Goodbye Emma (and thank you!)

On 5 November Special Collections and our Library colleagues said farewell to our Project Archivist, Emma Burgham.  Here we are eating cake (Emma is second from the right).

Emma's leaving do, Nov.20151 re

Emma’s leaving do, 5 November 2015

Emma joined us in July 2014 for the Mitrinovic/New Atlantis Archive cataloguing project.  This large archive was created by the philosopher Dmitrije Mitrinovic and his circle and greatly enhances knowledge of inter-war society, politics, culture and ideas.  As an experienced archivist, Emma has been able to make sense of this complex collection and create a catalogue which will make it useful to researchers worldwide.  Here’s one of our favourite images from the collection, a postcard showing Dubrovnik in the 1920s.

NAF 6-5-3, Postcard of Dubrovnik, c1920s, 1

NAF 6-5-3, Postcard of Dubrovnik, c1920s

Emma also organised a wonderful Symposium to share news of discoveries in the archive, and has worked closely with students and other volunteers on transcribing letters and cleaning documents.  We are very grateful to Emma for all her hard work and wish her all the best for future.   You can find out more about the archive and Emma’s work on the project webpage and the Eleventh Hour blog.

NAF 3-2-3-2, Eleventh Hour flyer

NAF 3-2-3-2, Eleventh Hour flyer

Celebrating 50 Years of Bradford Uni

In 2016 the University of Bradford will celebrate its 50th anniversary.    We are delighted to announce the University’s new website for the anniversary, which features some wonderful then-and-now pictures, a fascinating timeline, and allows our alumni to share their own Bradford stories.

UniB10 September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. Surrounding wall still under construction. Cars and vans at roadside.

View from Richmond Road, September 1964

Our local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, published an in-depth feature today, including lots of pictures of the archives and thoughts from me on the University’s history.


“People before Things”: remembering Bill Mitchell (1928-2015)

Sad news: Bill Mitchell, journalist, historian and University of Bradford honorary graduate, died yesterday, aged 87.

wrp7 W R MitchellBill needs no introduction to anyone with an interest in the Yorkshire Dales: the first editor of the Dalesman Magazine and a prolific contributor to other journals, he wrote hundreds of books and articles about Dales people, landscape and wildlife.  Throughout his career he applied and often quoted the principle “People before things”, said to him by Dalesman founder Harry Scott in 1948.

Bill was a lovely person, with an incredible fund of engaging anecdotes and lively stories.  He will be much missed.


Find out more about Bill’s life, works and archives:


The Inspector’s Russian Journey

Seventy years ago, in September 1945, a great English play had its world premiere.  J.B. Priestley and his wife Jane travelled to the USSR to see An Inspector Calls staged in Leningrad and Moscow.  Since its rapturous Russian reception, and a rather cooler (“almost hostile”) one in London the following year, the play has been seen, enjoyed, and studied by thousands worldwide.

Priestley, JB Russian journey

Front cover of Russian Journey, a pamphlet by J.B. Priestley

It uses the device of a mysterious inspector to explore how each member of a prosperous family contributed to the fate of a young girl who has killed herself.  Inspector combines Priestley’s fascination with the nature of time and reality with a powerful moral message.   While many aspects of the play are ambiguous and open to interpretation, its message could not be clearer – and remains highly relevant: “We don’t live alone.  We are members of one body.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”.

So why the USSR?  No theatre was available in London, and Priestley’s work was popular in the country.  He was at the peak of his fame, so it would be something of a coup to host his new play.  Not to mention that Inspector would be seen favourably, as it can be interpreted as an expose of capitalism.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945

Priestley and Jane greeted at Moscow aerodrome, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

Visiting Britain’s ally so soon after the end of the Second World War was an extraordinary experience for the Priestleys; fortunately both wrote about it.  They found a warm welcome and wonderful cultural life, but also extreme poverty, repression, and squalor.  This weekend’s Guardian Review featured a lively account of their Russian Journey, written by Valerie Grove and based on the vivid letters Jane wrote to her children.  You can find out more about the fascinating poster and photograph album featured in the article (and shown here) in our 100 Objects exhibition.

PRI21_8_30. Russian Album. Priestley's birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945

Priestley’s birthday with members of the Kamerny Theatre, 1945 (PRI 21/8/30)

If this has tantalised you, you can see two interpretations of Inspector in the next few months:

  • A new tour of the 1992 production by Stephen Daldry, which led to a great revival in the popularity of the play.  Touring from 5 September 2015.
  • A new BBC Drama, filmed in Saltaire and featuring David Thewlis as the Inspector, will be broadcast on Sunday 13 September 2015.  A DVD will be available from the 21 September.

If you don’t know the play, now is the time to catch up and see what all the fuss is about!

Credits: quotations from An Inspector Calls and Margin Released.

Wine, Saffron and Gold: who chose the University of Bradford’s robes?

The splendid costumes worn at University of Bradford graduation ceremonies are part of the pageantry that makes the ceremonies such special occasions for students and their families and friends.

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate depicting student receiving her degree from the Chancellor Harold Wilson

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate, depicting a student receiving her degree from the Chancellor Harold Wilson.  A very rare colour image from this period, this shows well the saffron and gold trims on the gowns.

The costumes are known as “academic dress” and derive from the clothes worn by scholars at the earliest universities, during the Middle Ages.  Each university has its own academic dress and staff taking part in graduation processions wear the outfit of the university from which they received their degree.  Note also the use of fabric, colour and trimming to denote the type of degree or rank of the individual, again something typical of medieval practice.  Undergraduates have the simplest designs, with more colour and decoration for higher degrees; the Chancellor and other University officers wear the most elaborate costumes.

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate showing student outside the Main/Richmond Building porch in academic gown

Still from the 1960s film Potential Graduate showing a student wearing his academic gown. He is standing outside the Main/Richmond Building porch

In 1965, the Bradford Institute of Technology was working towards its transformation into the University of Bradford.   This included deciding on its heraldic and ceremonial identity, expressed in the coat of arms and the academic dress.   A Committee was set up to investigate and make these choices, meeting several times during 1965 and 1966.  Frank Earnshaw, the then Librarian, took on the task of finding out about academic dress elsewhere, so that our designs did not duplicate those worn by other universities.  Several other universities were taking shape and making similar decisions at this time, but everyone kept in touch and clashes were avoided.

The University officers in their gowns, late 1960s: Vice-Chancellor E.G. Edwards;  Chancellor Harold Wilson; Pro-Vice Chancellor Charles Morris and Deputy Vice-Chancellor R.A. McKinlay (ref. UniPgr1)

 University of Bradford officers wearing academic dress, late 1960s: Vice-Chancellor E.G. Edwards; Chancellor Harold Wilson; Pro-Vice Chancellor Charles Morris and Deputy Vice-Chancellor R.A. McKinlay (ref. UniPgr1)

The Committee settled on velvet for the splendid robes of the officers of the University: the Chancellor wore wine-colour, the Pro-Chancellor black, the Vice-Chancellor blue and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor black with grey.  The garments were enriched with trimmings of gold braid and moiré and silk linings.  In keeping with the University’s (then) unusual emphasis on involving students in governance, the President of the Students’ Union also had a special gown, of blue stuff trimmed with saffron*.

To celebrate our links with local industry and role in the city, much of the design and manufacture of the officers’ robes was carried out by Bradford companies, including Lister and Co, who wove the velvet, Naylor Jennings of Yeadon, who finished the moiré trim, and Denby and Sons of Shipley, who finished the linings.  Students from the Regional College of Art prepared the robe designs and University staff from the department of Textile Technology wove the silk linings and moiré collars.

John West, ViceChancellor, and Sir John Harvey-Jones, Chancellor, with Mohammed Ajeeb, Lord Mayor of Bradford, and other honorary graduates, March 1986 (ref. UNIPgr5).

The Vice Chancellor, John West, and Chancellor, Sir John Harvey-Jones, in the later style of gown, with Mohammed Ajeeb, Lord Mayor of Bradford, and other honorary graduates, in their scarlet robes, March 1986 (ref. UNIPgr5)

As you can see in this 1986 picture, the original heavy velvet gowns were later replaced by lighter ones of black artificial silk with elaborate facings.

The Committee chose black for bachelors and masters and scarlet for Doctors of Philosophy.  These outfits feature a variety of saffron trims, linking them with the President’s design mentioned above.

You might like this video made a few years ago, in which I talk a little more about the University’s robe designs.

Like the coat of arms and the University mace, academic dress is part of the magic of higher education, connecting our graduands with scholars past, present, and worldwide.  We in Special Collections would like to wish all our 2015 graduands and their families a wonderful graduation day and all the very best in the future!

*Saffron, a rich yellowy-orange, is described as the University’s colour, though I have never seen an explanation for this.  Possibly a connection with the city’s dyestuffs industry?   If anyone knows, do tell me, and I will update if I ever find out.

The Tall Blue Building: Happy 50th Birthday, Richmond

On 11 June 1965, Prime Minister Harold Wilson came to what is now the University of Bradford to open Main Building.  Later renamed Richmond Building, Main Building, a striking multistorey structure, quickly became the University’s most recognisable feature,  its hilltop position making it visible across the city.

Main Building, circa 1966.  (UNI B 19)

Main Building, circa 1966. (UNI B 19)

When Main Building opened, it was part of the Bradford Institute of Technology.  BIT was about to achieve the century-old dream of a University for Bradford: it received its Charter in October 1966, with Wilson as its first Chancellor.  However, the Institute had struggled with poor quality and outdated accommodation since its establishment as a College of Advanced Technology,  which hived off the higher education side of Bradford Technical College.  A University would need even more space for staff and students as well as better facilities for high level research and teaching in science and technological subjects.

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

Harold Wilson opening Main Building, 11 June 1965 (UNI PHw4)

BIT, unlike the College, was no longer under local authority control, but in practice it was impossible for it to act alone to solve its space crisis.  The two organisations had to work together for the benefit of the city, the Institute bringing in money and people and ideas and the authority making space and plans available.  They considered various greenfield sites for a whole new campus, including Woodhall, Tong and even Harrogate  (remember this was the 1960s when new “plate-glass” universities were taking shape outside cities).

However, it was eventually decided to expand the campus into the back streets which wrapped around the College.   Whole streets of houses were demolished (many people had to be rehoused as a result) and work on Main Building began in May 1960.  The building was commissioned by the Local Authority and designed by the City Architect, Clifford Brown, then handed over to the Institute.  The lower four floors of Main were first occupied in October 1962; other parts of the building in 1963 and 1964.

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. Surrounding wall still under construction. Cars and vans at roadside. (UNI B10)

September 1964. View from top of Richmond Road, with Great Hall in foreground. (UNI B10)

Since the 1960s, Main/Richmond has been an important part of the University experience for students, from arrival at their first open day to their graduation ceremony.  Staff too (everyone visits Human Resources on their first day here!).  Visitors get their taxis and their parking permits at the “tall building”.   As well as many academic departments over the years, Richmond houses most central University functions plus shops and places to eat.

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and views, September 2004, p. 3UniB15

Artist’s impression of the proposed glazed atrium. News and Views, September 2004, page 3 (UNI B15)

However, by the early noughties, it is fair to say that, like many 1960s buildings, Richmond was showing its age.  Many improvements to its appearance and usefulness have since been made, most noticeably the sky-blue cladding and the glassing in of underused space to create the Atrium where coffee and comfy chairs are to be had.   Alas, the fabulous modern “porch” on stilts you can see in the older photographs has gone.   I wonder if Richmond will be here in 2025 and how it will look?


Music in the Atrium at an event for the University’s 40th anniversary, 2006

PS I don’t have the date of the renaming to hand, but we know that Main Building was renamed Richmond Building after the street on which it lives.  This was in line with the University’s then policy of naming its buildings after such streets or other local heritage features.

Sources:  Much of this article is based on Robert McKinlay’s histories, which are full of detail on the architecture and planning decisions of the 1960s, and on the Main Building article in our 100 Objects exhibition.

J.B. Priestley and the Little Ships: 75 years on

In June 1940, the British Army faced disaster.  France had fallen to the Nazis and they were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk.  They were saved by a fleet of “little ships” which sailed across the Channel to rescue them.  A humiliating defeat was transformed into a miracle of survival.  The courage of the rescuers (many of whom did not return) helped inspire Britain as the country faced the threat of invasion during the perilous summer that followed.

PRI21_8_6. Priestley standing by car

J.B. Priestley, circa 1940 (ref PRI 21/8/6)

Bradford-born author and broadcaster J.B. Priestley played a key part in the creation of the Dunkirk story, thanks to a BBC radio broadcast on 5 June, the first of his celebrated Postscripts series.  We see Priestley turning the raw news into history – and legend.  “Doesn’t it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it – as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed ‘Dunkirk’?”.

Priestley doesn’t blame anyone or dwell on the defeat.  Instead, he pays tribute to the little ships, especially the frivolous little pleasure steamers, evoking the English sea-side world his listeners would know so well: “pierrots and piers, sand castles, ham-and-egg teas, palmists, automatic machines, and crowded sweating promenades”.  The steamers had left this to go into “the inferno” and face unimaginable dangers for the greater good.  Some would not come back but would be remembered forever, like “Gracie Fields”, a ship Priestley had taken many times to his Isle of Wight home.   Priestley’s listeners were doing the same:  he was reminding them that it would be worth it, that they were part of an incredible story already turning into history.

Listen to Priestley’s Dunkirk Postscript.

Find out more about the Postscripts: