Black History Month 2021 #2 – Street Characters of a Victorian City. Paintings by John Sowden (1838-1926)

Bradford Libraries are Proud To Be part of Black History Month 2021 and delighted to share some of the historical stories featured in the Black History Timeline for Bradford District.

The Black History Timeline showcases the long history of black people in our community and the contribution they have made to our society.

You can view the full timeline here:

Paintings by John Sowden (1838 – 1926)

In the next of our series of posts we focus on some of the characters who could be seen about the streets of the late nineteenth century painted by local Artist, John Sowden.

John Sowden was art master at the Bradford Mechanics Institute for 40 years as well as a key figure in many of the political and current affairs of the time. He was primarily a water colour artist and several of his pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy.

He compiled a large collection of pictures of notable Bradford characters giving a rare insight into the stories of some of the characters who could be seen about the streets of Bradford, creating a unique social record of the time.

The water colour paintings are in Bradford Museums’ collection and can be viewed here:

The stories have been collected in the book: Street Characters of a Victorian City: John Sowden’s Bradford, edited by Gary Firth, Bradford Arts, Museums & Libraries Service (January 1, 1993), 978-0907734406

Thomas Jackson #2

Thomas Jackson was born in 1815 enslaved in Virginia. He was a well-known local street character known as ‘Old Tom’ and was persuaded to pose for John Sowden and his students in 1888 at the age of 73.

We now know that 3 years later in 1891 he can be found on the census living in Keighley.

His death certificate in 1897 says he died in the Union Infirmary and the informant given is Master of the Union Workhouse. He was buried in Utley cemetery. No grave marker has been found.

Post script:

Keighley Local Studies staff recently located the following entry in the workhouse records:

The Master reported that he had found the sum of 2s/3d upon Frederick Hanworth and the sum of 10s/6d on Thomas Jackson.
Resolved that the 2s/6d be paid into the common fund but that the sum of 10s/6d be dealt with when Jackson takes his discharge.
(Keighley Union Records (KU/1/17)

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