The Story of Bradford Photography Studio That Captured Ukrainian Life in England
2 January, 2020

Manningham Lane, a street in the industrial English city of Bradford, provides more of a snapshot of Ukrainian life than you might realize.

Winding its way from the city center, the typical Yorkshire road is crowded with 19th-Century sandstone townhouses, slotted against each other and glinting gold against the charcoal skies of northern England. Almost halfway up is number 118, a squat, semi-inconspicuous bookshop. 

But 40-odd years ago, this was the Belle Vue Photography Studio, opened by B. Sandford Taylor, which rapidly became a hit with newly-arrived migrants, including Ukrainians, who settled in Bradford in the latter half of the 20th Century. 

Bradford Ukrainian Community Centre. Photo credit: Nina Prodywus

Tucked away at the back of number 118 was a daylight studio, which – with its ubiquitous glass-plate bellows camera – went on to capture the daily lives of residents of Bradford in the 20th Century, including migrants who had come from Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. Many had their photographs taken there to be able to send back home, in order to demonstrate their new-found prosperity after moving to Britain. 

When B. Sandford Taylor died in 1953, his genteel assistant Tony Walker took over, operating the studio in almost exactly the same way for another 20 years. The business eventually closed down in 1975, and Walker began to dispose of his negatives – but, by chance, the new owner of the premises realized the unique value of the collection. A salvation operation with Bradford Museums and Galleries was organized and, in total, 17,481 images were saved from destruction, of which 10,600 have recently been digitized – a bevy of debonair young men and stylish women, occasionally in traditional dress or work uniforms, with their polished post-war style quiffs and bouffant curls glinting under the sunlight. 

Yet, until recently, almost all of the names of those featured in the photographs – including those of the city’s Ukrainian community – were unknown.

“One major difficulty is that very little information accompanied the images when the collection was acquired in the 1980s,” explains John Ashton, Photo Archive Assistant at Bradford Museums Photo Archive. 

Although quite a number of people have come forward over the years, we are only scratching the surface in terms of putting names to the images.

And efforts to discover the details behind the photographs recently led to a small number from the collection being taken to display at Bradford’s Ukrainian Community Centre, a bastion of Ukrainian life in the industrial city, in the hope that faces would be recognized.

Wedding Party. Photo credit: Bradford Museums and Galleries

“The Ukrainian Community Centre has been and still is very important as a way to connect people of Ukrainian descent with their roots,” explains Orysia Chymera, Chair of the Bradford Branch of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB). 

This was particularly important to post war immigrants who arrived in Bradford with no family, so the Ukrainian Community became their extended family.

Ukrainians who ended up in Bradford following the war included those in the armed forces, and people of Ukrainian origins who had become Displaced Persons. The Bradford branch of the AUGB was one of the first local organizations to be created, and provided a much-needed center for the Ukrainian community – who, Chymera admits, were often labeled "bloody foreigners" by the native Bradford population. 

The displays of photographs at the Community Center, which took place on Ukrainian Easter Saturday, during the blessing of Easter baskets, did succeed in reuniting dozens of the photographs with surviving family members – and, more importantly, helped to revive memories of post-war Ukrainian life in the city. 

Two who attended were sisters Orysia Fletcher and Irene Diakiw. 

Now in their 60s, they recognized many of the individuals featured in the photographs: their parents had first lived in Manningham, near the studio, and were part of the initial post-war settlement of Ukrainians in Yorkshire. Their mother had been forced to work in German factories during the war, whilst their father had been a prisoner of war in Rimini. 

Growing up ten minutes away from the studio, they would regularly pass it when visiting a local Ukrainian grocery store. After their parents managed to resume contact with their families post-war, letters were sent home to Ukraine – and once a year, often around Easter, photographs taken at the Belle Vue Studio would be included too.

“The first photos taken there were for my first birthday,” says Fletcher, talking to Hromadske as she travels en route to Ukraine.

"I always remember my mother saying that my grandmother – her mother – had passed away and never saw the photo."

Visiting the Belle Vue Studio was a special occasion: the sisters would often be pictured after formal events like their First Communion, or would take a change of clothes with them to the Studio.

“We would be taken into the back where there were a couple of different sets set up and then we would be arranged in different poses for a variety of photos,” remembers Fletcher. Time was always taken to carefully create the photos.” 

Donatella Vasylenko. Photo credit: Bradford Museums and Galleries

And Ashton agrees that there was something remarkable about the Studio, particularly for the new migrants to the city.

“They appreciated the traditional feel and methods of this studio at a time when the indigenous population was favoring something more modern or acquiring cameras for home use,” he says. 

Tony Walker died in 1990, with only a handful of people attending his funeral. But, though much has changed since the Studio was closed down, his and Sandford Taylor’s work is now celebrated for having captured a portrait of the diversity which formed the backbone of the Yorkshire city in the mid-20th century. 

The Ukrainian community is also still thriving: Fletcher still watches Ukrainian television, and though she has not lived in Bradford for over 32 years, remains involved with the Ukrainian community there, alongside her sister. And Manningham Lane, where the Studio once flourished, is packed with Ukrainian, European, Asian and Middle Eastern shops. 

“Bradford is a vibrant and diverse city, with many different nationalities living there,” explains Chymera, emphasizing that this is “part of what makes Bradford a great place to live.”

Fletcher agrees.

 “I just feel at home there,” she says, “despite the many changes.”

The exhibition ‘10,000 Tales: Belle Vue Studio Collection’ is open until Sunday, March 1, 2020 at Bradford Industrial Museum.

/By Juliette Bretan

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