Tag Archives: Special Collections

News Update: two new exhibitions

We’ll be back with the final three Objects soon!  We put them on hold to get our archives accreditation sorted out – and not to mention working on two exhibitions which readers of this blog may enjoy …

Pots Before Words.  Kate Morrell created artworks inspired by Jacquetta Hawkes.  Gallery II, University of Bradford, until 22 May 2014.


Artwork by Kate Morrell, part of Pots Before Words at Gallery II. Credit: Kate Morrell.

J.B. Priestley soldier writer painter – a rare chance to see the fragile surviving objects from Priestley’s time in the First World War trenches.  Bradford Industrial Museum until 19 August 2014.

We’ve also been busy with the Peace Studies 40th anniversary conference. We’re contributing two elements to this international conference: a display (A Concern for Peace) telling the story of the department and a paper about our wonderful collections of peace-related archives.  1-3 May 2014.  If you aren’t going to the conference, you can find similar information by exploring our Objects!



Happy Holidays!

We’re taking a break for our summer holidays, but we’ll be back in September for the Autumn Term and the final ten.

Sun detail from front cover of Reason, April 1964 (archive ref HBP23).

Sun detail from front cover of Reason, April 1964 (archive ref HBP23).

If you’re new to the series and don’t know where to begin, here are six of the  most popular Objects to get you started.   Enjoy!

  1. Radical reading: Reynolds News, a popular but now rare newspaper
  2. The story of a modern icon, the “peace sign”
  3. Potential Graduate, a well-loved film about 1960s students at Bradford University
  4. J.B. Priestley’s wartime broadcasts which inspired a nation
  5. Dr Raistrick’s unique insights into the Yorkshire Dales
  6. A Land: Jacquetta Hawkes fused poetry and geology to tell Britain’s long story

88. Midnight on the Arizona Desert: J.B. Priestley’s Writing Hut (and the Grand Canyon)

Yorkshire inspired J.B. Priestley’s best writing, but he also loved Arizona.  This week we visit his writing hut at the Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg.  The hut was less than 12 feet by 10, made of unpainted boards, and contained very little: a table with his typewriter, some books and tobacco things on shelves, and a small tin stove.

Detail from front cover of J.B. Priestley, Midnight on the Desert, Heinemann, 1937.

J.B. Priestley’s writing hut in Arizona, amongst cacti, hills and stars. Detail from front of dustjacket Midnight on the Desert, Heinemann, 1937.

Priestley first saw Arizona in 1934, when he was sent by Ealing Studios to investigate the possibilities of a film for Gracie Fields.  He fell in love with the landscape, “the clear bright winter mornings and the blaze of stars at midnight, the glittering desert floor with its promise of precious stones, the hillside of giant saguaros, the amethyst peaks and the red-gold fortresses of rock, and, not least, the air so pure, it seems magical”.

J.B. Priestley in a rocking chair, Wickenburg, Arizona, about 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/7.

J.B. Priestley in a rocking chair, Wickenburg, Arizona, about 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/7.

Priestley, his wife Jane and their children spent two winters at the Ranch during the late 1930s, the dry climate being better for Jane’s health.   The family remembered these as times of fun and freedom, though Priestley himself continued to write, to work on US productions of his plays, and to give lectures.

The Priestley family dressed as cowboys, Arizona, 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/5.

The Priestley family dressed as cowboys, Arizona, 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/5.

Priestley wrote most memorably about Arizona in Midnight on the Desert (1937).  In this, and its 1939 companion Rain upon Godshill, Priestley created a kind of descriptive autobiography, “packing reminiscence and discourse into a long reverie”.   This format suited his ability to write engagingly about his own experiences, whether being comically grumpy about the inconveniences of travel, sharing profound emotions, or exploring ideas.

He gave the two narratives shape by beginning and ending “at a certain time in a definite place” and concentrating on the “events, opinions, thoughts” of the previous year or so. In Midnight Priestley is writing in London on a dark, wet Monday, but his mind is back in Arizona, one late night in the hut towards the end of his stay.  He was having a clear-out, burning in the little stove an “accumulated litter of letters and odd papers” and chapters of writing that he felt had failed.

J.B. Priestley with his children Rachel and Tom, Coronado, California, Spring 1936.  Photographer unknown.  Archive ref: PRI 21/5/10

J.B. Priestley with his children Rachel and Tom, Coronado, California, Spring 1936. Photographer unknown. Archive ref: PRI 21/5/10

He reflects on this visit to the United States, and, with frequent returns to his sorting in the hut, tells us about his travels and his thoughts, sharing his views on the state of publishing, his experience of journalists in the USA, memories of his father Jonathan, Hollywood, giving lectures, American railways and much more.  Above all, he ponders the great mysteries of human consciousness and of time.  As we have already seen, he had just discovered and been thrilled by the possibilities of the writings of Dunne and Ouspensky and they were much on his mind that year.

The climax of the book is Priestley’s famous description of a visit to the Grand Canyon, a sight which astounded him no matter how many times he saw it.  Priestley walks out of his overheated hotel in a snowstorm; the Canyon is hidden by mist.  Then, suddenly the fog clears …

Priestley shares his sense of wonder and revelation as he looks at the Canyon – the changing weathers, the sheer scale, the colours.  Above all he feels it gave a view of deep time, a fourth dimension to the landscape.   Priestley realises that he dreamed of the Canyon long ago: maybe that dreaming self had made some Ouspenskian connection with the self now seeing the Canyon.

Midnight ends with Priestley finishing his work in the hut to go out into the cold starlit winter night.  He is sorry to leave Arizona but he knows he can always recapture a place through his imagination, be in London in Arizona or Arizona in London: “I must try to put some of this in a book …”.  Which he did!

Note on sources.  The long quotation in the second paragraph is from an article, “Arizona Revisited” (archive ref PRI 5/7/7: we think it was published in Travel & Leisure Magazine 1974).  Other quotations are from Midnight itself, Margin Released, and Instead of the Trees.   The latter, published in 1977, was a very belated finale to the trilogy of descriptive autobiographies.   The Priestley Companion includes several key pieces from Midnight, including the first part of The Grand Canyon, and is probably easier to get hold of through libraries.

A Cabinet of Gems

No new Object this week – we’re slowing the pace a little because the last few entries are having to be researched and written from scratch.

Meanwhile you might like another of our online creations, A Cabinet of Gems.  I’m using this to highlight amazing images from the collections, like this beautiful 1920s design found among the photographs of Jacquetta Hawkes.

1920s girl with headscarf on photo wallet from Camrbidge camera shop, HAW 18/2/5.

1920s girl with headscarf on photo wallet from Cambridge camera shop, HAW 18/2/5.

83. By Gum! Life were Sparse: Bill Mitchell’s Yorkshire Dales Scrapbooks

This week, we’re back in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, looking at the scrapbooks created by local author Dr W.R. (Bill) Mitchell.   Bill has put these volumes together over many years, using his own photographs plus ephemera and letters, to create unique and very personal records of Dales lives and landscapes.  Here we see a page featuring a campaign to protect a Dales feature very important to Bill: the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

Settle-Carlisle Railway ephemera in Bill Mitchell scrapbook

William Reginald Mitchell was born in 1928 in Skipton, “gateway to the Dales”, to a family who worked in the textile industries and were strongly influenced by Methodism.   He began his writing career as a “cub reporter” on the Craven Herald in 1943.  After service in the Fleet Air Arm, he returned to the Herald in 1948; he was then asked by Harry J. Scott, editor of The Dalesman, to join the magazine’s staff.  Bill later became its editor.  He also edited a sister magazine, Cumbria, after The Dalesman took it on in 1951.  Bill retired from The Dalesman in 1988.

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

The Yorkshire Dales, from the first issue of the Dalesman magazine

Alongside writing for and editing the two regional magazines, Bill has written over 200 books and numerous articles, not to mention giving thousands of talks to local groups, radio and television.  He often refers to the advice given him by Harry Scott when he first joined The Dalesman: “We are more interested in people than things”.  Bill took this advice to heart: his works are full of the stories and voices of Dalesfolk, their tough working lives and their distinctive humour.

The titles of Bill’s books range from ABC of Lakeland to You’re Only Old Once!  Not to mention Summat and Nowt, and By Gum!  Life were Sparse!  They include folk tales, popular histories and biographies of famous people and local characters: J.B. Priestley, Alfred Wainwright, the Keartons, the Brontës,  Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, Dales farmer Hannah Hauxwell, cheesemaker Kit Calvert, TV vet James Herriot, naturalist Reginald Farrer and many more.

Cover of Men of the Settle-Carlisle, by WR Mitchell

Bill has written thirty books about the Settle-Carlisle Railway, exploring the legendary Ribblehead Viaduct, the building of the Railway, the lives of its workers and their families, and the stories of individual stations: Dent, Hellifield and Garsdale.

Cover of Birds of the Yorkshire Dales, by WR Mitchell

  Bill Mitchell is also a naturalist, hence many works about flora and fauna, especially bird-watching and the Sika deer of Bowland.  Alongside the stories of Yorkshire and the Lakes, there are also glimpses of the natural history of Scotland.

Cover of Mr Elgar and Dr Buck, by WR MitchellMusic is also important to Bill: his research into the friendship of Elgar with Dr Buck of Settle led to the discovery of correspondence and new manuscript music written by the composer.

W.R. 'Bill' MitchellThese wide interests are reflected in Bill’s scrapbooks and in his Archive at the University of Bradford. Our Bill Mitchell Archive came to the University of Bradford after Dr Mitchell was awarded an honorary degree in 1996.  The Archive includes the scrapbooks, letters relating to Bill’s work at The Dalesman, ephemera relating to the Keartons, and audiocassettes of interviews with Dalespeople.

These interviews on these audiocassettes are at the heart of an exciting project led by Settle Stories.  The project aims to make the interviews much more widely accessible, offering new knowledge about Dales lives and work and opportunities for learning and enjoyment for local people.  Find out more about Bill Mitchell and the project here.

While we’re away …

We’re taking a little break, to edit broken links in our older stories, do some technical tweaks and research the final twenty.  Back in March!

Statue1gifMeanwhile, if you’re interested in J.B. Priestley, the J.B. Priestley Society has plenty to offer you!

The Society’s spring event explores the relatively unknown links between Priestley and another great British author.  Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess liked J.B. Priestley’s Image Men so much he read it ten times!   Dr Andrew Biswall, Director of the Burgess Foundation, explains, at this free event in Manchester on 16 March.  Full details on the Society website or see our Facebook event.

Taking a Movember break

Objects are taking a short break – join us again on 15 November for lots more. Meanwhile, here’s a look back at some of the stories of previous Objects, with a Movember theme!

Group photograph from the Bradford Technical College era.  Who are they?  We don’t know: do you have any idea?

Joseph Riley, a Bradford wool merchant who travelled on the Orient Express.

Joseph Riley

Joseph Riley

His son, Willie Riley, who became a writer late in life, creating Windyridge and other much-loved Yorkshire tales,

Willie Riley

Willie Riley

John Hartley, Yorkshire comic writer, of Clock Almanack fame,

John Hartley

John Hartley

And stories of Sir Isaac Holden, Bradford entrepeneur and politician: courtship of Sarah Sugden, his quarrel with Lister, his lost mansion – and there’s more to follow!