I, Harold Wilson, hereby declare … Installation November 1966

After the signing of the Royal Charter that created the University of Bradford, the next step in making a University was the installation of the Chancellor, on 5 November 1966.  The Chancellor-Designate was the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

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Installation of the Chancellor, 5 November 1966

Why Wilson?  His aspirations for education matched those of the University:as is clear from his famous “white heat”speech of October 1963, Wilson believed Britain needed much more scientific and technological expertise and “a tremendous building programme of new universities”. He supported the transformation of Bradford Institute of Technology into the University of Bradford: “There is another thing we have got to do in the field of higher education, and this is to put an end to snobbery.  Why should not the colleges of advanced technology award degrees?”  He was also a Yorkshireman, which helped!

Harold Wilson was announced as Chancellor-Designate on 16 October 1964 at a press conference beginning at precisely 9.01 pm.  It was the night of a general election in which Wilson as Labour Party leader became the Prime Minister.  The odd timing of the conference meant it fitted into the short gap between the closing of the polling stations and the announcement of the election results.  Thus Bradford’s decision could neither have an impact on the election campaign nor appear that the University was appointing the Prime Minister, rather than the man, to the role.

Two years on, the installation ceremonies began with a grand dinner on 4 November at the Midland Hotel.  The Vice-Chancellors of the other Yorkshire universities gave the University of Bradford its ceremonial silver Mace, which is rich in symbolism and reflects the futuristic style of the period.

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Yorkshire roses in steel.  The University of Bradford ceremonial mace

Ted Edwards, the Vice-Chancellor, observed the slight awkwardness of accepting a gift from potential rivals, remarking “Timeo danaos et dona ferentes” (I fear the Greeks even when bearing gifts).  Harold Wilson in his speech later that evening jokingly rebuked Ted Edwards for using Latin in a modern technological university.  In practice, the University  eschewed Latin in its ceremonial identity, choosing a motto in English, “Give invention light”.

The installation ceremonial featured a service in Bradford Cathedral, then a procession across the city to St Georges Hall, designed to make sure many people got to see the parade.  The event was definitely for the City as well as the University.  As Harold Wilson said in his speech later on, the two would always be closely linked, with the University being,

“A new seat of learning and research and application, with the life of a region, drawing its strength from the life and vitality of that region and in turn making its own contribution to the future intellectual richness, industrial advance and social development of the region”.

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The procession through Bradford: Ted Edwards, Lord Morris, Harold Wilson

The procession was huge, including the Lord Mayor of Bradford, civic leaders, representatives from other universities, academic staff, and the honorary graduands who would receive their degrees at the ceremony.  One was the then minister of transport, Barbara Castle, who had grown up in Bradford.

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Harold Wilson giving Barbara Castle her honorary degree

In St George’s Hall, the Vice-Chancellor formally installed the Chancellor, who declared that he would fulfil the office. It was proclaimed that the University had a Chancellor; the band of the Royal Corps of Signals played a fanfare.  Bradford had its university at last!

The event received extra attention because the Chancellor was also the Prime Minister.  Demonstrators mounted a peaceful protest as the procession went by: apparently Harold Wilson congratulated a demonstrator on his poster “Come back Guy Fawkes, all is forgiven!”.  Unfortunately government duties meant Wilson could not enjoy the event to the full.  He was informed of a major crisis looming in Rhodesia and had to leave early.

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Harold Wilson in his robes as Chancellor, circa 1976.

Despite the demands of his role, Wilson was a great friend to the University of Bradford throughout his time as Chancellor (1966-1985).  His legacy to the University will be kept alive via a new series of annual lectures.  The first, delivered on the 3 November by Alan Johnson MP, got the series off to an entertaining and thought-provoking start.  Johnson argued that Wilson was not the devious opportunist he is so often presented as, but an astute and pragmatic statesman – with core beliefs to which he remained steadfast, notably the importance of education for everyone.

“Education is not only one of our greatest national assets, it is also our hope for the future”, speech given at degree congregation, July 1985.

Credits and sources

This account is based on Chapter 2 of Robert McKinlay’s The University of Bradford: the early years.  It also draws on his The University of Bradford: origins and development, and on various Wilson biographies and memoirs.  Archival sources: UNI X0375 (installation speech) X1283 (1985 degree congregation).

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