Tag Archives: Willie Riley

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.

14. The Call of the Heather: Windyridge by W. Riley

In 1912, a novel set in the Yorkshire Dales became an instant best-seller.  Described by reviewers as pure, wholesome, refreshing, and sweet,
Windyridge told the charming story of Grace Holden, an artist who takes refuge from London life by renting a cottage in a Yorkshire village: Windyridge, based on Hawksworth, near Guiseley.

Grace makes the choice to stay in Windyridge because she is so moved by the sight of the heather-covered moors, which remind her of her father’s homesickness for his own part of the country.   The heroine encounters interesting local characters, finds friends, and after many difficulties, love and happiness.  The book was written from her point of view so effectively that readers and reviewers, and indeed at first the publisher, believed this new author, W. Riley, to be female.  But in fact W. Riley was Willie Riley, a 46-year-old Bradford man, who had previously managed his family’s pioneering optical lantern business and was an active Methodist lay preacher.

Willie Riley

Willie Riley

Riley wrote the book to entertain some friends who were having a difficult time after a bereavement.  They were delighted with the book and, along with his wife Clara, urged him to send it to a publisher.  Riley did so, though not taking the idea seriously.  However, new firm Herbert Jenkins recognised the qualities of the book: Windyridge was their first publication.  Riley was to publish over 30 novels with them until his death in 1961.

Like Windyridge, Riley’s other writings are full of his love for Yorkshire; the stories are set in real places under disguised names.   His work also shows the Methodist faith that was so important to him (and I think his success with Windyridge owes much to the communication skills he built up in his activities as a lay preacher).

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited

A lovely period dustjacket for Windyridge Revisited (1928)

Special Collections has copies of all these books, and we are receiving his Archive which documents how he organised his writing career.

Riley was almost forgotten for many years, Windyridge surviving only in the names of houses around the world.  Now there is a revival of interest: Windyridge itself is now in print again, from Jeremy Mills Publishing.  Find out more about Riley and Windyridge on this website, created by Riley enthusiast and Bradford graduate David Copeland.