Tag Archives: Wool

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.

62. “A Controverted and Debated Question”: Mr Holden, Mr Lister, and the Square Motion Combing Machine

Front cover of The Square Motion Combing Machine, letters by Holden and Lister (ref HOL 5/2)

Front cover of The Square Motion Combing Machine, reprinting letters by Holden and Lister (ref HOL 5/2)

This little pamphlet tells the story of a bitter dispute between two Grand Old Men of Victorian Bradford: Sir Isaac Holden and Samuel Cunliffe Lister (Lord Masham).  It reprints letters written by the two men during the 1870s to the Bradford Observer and other local newspapers arguing about the origin of the “square-motion” wool comb, following “some reflections by Mr Lister upon Mr Holden in a letter during the County Election of 1872”.  The pamphlet was printed at Holden’s instigation circa 1887 when the argument flared up again.

We already met Isaac Holden, courting his second wife Sarah during the late 1840s.  At this time, Holden linked up with Lister, a successful inventor and industrialist to develop a commercially viable wool comb, an innovation which had so far eluded inventors.

Detail of the 1848 Memorandum of Agreement between Holden and Lister (HOL 1/4/2)

Detail of the 1848 Memorandum of Agreement between Holden of Bradford and Lister of Manningham, in which they agree to have equal shares in the profits of the French wool combing enterprise(HOL 1/4/2)

Lister filed a patent for what became the square-motion wool comb and the two set up a partnership agreement for an enterprise in France which would use and improve the new comb, Lister supplying capital and machines, Holden dedicating his time to running the business.  The first factory at St Denis was followed by others at Croix and Rheims; the original design was perfected and patented; great profits were made, setting the foundation of Sir Isaac’s immense wealth.  However, the business relationship was never easy.  In 1858, Holden bought Lister out for £74,000.  For the rest of their lives, they would continue to argue about the origins of the square-motion comb and what had really happened between them during the 1840s and 1850s.

The letters in the pamphlet show how public, painful, personal and bitter the dispute became.  Holden argued he had developed square motion before he formed links with Lister, Lister insisted that Holden was just a book-keeper whom he had used to run the French enterprise, too ignorant of the mechanics of wool-combing to invent the machine, and that a patent was more than an idea.

The Holden Papers contain a wealth of correspondence, legal and business papers  shedding light on the complex issues involved.   They include the original partnership agreement of 1848, many of the important letters referred to by Lister and Holden in their arguments, press cuttings (including letters reprinted in the pamphlet), and notes made by Holden.

(I’ve simplified the story of the technical innovations of Holden and Lister and the various patents and legal issues involved:  Technology and Enterprise by Honeyman and Goodman offers a useful introduction and is widely available in academic libraries).

50. “Yours with Increasing Affection”: the Courtship Letters of Isaac Holden and Sarah Sugden

For the 50th Object (half-way through!), a first glimpse of a family whose letters are a treasure house of rich detail about 19th century Bradford, the wool trade, religion, politics: the Holdens.

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden (HOL 1/1/2/2).

In 1848, Isaac Holden was just over forty years old and running a woollen mill in Pit Lane Bradford.  His first wife, Marion Love, had died the previous year, leaving four children.   He was thinking about expanding or moving the business and was to move to St Denis in France.  He was also writing to the woman who was to be his second wife: Sarah Sugden of Dockroyd, Keighley.

Five letters between Isaac and Sarah from this period survive in the large collection of Holden papers held by Special Collections.  There were clearly many others, but the survivors do give an idea of the story and of the characters of the couple.  Isaac’s writing is larger, written with a thicker pen and has a hastier quality than the more regular measured writing of Sarah.  His letters appear more passionate, but this may reflect that such a way of writing might be more appropriate for a man at that time than a woman.  Sarah definitely comes across as a strong-minded Yorkshirewoman which I think is borne out by her photograph, below.

The first, from Isaac to Sarah, is a hasty note dated in the December apologising to “Miss Sugden” for missing a visit because of an “unavoidable circumstance”.  In the second letter (detail above), dated July 1849, Isaac refers to his dear Sarah and has moved to St Denis.  During this time, he must have proposed marriage, as he is calling for the event to take place in August 1849.

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden (HOL 1/1/2/4)

We have two letters from Sarah from that September and October (detail above), to her “dear Mr Holden”.   The decision about the marriage date relied on her own brothers and the making of the marriage settlement: it appears they did not want her to marry until the Winter.

Sir Isaac Holden

Sir Isaac Holden in later life

In the final letter of the set, in March 1850, Isaac hopes they will marry that Spring, as indeed they did.  He looked forward to “the happy period approaching, which shall permit the unrestricted and familiar enjoyment of each other’s society” and to selecting French shawls for Sarah and her sisters.

Sarah Holden

Sarah Holden in later life (1870s or 1880s from the dress style)

The marriage lasted forty years, until Sarah’s death in 1890.  At first they lived in France, where Sarah did not settle well and yearned for “a right good English servant”, but they later moved back to England, where Isaac became an incredibly successful and rich business man and moved into politics.   We will explore the family, their trade, and Isaac’s political career in later Objects about this wonderful archive.

37. Labor Omnia Vincit: the 1882 Opening of Bradford Technical School, in silk

This week’s Object is a silk panel produced to commemorate the opening on 23 June 1882 of the Bradford Technical School.  The Technical School later became the Technical College, eventually morphing into Bradford University and Bradford College.

Woven silk panel of the 1882 Opening of Bradford Technical School

Woven silk panel of the 1882 Opening of Bradford Technical School (BTC 2/2). Note the city’s Latin motto at the foot: Hard work conquers all.

The School was set up to improve technical education in Bradford so that the city’s wool and textile industries could continue to thrive in the face of growing competition from Europe.  As the Trust Deed put it: to impart “to youths, artisans and others, technical, scientific, artistic and general instruction in the various processes involved in the production of Worsted, Woollen, Silk and Cotton Fabrics and other manufactured articles …”.

Detail from programme of 1882 Opening of Bradford Technical School

Detail from programme of 1882 Opening of Bradford Technical School (BTC 2/1).

On the day, the Prince and Princess of Wales formally opened the new building for the School (which remains part of Bradford College and is now known as the Old Building).  There was also a bumper Victorian lunch featuring salmon, pigeons and, naturally, Yorkshire hams.  The Bradford Technical College Archive is rich in memorabilia from the event, such as the programme (detail above).  The panel itself is too fragile to put on show, so this exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to highlight its story.

32. A Bradford Man on the Orient Express: Joseph Riley’s “Notes of Journey from Bradford to Constantinople”

First page of Joseph Riley's Notes

First page of Joseph Riley’s Notes

This Object is a manuscript journal, with what *might* be the longest title in Special Collections,

“Notes of journey from Bradford to Constantinople by the Orient Express from Paris by way of Vienna-Belgrade-Sophia-Philipopulo-Adrianople &c. and from there to Smyrna by way of Dardanelles and the Greek Archipelago and with a visit to Ephesus and the district of the 7 Churches, returning by way of Chio to the Pireas and Athens and a visit to Corinth ancient and modern Patras, to Corfu and Brindisi by sea, thence by rail to Naples, Rome, Milan, Switzerland, Basle to Calais and from there by sea to Dover, from thence to London and back to Bradford”.

Joseph Riley circa 1910

Joseph Riley circa 1910

Impressive!  Its author, Joseph Riley (1838-1926) , a Bradford wool merchant, made this epic trip in May and June 1889 to investigate possible fraud by his local representatives in Constantinople.

In the Notes he gives masses of detail about his itinerary, what they had to eat and how much it cost, the sights he saw, and what he thought of the local people and fellow travellers.  He suffered from  travel sickness, fellow travellers who snored, bureaucratic problems at borders, and his inability to communicate in other languages; he also encountered  beautiful landscapes and amazing sights.  He saw the Eiffel Tower the year it was built!  We leave him excitedly seeing Scutari and the Sea of Marmara, as he jostles in a rickety carriage towards his Constantinople hotel.

Joseph Riley's autobiography or Journal

Joseph Riley’s autobiography or Journal

Joseph Riley came to our attention as the father of Willie Riley, the author of Windyridge and other Yorkshire tales.  Alongside the Notes, Joseph’s Archive includes his autobiography or Journal, written in 1910 at the request of his family.  The Journal sets the 1889 voyage into perspective, explaining why he set out and what happened: it is good to report that the problem was settled.  The Journal gives the impression that his writings about 1889 continued, covering his time in Constantinople and journey home, but, frustratingly, these have not survived.

However, Joseph’s remaining writings offer such an interesting perspective on the Bradford of his time and on his own character.  We find out about his Methodism (the dominant force in his life), which helped him to become literate despite leaving school aged seven, his social and family life, his approach to business and how he, like so many other Bradford entrepeneurs, worked with and depended on contacts worldwide.

21. Death and the Woolsorter: Bradford doctors against anthrax

Bradford’s phenomenal growth and prosperity in the 19th century were founded on the wool industry.  But the industry had a dark side.  Alongside bad working conditions and poverty,  a deadly disease awaited some wool workers.

Death in the Woolpack, 1880s cartoon

Death in the Woolpack, 1880s cartoon ANT 1 p.45

In Object 3 we learned about the innovative Bradford products based on new wools from overseas such as alpaca and mohair.  These bales of wool were often contaminated with blood or skin and sometimes contained the anthrax bacillus.  Workers quickly made the link between these wools and  “bronchitis, pneumonia, and so-called blood-poisoning of a peculiar deadly nature”.  Those who sorted the bales were most vulnerable to what became known as “woolsorters’ disease”, or “la maladie de Bradford”, though other cases were known e.g. a woman who washed her husband’s contaminated clothes, or a boy who fell asleep on a bale of wool.  Death could result within a day or so, accompanied by terrible pain.

Two Bradford doctors played key roles in researching and removing the disease: Dr J.H. Bell, who established in 1879 that “woolsorters’ disease” was indeed anthrax, and Dr Fritz Eurich.  In his capacity as bacteriologist to the Bradford Anthrax Investigation Board, the latter spent many years of dangerous work growing  and experimenting on the bacillus.  He found a method of killing it by disinfecting fleeces, removing the danger without spoiling the fleece or harming the workers.

This week’s Object comes from The Anthrax Papers, copies of two scrapbooks of press cuttings about the disease in Bradford between 1878 and 1911.  The Papers have added resonance because the originals were collected by the two doctors and used as evidence in their work.  They were also used by Dr Eurich’s eldest daughter, Margaret Bligh, in writing her biography, Dr Eurich of Bradford (also in Special Collections).