Bradford Archive Department

David James

(First published in 1985 in volume 1, pp. 1-10, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

Before 1982

Several of the constituent authorities which amalgamated in 1974 to form the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council collected manuscripts. Bradford, Keighley and Bingley Libraries had accumulated sizeable collections, and the Museums at Bradford and Keighley also had a number of deposits. On Local Government Reorganisation in 1974 Bradford Metropolitan Council appointed an Archivist, based in the Libraries Division, who eventually took responsibility for all the records which had formerly been deposited. In the same year the West Yorkshire County Council established the West Yorkshire County Record Office, which had its headquarters at Wakefield, with a county-wide responsibility for the collection and preservation of archives. Inevitably there was some confusion because both organizations were collecting the same kind of records. There was also a waste of scarce resources and considerable duplication of effort, although between them both offices rescued much material which would otherwise have been destroyed. The two responsible authorities initiated discussions to try to resolve the difficulties, but an immediate agreement was not reached.

In the years after 1974 the number of archives housed in Bradford Central Library increased from an estimated 50,000 documents to about 1,000,000. Staff was increased from one to three and the number of public enquiries more than doubled. Catalogues were produced, indexes expanded, and by way of general publicity talks, exhibitions and classes were arranged. This growth in the service undoubtedly provided much satisfaction to both staff and public, but a price had to be paid. By 1982 it was clear that the Department was suffering from a number of severe strains.

The first problem was one of space. An area which will comfortably house 50,000 papers cannot accommodate 1,000,000. Initially the archive strong room in the Central Library was designed for the use of static shelving. This was replaced by mobile racking but still shelf room was inadequate. Out stores were provided at the Town Halls of Baildon and Bingley, and at Idle Library and City Hall, Bradford. All these were no more than short-term expedients and eventually the premises had to be vacated and the records transferred to the Central Library. The result was increased pressure on existing storage, and lack of space in turn meant a restriction in services to the public, certain classes of records becoming almost unavailable for consultation. At the same time although about eighty additional collections were accepted every year, the shortage of accommodation meant that the office felt unable to undertake important and necessary surveys of records held by public and private bodies. Unique historical sources were therefore not being collected and preserved. In all these ways lack of adequate storage provision has held back the proper development of the Department.

The second limitation was due to shortage of staff. Only after records have been sorted and listed can they be put at the disposal of researchers, and with so many collections to catalogue considerable arrears of work had accumulated. A growing number of people were now consulting the archives, and they too had to be served. This increasing use of resources was gratifying but it meant that more and more time had to be spent advising and helping researchers at all levels. Inevitably with only three staff it was on occasions difficult to maintain a balance between the collecting and processing of collections and their exploitation by the public. This equilibrium between preservation and use could have been re-established only if additional people had been available to deal with the increasing amount of work, but it never proved possible to appoint the extra staff needed.

The small number of employees was at the root of the third difficulty experienced in Bradford. It was a small office, and the staff, who had considerable knowledge of the collections and sources under its control, gave users friendly and accessible service. What it lacked was access to specialised services and to the individual expertise contained within a big office. These were the preserve of larger organizations such as the County Record Office at Wakefield.

By 1982, therefore, it was clear that a number of impediments hindered the future development of the resources at Bradford. Fortunately for the service. in that year the long drawn-out negotiations with the West Yorkshire County Council were successfully concluded. In April 1982 Bradford, together with three of the other West Yorkshire Metropolitan Districts, amalgamated its Archive Department with the County Record Office to form the West Yorkshire Archive Service. The following year the .remaining West Yorkshire Metropolitan District also joined the Service and this meant that for the first time in West Yorkshire a unified archive service could plan on a county-wide basis. The headquarters of the service is in Wakefield but separate offices are retained in the Districts. In Bradford this means that Bradford records remain in the Bradford District and the personal links and contacts built up over the years are retained. The joint service, however, brings to each district the wider resources of the county archive service and specialised facilities developed for the service as a whole.

The Collections

1. Official Records

Official records can be briefly be described as the historical records created by local boards and government agencies. In the case of the Bradford Archive Department these collections consist chiefly of material from Borough and District Councils, School Boards and Boards of Guardians. The documents can be daunting to researchers, particularly those unused to consulting archives, which are sometimes bulky and often consist of long runs of volumes with information hidden beneath officialese and jargon. Nevertheless they are primary sources covering a wide range of subjects because the concerns of these authorities grew rapidly. Bradford Town Council records provide a good example of this.

The Borough received its Charter in 1847 and initially the Council was chiefly concerned with two major duties. First, it had to establish law and order in a town which had become a centre of riot and insurrection a number of times in the 1830s and 1840s, and where the level of crime both serious and petty, caused considerable concern. Second, it had to impose some kind of sanitation on a community whose environment was regarded by at least one expert as the filthiest in the United Kingdom.1 However, the range of the Borough's responsibilities rapidly increased, and this is reflected in the records it produced. The historian interested in almost any aspect of Bradford's nineteenth and twentieth-century development is eventually drawn to the Borough archives. Housing, sanitation and health; recreation, sport, leisure and culture; education and social services, are only some of the subjects which can be studied in their records.

Among the archives deposited by the Council are the records of the former Bradford Town Clerk's Department. These include an almost complete set of signed Council and Committee minutes as well as many working papers, which although not yet properly catalogued, have been consulted by several researchers. The Education Directorate has deposited a number of collections including the papers of the Bradford School Board. The Finance Directorate has also placed many of its records in the Department though they have not yet been properly sorted and listed. The historically important rate books, for instance, are inconveniently stored and unavailable for consultation. The Social Services Directorate has transferred the Bradford and North Bierley Boards of Guardians' records, including sets of minutes, and a large later deposit of miscellaneous volumes which were rescued by Archive staff from the traditional damp cellar. The Building Control Sections of the Development Services Directorate has deposited the Bradford Building Plans dating back to 1851, and the Architects' Department has also transferred a collection of their plans to the strong room.

The official records of the other borough, urban district councils and rural district councils which amalgamated with Bradford in 1974 have also survived, though to varying extents. For example, the records of Keighley Borough and Bingley Urban District Councils are extensive; those of Baildon less so. These records are all kept in the Bradford Central Library with the exception of those for Keighley, which are housed in that town's reference library. Pre-nineteenth-century records of administration are measured by the volume rather than the box. The Shipley Town Book dates back to 1689, the Manningham Town Book to 1671, and the Bradford Improvement Commissioners Minutes cover the years 1843-1849. This earlier material provides sparse though tantalising sources for the historian. Such material can, of course, be supplemented by other records such as newspapers, Quarter Sessions records and national and private collections.

2. Business

Bradford's chief claim to historical importance derives largely from its development as an industrial centre and in particular as the worsted capital of the world. If researchers are to understand the profound impact of industrialisation on the history of the area it is necessary to be able to trace the rise and decline of individual firms. Business records are therefore important for they can provide answers to many of the questions about the evolution of Bradford and the surrounding district. Fortunately the records of many textile firms have survived and Pat Hudson's invaluable The West Riding Wool Textile Industry: a Catalogue of Business Records from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century2 lists most of them. Since its publication, however, a number of additional deposits have been made.

There are several interesting business collections in the Archive Department. Among them are those of the Heaton family who lived at Ponden Hall, near Haworth. These documents, which go back to a time before the family became involved in cotton or worsteds, provide an excellent source for the study of capital formation, showing how an essentially farming family could move into cloth production almost imperceptibly. A more important firm was Fison's of Burley-in-Wharfedale, whose paternal attitude towards their employees and the village in general is similar to that which we associate with Sir Titus Salt and Saltaire. One of the partners was W.E. Forster, possibly the most important political figure to be connected with Bradford. The papers of the firm have been deposited for some time but have recently been re-catalogued. the records of another worsted firm, James Drummond & Sons of Bradford, are perhaps the most extensive of all the textile collections in the office.

Engineering was also of prime importance in the industrial history of the Bradford area. John T. Hardaker, Prince, Smith & Stell, and the two great ironworks at Low Moor and Bowling, are among the firms who have made deposits, but the extent of their collections varies enormously. Prince Smith's, at one time the largest employer in Keighley, is represented by a meagre four boxes, while Hardaker's contribution takes up two-and-a-half bays. The most important engineering records, however, belong to another Keighley firm, George Hattersley & Sons, probably the oldest loom manufacturers in the world. Their archives, which are of national as well as local significance, go back two hundred years and fill over ten bays. These have only recently been accessioned and it will be some time before the cataloguing can be completed.

Other business records include those of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, the Wool Textile Manufacturers' Federation, and the Bradford Manufacturers' Association. It should also be remembered that not all businesses are large. Records relating to small firms and shops are also kept. In their way they are just as important as the records of big businesses in helping to trace how people organized their lives in the generations before our own.

3. Trade Unions

The history of industrial relations in Bradford in the nineteenth century is dominated by two strikes of national importance. The first was the 1825 strike of woolcombers and weavers which ushered in twenty-five years of conflict between men and masters in the industrial, political and social fields. The second was the 1891 strike and lockout at Manningham Mills, which politicised a generation of working class leaders, and led ultimately to the formation of the Bradford Labour Union, whose members soon became the Bradford Branch of the Independent Labour Party. Both before and after these events, capital and labour struggled to reach an accommodation with each other, periods of industrial peace being punctuated by strikes and lockouts of varying degrees of bitterness.

The trade union records held in the office are quite extensive. There is a small collection relating to the 1825 strike, including the Minutes of the Masters' organisation and an account from the Union side by John Tester, the strikers' chief representative. There are also letters and posters. The Bradford Trades Council have placed their large collections in the office and through their records can be traced the change from the deference of the 1860s to the renewal of class conflict in the 1890s and the years before 1914. The collection also contains files on key events both local and national, such as the 1926 strike and the attitudes of the Council towards political and social issues of the day. A number of trade union branches have' also deposited material. Many of them are connected with the textile trade, but other unions such as railwaymen, printers and engineers are represented too. The increase of research into labour history in the last few years has meant that many of these records have been used extensively. Nevertheless much work needs to be done. In particular the inter-war years are relatively underresearched, and the reaction of Bradford people to the demands of the two World Wars and the recent decline of the worsted trade are only two of the many possible areas of study.

4. Politics

Bradford was an important provincial political centre in the nineteenth century, and in the 1830s and 1840s various working class movements, but especially Chartism, were influential in the area. The office is fortunate to have the only existing membership list for the Chartist Association in the country. The same period saw the growth of the partly political, partly industrial Ten Hours Movement, many of whose records have survived. Richard Oastler spent much time in Bradford, which was a major centre of the agitation, and George Bull, the Curate of Bierley, gave him active support. Material relating to the attempts of manufacturers to put together a coalition of working and middle-class activists can be seen in the minute books and correspondence of the Bradford Reform Society and the Bradford Reform Club.

Of the modern political parties the most extensive collections in the Department are those of the Bradford Conservatives. They have been consulted by several researchers, most recently by a student who was examining the nature of the appeal made by Conservatives to an essentially working-class population. For although Bradford was not generally regarded as a Tory town in the nineteenth century it should be remembered that in the 1890sthat party captured all three of the Borough's parliamentary seats. Nevertheless it was the Liberals who were politically supreme for most of the nineteenth century. Dominating the local and parliamentary elections for a generation they turned the town into a bastion of radicalism. Unfortunately few Liberal Party records have either survived or been deposited. However, this loss can be remedied by the use of pamphlets, newspapers, biographies and other printed material in the Local Studies Department of the Central Library. In the history of the Labour Party, Bradford holds an honoured place. The first conference of the Independent Labour Party was held in the town and this was later described by Philip Snowden, the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the most important political event of the nineteenth century. For many years Bradford and Halifax provided over half the members of the national I.L.P. with Ben Tillet, Keir Hardie, and Fred Jowett all standing as Labour candidates in Bradford Parliamentary elections, and Philip Snowden in Keighley. Unfortunately few records of the Bradford I.L.P. have been deposited, although Trades Council and Trade Union records often provide helpful information, as do the newspapers in the Local Studies Department. However, the records for the Keighley branch which are available are among the best in the country.

Material on the Communist Party, the British Union of Fascists, and other parties of the right and left, as well as groups such as the Ecology Party and the S.D.P. will be of increasing importance to the historian. Records of organizations with political implications, such as C.N.D. and the Animal Rights Movement, would also be valuable. It seems likely at present that the sources of research for these groups at the local level will remain inadequately preserved.

5. Religion

It is sometimes difficult to understand the centrality of religion in the lives and culture of our nineteenth century ancestors, but it is necessary. Political, business and social activities were all influenced by religion. The Bradford radicals made the disestablishment of the Church of England a fundamental part of their policy. In business, friendships made in places of worship often led to partnerships or contracts at work. Socially, masters and men met each other in the chapel and confirmed the deferential relationship established in the mill. The social life of the church or chapel based on choirs, cycling, cricket, football and bowls clubs, mutual improvement societies, debating groups and Sunday Schools could provide almost the entire recreational and educational life of a community. The archives of churches and chapels, therefore, tell us much more than just who went to church. They can reveal how communities functioned.

Bradford Archive Department holds the records of over ninety churches and chapels. The earliest are those of Keighley and Bingley which start in 1562 and 1577, but much of the material only dates from the nineteenth century. The increase in the population of the local towns and villages after 1800 led to a growing need for more places of worship, a need emphasized by the 1851 religious census. A disproportionate number of churches and chapels therefore were built in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. These are the places of worship which provide the bulk of the Department's religious records, but not all denominations are represented, the most striking deficiency being in the archives of the Roman Catholic Churches. By 1881, notwithstanding the Borough's reputation as a centre of nonconformity, Catholics were the third largest single religious denomination in the town, and growing rapidly at a time when most others were in decline.

More investigation is needed into the records of smaller religious groups, such as Spiritualists and Jews, and not enough research has been done on locating the archives of the churches of later immigrant groups, like the Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians and other ethnic minorities. Documenting the various Asian sects and religions will present future historians with a formidable task.

A list of the religious material housed in the office can be found in Guide for Family Historians (West Yorkshire Archive Service, 1983), which also gives details of the Bradford registers held at the West Yorkshire Archive Service Headquarters. The Local Studies Department of Metropolitan Bradford Libraries have produced a list of the printed and microfilm copies of registers held by them and also of the parish registers in the Bradford Archives.

6. Estate and Family

Estate and family papers often provide information which can rarely be found elsewhere. For example, in an area like West Yorkshire these documents can be particularly useful when studying the early industrial growth of communities. Thus in Keighley, the records of the Dukes of Devonshire show how they generally encouraged the development of the town helping it to become a medium sized industrial centre.

The Department has three major family and estate collections. The Spencer-Stanhope records which are shared with Sheffield City Library; the Tong Manuscripts which deal with the important family of Tempest, who lived at Tong Hall near Bradford; and the Eshton Hall papers which were originally housed in Cliffe Castle Museum, and are largely concerned with the Keighley area. These collections contain a wide variety of records, some of them illustrating national as well as local events. For example, among. the Spencer-Stanhope papers are a series of letters written by a British Officer during the American War of Independence. The Eshton Hall papers contain letters written by a British cavalry officer in the Boer War, cine of which denounces the policy of herding civilians into Concentration Camps.

These are, of course, the documents of wealthy families. However, the papers of quite humble people can provide equally interesting source material. For example, the letters of the Whittaker family, written at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, give a sparkling picture of affluent life at the time of Bradford's industrial expansion. A hundred and fifty years later the papers of a local medical specialist with a wide range of leisure and cultural interests show what middle-class life was like in the 1920s and 1930s.3 During the same period Miriam Lord's records reveal what a committed socialist and philanthropist could achieve when motivated by the desire to improve the conditions of the poor.4

7. Miscellaneous

Many of the most interesting documents in the office fit into no particular category. A photocopy of a manuscript entitled An Account of the Events at Kasauli is not part of any class or collection. It is not even about local events. It is, however, interesting because it gives an account of life in an Indian Hill station during the Mutiny. It contains battles, rebellions and even buried treasure. Other types of documents which have not been mentioned so far, but which are kept in the Department, include the records of such organizations as Co-operative Societies, charities, brass bands, choral societies and private libraries, as well as personal letters and diaries, reminiscences and autobiographies. All these papers and others like them can be used to build up a picture of what life was like in Bradford and the surrounding area at a particular time. However, it should be remembered that by no means all the sources for Bradford's history have been placed in the office. Gaps and blanks remain which can only be filled by future deposits.

Other Sources

Obviously there are many other places which contain records helpful to the Bradford historian. Next to the Archive Department on the sixth floor of the Central Library is the Local Studies Department, which houses much key material. This includes newspapers, census returns, directories, photographs, maps, pamphlets and oral history tapes. In addition there are printed histories and research theses, together with studies and articles on a multitude of topics. Each of the other major libraries in the Metropolitan District keeps its own local history material. The University of Bradford has important archive collections, including papers of Sir Isaac Holden and the Worsted Committee Minutes. These are administered by the West Yorkshire Archive Service from its office at Wakefield, which keeps much additional material relating to Bradford, including the records of local hospitals, Police Forces, . churches and businesses. They also have more general records of value to the Bradford researcher; for example, the West Riding Quarter Sessions proceedings and the West Riding Registry of Deeds. Other repositories in the locality also hold Bradford collections, for instance the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, which possesses the archives of a number of local businesses.


Since the formation of the West Yorkshire Archive Service a number of developments have taken place to the benefit of the Bradford Archive Service and its users. The most important of these is that more extensive accommodation has been found - a nineteenth-century warehouse situated near Forster Square in the centre of Bradford. Although the building requires considerable strengthening, renovation and alteration, it is hoped that the staff, the office and the collections will be transferred to the new premises during 1985. This new accommodation, in addition to more storage space, will contain a separate search room, a meeting room and an exhibition area, with photocopying equipment and microfilm readers. In all it should provide Bradford with a much improved archive service in line with current developments throughout the county and elsewhere.

Other improvements which will benefit the service are also being introduced. An ambitious microfilming programme has started which will eventually provide Bradford with copies of all parish registers deposited in all the offices of the joint service. In this way the enquirer wishing to consult, for example, the Halifax Parish Church Registers will be able to do so on microfiche in Bradford. It will also soon be possible to provide the public with a set of catalogues of all the collections which have been processed throughout the county. A start has also been made on putting details of all accessions of archive collections into a data base and it is planned that eventually this information will be available to both staff and users in each office. This, of course is a long term project which will take a number of years to complete. However, over all these initiatives hangs the threat of the abolition of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. If this takes place the future of the West Yorkshire Archive Service may be uncertain. It is to be hoped that whatever happens, arrangements satisfactory to all interested parties can be negotiated. If not, the users of the archives will inevitably be among the chief sufferers.


1. James Smith, Report on the Sanatory Condition of the Town of Bradford, Health of Towns Commission, 2nd Report, 1845, Vol. XVIII, Pt.2, p.315. "Taking the general condition of Bradford, I am obliged to pronounce it to be the most filthy town I visited." (back)

2. Pat Hudson, The West Riding Wool Textile Industry: A Catalogue of Business Records from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, Edington (Wiltshire), Pasold Research Fund Ltd., (1975). (back)

3. Benson Family papers, West Yorkshire Archive Service (Bradford Central Library) Ref. No. 8D81. (back)

4. Miriam Lord Collection (as above). Ref. No. 22D77. (back)


I would like to thank Mrs. E.K. Berry and Miss E.M. Willmott for commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

© 1985, David James and The Bradford Antiquary