Category Archives: Religion

Remembering John Waddington-Feather (1933-2017)

Some reflections on the life of a good friend of ours, John Waddington-Feather, who died on 28 April.  His funeral is being held in Shropshire this afternoon (18 May).

Born in 1933, John grew up in the Lawkholme area of Keighley and studied at Keighley Boys’ Grammar School.  He received his B.A.  in English (with Italian and History) from Leeds University in 1954.  John took a particular interest in dialect studies, an area in which the university had considerable expertise.  He recalled his fieldwork:

‘I remember being pushed in the direction of an elderly farmer above Haworth – a real old Joseph – and his door opened about an inch. His gnarled face peered out and he eyed me suspiciously a while before asking, “Are ta frae t’tax?’ (Fees, 1991).

Intelligence corps rugby team July 1956

Intelligence Corps winning tug-o’-war team  at the Intelligence Corps depot, Maresfield Camp, in Sussex, July 1956.  John Waddington-Feather is second from left on the front row.  Copyright holder unknown.

John’s ‘post-graduate education’ included three months as a ward orderly at a tuberculosis sanatorium near Ilkley and national service in the Intelligence Corps and as a paratrooper.  ‘I needed compassion and a good stomach in the one; and in the other low cunning and native guile!’.  An enthusiastic sportsman, John played rugby union for Crowborough and Sussex.

After national service, John studied medicine for a year, but failed Chemistry, which put an end to his medical career.  He decided to use his English degree as a teacher on HMS Worcester, where he met his future wife.  They moved to Yorkshire where John took up a post at Salt Grammar School, and three daughters were born.

In 1969 an eventful trip across North America on Greyhound buses changed John’s life.  He was mugged, but found unexpected help: ‘I sat next to two ex-convicts newly released from penitentiary, who regaled me with a string of stories about life in prison and looked after me as I recovered’.  On his return to England, John became a prison visitor, wanting to give something back in return for the help those men gave him.  He found the work rewarding, and later decided to become a priest, thanks in part to the suggestion made by a young prisoner.   After studying theology at St Deiniol’s Library, he was ordained in 1977.  The role of non-stipendiary Anglican minister was ideal as he could continue to teach.  He retired from teaching in 1995 though continued prison visiting until very recently: ‘I believe I’m the oldest working prison chaplain in Britain, with more ‘time’ behind me than any of the men I visit.’

However, Special Collections knew John best as an author and as a J.B. Priestley enthusiast, Chairman Emeritus and Vice-President of the J.B. Priestley Society.

Like JB, John was a prolific and fluent writer, and experimented with many genres: scholarly articles, poetry, verse plays, history plays, children’s books, detective stories, historical romance and more.  Following the removal of his one, cancerous, kidney in 2001, John had to spend many hours a week on dialysis.  Writing was, as he said, a lifeline for him during these difficult times.  He used writing as a lifeline for others, for instance, encouraging prisoners to reflect and improve literacy via Poetry Church magazine, which he founded in 1997.  John’s works are characterised by his concern for others, his faith, and the inspiration he continued to draw from his Yorkshire childhood and his wide experience of life.

Wadd_1_QUI. Waddington-Feather, Quill's Adventures in Kangarooland, cover

Quill’s Adventures in Kangarooland


Witness the Quill the Hedgehog series, for children (and grown-ups).  Quill and his friends fight to save their world from the destructive evil of Mungo the alleycat and his armies of rats, a parallel to the fate of the West Riding’s countryside during the Industrial Revolution.  Quill’s Adventures in Grozzieland was nominated for the Carnegie medal in 1989.

Wadd_1_All. Waddington-Feather, The Allotment Mystery, cover

The Allotment Mystery

John was early to see the value of online platforms to authors and publishers, creating ‘waddysweb’ to publicise his imprint Feather Books.  More recently he found the Kindle format attracted many purchasers of his Blake Hartley mysteries, (3000+ sales per month).  The mysteries are classic light detective fiction, featuring Inspector Hartley and Sergeant Khan, up against sleaze, crime and red herrings in ‘Keighworth’.

To sum up, it was a privilege to know and work with John.  We are proud to be the home of his archive and book collection, which will ensure his works are remembered and enjoyed for years to come.


Fees, Craig (1991).  The imperilled inheritance : dialect & folklife studies at the University of Leeds 1946-1962 Part 1, Harold Orton and the English Dialect Survey.  Folklore Society Library.  In Special Collections, or online on the author’s website.

Quotations are taken from two essays by John, Autobiography (2009) and Post-graduate education (2012), sent in digital pre-publication form.


Waddington-Feather books and archive collections in Special Collections.

100 Objects exhibition article on the story behind Quill Hedgehog.

Obituary in the Keighley News, by Ian Dewhirst.

Forgotten Pleasures: Sheffield rediscovers Willie Riley

I see that I haven’t yet written about the splendid work being done on the popular fiction of the early 20th century at Sheffield Hallam University.  It’s time to put that right!  SHU has an excellent collection of such works.   This blog by Erica Brown chronicles the rediscovery of these often forgotten gems by a reading group.  There’s lots of overlap with our Special Collections – they’ve even been reading J.B. Priestley!

Recently the group turned their attention to the work of Willie Riley, whose archive we have at Bradford.  Riley is a wonderful example of an author who was a best-seller and a household name, thanks to his delightful debut Windyridge, but whose popularity has waned since.

Willie Riley (ref RIL12_3 p.5)

Willie Riley

Riley is now having a mini-revival, thanks to the efforts of former Bradford University student David Copeland, who has written extensively about Willie, uncovered archives and made many fascinating connections.  On 25 October 2013, David will talk about Willie as part of an event on Yorkshire writers during Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival.  Find out more in this article from Saturday’s Yorkshire Post.

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket – my favourite dustjacket in Special Collections!

Just Catalogued! Willie Riley and the story of Windyridge

Willie Riley

Willie Riley circa 1900

We are delighted to announce that the Archive of Willie Riley is now catalogued and available to readers. The Archive is rich in detail about 19th and 20th century Bradford and district, Lancashire, Methodism, and the life of a professional author.  We have already seen glimpses of the stories it has to tell e.g. Three Yorkshire Romances, Sweet Memories of Chamonix.

Willie Riley was born in Bradford in 1866.  After a business career involving wool and magic lanterns in particular, he turned to authorship, writing the delightful Yorkshire tale Windyridge to entertain friends who had recently been bereaved.  It was a great best-seller, leaving its traces in the names of houses across Yorkshire.  Riley followed it up with over 30 other books, characterised by his love of Yorkshire, his ability to tell a good story, and his religious faith.  He lived in Silverdale, Lancashire for the latter part of his life: he died in 1961.   He fell out of fashion recently and was almost forgotten even in Yorkshire.  However he is now being revived and Windyridge is back in print!

The Archive catalogue and more information about Riley can be found on the Archive webpage.  The website created by Riley fan and scholar David Copeland is also packed with useful detail about this intriguing writer.

Sadly a few items in the Archive were badly water damaged during their history and are too fragile to make available without further treatment.  But everything else is freely available … please contact us if you would like to use it.

Collections of the Month: Elections in collections

Independent Labour Party mural in Bradford

Independent Labour Party mural in Bradford

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.

Sir Isaac Holden

Sir Isaac Holden

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.

The Holden Papers.

J.B. Priestley statue, in Bradford

J.B. Priestley statue, in Bradford

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.

The J.B. Priestley Archive.


Barbara Castle

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 at Bradford University

Harold Wilson at Bradford University

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).

Modernism in the Magazines

I have just re-discovered The Modernist Journals Project, which will be very helpful to those interested in Mitrinovic, his circle, and the ideas of the time.  The Project aims to digitise and make freely available via the web important early 20th century magazines, I am most pleased to see New Age!  Other famous titles include Blast, and the English Review.  The site offers plenty of other useful resources including recent essays and books, and biographies of key individuals.  Full text of “The New Age under Orage” by Wallace Martin (1967)  is particularly welcome.

A note of caution in using this great site: the journals included are in the public domain under US law where the Project is based.  Material may still be in copyright elsewhere so check before download or other use!

Double helpings of news

The Summer 2009 issue of our e-newsletter, Special Collections News, is now available, including Willie Riley, Bradfinder, and Priestley’s readership. You can be kept informed of new issues and lots of other news by joining the Special Collections Mailing List.

Also now available: the first issue of PaxCat Project Newsletter, keeping up to date with progress on cataloguing the Commonweal Archives.

“From Bradford Moor to Silver Dale”

Some welcome recent press coverage of the work of one of the University of Bradford’s research students.  David Copeland has recently completed his M. Phil. thesis, “From Bradford Moor to Silver Dale”,  on Willie Riley, the Bradford-born author of “Windyridge” and many other bestselling tales of Yorkshire life.  Riley was extremely popular in his day, but is now little known.  David has in essence rediscovered him, finding many more published writings, locating the author’s archive, and writing a detailed biography and bibliography.  The archive will now be donated to Special Collections at the University.  David and the Special Collections staff will now work together to bring this heartwarming, life-affirming author to a wider audience.

The University’s Press release.

Article in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus 14 May 2009.

Article in the Yorkshire Post 16 May 2009.

Enjoy our e-news

The Autumn 2008 issue of our e-newsletter “Special Collections News” is now available, including news of the Joseph Riley Archive, the PaxCat Project and the Yorkshire Rapid Response Network. New images have been added even to stories already featured on this blog and it is in the handy PDF format.

Collection of the Month December 2008: Magic lanterns and Methodists

New on Special Collections web: the Joseph Riley Archive. Joseph Riley (1838-1926) came to our attention as the father of Willie Riley, author of “Windyridge” and other popular novels set in Yorkshire, but his archive is fascinating in its own right, full of detail about Bradford life and the Methodism that was so important to him. His career took him from poverty (he started work at seven) to great success in the stuff trade and magic lantern business, but he faced many setbacks, and ultimately bankruptcy. The global nature of the Bradford wool trade and the resulting cosmopolitan attitude of Bradford business is reflected in Riley’s account of a business trip to Constantinople.