East Bowling History Workshop

Evelyn Hanslip

(First published in 1985 in volume 1, pp. 69-72, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

East Bowling History Workshop started in September 1978 when, after signatures had been collected at the local library, those interested in forming a group of this kind met in Fairfax School. Lydia Merrill, Community Tutor, organised things at first. She said our object should be to record for publication the history of East Bowling from about 1900, within our own lifetime or that of our parents. We had no money so some help would be needed.

Bradford Central Library had published a booklet for a group who had written about the 'Crown Comic Band', so we made an appointment and took a few of our stories to show to members of the library staff responsible for these occasional publications. They said that if we could find a subject of general interest they would consider the project. We chose 'Bowling Tide', which for many years was held as Bradford Holiday Week, when all the mills closed down. We talked, borrowed old photographs, recorded the memories of elderly local residents, and then began to write our stories down. These were criticised and pulled to pieces at meetings until they satisfied everyone Then they were typed, and photographs chosen to illustrate them.

During this time we had two open meetings to which we invited any old pupils of our two largest local schools and this almost doubled our membership. We had an afternoon Summer Party which made a profit of £10, and we also applied to the Yorkshire Arts Council for a grant. As a result an officer of the Council, along with two of the committee, came to a meeting and we eventually received a grant of £100. Then we had to open a bank account and draw up a constitution.

We decided to try to make a calendar for fund raising, using six of the photographs of old Bowling scenes. Bradford College helped with the typesetting, and when we received the finished sheets from the printer, we put them together ourselves and sold the calendars so quickly that we were able to pay the printer's bill out of the first profits. The calendars have since become an annual event. We choose photographs of places that are now demolished or of events that older people remember and younger people will be interested in. People buy these calendars for the sake of the pictures and we are often asked for old calendars to complete collections or to be sent away to friends and relatives. All members take a number of calendars home to sell: local shops display them, and many are sent out by post. Some go abroad to bring nostalgic memories to exiled friends and relatives who were brought up in East Bowling.

Our first book, Bowling Tidings, which arrived from the printers after a long delay, was soon sold out. Copies were sent to places allover the world and two reprints were needed. East Bowling Reflections was written in the same way, but was produced and paid for by us, under instruction from the Bradford Alternative Arts and Community Centre (Mobile Workshop) in Hallfield Road, who showed us how to make up a book and prepare photographs. Gateway to Education was entirely our own production, as our own Arts Officer, Leslie Jowett, took over the making-up, photography and book covers at the Mobile Workshop, and supervised us with great patience as we struggled with the final stages of our schools book. Do You Remember? followed the same pattern, but we bought some tools and equipment of our own so that we were able to complete this book on our home ground at Fairfax Library. All our books are in the Bradford libraries and some universities have asked for copies.

Our meetings are informal. Everyone talks at once and we have to use a hammer to get order and make some sense out of the proceedings. In the meantime the secretary scribbles down as many relevant details as she possibly can. The members bring their stories written on pieces of paper and we read them aloud, criticise them, alter them, until we think we have got an authentic story. The secretary then types them, editing where necessary, on book-size paper, which gives us an idea what length the eventual publication will be. These manuscripts are then sent for typesetting, and they come back in a long roll to be divided into pages and corrected once more, before being stuck on to boards in readiness for printing.

Each time a new book is ready we arrange a Book Launching Party with previous publicity in the local press, then, as with the calendars, all members sell as many as they can and people write or send their orders in by phone.

We are continually being asked about tape-recording our memories, but we would never use this method as a substitute for our writing. We had a few tapes with recorded memories of very old people, but unfortunately these were stolen and could not be replaced. If we use a tape recorder at our meetings we get an unintelligible mixture of voices, not worth transcribing. Some members have started taking a tape home to record their experiences on their own. For instance one man who was out in the Far East during the war has done several accounts of his experiences.

Most of the writing comes from our own memories, but we go to some lengths to verify details. We could spend whole meetings just talking, arguing, discussing and probing in order to try to remember accurately. We are often diverted and end up with a story quite different from the one we are supposed to be telling. Nothing is wasted, however, and we are frequently surprised at the facts we unearth which may have been known to one or two of us before, but not to th~ majority.

To pinpoint a definite time when something happened can be quite an exercise, but someone usually comes up with a fact or an event which clinches matters. At a meeting not long ago we were trying to remember the year when tram cars stopped running in Bradford. Opinions varied slightly but in the end someone said, 'Well, we had a shop at Tong Cemetery in the 1930s and we used to make breakfast for the men who were pulling up the tram lines just outside the shop. Home-made apple pie and a mug of tea for fourpence it was, and that was the year we were trying our gas masks on in the village hall at East Bierley - so that makes it 1938'. Q.E.D.

We use old advertisements, programmes, cards, and literature from chapels and churches, besides photographs. Our artist and photographic expert, Leslie Jowett, has a thick book full of negatives made from photographs which have been lent to us. He will also photograph an important telegram, a certificate, a First World War card, a medal, or anything that may be of use in our books, and then make a negative for us. Leslie Jowett gained his expertise at Bradford Mobile Workshop after he joined the East Bowling group. (We all went there and received valuable assistance and instruction during the making of our first three books.) We also have a thick scrapbook containing pictures, descriptive articles and mementoes of things we have done and places we have visited. We are often asked to go to speak to other groups who are trying to start a history project of their own. Sometimes visitors come to sit in at our meetings for various reasons. A class of fifteenyear-olds from Fairfax School came some time ago and spent the whole time asking questions and taking notes. These children cannot imagine a time when there was no television, nor even radio, and when car owners were counted among the wealthy, and that is why people like us did a lot of walking.

We have just received a letter from a Danish student who was in Bradford in 1982. She came to a meeting then and was entertained by one or two of our members. She obtained all our books and since then has written a thesis and passed an important examination, which she says was due to the help received here. She is coming again and wants to see us all to renew acquaintances, particularly to tell us what she has been doing and to find out what we have been up to in the meantime.

Our oldest member is 81 years old and our youngest not quite 60, so we have a long range of memory. We find that we remember most clearly the things that happened in our very early lives, such as episodes during the First World War.

All this means a lot of hard work for some of us, but no one need be afraid to make a start. Anyone of our age group who went to an ordinary Board School and was taught the 'three Rs', as we were, can read and write, and among our members no one can remember anyone leaving their school who could not. The teachers had the 'poor scholars' on the front line under their eye, and devoted a lot of time to them, despite large classes. We all did 'Compositions' and had them corrected, and wrote them out again, and there you have the basis of all the writing.

When we started our East Bowling Schools book I suggested that everyone should write down:

  1. What I liked most at school.
  2. What I hated most.
  3. The chief differences between schools today and schools when we were children.

Six of these replies were chosen as the first chapter of the book, and altogether they gave a good idea of schools in the 1920s and 1930s.

When we are asked why we do all this work and want to record the story of our lives, we say that this is because there is so much of interest that never gets into history books, and we hope that we are leaving behind a living picture of life as it was in our time.

I think it was a First World War poet who wrote:

"I weep for the words that were never said,
And have died in the minds of the dead".

Enquiries about the publications mentioned, and any other matters, may be addressed to Mrs Hanslip, who is the Secretary of the Workshop, at: 75 Brompton Road, Bradford. BD4 7JE

© 1985, Evelyn Hanslip and The Bradford Antiquary