Treasure of the Week #1 – Sir Henry Mitchell

In the basement of Bradford’s Local Studies Library are collections of nineteenth century pamphlets (and some of earlier date). Ranging from sermons and programmes of royal visits, to reports, articles, obituaries and regulations, they are a treasure-trove of local history. What follows is an account of one of these treasures. To consult any of these items please ask the staff. Card catalogues of these collections are located in the Local Studies Library.

 JND 290/4 (Please quote this number if requesting this item.)

Sir Henry Mitchell of Bradford – A Biography. c.1880. 8 pages


Sir Henry Mitchell

The fourth of the seventeen pamphlets bound together in volume number 290 of the J N Dickons Collection is a slim eight-page account, plus portrait, of Sir Henry Mitchell of Bradford. The pages are taken from a book of which neither title, nor author, nor publisher, nor date (1880s?) is noted. Two other biographies accompany Mitchell on JND 290 from the same anonymous source. One is on The Worshipful Mayor of Bradford, Mr Angus Holden, and the other is on Lawrence Game, a prominent lawyer and MP for East Leeds (number 3 and 5).

Opposite the Local Studies Library at the bottom of the Manchester Road is Sir Henry Mitchell House, currently the base of some of Bradford Council’s staff, but few people know who Sir Henry Mitchell was, or did. But in the book store in the depths of Margaret Macmillan Tower, is the answer. Although brief, the account is concise and fact-filled, lucid and fulsome.

Henry was born in 1824 at Esholt and aged fourteen he commenced learning the different processes of wool sorting, combing, spinning and weaving. In 1842 he was  appointed Manager for Messrs William Fison & Co., of Bradford, of which  W E Forster, M.P. was a partner. 1848 finds Mitchell as a Buyer for Messrs A & S Henry & Co. of Bradford, becoming a partner in 1852. In the next few years Mitchell becomes a leading figure in the commercial life of Bradford. He was elected a member of Bradford Town Council in 1870 and was a councillor for 21 years, being made an Alderman in 1874. He was also an influential and active member of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce, being elected President on four occasions. In 1876 he was the English Judge for woollen and silk fabrics at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Two years later he was Vice-president of the jurors selected to adjudicate upon worsted yarns and fabrics at the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

Education as well as textiles was a passion in Mitchell’s life. He was a member of the first School Board elected for Bradford, Vice-President of the Bradford Mechanics’ Institute, and a Governor of Bradford Grammar School. But his greatest work was in connection with the Bradford Technical College.

‘He saw clearly that if England was to retain her supremacy in the production of worsted fabrics, it was necessary that a higher and more systematic training should be adopted on the part of those whose lot it would be to carry the trade forward in the face of foreign competition; and he set his heart upon the establishment of a Technical College in Bradford which should at least equal anything of the kind attempted abroad.

The College was erected at a cost of £40,000, of which Sir Henry subscribed £10,000. The College was opened by The Prince of Wales in June 1882, with Mitchell appointed President. He was made an Honorary Member of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers in honour of his work in promoting textile education, and a member of the Board of Governors of the City and Guilds of London Institute.

Respected by workers and employers alike, Mitchell was employed to arbitrate in trade disputes, notably in the great dyers’ strike. He was chairman of the local Conservative Party, but resisted frequent attempts to persuade him to stand for Parliament. He was a prominent member of the Wesleyan Church in Bradford. He was knighted in 1885 and made a Freeman of the Borough in 1889, the year of his death.


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