Commonweal: a library for the good of all

Visitors to the Library at the University of Bradford will often come across references to “Commonweal” and maybe wonder what this means.   Wonder no more!

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Commonweal means “the good of all”.  The Commonweal Library is an independent peace library run by Trustees and volunteers.  Commonweal is located within the main Library of the University of Bradford (handily just outside my office on Floor 1!) and is a treasure trove of books, journals and pamphlets on protest, social change, religions, ideas, and much much more.  Its extraordinary collections of campaign archives are part of Special Collections.

Befriending Commonweal Peace Library“, a feature in the most recent issue of Peace News, is a great introduction to Commonweal’s fascinating story.  The author of the feature, Michael Randle, encourages activists and academics interested in nonviolent protest to make use of Commonweal’s wonderful resources.

Commonweal, like Special Collections, is for everyone.  Unlike Special Collections, however, Commonweal is open access:  you don’t need an appointment and you can explore the shelves to your heart’s content.

Find out more:

The Requisites of Novelty, Fashion and Elegance

This week at Fairfax House in York, an extraordinary scrapbook of historic fabrics will go on show for the first time.

Dying_BRA. Ackermann's repository.2

The fabrics were originally featured in Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politics, a well-known early 19th century periodical which is an incredible source for study of that period.  They were gathered into a scrapbook entitled British Patterns of Manufacture, for the benefit of students at Bradford Technical College.

The scrapbook will be on show in a major exhibition at Fairfax House which explores the growth of shopping as a leisure pastime in Georgian England.  Consuming Passions will run from 28 May-31 December 2015 and will look at the ways Georgian middle and upper class people decorated themselves and their homes in the latest fashion.  The vivid and colourful patterns depicted in the scrapbook are a fascinating part of this exuberant and luxurious world.

Explore further …

Journey into Daylight: J.B. Priestley’s VE Day broadcast

Seventy years ago, at 9pm on 11 May 1945, the author J.B. Priestley made a very special broadcast on the BBC to mark VE Day: war was over in Europe; Nazi Germany had surrendered.


J.B. Priestley at his typewriter, a little later in 1945.

The piece, “Journey into Daylight”, feels like a Postscript to Priestley’s Postscripts, which spanned the summer of 1940 from Dunkirk to the London Blitz.   Like them, it is a moving and personal account, warm, inclusive, and rich in everyday detail which emphasises the sense of shared experience: titles of popular songs, spam sandwiches …  It also gives the impression of natural speech while actually being consummately crafted to raise Priestley’s political and social ideas in a gentle way acceptable to the BBC and the government.

In Journey, Priestley compares the experience of VE Day to waking up in a railway carriage after a long dark journey: now, at last, a “thin grey daylight” is appearing round the edge of the blinds and it is time to get up and move on to the next stage.

But first, “let us go back – and remember”.   First the phoney war of bewilderment and waiting, then the spring of 1940 when countries fell and victory was salvaged from defeat at Dunkirk …

“We put on LDV* armlets and took a few old condemned rifles to the tops of hills: we were alone, and the world thought London had joined Babylon, Nineveh and Carthage; but we knew better.”

The summer of 1940: a terrible, glorious time in which the community worked together for a common purpose – and there was a glimpse of the possibilities of such action in peacetime.  The grim struggle of 1941, new allies in the USSR and the United States, the terrible lows of 1942 when Singapore fell and all seemed hopeless.  Then hope: the battles of Alamein, Stalingrad and D Day …

PRI21_8_6. Priestley standing by car

J.B. Priestley standing by a car, 1940s

Priestley warns that the shocking discoveries about Nazi atrocities show the dangers of mechanistic thinking leading to loss of humanity.   This could happen to any society:  the Allies after all had won not by virtue but by out-doing their enemies’ technology: “we made bigger bombs than they did”.

With this in mind, the piece is far from triumphant: Priestley, a veteran of the Great War trenches, knew the price of victory in lives lost and shattered.  He knew, too, that the War was far from over (fighting continued in the Far East, to be ended only by the dropping of two atomic bombs in August, and the starving people of Europe in their devastated cities desperately needed help).  Characteristically, however, Priestley ends with a ray of hope: the spirit of communal effort of 1940 could be repeated, and society changed for the better.

* LDV = Local Defence Volunteers i.e. the Home Guard or “Dad’s Army”.  JBP was indeed one of the volunteers and in a beautiful Postscript meditated on the  fellowship he felt with Wessex men throughout the centuries protecting the land from invasion.

Read/hear for yourself

The piece was printed in The Listener 17 May 1945 and reprinted in that magazine on 18 January 1979.  The radio broadcast survives and has often been used in BBC programmes.  It is worth looking out for it over the next few weeks as the Corporation marks the VE Day anniversary: if it is used, it is likely to be available on the iplayer for a while.  As far as I know, neither version is currently freely available online.  The Listener Historical Archive is available to subscribers.


In some ways, Priestley’s call was not in vain.   The Labour government, elected in July 1945, instituted the modern welfare state and the National Health Service.  However, this was top-down state bureaucracy rather than the communal efforts that Priestley valued … and in other ways, society returned to its previous patterns, elites still on top and Cold War developing between the War’s two great allies.   During the 1950s he became increasingly disillusioned as a result.  However “Journey into Daylight” stands alongside the Postscripts as JBP the broadcaster at his most inspiring.

The Gentle Art of Cycling: Kuklos and the Bradford Jackdaw

In the week of the Tour de Yorkshire, meet Kuklos, a Bradford writer who encouraged cyclists to enjoy our beautiful Yorkshire Dales.  We discovered his story this week when cataloguing The Bradford Jackdaw.

That Little Jackdaw

Edited and mostly written by Kuklos and Peter Eland, this little magazine was founded in 1904 and published weekly.

Local_BRA_JAC. The Bradford Jackdaw, 13 October 1904. Cover including mini portraits, woollen underwear, City of Bradford exhibition advertisements

The pair claimed to have dreamed up the idea on the “12.15 Sunday Down Dining train from Kings’s Cross” and took the magazine’s name from a line in the poem “The Jackdaw of Rheims”:

“In and out, through the motley rout
That little Jackdaw kept hopping about”

The Bradford Jackdaw aimed to offer “light local reading, to shoot local follies as they fly, to amuse, to interest, and to satirise”, but not to be cruel or vindictive.

The magazine did indeed hop about Bradford, poking gentle fun at local councillors, politicians, writers, the City of Bradford Exhibition, the weather, and pretentious or silly people.  It was illustrated with evocative cartoons and  advertisements for local businesses, and is a wonderful source for cricket, football, music hall, theatre, fashi0n, trams … and, above all, cycling.

The King’s Highway

Kuklos contributed a regular feature, “The King’s Highway”, about the joys of cycles, motor cycles, and motor cars. The feature offered practical help: choosing a machine, keeping it maintained and safe, finding suitable roads and coping with equine and other road-users.

Local_BRA-JAC. The Bradford Jackdaw. The  King's Highway, heading, vol.1., no.1

During the hot summer of 1904, Kuklos had many adventures on the roads of Yorkshire and the Lake District.  His motorcycle overheated one baking day by Windermere station; poorly maintained roads caused punctures and spills or turned to tracks when least expected; horses bolted and elderly ladies fell off their bicycles at the roar of his motor-car … In the winter Kuklos “retired to his cave” (the highways all being “buried deep” in snow), shared memories of summer, and looked forward to the next summer.

Fitzwater Wray and the Cycling Mania

So who was behind the Kuklos pen-name?  William Fitzwater Wray, who was born in Hitchin circa 1870.  His father being a Methodist minister, he was educated at clergy boarding schools, including Woodhouse Grove, near Bradford.  Wray (as the Jackdaw shows) was artistically talented and originally trained as a lithographer and engraver.  It was however his ability to share his growing enthusiasm for cycling that shaped his career.

Between 1894 and 1897 Britain went crazy for cycling.  New technologies (pneumatic tyres, safety bicycles) created safe, light, efficient machines.  Cycling offered personal mobility to all classes and new freedom especially to women.  Many Bradford people took up the pursuit and ventured into the stunning moor and dale scenery which surrounds the city.

Local BRA JAC Myers advertisement cycles Manningham Lane Bradford

The Bradford Observer saw an opportunity to sell newspapers and advertising to this exciting new market and commissioned young writer Wray to write a regular cycling column.   He knew his stuff: having bought his first bicycle in 1887, Wray had become a “keen and highly competent” cyclist, winning medals in time trials and risking long-distance rides.  Fittingly, he took the pen-name Kuklos: Greek for circle or wheel, which gives us “cycle” and thus bicycle, motor-cycle etc.

Flight of the Jackdaw and after

The Jackdaw only lasted a year.  As Eland put it, “This issue concludes the second volume of The Jackdaw and also its flight … our Mr Kuklos has secured a lucrative and promising position on the London Daily News wherein his lucubrations on the gentle art of cycling and motoring now fill up a column or two every Friday”.

It seems the magazine had run its course anyway.  The editors struggled to find enough advertisers to make it profitable. Describing the editorship as a “delightful but heavy task”, they clearly found it difficult to fill the magazine with high quality content every week.  We get the impression that Kuklos wished to spread his wings a little and that Eland was keen to return to the stage (he wrote plays and pantomimes).

William Fitzwater Wray (Kuklos) with his bicycle by a tree, taken from his Obituary in the CTC Gazette

William Fitzwater Wray (Kuklos) with his bicycle (from his obituary in the CTC Gazette)

Post-Jackdaw, Wray became a well-known and popular cycling journalist, remaining with the Daily News, which later merged with the Westminster Gazette to become the News Chronicle, until a dispute in 1935: “the paper refused to publish a column in which he suggested that motorists were as guilty as cyclists of ignoring rules of the road from time to time”.

While evidently respectful of other road-users, he was an advocate for cyclists via the Cyclists’ Touring Club.  Wray published several books, and travelled widely in Europe with his wife Klossie.  The photographs he took on these tours became popular lantern slide lectures during the 1920s and 30s.  After Wray’s death, on 16 December 1938 under anaesthetic for an operation, G. Herbert Stancer wrote that “Cyclists [have] lost one of their truest friends and perhaps their doughtiest champion”.

And what about Wray’s Jackdaw co-editor Peter Eland?  We don’t know much about him – yet.  We hope to research his story in the future.

Sources and credits

For the biographical material, we are grateful to for making available the obituary, William Fitzwater Wray, by G. Herbert Stancer (The C.T.C. Gazette, January 1939, page 3) and an article, William Fitzwater Wray (Kuklos) – some biographical notes, by Tim Dawson.  Dawson cites several archival and reference sources which can be followed up by interested parties. The above quotations are from these documents or from pieces in the Jackdaw.

Enjoy Wray’s lantern slides thanks to Warwick University, who hold the National Cycle Archive.  Follow his routes across France, Andorra, Germany, Ireland and Scotland.

Many books and articles have been written about cycling in the 1890s and 1900s.  I recommend as a short and accessible introduction “Cycling in the 1890s”, by David Rubinstein, Victorian Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1  (Autumn 1977), pp. 47-71.  Those with JSTOR access can find the article online here.

Thanks above all to Tony Yablon, amongst whose fantastic collection of Bradford books we discovered the Jackdaw!

Who put the B. in J.B.?

We’re often asked about J.B. Priestley’s middle initial, so we thought we’d share our knowledge.

B is for BOYNTON!

Priestley, JB Chapman of Rhymes tp cr 2

Young John Priestley, known as Jack to his friends and family, adopted the B and the Boynton in his teens, growing up in Bradford before the First World War.  J. Boynton Priestley, 5 Saltburn Place, Bradford, Yorks was “added hopefully” to his juvenilia: scribbling books of closely-written poems, stories and essays and neat typescripts typed up for him by kind girls.

PRI7_6_10juvenilia3So why did Jack decide to use this extra name?  Partly to distinguish himself from other John Priestleys (not an unusual name in his family or the region.  His grandfather was John, his father,  Jonathan).   The addition also gave him a more suitable, interesting, distinctive name for a writer.

So why did he choose “Boynton”?  We don’t actually know.  There is a village of that name in the East Riding of Yorkshire, near Bridlington.  Could Jack have seen the village on a family holiday to that popular seaside resort?  However he came by the name, B for Boynton served Jack Priestley rather well as a pen-name and he was to be J.B. Priestley for the rest of his literary career …


The road to Boynton … (the B1253 between Bridlington and Boynton, by James Exon, licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sources and credits:

I am indebted to James Ogden for the suggestion that Jack found Boynton on a family holiday in Bridlington (“The name Boynton” p. 27-28, J.B. Priestley Society Newsletter, no. 24, Autumn 2011).

The road image is from the SABRE website, a vast compendium of images of Britain’s roads – the Roader’s Digest.

Priestley wrote about the juvenilia in the Swan Arcadian section of his memoir, Margin Released.  He gently mocked the literary pretensions of his teenage self, including the pompous pen-name, comparing J. Boynton to an “eighty years old retired clergyman” and sarcastically observing that “J. Boynton makes a bold frontal attack on his subject.”  Other than the hint of pretentiousness, he doesn’t actually explain the purpose or origin of the name.

The two reasons listed above come from an interview with Jacquetta Hawkes  cited in Vincent Brome’s biography of Priestley (Hamish Hamilton, 1988).  Jacquetta, J.B.’s third wife, would be likely to know and the reasons make perfect sense to me.

“Boynton” though awaits further explanation!


Brontes, Bollywood and JB: welcome to the Lit Fest!

Did you know Bradford has its own Literature Festival?  Over a hundred events celebrating the written and spoken word, from 15 to 24 May 2015, in a host of venues around the city.

The Festival has a distinctively Bradfordian flavour:


Bradford Reflections, by Tim Green – licence CC BY 2.0

  • Venture into the Undercliffe necropolis – at twilight …
  • Rediscover famous Bradfordians Humbert Wolfe and William Rothenstein and the city’s forgotten Jewish heritage
  • Explore the incredible textiles of India and the riches of Urdu poetry
  • Find out how Bollywood films portray male (often shirtless) beauty and style

Not to mention colleagues from Peace Studies at the University sharing their fascinating research: Dr Munro Price on Napoleon‘s downfall and Professor Paul Rogers discussing the rise of ISIS.

For venues, prices, tickets etc and many more events, check out the full programme on the Festival website.

Bright Days and Cream Teas: the Joy of Waiting

The Joy of Waiting, a new album by Manchester musician and writer Sara Lowes, features songs inspired by J.B. Priestley, and in particular his interest in time.  The titles?  “Bright Day“, “The Chapman of Rhymes” and “J.B. Priestley”!

Sara Lowes Joy of Waiting

Sara’s music is difficult to categorise – you will have to hear her for yourself – but this description from Q Magazine will give you an inkling of her style:

“A voice somewhere between Alison Goldfrapp and Joni Mitchell, and songs that veer between folk, Brill Building pop and Dexys Midnight Runners-esque soul”.

J.B. Priestley Society members get a treat at the Society’s AGM on 11 April as Sara is to be our very special guest.   Not to mention a luxury afternoon tea.  Bliss!

Check out Sara’s website to hear her songs and find out more.