Tag Archives: History

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.


77. The Living Story of Bradford’s Glory: The Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

“My aim is to weave for you a story that shall be like a beautiful fabric, rich and varied … the Living Story of Bradford’s Glory”.  This week, meet The Book of Words of the Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931.

Cover of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

Cover of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

This huge and ambitious event took place in Peel Park, from 13-18 July.   It was intended to complement the Imperial Wool Industries Fair at Olympia Hall, showcasing Bradford’s wool trade to the world.  Wool was the source of the city’s growth and prosperity, but by this time, the trade was in decline, the worldwide markets badly affected by the Depression.

Detail with drawing of trumpeters from title page of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

Detail from title page of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

The story followed the conventional outline of “Briton, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Plantagenet, Stuart and the industrial Bradford of later times”.  Each episode was written by a well-known author or dramatist, notably Phyllis Bentley, who contributed the Norman section.  Alongside plenty of references to wool, audiences learned about vikings before their conversion to Christianity, Robin Hood and his merry men, the Bolling Hall ghost (“Pity poor Bradford!”), the cruel conditions of child labour during the 19th century, and of course the story which gave the city its coat of arms: the Bradford boar.

The Pageant must have been a wonderful sight: 7,500 performers, a chorus of 500, orchestra of 150 and a choir of 300 children, creating a “lavish spectacle” in their “gorgeous costumes”.

Advertisement for Novello, Bradford's fashion house, featuring stylish lady in red gown with elaborate hairstyle and cigarette, back cover of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

Advertisement for Novello, Bradford’s fashion house, back cover of Book of Words, Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

The Book of Words contains not only the scripts for the Pageant, but historical notes and masses of illustrations and photographs.   The marvellous advertisements for shops and businesses in Bradford are particularly appealing: from dolly tubs for washing to luncheons for two shillings, Ballito ankle-clinging stockings to “Wil-be-fort” wet weather wear.

Front cover of Programme for the Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931, showing knight with banner

Front cover of Programme for the Historical Pageant of Bradford, 1931

Special Collections also has other Pageant publications: the Programme and the Souvenir Book.  The former gives us more detail about the Pageant, including a map of the site.  The latter is full of wonderful photographs plus stories and articles by well-known local authors, such as Halliwell Sutcliffe on the aforementioned Bolling Hall ghost.   Windyridge author Willie Riley contributed “The Message of the Moors” to the Souvenir and “The Volcanic Peep-show” to the Programme: his Archive includes his own copies of these documents.

Another local author also joined in: J.B. Priestley contributed a piece to the Souvenir in which his famous Bradford character Jess Oakroyd from the Good Companions talks about the Pageant: “a champion idea” which will show that although the city may seem have to grown out of nothing during the 19th century, its roots are very deep.  Both Priestley and Riley emphasise the value of the event in brightening up people’s drab lives and making them feel part of something important (it’s estimated in this useful article by Jim Greenhalf in the Telegraph and Argus that 30,000 Bradford people got involved in some way!).

Want to explore further?  The records held by the West Yorkshire Archives Service can tell us more about the creation of the Pageant.

64. Surviving the Arandora Star: 1940s letters of Ludwig Baruch and Hilda Froom

This week, a telegram from a survivor of the sinking of the SS Arandora Star on 2 July 1940.  Sent by Ludwig Baruch to his fiancée Hilda Froom on 8 July, it reads “200 ARANDORA SURVIVORS PLEASE WIRE SOME MONEY”.

Ludwig Baruch was one of over 1000 German and Italian “enemy aliens” being transported on the Arandora Star to Canada when it was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland.   Most of those on board were drowned, the situation made worse by the cramped conditions, lack of safety drill, and inadequate life-rafts.  Many survivors, Ludwig among them, were then sent to Australia on the Dunera, which itself narrowly escaped sinking.

Ludwig was born in Germany, but had lived in England since 1930.  He worked for the Donegal Tweed Company in Liverpool until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he was interned as an enemy alien.  Although a socialist, union activist, and committed anti-fascist, he fell foul of the controversial policy of interning all enemy aliens regardless of the risk they might pose.

The telegram is part of an Archive which provides unique first-hand insight into internment in Britain during the Second World War through the letters between Ludwig and Hilda.  Alongside Ludwig’s accounts of life in the camps, Hilda’s give a vivid picture of everyday life in Liverpool: going to the cinema, the annoyances of the blackout, clothes – a navy frock, rust-coloured nail varnish, food – pea soup, stew, playing rounders, a cycle ride to Rhyl, her union and other political activities … The Archive also documents the bureaucratic difficulties and obstructions Hilda faced in trying to visit him and campaign for his release.

After the sinking of the Arandora Star, he writes to her sitting on a “straw mattress” at “some barracks” in Scotland (Woodhouselee Camp, Miltonbridge near Edinburgh) and that, though he could “write a whole novel about the disaster”, which he escaped by jumping overboard and finding a float, he does not want to be asked about it, because “the sights I witnessed were not fit for human eyes to see”.  Hilda had heard of the disaster, but could not find out whether he was on board or not: “the experience is terrible and I cannot get you off my mind”.

PS Eventually the couple were married and settled in Bradford.  I am indebted to Collar the Lot! an invaluable account of the internment and expulsion of the enemy aliens and to the research of one of our students, Darren Davies, who kindly let me see his dissertation which uses Ludwig Baruch’s experiences as a case study of internment and usefully draws together bibliographic and other evidence.

6. Radical Reading: Reynolds News, Sunday Citizen

Reynolds's Illustrated News 17 August 1930 p.1

Reynolds’s Illustrated News 17 August 1930 p.1

Reynolds News was a radical weekly newspaper published from 1850-1967.  Founded by prolific popular author and Chartist G.M.W. Reynolds, the paper later passed from family ownership to the National Co-operative Press.  It changed its name several times, ending up as The Sunday Citizen.  Find out more about Reynolds News, its name changes, and the story of the set at Bradford University on the collection web page.

Reynolds News is significant for historians because it offers an alternative to papers of record, such as The Times.  It was politically radical and aimed at working class readers.  Contents were often sensational, featuring plenty of  glamour, sex, crime, and sport, alongside thoughtful pieces about politics and ideas.  Well-known authors and thinkers contributed, notably J.B. Priestley, who wrote over fifty articles and book reviews for the paper.

J.B. Priestley article, Reynolds' News 9 June 1940 p. 6

J.B. Priestley article, Reynolds News 9 June 1940 p. 6

Unfortunately, as usual with historic newspapers, our set is in very poor condition.  Even the conserved volumes cannot stand much handling.  This is frustrating because the rich and relatively underused content cannot be easily shared with readers.  Furthermore, the paper is not indexed.   We are delighted that the British Library digitised the 19th century volumes of Reynolds in its British Newspapers programme, making them searchable and really usable for the first time in their long lives.

Is this man an anarchist?  Union advertisement from Reynolds News 5 October 1919 p.3

From Reynolds News 5 October 1919