Shaping Thornton

Shaping Thornton

South Square Centre has been working with Yr7 pupils at Beckfoot Thornton on a unique art project inspired by local heritage. South Square invited artist collective Open To The Public, a creative studio based in Wakefield, to design a remote project for students to engage with local heritage whilst learning about composition, colour and balance.


In September 2020, Students were given activity booklets which featured shapes and patterns inspired by local architecture and archive images from the Thornton Antiquarians Society archive, located onsite at South Square Centre. Images were chosen to represent the three heritage themes;


● The history of Thornton Village

● The Brontë family and their legacy

● The history of South Square as a centre for creative arts, heritage and community


Students took part in sessions at school, where artists ‘visited’ their classrooms digitally to tell them about the project. 270 pupils submitted collages made up of the shapes and patterns drawn from the archive. The teachers and artists then chose 10 designs to be featured in the colourful banners which wrap around the building during the construction works for all of Thornton to see.


Learn more about the archive images below that were used to create the abstract collages, see if you can spot any shapes within the designs. All images courtesy of Thornton Antiquarian Society.

The history of Thornton Village

Thornton’s history is deeply interconnected with the history of Bradford’s rise (and fall) as a centre of the textile industry.

South Square provided dwellings for mill workers at the heart of a rapidly industrialising village. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries the cottages also supported workshops for crafts such as watchmaking, weaving and boot making.

A goods train on Thornton Viadcut, Nov 1963 just prior to the station closure
Hill Top Gala

In addition to Thornton’s industrial heritage the archive also features images and documents relating to the Thornton Gala, a community celebration which was held on Hill Top from 1945, for families in Thornton. The event featured a parade of floats and a crowned ‘Gala Queen’ who would address crowds. Most recently in 2018 the Thornton Gala returned for the first time in over 20 years.

The Brontë Legacy

Thornton has an important though little known link to one of England’s most important cultural and literary phenomena: Anne, Emily, Charlotte and Branwell Brontë. were all born and lived in the village until 1820 when they moved to the Parsonage in nearby Haworth.


The Brontë Bell Chapel and modern St James Church

In Thornton’s the Old Bell Chapel ruins and the graveyard of the church building, where their father Patrick Brontë served and the modern day St James’s church contains the Font in which the Brontë children were baptised. The house where the four children were born, is just a few minutes’ walk from South Square.

The Brontë sisters writing became very successful although initially they wrote under male pseudonyms in order for publishers to take their writing seriously.  They used their literary talents to break through Victorian conventions to secure their own financial and personal independence.

South Square as an Arts Centre

After the remaining cottage residents departed in 1970s, South Square quickly fell into disrepair. The building was at threat of demolition, in the 1980s, and 30 unemployed local people ranging from local residents to students from Bradford College renovated and adapted the buildings, turning the centre into the community centre which stands today.

An image from the 'Paris Thornton' party

South Square Centre was opened in 1985 launched the centre with numerous large-scale community-led festivals, parades and events. These events such as ‘Titanic’ saw the centre transformed with a ship’s hull and giant iceberg which filled the courtyard, and the ‘Paris, Thornton’ event saw an enormous replica Eiffel tower and French themed fancy dress.

The William Morris window at St James Church
The plaque at the Brontë birthplace

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