Book Review: The Mother of The Brontës: When Maria met Patrick. By Sharon Wright

The Mother of The Brontës: When Maria met Patrick. By Sharon Wright. Pen-and-Sword Books, 2019. 182pp.

Maria, let us walk, and breathe, the morning air,
And hear the Cuckoo sing,
And every tuneful bird, that woos the gentle spring.

(‘Lines, Addressed to a Lady on her Birth-day’ by Patrick Brontë)

After the flush of books published recently on her children and husband celebrating their various anniversaries, it’s nice to see this full-length work on Maria Brontë (née Branwell). So often Maria remains in the shadows but now, in this excellent book by Bradford-born journalist and playwright, Sharon Wright, she features in her own right.

The book opens with a wide-ranging, absorbing, and impressively detailed account of Penzance in the late 18th century. This is followed by an account of Maria herself, her upbringing, her large and complex family, and their social, religious, military and political worlds. A picture emerges of a bright, independent and mature young lady, cultured, religious, and at home in a middle-class social scene.

Well charted is the chaos at Woodhouse Grove School at Apperley Bridge from where Maria’s aunt, Jane Fennell, pleaded for the help of her practical and level-headed niece. Here Maria was courted by the school’s examiner in classics, Patrick Brontë. There is a full account of the couple’s unusual wedding ceremony, including a description of the wedding clothes researched by dress historian Eleanor Houghton, and a lyrical account (imagined) of the wedding parties’ three-mile walk to Guiseley Parish Church.

An edge is taken off the romance by the reminder of the troubled background of England in 1813. The French Wars were sucking the country dry, the industrial revolution was laying waste to traditional employment, and a series of poor harvests combined with high prices was causing widespread hunger among the poor. Maria must have welcomed it when the couple and their growing family moved to Thornton which had a cultured society somewhat akin to that enjoyed in Penzance.

The old Thornton was a sizeable village with the parsonage fronting a busy road. We learn from church records that the parsonage had a stand for a cow and a horse, not that Patrick could afford a horse, but some of his visitors could. An analysis of socialite Elizabeth Firth’s diary helps to chronicle visits made and books read by people in the area. Both Patrick and Maria found time to write and Maria’s sole surviving essay on the Advantages of Poverty, as with her letters, is reprinted in full; though with the annual arrival of babies plus young children to look after, Maria would have had little time for writing and socializing, even with the appointment of Nancy and Sarah Garrs as servants.

With the move to Haworth we are on more familiar ground. The disputes with the Haworth Church Land Trustees and Patrick’s early duties in front of a resentful congregation are well chronicled. ‘The inhabitants of the hilltop town were hard working, hard drinking and hard to impress’ writes our author. But Maria’s elegance, fashionable dress, and her ease with social elites did her husband proud. Though all too soon the sad, long, and painful death of Maria followed. The burden placed on Patrick with six young children and a large parish led to the summoning of Maria’s sister, Elizabeth, from Penzance, to help out.

Author Wright’s wide experience as a journalist on regional newspapers has paid handsome dividends as shown by her wide ranging research and easy writing style. She quotes from the Lady’s Magazine, featuring ‘gothic bluebooks’ and ‘shilling shockers’ which were  high on the publishing scene in the early 1800s. She paints a delightful picture of both Maria, and later, her daughter Charlotte, curled up in a chair reading this mutually-owned magazine, and probably enjoying the same stories. It was all a long way from Sunday School!

This is a fine book. It is no surprise that the publishers needed a reprint. The book does not merely chronicle the life and times of the mother of the Brontë children; it puts her centre stage as an influential life-enhancing individual who played a major part in the family’s life and their subsequent development and success.

Bob Duckett

Undercliffe Cemetery and Nancy De Garrs

The article here was kindly sent in by Steve Lightfoot, Undercliffe Cemetery Volunteer and author of the recent publication ‘The remarkable story of Nancy De Garrs Charlotte Brontë’s nurse’

Recently the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity have been building a team of volunteers to research some of the more well known occupants of the cemetery. The first task was to install QR codes on the six listed monuments so that visitors to the cemetery could find out more about the people to which the monuments were dedicated. The volunteers then moved on to the so called Bradford Worthies, of which there are many. These were some of the most important people in Bradford’s history, including more than twenty of Bradford’s Mayors, who are buried at the cemetery. As new research is completed the information is posted on the Undercliffe Cemetery website under the history section. So far approximately thirty of the Worthies have been researched. Some of the grave sites have magnificent monuments but others are unmarked. Regular tours of the cemetery take place to raise funds for maintenance. The volunteer guides take visitors to some of the most interesting grave sites to tell the story of Bradford’s history and the people who made Bradford the place that it is. At one time of course it was the wool capital of the world.

During the research the location of Nancy De Garrs grave was finally found, underneath some undergrowth, and unmarked. Nancy was Charlotte Brontë’s nurse, she served the Brontës for eight years and helped to bring the Brontë children up at Thornton and Haworth. It was known that Nancy was at Undercliffe but nobody knew where. She died in the Bradford workhouse and could have well have ended up in a paupers grave. After some research it was found she was buried as Nancy Malone. The records showed the plot number and the maps showed the location of this, but who were the other people buried with her, Mary Stocks, James Scholey and John William Scholey. We just had to find out, and why was the grave unmarked? The last twelve months have revealed some fascinating detail about the life of Nancy De Garrs. Having found just how important Nancy was in the life of the Brontës the Charity have decided to launch an appeal for funds for a headstone to be erected and for the area to be made safe. Future visitors to the cemetery will be able to find out more about Nancy and her life with the Brontës and after. A booklet has been compiled and is currently being sold in bookshops in Haworth, in the tourist office in Bradford and in other locations in Thornton and elsewhere. All money raised will go towards paying for the work required to get Nancy a headstone and to make the area safe for visitors. So far we have had good publicity from the Telegraph and Argus, the Sunday Express and the Times but more funds are needed. Donations can be made through the Undercliffe Cemetery website or by purchasing one of the booklets. A provisional date has been fixed for the 9th May  2020, by which time, providing enough funds can be raised, the stone will be in place and a service will be conducted. See website for details of forthcoming events.

Steve Lightfoot
Undercliffe Cemetery Volunteer

undercliffe cemetery (2)

A Review of the Book

The Remarkable Story of Nancy de Garrs, Charlotte Brontë’s Nurse. By Steve Lightfoot. 2019. 32 pages.

Nancy Garrs was born in 1803, the oldest in a family of twelve children. Her father, Richard De Garrs, was a shoemaker of French descent who had a shop in Bradford. Nancy and a younger sister Sarah (b. 1806) went to the Bradford Industrial School where they learnt housekeeping and childcare skills. In 1816, aged 12, Nancy went to work in the Brontë’s Thornton home to look after the three young Brontë children. Three more children later, sister Sarah came to assist, with Nancy promoted to be cook and assistant housekeeper. In 1820 the Garrs twosome accompanied the Brontë family in their move to Haworth. Here they experienced the sad early years there and the coming of ‘Aunt Branwell’ (‘cross like and fault findin’). After serving the Brontës for eight years, Nancy left in late 1824, shortly followed by Sarah, when the oldest Brontë children went to Cowan Bridge School.

Nancy then worked as a dressmaker, marrying John Wainwright in 1830. They had two children, Emily Jane and Hannah. Significantly, Nancy signed her wedding banns with ‘her mark’ (which I found a surprise, Nancy having lived in such a literary household). Husband John, a wool comber, later an engine tenter, died after a horrific accident at work in one of Titus Salt’s Bradford mills. He was buried in the Dr Garrs family plot in Bradford where four of Nancy’s sisters were buried. The 1841 census shows Nancy and a daughter living with sister Sarah and her children, just a few doors away from their sister, Martha, who had married Benjamin Hewitt. Clearly the families were supporting each other, with their parents also nearby. In 1844, Nancy married Irishman John Malone, a warehouseman. After John’s death in 1881, Nancy fell into poverty and three years later she was taken in at the Bradford Workhouse, where she died in 1886 aged 82.

Of her years with the Brontë family, author Steven Lightfoot highlights a number of incidents and myths – of Mrs Gaskeill’s hurtful remarks in her Life of Charlotte Brontë; of the confusing comment of Patrick’s about Nancy leaving the parsonage to marry a ‘Pat’ – not in 1824 she didn’t! And there is new information about the Brontë mementoes that Nancy had, of how they were displayed in a public bazaar in 1885, acquired by John Widdop, a son of Mary, another of Nancy’s sisters, and how they may have been sold to alleviate Nancy’s penury.  Other members of the Dr Garrs family are briefly featured, notably her brother Henry, and sisters Ruth (who married John Binns) and sister Sarah, who married William Newsome in 1829, had five children, and eventually settled in Iowa, USA.

This focus on Nancy and her family circle does a good job of widening our knowledge of the social context of the time.

Bob Duckett
Past Editor Brontë Studies and The Bradford Antiquary.

Book (2)

From Charles Lubelski, author of Pride, Passion and Printing


Although I was apprenticed and trained in Leeds as a compositor in the printing trade, like many of my peers, I was always interested in the legendary Bradford printing company Percy Lund Humphries. This was where the great Penrose Annual was printed and published. Each edition had fascinating articles about new technologies, new typefaces, articles about typographers and designers and new devices and machines which promised so much in the ever expanding world of the printing industry. And this remarkable printing company was based in the great city of Bradford.

Therefore, I suppose it is not surprising that when Professor Caroline Archer of Birmingham City University suggested that I write a book about PLH — I had no hesitation in accepting this invitation. It was to be a labour of love. Having spent all my working life in the printing industry I quickly realised that PLH was not the norm – it was the exception. Their philosophy was absolute quality and accuracy in every detail – the company was built on pride and passion – hence the title of my book: Pride, Passion and Printing.

For one hundred years Percy Lund Humphries was one of the world’s great printing establishments. The management and the craftsmen and craftswomen worked as a team for a common purpose – it was always quality first and financial gain second, perhaps an uncommon concept in current times.

I have tried to address social, economic, political, technical and artistic issues from an historic point of view supported where possible by illustrations. Technology and artistic endeavour are ever changing; both significantly affect in one way or another political ideas and economics of society. I leave it for others to explore this observation.

I am delighted that Bradford City Libraries have been displaying a number of the books printed by PLH. Bradfordians of today will get inspiration from this display and perhaps be encouraged to take their city forward with new ideas and new industries.

I personally would like to see a revival of design, typography, and the visual arts. PLH once produced the most beautiful art books – could this great city emulate its past masters?

Charlie Bhowmick MBE presents his recently published book ‘From Calcutta to Keighley’ to Keighley Local Studies Library

On Friday December 7th Keighley Local Studies Library was very pleased to formally receive copies of the book ‘From Calcutta to Keighley’ presented by the author, Charlie Bhowmick MBE.

Charlie is a well known character in Keighley. He was born in Calcutta and in 1954 at the age of 17 he followed his older brother to Keighley, where he was given a job at George Hattersley’s engineering business, now Mantra House. He served an apprenticeship with the company and studied mechanical and electrical engineering and later building construction at Keighley Technical College. Charlie went on to study planning and became a town planner with Bradord Council until his retirement in 1994.

Over the years, Charlie has been involved with many local initiatives and organisations including

  • Airedale Hospital Radio
  • The annual Temple Street Edwardian Fair
  • Community Personality of the Year
  • Keighley Community Cricket
  • Governor of Parkwood School
  • Temple Street Methodist Church and overseas movements Community Harmony Award, Bradford Council Marathon running for Keighley Disabled

In 2005 Charlie received the MBE for his work with the Keighley Inter-Faith Group.

Here is an extract from the book:

‘I discovered Keighley Library in 1955, a year after I arrived in Keighley. I met Mr Dewhirst in the Reference Library section on the first floor. He gave me a warm welcome and showed me a desk in the Reference Library where I could undertake my studies. This was very welcome given the cold conditions in my lodging house in Beechcliffe.

I found all the various books I needed for my course at the library and soon became a regular visitor, so much so, I got to know the staff there very well – Ian and also Molly Boulton (Ian Dewhirst’s deputy). I enjoyed the facilities of Keighley Public Library (and its warm temperatures) for about 6 years until I got married and moved into a warm flat on Devonshire Street.’

The book is a great read and reflects Charlie’s irrepressible character with proceeds going to Yorkshire Cancer Research.


Branwell was the second best poet in the Brontë family and some of his poems are worth studying in their own right.
(Tom Winnifrith in The Poems of Patrick Branwell Brontë)


The year 2017 was the bi-centenary of the birth of local lad, Branwell Brontë, born Thornton 26th June 1817. It was also the year that Routledge published the three-volume complete literary works of Branwell Brontë, which the Library purchased for Keighley’s Brontë Collection.

Like his sisters, Branwell Brontë wanted to be a published writer and thanks to the local newspapers, he succeeded. Indeed, Branwell was a published poet five years before his sisters published their book of poems in 1846 and their first novels a year later. In all, eighteen of Branwell’s poems are known to be published in his lifetime (1817-48), the last just six months before the publication of Jane Eyre in October 1847, and six published a second time in other newspapers. “Given that his sisters’ 1846 volume of poems sold only two copies in its first year, it is safe to say that Branwell’s poems enjoyed significantly wider readership.” (Neufeldt, v.3., p. xx)

All Branwell’s poems were published pseudonymously under the name ‘Northangerland’ except one, which was just signed ‘PBB’. Thus at no time did Branwell’s name appear in print. Why this is so remains a mystery. What is also a mystery is whether his sisters knew of his success. Getting poems published in local newspapers was no easy achievement at that time. There was great competition between newspapers and it is to Branwell’s credit that not only was his work accepted, but also reprinted in rival newspapers.

It has taken a long time for the full extent of Branwell’s poetic success to be realised. In Winnifrith’s edition of Branwell’s poems published in 1983, he wrote that the poem ‘The Afghan War’ was “the only composition of Branwell’s which is known to have been printed during his lifetime.” (p.140). Yet only fourteen years later, Professor Neufeldt, in the US edition of The Works of Patrick Branwell Brontë 1837-1848 (the Routledge edition noted above is a UK reprint) noted twenty-six publications.* More remarkable was the re-discovery, reported in 1999 by Professor Neufeldt, in the Halifax Guardian for October 1847, of an outstanding piece of art criticism on the illustrator Thomas Bewick by … ‘Northangerland’! This, plus Branwell’s success as a published poet, not to mention the mass of his hitherto unpublished writings now made accessible, has caused scholars to modify the hitherto largely negative view many had of Branwell.

With the acquisition of his complete works by the Library, we can now read for ourselves Branwell’s writings, published and unpublished. Listed below are his published poems (together with the page numbers in Volume 3 of Neufeldt’s edition).

‘Heaven and Earth’   Halifax Guardian, 5 June 1841 (p. 335)

‘On the Melbourne Ministry’   Halifax Guardian, 14 August 1841 (p. 340)

Sonnet I: ‘On Landseer’s Painting’   Bradford Herald, 28 April 1842 (p. 365)

Sonnet II: ‘On the callousness produced by cares’   Bradford Herald, 5 May 1842

also Halifax Guardian 7 May 1842 (p. 366)

‘The Affghan War’   Leeds Intelligencer, 7 May 1843 (p. 367)

Sonnet III: ‘On Peaceful Death and Painful Life’   Bradford Herald, 12 May 1842

also Halifax Guardian 14 May 1842 (p. 369)

‘Caroline’s Prayer – On the change from childhood to womanhood’   Bradford Herald, 2 June 1842

also Halifax Guardian 4 June 1842 (p. 370)

Song: ‘Should Life’s first feeling be forgot’   Bradford Herald, 9 June 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 11 June 1842 (p. 371)

‘An Epicurean’s Song’   Bradford Herald, 7 July 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 9 July 1842 (p. 372)

‘On Caroline’   Bradford Herald, 12 July 1842

also Halifax Guardian, 14  July 1842 (p.374)

‘Noah’s Warning over Methuselah’s Grave’   Bradford Herald, 25 August 1842 (p. 375)

‘On Landseer’s Picture: The Shepherd’s Chief Mourner ‘ A Dog Watching alone by his master’s grave’   Yorkshire Gazette, 10 May 1845 (p. 407) Revision of Sonnet 1, above.

‘Black Comb’   Yorkshire Gazette, 10 May 1845 (p. 408)

‘The Emigrant – Two Sonnets’   Yorkshire Gazette, 7 June 1845 (p.406)

‘Real Rest’   Halifax Guardian, 8 November 1845 (p.471)

‘Penmaenmawr’   Halifax Guardian, 20 December 1845 (p. 473)

‘Letter from a Father on Earth to his Child in her grave,   Halifax Guardian, 18 April 1846 (pp. 479-80)

‘Speak Kindly’   Halifax Guardian 19 September 1846 (p. 512) The authorship of this poem is disputed.

‘The End of All’   Halifax Guardian, 5 June 1847 (pp. 504-508)

Also: ‘Thomas Bewick’ [Prose review article] Halifax Guardian, I October 1842 (pp.397-400)

Branwell died in Haworth on 24th September, 1848, aged 31.

Haworth Church (Before it was rebuilt)

While no great claim can be made for the excellence of Branwell’s poems, they are no worse than many others that were published in the newspapers of the time, and some were considerably better. They range from comments on the political events of the day such as the introduction of the self-adhesive postage stamps and the First Afghan War, to the heartbreak of child deaths – a frequent occurrence in the Haworth of Branwell’s time.

Branwell’s habit of using a pseudonym once caused Library staff a problem when an Australian professor wanted photocopies from the newspapers themselves. She gave us precise references and we managed to find the poems in the Halifax Guardian, Yorkshire Gazette and Leeds Intelligencer, but annoyingly, not in the Bradford Herald, which the library did not have.  A request to the British Library Newspaper Library was returned ‘No Trace’ despite being given the correct dates and page numbers. The reason? We gave the poet as ‘Patrick Branwell Brontë’, whereas the poet’s name in the paper was … ‘Northangerland’!

Bob Duckett

*Neufeldt states that there were 26 publications, though I can find only 24. BD

Selection of Bronte books inKeighley Local Studies Library

Book Review: Bradford in 50 Buildings. By George Sheeran

Bradford in 50 Buildings. By George Sheeran. Amberley Publishing, 2017. 96 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4456-6848-2 (print); 978-1-4456-6849-9 (ebook). £14.99.

George Sheeran book

Available from Bradford Libraries

George Sheeran should be known to all students of Bradford history, and probably is. A steady stream of books, articles and talks, not to mention his work at Bradford University’s Pennine Studies Centre, all testify to his long involvement in this area.1

Bradford in 50 Buildings explores the history of Bradford through a selection of its buildings, not just the better-known iconic public ones, but from all social levels and cultures. Yes, City Hall, the Cathedral, Wool Exchange and the Alhambra Theatre are here, but so are mills, schools, churches, mosques and terrace houses. The focus of the book is more on illustrating the diverse history of Bradford through its buildings than a straightforward architectural narrative. The buildings are all present today: this is Bradford as we see it now. History is all around us. We are looking at it, but what do we see?

The book features just over a hundred coloured photographs of high quality interspersed with prose commentary highlighting the architectural features and giving historical background of the fifty selected buildings. There is a succinct introduction giving context and background to Bradford’s history and a delightfully clear map showing where the buildings are.

Here we have Cotton Weavers’ Cottages in Little Horton Green (testament to the cotton industry), cottages in Dracup Street, Great Horton (characteristic of Bradford’s early nineteenth century industrial development) and mill workers’ terraces in Gathorne Street; on the educational front we have Feversham Street School (built in 1873, with a discussion of the advent of Board Schools), Bradford College (with both the original 1883 building and the striking multi-coloured façade of the new Hockney Building) and Dixon’s Trinity Academy (a 1994 example of post-modernism); industrial buildings include Manningham Mills, Canon Mill and Mitchell Brothers (Bowling Old Lane), while the Midland Hotel, Yorkshire Penny Bank and the red brick Prudential building in Sunbridge Road are other examples of commercial buildings; Churches and mosques are well represented, plus the Hindu Temple in Leeds Road and the Bradford Reform Synagogue in Bowland Street. Council flats (Longlands), large houses (e.g. Bolling Hall), public buildings (e.g. Cartwright Hall, St George’s Hall) and a public house (Shoulder of Mutton, Kirkgate) are some of the other types of building in the author’s selection.

Not all the buildings selected are beauties. High Point, the former Yorkshire Building Society tower in Westgate is ‘the city’s outstanding piece of brutalist architecture … Its walls of corrugated concrete provide a texture … that gives the building more the feel of a piece of urban sculpture’  (plus note on the rise of building societies), the Margaret Macmillan Tower (with a note on Stanley Wardley’s plan to modernise the city and provide a trouble free flow of traffic); and the old  GPO Telephone Exchange (superficially a boring modern cube – but is a much under-rated style of the 1930s ‘stripped classicism’). Yet the author is quick to point out unusual features which will encourage us to take a second look. Thus, ‘ … the Margaret Macmillan Tower … seems just another tower block at first sight, but look again. It rests on a rustic base of slate and rises clad in Portland Stone as a chaste block overlooking the city centre. The stanchions (the vertical members) are also clad in slate producing a fine counterpoint to the Portland stone.’ Indeed, with informed architectural analysis to guide us, together with an equally informed historical background, we see Bradford with new eyes. A wide variety of eras, styles and innovative features are covered. Students of architecture will value these accounts.

Omissions? Of course there are. Magistrates Courts? Transport Interchange? Paper Hall? The Bradford Club? Bradford has far too rich an architectural heritage to be limited to a mere fifty. Maybe the author could be persuaded to do another fifity!

Sheeran wears his learning lightly: we are in the hands of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. We are not swamped in technical terms yet learn a lot. One grouse I have is that the Contents listing omits the page numbers to the fifty listed buildings, so that I was for ever hunting for page numbers using the entry numbers!         There is no index, though the contents page is detailed.

Two final points. ‘It may seem strange in a book about the architectural riches of a city to show a derelict industrial site, but this one is important for two [historical] reasons.’ (p. 57) The site is that of the Providence and Thompson Mill sites just up from the Alhambra Theatre and the reasons are given, which lead on the second point: ‘This is a sensitive site given its historical provenance. Recent fires in derelict mill buildings and resulting demolitions provoke debate about the future development of the area, and invidious decisions that will need to be taken.’ (p. 58) ‘Let us not make the mistakes of the past.’ pleads the author. Amen to that!

Enjoyable and informative. Essential reading for Bradford city planners and their favoured architects!

(Bob Duckett)

1 Books such as Brass Castles: An Illustrated Guide to the City’s Heritage (1993); The Victorian Houses of Bradford (1990); The Buildings of Bradford: An Illustrated Architectural History (2005); Good Houses Built of Stone: The Houses and People of Leeds/Bradford 1600-1800 (1986); The Mosque in the City: Bradford and its Islamic Architecture (2015).

Book Review: Some Bits of Bradford: Local history talks given at Glyde House. By Janet C. Senior

Some Bits of Bradford: Local history talks given at Glyde House. By Janet C. Senior.

Published by Bradford Historical & Antiquarian Society, 2018. 112 pp. ISBN: 978-1-9996419-0-0. £7.99.

Reserve a copy  from Bradford Libraries

We are pleased to welcome this attractive little book based on talks given by local historian Janet Senior. Retired teacher and volunteer archivist Janet has gathered quite a following for her monthly talks on local topics at Glyde House in Bradford, and now a wider public can enjoy a selection. Nine of the talks are featured here augmented by photographs from a variety of sources, new and old, and some drawings by Mary Tetlow.

Starting with the Legend of the Boar of Bradford we progress to the history of the Established Church in Bradford from the 7th to the 17th century, and on to Jonathan Glyde. The legend of the boar is well known, but, as with all these chapters, Janet’s knowledge and enthusiastic research into the archives and her skill at presenting complex subjects borne of her many years as a teacher, will provide much that is new to all. The topics will be sure to interest and enthuse newcomers, young and old. Thus the legend of the boar is set against the earlier, and later, history of Bradford; the history of the established church is made clear and interesting; while Jonathan Glyde (1808-1854) emerges as a profoundly influential figure in the development of Bradford and whose importance has hitherto been poorly recognized.

Charles Samuel Joseph Semon is another of those influential Bradfordians who have found a champion in Janet. Like Jonathan Glyde, he did much to improve the conditions of the populace, and in an aside, we learn that Janet was born in the Semon Nursing Home in Ilkley. Bradford and the Parks Movement is another slice of Bradford history brought to life as public-spirited civic leaders sought to improve the lot of the town’s population. Returning to religion, Janet gives an account of the 1851 Religious Census and what it revealed of worship in Bradford, in particular the decline of church attendance, the strength of non-conformity, and how social life was changing.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the long-standing debate over education, where the National Schools (Anglican based) and British Schools (Non-conformist supported) debated, a debate which local MP, W E Forster, endeavoured to end with his 1870 Education Act. A nice touch in this book is the author’s personal interest in these many subjects. Here, as a teacher, Janet wanted to know why the structure of the school system was so confused and hoped to find out by going back in time by trawling the archives. The Early Years of the Bradford School Board is the result. The chapter on Youth Offenders in Late Victorian Bradford will provide more surprising new knowledge for most of us. Another personal link gives us something very different, bringng us a positive ‘spin’ on the glory days of Bradford when, at its peak, there were no fewer than nineteen Foreign Consulates in Bradford, this internationally famous city of trade.

Each chapter has a brief personal introduction and ends with a glossary and references. Attractively produced, lucid, and full of interest, the BHAS is to be congratulated on this entry into book publishing. And thanks to Janet Senior for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm. More please Janet!

Bob Duckett

Janet Senior book.jpg

Book Review: Percy Monkman – An Extraordinary Bradfordian

Percy Monkman – An Extraordinary Bradfordian. By Martin Greenwood. PlashMill Press (, 2018. 226 pages. Softback. A4 format. ISBN: 978-0-9572612-9-7. £24.49.

Available from Bradford Libraries


A job in banking, a life in the arts.

The above quote from a section heading in this book neatly epitomises the life of Percy Monkman (1892-1986), a local celebrity in Bradford and the West Riding. He was born in Bradford and after spells as an office boy in Swan Arcade and Manningham Mills, and by another in army service (1915-19), Percy worked in Becketts Bank (which later became a branch of the Westminster Bank). He worked in the same bank for forty years, ending up as chief cashier. By night, at weekends, and on holidays, however, he was an entertainer, actor, cartoonist and watercolour painter of the Dales, the Brontë country and Bradford, whose work was acclaimed by the public and held in great respect by colleagues. He had many friendships, including a life-long one with near neighbour J B Priestley.

Percy came from a humble, non-conformist, working-class family in a closely-knit local community in the Toller Lane area of Bradford. Leaving school before he was fourteen, he received only a basic education. War service saw him develop his entertaining skills!  He joined the Bradford Civic Theatre in 1935 and was made a Hon. Life Member in 1974. He was the solo actor in The End, which was awarded one of the Ten Best Cine Films of 1960. His appearances on stage at the Bradford Civic Playhouse are listed here and we learn that from 1935 to 1958 he performed on 214 occasions in plays by such as Gogol, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Emlyn Williams, Christopher Fry, Jonquil Anthony, James Bridie and Priestley.

Percy was highly creative, talented and energetic, a man who achieved high standards in all his artistic activities. He joined the Bradford Arts Club in 1922, was Vice Chair in 1950, Chairman in 1963, and President in 1977. He won numerous prizes for his watercolours, many of which are reproduced here, and received commissions and made sales. He was also a member of the Yorkshire Watercolour Society.

In passing we note Percy’s family life – four brothers and three children; his friendships with lawyer Roger Suddards, artist Ashley Jackson, playwright J B Priestley and others; his dedication to his family with its trials and tribulations, and joys; and his passion for Bradford City FC (he was present at the Valley Road fire disaster). A nice feature is a chapter ‘Ten Perspectives of Percy’ which reproduces articles and letters about Percy from people who knew him, including the Branch Manager at the Westminster Bank (1952), an article in the Dalesman by Ken Feakes (April 1992), and family memories by his daughter, Dorothy (1990s).

This is a large book; not one to be read on the bus or propped up by the sugar bowl in a café. But in this case the extra size is used to good effect, giving the book a relaxed feel with the A4 pages facilitating a good-sized typeface and clear layouts, and, in particular, enabling justice to be done to the many excellent reproductions of Percy’s delightful landscape paintings. In all there are over ninety images. The book is superbly produced. There are several useful appendices including sources of further information and a timeline of Percy’s life with family information, lists of places where he lived, places of education and work, of his artistic achievements, and his appearances on stage at the Bradford Civic Playhouse: a veritable documentary history. The book is well-indexed. I was particularly pleased to see full credits given for the illustrations used and sources consulted, features often skimped. The author is one of Percy’s grandsons. The prose reads well, coverage is comprehensive, and browsing the book an enjoyable experience.

Bob Duckett

Retired Reference Librarian


From the Mill to Monte Carlo: The Working-Class Englishman who Beat the Monaco Casino

Many thanks to Anne Fletcher for sharing the wonderful story of her great-great-great uncle Joseph Hobson Jagger in her fascinating talk in Bradford Local Studies library at Bradford Festival on Saturday.

Based on her newly published book, Anne told the story of a man who went from Bradford mill worker to Monte Carlo millionaire. Amongst the men ‘who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’, Joseph Hobson Jagger is unique. He is the only one known to have devised an infallible and completely legal system to defeat the odds at roulette and win a fortune. But he was not what might be expected. He wasn’t a gentleman or an aristocrat, he wasn’t a professional gambler, he was a Yorkshire textile worker who had laboured in the Victorian mills of Bradford since childhood.

Joseph Jagger was an exceptional man who travelled nearly a thousand miles to the exclusive world of the Riviera in a time when most people lived and died within a few miles of where they were born. The trains that took him there were still new and dangerous, he did not speak French and had never left the north of England. His motivation was strong. Joseph, his wife and four children, the youngest of whom was only two, faced a situation so grave that their only escape seemed to be his desperate gamble on the roulette tables of Monte Carlo. Today Jagger’s legacy is felt in casinos worldwide and yet he is virtually unknown.

In  this true-life detective story, Anne uncovers how he was able to win a fortune, what happened to his millions and why Jagger should now be regarded as the real ‘man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’.

‘From the Mill to Monte Carlo’
By Anne Fletcher



Book Review – Heraldic Shields in the Banqueting Hall of Bradford City Hall.

Heraldic Shields in the Banqueting Hall of Bradford City Hall. Researched and written by Janet Senior; window photography by Steve Reeder. City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, 2016. 28 pages. £5.00. Available from City Hall Reception or from the author (

Available from Bradford Libraries

Heraldic Shields

This slim booklet is a treasure; a full colour informative and beautifully produced treasure of local history. Heraldic shields may seem an esoteric subject for most of us, and the fact that so few people will ever get to see the ones featured here, high up in the exclusive City Hall Banqueting Hall, is a reason to ignore them. But the beautiful photography of Steve Reeder, and the informative prose of historian Janet Senior, make this an enjoyable browse.

This booklet, apart from a brief introduction, consists of 86 full-colour photographs of hand-painted glass windows in the form of heraldic shields, mostly the work of the stained glass relief artist Henry Gustave Hiller, which were painted at different periods in the early 20th century. Each shield represents the coat of arms of a prominent local personage or family, or in a few cases, a figure of early national importance. In the book, each image is accompanied by a brief note on the person or family concerned. Edmund Peckover, H W Ripley, Sir Henry Mitchell and Alderman W E B Priestley are examples of local persons of note; the Rawsons, the Peckovers and the Ferrands examples of prominent local families; while John of Gaunt, Phillippa of Hainault, and the Duke of Northumberland are examples of national figures. Janet explains that both John of Gaunt and Phillippa (wife of King Edward III) were both, for a while, owners of the Honor of Pontefract, of which Bradford was a part; while Bradford was part of the Percy ‘Fee’ in the 12th and 13th centuries (Percy being the family name of the Dukes of Northumberland). Less exotically, but maybe more usefully, we learn that Charles Harris, along with his uncle, Edmund Peckover, founded the Bradford Old Bank; that Roland Paley was an iron merchant who, with John Stranger, founded the Bowling Iron Works; and that the first Lord Cranbrook was the politician Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, son of John Hardy, one of the owners of Low Moor Iron Works.

Janet found no trace of why or how these particular people or families were selected and ‘It is not clear if the heraldic shields actually belong to all the families represented.’ It seems, however, that the artist got the wrong shield for the Prince of Wales (that of the Stuart Prince of Wales rather than of the Prince and Princess of Wales who visited Bradford in 1904)!

This is an attractive booklet of great interest. All profits will go to the Lord Mayor’s Fund.

Bob Duckett