Category Archives: History

94. Pioneering Pacifist Journalism: the Peace News Story

This week, two little pamphlets which tell the story of a unique newspaper: Peace News.  The history of  Peace News is that of the peace movement in Britain.  Written, edited and read by activists, it reflected and shaped campaigns and debates.

Cover of The Peace News Story by Harry MisterThe Peace News Story was written by Harry Mister.  This particular issue dates from around 1951 or 1952, just after Allen Skinner became editor.  It begins with a potted and very positive account of the early years of the paper.

Half-title page of The Peace News Story by Harry Mister, image of paper's founder Humphrey S. MooreThe paper’s first editor, Humphrey S. Moore, a young Quaker journalist, believed that existing peace publications did not reach out to ordinary people.   A popular newspaper-style weekly could explain and promote pacifism more effectively.  On 6 June 1936, with the support of the Wood Green Study Group (who became the Peace News Group), the first issue was published.

The Peace Pledge Union quickly saw the potential of this new publication to share pacifist ideas.  The PPU was born in 1934 from the mass response to a letter by clergyman Dick Sheppard.  In this famous letter, Sheppard renounced war and called on others who felt the same to join him.  The Union had recently taken a more organised form.  Peace News became the official newspaper of the PPU.

From the first print run of 1,500 copies, the paper grew quickly as it tapped into concern about the threat of war.  Peak circulation of 35-40,000 was reached during the late 1930s.

The Second World War saw circulation drop considerably, for several reasons, including the varying responses of pacifists to the war and the refusal of printers and newsagents to handle the paper.  Peace News survived (and actually made a profit) thanks to dedicated street sellers and other volunteers.  Given these difficulties and restrictions on the use of newsprint, the paper concentrated on supporting conscientious objectors rather than reporting on general peace issues.

Front page of Peace News a short history 1962

A similar yet intriguingly different version of the pamphlet appeared in 1962.  Much of the history section in the 1952 version came from a PPU source.  The version in the 1962 pamphlet was based on another Peace News Story by Margaret Tims* and has a different, more candid tone.

Tims shows how from the explosion of the first atomic bombs in 1945, Peace News helped to create “a new movement against nuclear war based on the idea of unarmed resistance to tyranny”.

From about 1948 we see (and the newspaper reports on) pacifists studying Gandhian ideas of nonviolent resistance and considering how these might be used to campaign against the Bomb.   Hugh Brock, who became editor of Peace News  in 1955, played a key role in these groups.  Although very small, these organisations were exploring ideas and methods which came into their own from 1957, when (as we have seen) the testing of Britain’s H-Bomb led to mass protest and the founding of CND.  There was great overlap between Peace News people and the Direct Action Committee (who organised the first major Aldermaston march in 1958).

Photograph of protesters with placards at Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19 image 22). Photographer and date unknown.

Non-Violent Resistance Group demonstration against colonial policy (Cwl HBP 1/19). Photographer and date unknown.

Alongside campaigning against nuclear weapons and exposing the dangers of nuclear tests, Peace News encouraged struggles for colonial freedom and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.  Gene Sharp, the American campaigner, joined the staff in 1955 and began to cover the black civil rights movement.  Increasingly the paper, like the peace movement of which it was part, sought to address the causes of conflict by calling for changes in society.

These developments worried some absolutist pacifists such as the PPU’s Sybil Morrison.  She complained in I Renounce War (1962)  of the paper’s “all-out support and advocacy of the CND” and that Peace News “appeared to be the organ of the Movement for Colonial Freedom”.   The paper became independent of the PPU in 1961.

However, this split, like those amongst CND’s leaders, was perhaps less relevant to activists.  There were not really two sides: traditionalist PPU versus the new campaigns.  Individuals involved in the latter were active in the PPU too; indeed the first studies of Gandhi’s ideas in Britain were PPU initiatives.

This continuity at the grassroots can be seen in the “practical guide for propagandists” in the pamphlets.  The text changes little between the two editions, offering  advice to activists on getting Peace News read: ask your local librarian to take it, advertise at the railway station, write to the press, leave old copies where they will be seen … The main differences between 1951 and 1962 are technological (in 1962 you can get colourful green and yellow posters and a Peace News sticker for your car).

*A small mystery: I have never encountered a copy of this work or seen it on a library catalogue.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housman's bookshop in 1959 and remains home to both today.  Image is frontispiece to Articles of Peace, photographer not known.

5 Caledonian Road soon after it was acquired for Peace News and Housmans bookshop in 1959. It is still home to both paper and bookshop. Image from Articles of Peace.

Sources and credits. Quotations are from the pamphlets, unless otherwise noted.

Peace News created a huge published and archival presence which can be seen in Special Collections and Commonweal Library.  Two key books from 1986, the paper’s anniversary year: the short history Against All War and the more reflective discussions in Articles of PeaceIn Special Collections, most of our peace archives, but in particular  Peace News Archive, the papers of Hugh Brock, our pamphlet and ephemera collections and the artworks of Peggy Smith who sold the newspaper on the street for most of her life.   Commonweal has a complete run of Peace News.

Recent editions of Peace News are freely available online on the paper’s website and a welcome initiative to digitise historic issues is under way.

And finally, thank you to our PaxCat Project archivist, Helen Roberts, who catalogued the Peace News and Hugh Brock archives and to my colleague Martin Levy who has been cataloguing the pamphlet collection.


91. Barbed Wire and Curfew Passes: a Friend reports on Cyprus, 1958

“If I was looking for trouble, here it is”, Quaker activist and academic Eric Baker wrote from the increasingly tense city of Nicosia in Cyprus on the 12 June 1958. In a series of letters circulated by the Friends Peace Committee, Baker told of “barbed wire, curfew passes, security checks and a heat that blisters the road under your feet”.

Eric Baker's press identity card as representative of The Friend, Cyprus 1958 or 1959 Cwl EB 1E press cardThis week’s Objects are Baker’s press identity card, which accredited him as a journalist for Quaker journal The Friend, and his curfew pass, which allowed him to travel during curfew hours.  Baker did indeed write about Cyprus for The Friend and other magazines and newspapers, but accreditation mainly served to enable him to travel more freely than would otherwise be the case.

Baker was really in Cyprus to investigate the situation and see whether Friends might be able to assist.   He was sent by the Friends Peace Committee, who were increasingly concerned at the growing violence on the island.

Baker (1920-1976) had been a pacifist since childhood, joined the Society of Friends while at School and registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War.  At the time he went to Cyprus he was General Secretary of the National Peace Council.  The evidence in the Eric Baker Archive suggests that Baker was ideal for the mission, being analytical, tactful, experienced and able to communicate with people from all sides.  He apparently knew Cyprus well and had travelled there before.

Curfew pass for Eric Baker, Cyprus 1958 or 1959.  Hotel des Gourmets Nicosia.  Cwl EB 1E curfew pass

Baker spent several weeks in Cyprus during June and July 1958, mainly in Nicosia as it proved impossible to travel because of increased curfews.  He met Sir Hugh Foot, the Governor, and his deputy, commissioners in charge of prisons, welfare and labour, educationalists and diplomats, and a small group of refugees.  Eric Baker concluded that the situation was extraordinarily confused, featuring multiple conflicts: “Right wing against Left wing Greeks, Right wing v. Left wing Turks, Greeks v Turks and both against the British”.  In answer to the question he went to consider, he concluded that there was little that Friends could do to help at the present time, other than to watch in case opportunities arose to offer assistance.

Eric Baker visited Cyprus on behalf of the Committee again in 1959 as part of a trip which also took in Greece, Turkey, Malta and a private visit to see the work of Danilo Dolci in Sicily.  He returned to a now-independent Cyprus in 1967 and to the divided island in 1975, with Michael Harbottle.  The Eric Baker Archive is full of rich and detailed material on all these activities: articles, reports and letters by Baker, and extensive correspondence with all sides.  The Archive also reflects Baker’s later work in campaigning for prisoners of conscience and the end of torture, notably his role in the founding of  Amnesty (later Amnesty International) by Peter Benenson in 1961.

Note on sources: quotations from circular letters from Eric Baker Archive, Cwl EB 1/L.  The two cards are from file Cwl EB 1/E.  They are undated, so we cannot be sure whether they date from the 1958 or 1959 visit or both.

86. Scientists in the Quest for Peace: Joseph Rotblat, the Manhattan Project, and the Pugwash Conferences

This week, we explore the work of a remarkable scientist and humanitarian who turned away from work on the atom bomb: Professor Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005).

Cover of The Atom Bomb, Social Science Association, 1945

I chose this little pamphlet to introduce Rotblat’s book collection, because it was published in August 1945 i.e. just after the two atom bombs were dropped. Not written by Rotblat, however it discusses the concerns to which he devoted his post-war career and illustrates the range of the collection: science fiction explorations of nuclear issues, alongside pamphlets like this one , reports and textbooks.

A pioneer of atomic physics at the Free University of Poland, Jo Rotblat came to Liverpool University in 1939, drawn by the opportunity to work with James Chadwick and his new cyclotron.  Rotblat caught what was to be the last train out of Poland; his wife, Tola, sick with appendicitis, was due to follow, but was unable to leave in time – she later died in a concentration camp.  Chadwick took Rotblat to Los Alamos in 1944 as part of the team working on the Manhattan Project: developing a workable atomic weapon.

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat

Cover of War and Peace, The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Rotblat. This delightfully personal and informative book from Liverpool University looks at themes in his life and includes memories of those who knew him and lots of interesting images.

However, Joseph Rotblat took the difficult decision to leave the Project later that year.  He had agreed to work on the weapon because of the fear that Nazi Germany would develop theirs first, but he realised that the Allies’ resources put them far ahead in this race.  He was also shocked by the project’s looking towards future conflict with (and use of weapons on) the USSR.

Thereafter Jo Rotblat directed his research towards the beneficial uses of nuclear physics, especially in medicine.  He settled with his remaining family permanently in Britain, returning at first to Liverpool, then becoming Professor of Medical Physics at St Bartholomew’s in 1949 where he worked until his  retirement in 1976.

Above all he encouraged his fellow scientists to consider the social impact of their research and to seek to remove nuclear weapons from this earth.   In 1955 he was one of the distinguished scientists who signed what became known as the Russell-Einstein Manifesto: drawn up by peace campaigner Bertrand Russell and signed by Einstein just before his death, the Manifesto outlined the need for peaceful ways to resolve conflict rather than war given the arrival of weapons which could obliterate humanity and that “we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction”.

Cover of Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat's history of the Pugwash conferences

Scientists in the Quest for Peace, Joseph Rotblat’s history of the Pugwash conferences, is an essential read if you’re interested in him or the conferences. It also includes many useful appendices.

The first Conference of Science and World Affairs took place in 1957, at a Canadian village called Pugwash, which gave its name to later meetings.  Rotblat played a key role in setting it up, held many offices within Pugwash, and has often been described as its moving spirit.  His and their work was recognised by the award of the the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics”.

Jo Rotblat’s work has a particular resonance at the University of Bradford.  He shared the concern of our first Vice-Chancellor, Ted Edwards, around the social responsibility of scientists and science and was instrumental in the creation of the first Chair of Peace Studies.  These links were recognised by the award of Honorary Doctor of Science in 1973.

Special Collections holds Rotblat’s book collection: works by and about him, works presented by their authors (often with interesting dedications which show the esteem in which he was held) and a huge range of popular and academic works on nuclear issues and the social responsibility of scientists.  He appears throughout our archives of peace and nuclear campaigns, from his involvement in the early days of CND during the 1950s to his support for the 1990s Campaign to free nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Note on sources. In addition to the above titles, Ending War which includes Rotblat’s essay on leaving the Manhattan Project.  Rotblat’s Papers are at Churchill College Archives.  Other useful websites include Pugwash Conferences and the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize page.

85. Quill the Hedgehog and the Keighley Detectives: John Waddington-Feather’s Yorkshire writings

Meet Quill the Hedgehog!  In a series of books by Yorkshire author John Waddington-Feather, Quill and his animal friends have many adventures fighting the wicked plans of alleycat Mungo Brown and his Wastelander rats.

Front cover of Quill's Adventures in Kangarooland by John Waddington-Feather

John first created Quill during the 1960s to express concern about the environment: Mungo and co destroy and pollute the lands they take from the woodland creatures.  In Quill’s Adventures in Grozzieland, Mungo takes over the fungus folk and plans to blot out the sun!  This volume was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 1989.

The Quill stories are partly inspired by the fate of Yorkshire’s West Riding countryside during the rapid urbanisation of the 19th century, the downside of the wool industry boom.  In a recent email, John observed that a chapter in Quill’s Adventures in the Great Beyond was inspired by an oil painting of Keighley in Cliffe Castle Museum (itself once a mill-owner’s mansion).   The painting shows the first industrial chimneys appearing in a rural scene; within a few decades Keighley was a “dirty, smoke-ridden mill and engineering town of over 40,000 people. Slums appeared overnight and the rivers and streams around the town polluted”.  This image from the cover of Great Beyond shows Quill and Horatio the cat confronted by the changed landscape of their home.

Quill is just part of the story.  John Waddington-Feather is a prolific author, a schoolteacher (now retired) and an Anglican priest.  Born in Keighley in 1933, he attended Keighley Boys’ Grammar School and graduated in English at Leeds University in 1954.  John has been based in Shrewsbury for many years, where he has been a visitor and assistant chaplain at the prison. He retains strong connections with Yorkshire: former Chair of the J.B. Priestley Society and now one of its Vice-Presidents, John has a scholarly interest in Yorkshire dialect (e.g. John Hartley) and literature.

Front cover of Ira and the Cycling Club Lion by John Waddington-Feather, showing image of Keighley Cycling Club

Front cover of Ira and the Cycling Club Lion by John Waddington-Feather, showing image of Keighley Cycling Club

John’s Yorkshire heritage can be seen throughout his writings.  Witness the Blake Hartley series, which features detectives Blake Hartley and Ibrahim Khan investigating crimes around Keighworth (i.e. Keighley) and the Dales while dealing with their difficult boss.  Bodies found in the graveyard or on the allotment lead the pair into deadly webs of international crime, money-laundering and terrorism …

John also writes for the stage, including two light-hearted plays in verse, Garlic Lane and Easy Street.  These are based on his childhood memories, as many of  his short stories and essays (some collected in the above book).  Yorkshire features again in two historical romances set around the Second World War: Illingworth House and Chance-Child.

Many of John’s writings also reflect his Christian faith and his experiences as a priest: he has written many hymns, songs and poems and edits the Poetry Church series on Christian poetry.  His play The Lollipop Man was based on his experiences of working with homeless people.

Special Collections staff are working with John to develop an archive of his work and interests, including typescripts, correspondence and of course the books.   Much of the archive is born-digital, reflecting John’s early adoption of new technology such as selling his books online via his website.  Now he’s finding new audiences via the Kindle e-reader!   The Blake Hartley mysteries  are proving particularly popular; the Quill titles are now being added.

82. Italianate Baroque and Early Decorated Gothic: Historic Buildings at Emm Lane

This week, the story of two wonderful buildings which form part of the Bradford University School of Management.  Built within a decade of each other for very different purposes, both by local architects, they exemplify patterns in Bradford’s 19th century architecture.  The Emm Lane Building and Heaton Mount are situated in the leafy parkland campus of the Management School, about two and a half miles from the University’s main campus.

The front of Emm Lane building in 1996, Bradford University School of Management, from an MBA  prospectus (ref. UNI L88).

Entrance of Emm Lane Building, 1996, from an MBA prospectus (ref. UNI L88).

The Emm Lane Building was created between 1874 and 1877 as a theological college to educate ministers for the Congregational Church.  It was a new building for a college  whose long history dated back to 1756 and whose aim was to “educate young men for the Christian ministry”.

The architects, Bradford firm Lockwood and Mawson, shaped Victorian Bradford, designing both the Town Hall and the Wool Exchange (not to mention Saltaire!).   Like the former, the new Airedale Independent College had a Gothic flavour.  A report in the Leeds Mercury elaborated on the choice of Early Decorated Gothic style, considered to be particularly suitable for a college building; the architects would have liked to incorporate a “lofty and picturesque tower” into the design but this would have been too expensive.   The College building was made of “clean-cut wallstone from the Heaton quarries, with ashlar dressings” and enhanced with medieval details like the rather cute gargoyle dragon, below.

Stone dragon gargoyle, Emm Lane building, Bradford University School of Management, from flickr stream of sgwarnog2010, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

Stone dragon gargoyle, Emm Lane building, Bradford University School of Management, from flickr stream of sgwarnog2010, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.

The foundation stone was laid on 16 October 1874 by Mr Titus Salt, treasurer of the institution.  His father, Sir Titus Salt, had helped support the foundation, but was too ill to attend (he died in 1876).   On 17 February 1888, for reasons of “financial economy and educational efficiency”, the Airedale College merged with the Rotherham Independent College.  The new organisation was named the Yorkshire United Independent College and based at the Bradford site.

Principal E. Griffith-Jones and Professors Duff, Armitage, Pope and Grieve on the steps of the Yorkshire United Independent College, Bradford (frontispiece of Souvenir and Programme of the 1913 Semi-Jubilee).  Now Emm Lane Building at the Bradford University School of Management

Principal E. Griffith-Jones and Professors Duff, Armitage, Pope and Grieve on the steps of the Yorkshire United Independent College, Bradford (frontispiece of Souvenir and Programme of the 1913 Semi-Jubilee).

By the late 1950s, the College faced dwindling student numbers and was due to merge with a college in Didsbury.  Meanwhile the newly established Bradford Institute of Technology was desperate for space, struggling to find room for the new staff, students and advanced work that its status as a College of Advanced Technology required.

Dustjacket (rather the worse for wear) of Yorkshire United Independent College by Wadworth (1954), featuring Emm Lane building.

Dustjacket (rather the worse for wear) of Yorkshire United Independent College by Wadsworth (1954), featuring Emm Lane building.

The Emm Lane Building offered a partial solution.  Purchased by BIT for £10,000, it became the home of the Department of Industrial Administration for Commerce.  In 1963, Emm Lane was designated The Management Centre; Tom Kempner was its first Director (the School celebrates its 50th anniversary this year).  The distinctive features of the College’s entrance, the “tripartite arcaded porch and large shafted oriel window”, have been part of the Centre’s marketing and visual identity ever since, witness this 1966 prospectus.

Prospectus for the Management Centre, Bradford University, 1966, showing entrance to Emm Lane building (ref. UNI L122).

Prospectus for the Management Centre, Bradford University, 1966, showing entrance to Emm Lane building (ref. UNI L122).

In 1967, BIT, which by this time had become a University, acquired Emm Lane’s near neighbour Heaton Mount.  This is a splendid “Italianate-Baroque” villa built for a wealthy wool manufacturer (see also Oakworth House!).  Heaton Mount was designed by local architect J.T. Fairbank for Robert Kell and completed in 1866.  It still boasts a terrace with splendid views, a magnificent staircase, stained glass, oak panelling, and a conservatory.   It remained in private hands until the mid-1950s (Kell and his wife until 1889, then the Ambler family, then Arthur Crossland) after which it became a convent school.  Alongside executive education, it offers facilities for conferences, weddings and other occasions.

Heaton Mount, Bradford University School of Management.  Detail from photo from Neil T's flickr stream (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

Heaton Mount, Bradford University School of Management. Detail of photo from Neil T’s flickr stream (licence CC BY-SA 2.0).

Supplemented by several modern buildings, including a major programme completed in 2010, the Italianate villa and the Gothic college help make the Emm Lane campus a delightful setting which still gives a sense of Victorian Bradford.

Sources: this piece is based on many sources, including the National Heritage List via the English Heritage website, McKinlay’s Histories, articles in local newspapers, and books about the College at Emm Lane including Wadsworth’s history and the Souvenir of the Semi-jubilee of 1913.  Our academic colleague George Sheeran has written extensively  on Bradford’s historic buildings.  Quotations from English Heritage, a Leeds Mercury article of 17 October 1874, and Wadsworth’s book.

81. Scotch Barley Broth and Fruit Tart: Jonathan Priestley and the “First School-Feeding” in Bradford

This photograph shows  Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907.  Jonathan was Headmaster of Green Lane School, which hosted a new central depot which made meals for children across the city.

The First School-Feeding.  Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907.  Jonathan was Headmaster of Green Lane School, which hosted a new central depot which made meals for children across the city.  Image from Socialism over Sixty Years, by Fenner Brockway.  Copyright holder unknown.

The First School-Feeding. Jonathan Priestley, father of the writer J.B. Priestley, serving school dinners to children at the White Abbey Dining Room, Bradford, in 1907. Copyright holder unknown.

The introduction of “school-feeding” is an example of Bradford innovation in social welfare.  From its earliest days as a booming wool town through the 1890s and 1900s, the fast-growing city saw great poverty among its industrial workers and their families.  It became a centre of radical ideas and practice in alleviating these conditions, often strongly influenced by Nonconformism: social obligations and the value of education.   Witness the fight of Oastler and Forster against “Yorkshire slavery”- cruel conditions in factories – and later the Manningham Mills strike, which led to the founding of the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

The photograph is taken from Socialism over Sixty Years: the life of Jowett of Bradford, by Fenner Brockway (Allen and Unwin for the National Labour Press, 1946).  Frederick William “Fred” Jowett (1864-1944) was instrumental in the founding of the ILP and was a pioneer of “municipal socialism” to improve the lives of working people.  Jowett served on Bradford Town and City Councils and later became an MP. J.B. Priestley, by then perhaps the city’s most famous son, wrote the Preface to Brockway’s book.  JBP did not agree with Jowett and the ILP on all issues, but he paid tribute to Jowett’s integrity and what he and they had achieved for poor people. “School-feeding” was one of these  achievements.  The city’s workers suffered in the 1890s and 1900s as the wool trade declined.   ILP activist Margaret McMillan, elected to the Bradford School Board with a mandate to fight “the battle of the slum child”, saw from medical inspections that children were under-nourished and that this was the most serious health concern in the city.  It led to listlessness, disease, and meant children could not benefit from their education.  However, schools were powerless to help.  Charities such as the Cinderella Club could not feed all who needed assistance and the Guardians of the Poor Law provided inadequate meals mocked by activists as “bun, banana and beverage”. The Council finally agreed to supply school meals in 1904, after many years of campaigning by Jowett and others, and despite stiff opposition (McMillan had left Bradford by that time, following the abolition of School Boards).  Bradford was the first Council to offer this service.  The Provision of Meals Act was passed in 1906 in Parliament, Jowett, who had by then been elected member for Bradford West, speaking in favour.

Page from the "Priestley Family Register", kept by J.B. Priestley's grandfather John, and showing the birth of his father Jonathan.

Page from the “Priestley Family Register”, kept by J.B. Priestley’s grandfather John, and showing the birth of his father Jonathan.

As a result of the passing of the Act, a School Meals Depot was set up at Green Lane School in 1907, supplying food to several schools in the poorest parts of the city.  Our photograph shows the official opening in October 1907, which featured a meal of “scotch barley broth and fruit tart, with bread and a mug of water for each child”, Jonathan Priestley serving the broth.  JBP was then aged 13 and recalled in his Preface the great local and national press interest in the story.

It is fitting that Jonathan Priestley is linked with this major innovation in welfare.  A conscientious Baptist, Jonathan Priestley was part of Bradford’s Nonconformist socialist scene.  He came from a poor family; his father, John, was a mill worker (according to the 1881 census, a “cotton warp dresser”, the same trade as Jowett’s father).   The “Priestley Family Register”, a copy of Smollett’s History of England inscribed by John Priestley, shows the harshness of their world: three of Jonathan’s siblings died in infancy.  Education was Jonathan’s way out, and he believed passionately in its value.

Jonathan Priestley and his wife Emma, JBP's mother, in Blackpool.

Jonathan Priestley and his wife Emma Holt, JBP’s mother, in Blackpool. Emma, who was remembered as high-spirited and witty, died when JBP was very young.  Amy, Jonathan’s second wife, fortunately proved to be very kind and loving mother for the young Jack Priestley.

His son remembered Jonathan as a pugnacious, fiery man, rather puritanical, a strict Sabbatarian, kind, dutiful, sometimes funny, and above all a born teacher.  Relations between father and son were strained for a time when JB did not want to carry on with his own education, but JB clearly loved and admired his father.  Many years after Jonathan’s death in 1924, he wrote that Jonathan was  “unselfish, brave, honourable, public-spirited.  He was the man socialists have in mind when they write about socialism”. Note on sources This account is based on that in the Brockway book and many other sources, including,

  • City of Peace: Bradford’s story notably the chapter by Brenda Thomson.
  • Writings by JB about his childhood, in particular Midnight on the Desert and Margin Released, source of above quotations.
  • Oxford DNB entries on Jowett and McMillan (subscription required, often available via public libraries)
  • This Green Lane School web page explains and illustrates with lots of photographs the workings of the Green Lane depot.

Our copy of Socialism over Sixty Years is itself an artefact.  Showing the wear of much reading, it has connections to Margaret McMillan, nursery school pioneer Miriam Lord and her father ILP member Hird Lord!

78. Isaac Holden et Fils: images of the Usine Holden, Croix, France

These lovely postcards introduce another element of the story of Bradford entrepeneur Sir Isaac Holden and his family.  The cards depict the family’s wool-combing factory, the Usine Holden, in Croix, a town in Northern France, just outside Lille.

Postcard showing the Usine Holden, the wool combing factory of Isaac Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/1).

Postcard showing the Usine Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/1). (The card states “reproduction interdite”, but we believe it to be out of copyright).

Sir Isaac Holden and his partner Lister set up the first factories exploiting their new wool comb technology in France because of the market opportunities that country offered: demand for worsted and immense capacity for spinning.  In addition, Lister wanted to expand his enterprises into Europe and Holden was frustrated by past difficulties in getting established in business in the UK.  The original French enterprise, at St Denis near Paris, opened in 1849.  High demand for their wool further North led to the building of two more factories, at Croix and Reims, which began production in 1853.

Isaac lived in France during this time, with his wife Sarah.  She was not happy on what she called the “barren and solitary soil of France”, and returned to England as often as she could.  Isaac was much more receptive to “this lovely country”, keen to try new food and experiences: “I have just ordered a bunch of small fish of the Rhine and frogs’ legs” (Strasbourg, 1852).   His letters try to cheer Sarah out of her habitual religious gloom.

Postcard showing La Grande Cheminee, Usine Holden (the big chimney of Isaac Holden's wool combing factory), Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/2).

Postcard showing La Grande Cheminee, Usine Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/2).

However there were real difficulties for the Holden-Lister enterprises: the industry was very competitive and their technology was unproven.  They faced several lawsuits.  Worse, relations between the two men deteriorated badly.  Holden bought out Lister’s shares in the French firms in 1858, adding his sons Angus and Edward as partners and renaming the company Isaac Holden et Fils.  St Denis was run down, to generate capital to support the other firms which were better located in the heart of the French wool industry: it was closed in 1860.

Holden then returned to Bradford, where he had growing industrial, charitable and family interests: the vast Alston works on Thornton Road were founded in 1864.  The French businesses were now managed by his nephews Jonathan Holden (Reims) and Isaac Holden Crothers (Croix).  However, tensions between the two and between them and Isaac’s sons caused problems.  Eventually in 1880 a new agreement put an end to the rivalries.  It left Isaac Holden Crothers as manager of Croix and the “Vieux Anglais”, the original Reims factory, while Jonathan set up another factory in Reims, the “Nouvel Anglais”.

This French connection is one of the most intriguing and unexpected elements of the Holden Papers.  Who would imagine that the archive of a Bradford mill-owning family would be a rich source of information about the tumult of France in the mid 19th century?   However, the letters from Sir Isaac and other family members are full of detail about travel and everyday life and valuable testimony about the impact of political upheaval (Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’etat in 1851) and the Franco-Prussian War.

The French factories continued into the 20th century: Honeyman and Goodman report that the Usine at Reims was destroyed during the Great War, and Croix “ceased production in 1938 and its assets sold to the local Syndicat des Peigneurs”: a combine of local wool combers.

Postcard showing the Temple Anglais, rue Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/3).

Postcard showing the Temple Anglais, rue Holden, Croix, France (ref. HOL 6/1/3).  The firm built Protestant places of worship for their English workers.

The Holdens were not purely concerned with profit from their French firms.  They took a paternalistic, philanthropic approach, rooted in their Methodist beliefs, providing work, training, new buildings and opportunities for religious and social improvement: “our business is a great good to France”, Isaac wrote in 1851.

The Holdens’ philanthropy is still remembered in Croix and Reims.  Witness for instance this, from the short history of Croix on the municipal website: “Retracer l’histoire de Croix, c’est aussi évoquer la mémoire d’Isaac Holden”, because of the significance of the works’ contribution to the development of the town.  Croix boasts a Rue Isaac Holden Crothers and a car park: Parking Isaac Holden!

In Reims, Jonathan Holden founded the first public library (which still bears his name) in 1887.  He too is commemorated in the cityscape with the Rue Jonathan Holden.  I was delighted to discover that Isaac Holden was the founder and first president of the Bicycle Club Rémois, set up in July 1880.  I will be following this up: links between our archives and cycling in France are of particular interest this year!

Note on sources: I am again indebted to the study of the French firms by Honeyman and Goodman, where much more detail about the processes and finances of the firms can be found.