Tag Archives: University of Bradford

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?

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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.

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:

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:

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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.

Do Words give you the Creeps?

Rat!  Vomit!  Slippery!  Squab!  Moist!

Do certain words give you the creeps?  The One Show on Friday 16 January 2015, filmed in locations around Bradford, explored the strange phenomenon of “word aversion”.

one show

You can see the programme on BBC IPlayer until 15 February (feature runs from 02:21-06:27 minutes).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xm4wz

Watch out for Special Collections books (backgr0und of interview), our students and catering staff, and some great shots of Centenary Square.

I Vote for Radical Action! Free event at University of Bradford

“I vote for Radical Action!” Ernest Rodker

Commonweal Lecture 2015
Tuesday 17 February 6:00 pm
John Stanley Bell Lecture Theatre, Richmond Building, University of Bradford
Free admission
I Vote for Radical Action : Ernest Rodker and a life...

Ernest Rodker is a conscientious objector and veteran of many direct action campaigns including Free Vanunu, Stop the 70 Tour, Anti-Poll Tax campaign and local campaigns.  Ernest will share details of these campaigns and how direct action has shaped his life.   He recently donated the Archive of the Free Vanunu Campaign to Special Collections, where it will form a fantastic resource for activists and researchers interested in nonviolent campaigning.  The lecture is brought to you by Commonweal Collection, an independent public library for social change.

Advance booking:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/i-vote-for-radical-action-ernest-rodker-and-a-life-of-disobedience-tickets-15217886107

Why should universities invest in their archives?

Special collections in universities aren’t just dusty things in basements that are kept because they are nice or old.  They’re part of the story of their institution, highlighting and documenting its distinctive qualities.  For instance, the University of Bradford has peace campaign archives because of the radical history of the University and the City and collections on dyeing and textile industries because we grew from the City’s need for technical education.  If properly cared for and catalogued, such collections are invaluable for research, teaching, community work, art and even student recruitment.

BTC 2_5_22 Textile Department (2)

Classroom in Bradford Technical College Textile Department, circa 1911

Unique and Distinctive Collections, a new report co-authored by Alison Cullingford and published by Research Libraries UK aims to help university senior managers see the potential of their collections and encourage them to invest in making more of them.