Treasure of the week no. 24: ‘Wot! No telly!’ – Creative recreation for 1858’s working man

Popular Amusements. Four Essays by Working Men of Bradford. (Bradford Review, 1858)

JND 196/1 (Please quote this number if requesting this item.)

Football challenge 001

In 1858, the Bradford Review of 21st August offered a prize of one guinea (£1.05) for the best paper, and half-a-guinea (52½p) for the second best in reply to the following question:

What are the best and most practicable means of promoting recreation among the people, during the winter months, in manufacturing towns?

It is hard to imagine life without television and radio, phones (mobile and landline), i-pads, video and CDs, the internet, even electric light and motorized transport. What were young people to do in the evenings after work but congregate in the streets, visit the pubs and betting shops, and generally be a raucous nuisance? What was needed to provide a positive solution to the problem?

Fourteen essays were submitted and forwarded to the adjudicators, the Rev. J.P. Chown and W.R.Haigh, Esq. In addition to the prizes for the first two, Mr Haigh offered a third prize, and the proposer thought that one of the unsuccessful essays contained suggestions of so practical a character that he thought a pity if these hints could not be discussed. Four essays, then, were printed in the Bradford Review, and reprinted in a 32-page pamphlet by James Hanson of Bradford. It is this latter that is to be found in the Dickons Collection of Bradford tracts.

The prize was won by William Harrison, a compositor, who proposed singing classes, Saturday evening concerts and entertainment, a public gymnasium and popular lectures. Chess, draughts and billiards were also suggested.

Second prize went to Malcolm Ross, a lithographic printer, who urged the establishment of a Working Man’s Literary Association to embrace  debating and other classes of an improving character; also a reading and news-room of social and political knowledge. This reminds us that there were no public libraries in Bradford at this time.

Benjamin Preston, a wooolsorter, won the third prize. He suggested cheap music or popular concerts, together with dancing and theatrical entertainments under judicious regulation.

Brass Band 001

The final prize winner was Edward Sloan, a book canvasser, who proposed that the workmen of each establishment, firm, or location, should form themselves into a small society for their mutual instruction and amusement. As with all the candidates, Sloan emphasized the need to provide creative opportunities to counteract, in his words, “depression of spirits, exhaustion of body, a sickness and deadness of the whole man, [which] cry out imperatively for a change. But hitherto the world has provided for the ignorant no place of recreation half so enticing as the public house.” Wise words from a woolsorter.

Reading these accounts emphasizes how much society has changed since those mid-Victorian times. The essays were followed by a feature article in the Review of October 9th, 1858, commenting on the proposals. Reading them today we see that what was proposed closely foreshadows the establishment of public libraries, youth clubs, and many of the social and cultural activities we have today. Maybe the essays of William Harrison, Malcolm Ross, Benjamin Preston and Edward Sloan had a part to play!


One thought on “Treasure of the week no. 24: ‘Wot! No telly!’ – Creative recreation for 1858’s working man

  1. There was an active music and choral scene in Bradford in the 1830’s that Branwell enjoyed during his year long stay as a portrait painter in the town.

    Liked by 1 person

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