The modern archives in Special Collections were almost all created by people engaging with public affairs in some way, whether as politicians or campaigners.
Here are some of the most interesting political characters in our archives, all liberal/socialist/left-leaning, influenced in some way by Bradford and West Yorkshire. Bradford was a radical city, fast-growing, full of ideas from non-conformist religion and the growth of trades unions. The Independent Labour Party was founded here in 1893.
Isaac Holden. Bradford wool manufacturer. He was Liberal Member for Knaresborough 1865-1868, for the Northern Division of the West Riding 1882-1885, and for Keighley 1885-1895. He had been advised to enter Parliament as a change of occupation for health reasons. Born in 1807, Holden was still an MP in his eighties, though e.g. “when the Home Rule Bill of 1893 depended on the willingness of Liberals to pace the division lobbies for two solid hours on a sultry summer night, among the faithful few were ‘two young fellows'”: Gladstone and Holden, both well over eighty. A committed Wesleyan, Holden favoured self-help, education and temperance.
J.B. Priestley. His father, Jonathan, was a socialist, and, like Holden and many others, believed in the power of education. Priestley was loyal to the basics of socialism throughout his life, which inspired his finest works. He wrote passionately about 1930s social inequalities in English Journey, his shock at discovering the class system in the WW1 trenches in Margin Released, his belief in society in An Inspector Calls. In WW2 he tried to ensure a post-war world that would be worth fighting for, as he explained in his famous Postscripts. Priestley stood as an independent candidate for the Cambridge University seat in the 1945 election, when he was also broadcasting and writing to promote the Labour campaign: Labour won, but he came third. Given his dislike of committee work, that may be just as well.
Barbara Castle. She grew up in Bradford, which had a huge influence on her political ideas. Cabinet Minister in Labour governments 1964-1970, 1974-1976. Best known for equal pay, road safety improvements, and the failed attempt to tackle trade union power. Special Collections holds her Cabinet Diaries, which give a wonderful view of her immediate responses to developing events, complete with doodles and handwritten comments. While her political career was effectively ended by the failure of “In place of strife”, she definitely made it possible for women to be taken seriously as senior politicians. She faced many difficulties she faced in her working, personal, and political life and always fought back, characteristically entitling her autobiography “Fighting all the way”.
Harold Wilson. Huddersfield-born, Prime Minister 1964-1970, 1974-1976. First Chancellor of the University of Bradford. His political life was turbulent and remains controversial, particularly the extraordinary February 1974 election which has been much discussed recently in view of possible developments in the May 2010 election. There are many documents relating to him in the University Archive: he was clearly sympathetic to higher education and to the University of Bradford.
“It is only at ceremonies like today’s that a glimpse can be had of the wide-ranging activities that are this University’s proud achievement. Undergraduate courses which offer … a real appreciation of the marriage of theory and practice, research which plays a vital role in the economic and social well-being of this country; a lively interaction with the local community. Some ivory tower!” (Harold Wilson, at a degree ceremony in 1982).