first.
“What do you wanna go in there for? There’s nothing in there,” he said.
“Exactly,” I said.
After a few phone conversations with both the owner and his solicitor their suspicion of me diminished and they realised I wasn’t after anything other than to satisfy my own curiosity and the owner agreed to help me out and let me in. I couldn’t have been more excited.
And so it came to pass that one wet grey day in November 2017 I found myself on the roof of The High Point with two cameras and a friend of mine being left to our own devices with free reign of the whole building for nearly four hours. The owner himself didn’t come to let us in, which disappointed me as I wanted to meet him. A colleague of his let us in, showed us briefly around the ground floor, told us a few dos and don’ts then led us straight up the stairs to the roof and told us to call him when we wanted to leave. To show my appreciation I’d brought along a mounted copy of one my favourite High Point photos to send back to the owner. Up there on the roof the man took the photo, looked at it, smiled wryly and said,
“You’ve never met him before have you?”
“I’ll pass it on to him.”
He walked away smiling to himself. The owner obviously isn’t into art.
For the next four hours I explored the derelict offices, corridors and staircases of The High Point. As expected the place is in a terrible state on every single floor and during my time there I struggled to imagine the amount of work it would take to restore the building to any kind of usable condition. The staircases and office walls of the top three floors are inches deep with pigeon shit and the ill-fated corpses of pigeons that have found their way in but been unable to find their way out litter the stairs.
Walking through the corridors and rooms was an eerie experience and gave the impression of some kind of apocalyptic Walking Dead type scenario. Rotting blinds blowing and rattling due to cracks in the windows letting the wind in, old phones scattered around overturned desks, stopped clocks on office walls, broken hand dryers and smashed toilet cubicles, piles of ceiling tiles that have dropped to the floor over time, cupboards full of CVs from people who’d applied to work here when it was still functioning as a place of work, an abandoned kitchen area with outdated health and hygiene instructions on the wall, plaques on smashed up doors with the names of managers past. Some of the windows have been left open slightly and you can hear the faint drone of traffic outside as life goes on, oblivious to nature slowly taking its course inside. It’s a slightly unsettling and surreal effect.
One particularly evocative part of the building that I didn’t expect was the fully self-contained private living quarters on the top floor with a front door that leads out onto the roof. There is a bathroom, a living room with wicker furniture still in there beside a hollowed out fireplace and a kitchen with a serving hatch. Very 1970s. It’s the only apartment in the whole building. What a strange life it must’ve been to live here, walking out onto the roof every morning for your coffee and morning fag.
Walking around, one of the things that took me by surprise was the amount of light in the building. From the outside The High Point looks like some kind of impenetrable concrete fort, which I guess is an appropriate impression for a building society to give off as opposed to the modern technique of trying to communicate the idea that they’re some kind of family friend there to help you out. I was expecting the inside to be quite an oppressive place to be, but it was surprisingly well lit with some fantastic views of the city. I’ve heard mixed reactions from people who worked there at the time but on the whole the employee experience seems to have been a positive one, and despite the somewhat harsh exterior of the building it seems that staff were well considered during the design process.
As I slowly moved down through the building and eventually arrived at the ground floor grim reality began to creep back in when I found a room behind reception that had once been used as a crack den, probably before the place was so securely boarded up around ten years ago. Used needles and burnt spoons decorate the windows sills, walls are adorned with pages torn from porno magazines and Pink Floyd’s psychedelic lyrics are crudely scrawled into the walls. What a desperately sad life this room conjures up in your mind. A stark contrast to the decadence of the banking industry this building was built to represent.
I left The High Point with a mixture of conflicting feelings. However excited I was to have finally been inside (and I was very very excited) I was left with huge doubt over the future of the building. I would still love to see The High Point flourish again once more, re-imagined as something else, but all the good will in the world can’t get us away from the fact that it would cost millions to even scratch the surface. The place is in a sorry state, but it stands as a ghostly reminder of a time in the early 70s when Bradford became a major player in the banking industry, and although it may appear grim and oppressive through our eyes in 2018, when it was built The High Point represented success, affluence and influence and I would like future generations to remember that part of our history.
As it stands now the future of the High Point building is very much akin to the future of Bradford itself, and that future is uncertain.
Thanks for reading.
The photographs contained within this article are just a small selection of what I took. I'll be posting more to this site at a later date but to view a few more in a larger format visit my dedicated High Point gallery at: