Black History Month 2021 #3 – Abraham Johnson

Abraham Johnson was born in Zanzibar where he was enslaved as a teenager. His slavery took him to China, Japan and India.

He escaped enslavement in South-East Asia before working as a member of crew on board a ship, sailing from the Indian Ocean to Liverpool.

He is referenced in records as having been rescued from a shipwreck.

Abraham worked at John Marshall’s Temple Mill in Holbeck, Leeds before settling in Bradford where he lived in a lodging house. He was married with a daughter. In Bradford he sold pamphlets and newspapers on the streets.

He was painted by John Sowden in June 1888 at the age of 40.

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)

Black History Month 2021 #1 – Henry Box Brown

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:

Henry ‘Box’ Brown

The fascinating story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown is inspirational across the world.

Henry Box Brown was born in 1815 and enslaved on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia.

In 1849 he escaped slavery to freedom by concealing himself in a wooden crate and arranging to have himself mailed to abolitionists in Philadelphia, enduring 27 hours of travel.

Brown became a noted abolitionist speaker and later toured the UK with his anti-slavery panorama to tell his story and help the abolitionist cause.

In 1851, Henry ‘Box’ Brown appeared to a crowded audience at the Mechanics’ Institute in Bradford for 5 nights, ‘depicting in a striking and painful manner, the abominations and horrors of slavery’. (Bradford Observer 8th May 1851)

He re-enacted his escape by having himself shipped from Bradford to Leeds where his arrival was greeted with a parade of music and banners throughout the central streets.

In 2009 to celebrate Black History Month this journey was re-enacted by artist Simeon Wayne Barclay who was transported in a box by van from Bradford Central Library before being unveiled in Leeds.

Simeon Wayne Barclay

Being Young in Bradford: Youth Culture in the 1970s and 80s

This was the title of an exhibition on display at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Lister Park from May to August 2021.

People can now view stories from this exhibition in Bradford Libraries.

The show was a partnership between Bradford Council run Cartwright Hall and Being Bradford – a group of working class mavericks that have organised themselves into a sort of artistic trade union and whose primary aim is to see their authentic story told by themselves and featuring in the city of Bradford’s cultural narrative.

The 1970s was a time of great political and social unrest yet also of creativity and activism. Punk changed the world of many Bradford teenagers providing a sense of belonging and fostering an active culture of Do It Yourself.

Each of the six members of the group wrote about their experiences of growing up and others were invited to contribute their stories.

These stories will be on display in Shipley Library from Monday 27 September to Friday 15 October and in City Library from Monday 25 October to Friday 19 November.

The exhibition also prompted intergenerational conversations about being young in the city. View a number of short films on the subject on the Bradford Museums You Tube Channel.

Share your memories of growing up if you are on facebook, twitter or instagram and tag:




The Discovery of Yorkshire’s Landscape Heritage

This particular summer many of you will have embraced the outdoor life more fully with a great, hearty “Phew!” and for that you will have used maps of all kinds and many of you will have run, walked, cycled, driven, wild swum and sailed through the Yorkshire moorland, parkland and countryside, hopefully marvelling at its great variety and beauty. However, not that many of you will have heard of John Phillips and his uncle William ‘Strata’ Smith who both contributed so much to the identification and classification of our wonderful land, despite both lacking in any kind of formal higher education.

William Smith (1769-1839) pioneered geological researches. His techniques and those of other such surveyors and engineers promoted the development of canal and navigation networks to be constructed over suitable water retaining fault-free ground.  William Smith analysed the strata of rock layers and he was the first to realise that the age and properties of rock strata in the British Isles could be indicated by the fossils found in each stratum. William’s life was not an easy one, facing competition and theft from colleagues, a wife who tragically went mad and eventual imprisonment for debt. His fascinating life and achievements can be followed in The Map That Changed the World, A Tale of Rocks, Ruin and Redemption by Simon Winchester (Penguin Books, 2002), available for loan in Bradford Libraries.

John Phillips (1800-1874)

Smith’s nephew, John Phillips, became one of the most influential scientific figures of the mid 19th century. What is remarkable about his eventual achievements is that Phillips, like his uncle William Smith, had no formal higher education. Early tuition was paid for by his uncle William but funds did not stretch far and so he began to work for William as his assistant between 1817-1819, making regular surveying trips around England. Consequently, he absorbed Smith’s practical engineering and surveying skills and the application of the new science of geology.

John Phillips must have really appreciated that without the influence of his family and friends in his early life, he would not have enjoyed career success in pursuing interests that had fascinated him from a young age. This is probably why he later became committed to the general education of people of all classes and gender and in particular to helping make the modern science of geology more popular and accessible to the public. He contributed much to modern understanding of the natural world through research, lecturing, academic and popular writing and published the first geological timescale. Phillips also adopted and was passionate about the landscape heritage of Yorkshire, especially its history and archaeology. He was amongst the first to produce studies of the carboniferous limestone of the Yorkshire Dales as well as detailed studies of the Yorkshire coast. Amongst other achievements, he helped to found the Yorkshire Geological Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (British Science Association), established in York in 1831. He was Senior Secretary of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society ( ) and became Keeper of Collections (1825-1840) of one of Yorkshire’s first purpose built museums, the Yorkshire Museum in York which still has a library dedicated to the Society and displays of maps, fossils and other artefacts depicting the work undertaken by William Smith and later with John Phillips.

New book for loan

A recently published and very enjoyable book by Colin Speakman, John Phillips, Yorkshire’s traveller through time is now available for loan in Bradford Libraries and, as well as discussing the above, presents John Phillips as a pioneer walker-writer and artist in his adopted Yorkshire and tells of how he went on to produce two of the best early guidebooks to Yorkshire and one of the first ever railway guidebooks in the world. Perhaps a Michael Portillo moment coming up? The book traces his footsteps through the moors, dales and coastal beauty of Yorkshire and how he became a source of inspiration behind Britain’s National Park and outdoor movement. You never know John Phillips may even have had a hand in influencing your own summer time adventures this year.

Read and Visit

John Phillips, Yorkshire’s traveller through time by Colin Speakman (Gritstone Publishing co-operative, 2020)

The Map That Changed The World, A Tale of Rocks, Ruin and Redemption by Simon Winchester (Penguin Books, 2002), the story of William Smith

Now the main tourist crowds have gone, why not visit the ‘Reading Room’ and see William ‘Strata’ Smith’s ground breaking 1815 geological map of England and Wales at The Yorkshire Museum, York Museum Gardens, York

You could also visit the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. This was designed by William Smith in 1829 and is one of the world’s first purpose built museums:

If your interest is peaked in geology and you don’t want to travel further than Bradford visit our own Cliffe Castle museum in Keighley which houses the Airedale Gallery exploring the geology of the district, the Molecules to Minerals Gallery, and its own Natural History Gallery all wonderfully curated. The Molecules to Minerals Gallery has been described by the former head of the Geology Museum as ‘…probably the best, as regards the range and quality of its minerals and its design, outside the major national museums’.

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies

Art for Everyone

Getting through Lockdown well has involved many people turning to hobbies and interests, including arts and crafts. If you are interested in art and artists and are inspired by the works of others, then check out the latest publications coming to Bradford Libraries based on Bradford and District’s very own.

In the last couple of years, 3 well illustrated books by Colin Neville have been published. Past Silsden Artists;  Lesser Known Artists of the Bradford District 1860-1997 and the latest publication that has particular resonance with recent events,  as it looks at the highs but also the lows of a selection of artists and how this affected their art and work, The Highs-The Lows, Past Artists of the Bradford District (Imprint 2021). For more details of these books, please follow the link below to the Not Just Hockney web site. These books will be available for reference and for loan in Bradford Libraries.

Very many people are looking forward to the re-opening of local art galleries and museums in May. Until then, however, there is a great web site that champions and promotes local professional artists past and present:
Not Just Hockney:  
This is a non-commercial web site that was launched in 2015 by Colin Neville, a Silsden resident and  former lecturer. By December 2020, the site had come to include 450 artists past and present who had significant residency and/or works, links with the Bradford district”. It’s a fully illustrated site so there is a lot of art to inspire, including of course David Hockney himself.

The site also helps to promote local art trails, The Young Masters Visual Art School (primary school age children), the Art School Ilkley, and also works with the Bradford UNESCO City of Film to present local artists on the public Big Screen in Centenary Square, Bradford.

Bradford’s own museums and art galleries will be opening in mid -May but you can keep up to date and hone your art skills using their online services, their brilliant, illustrated blog post, , online exhibitions  and  AtHome Activities. This last provides weekly home art projects to inspire you to “draw, write, think, talk, move, make, build, explore, invent, reflect or play” at any age. Please follow this link and get inspired by amazing objects, beautiful art works and historic buildings.

Meanwhile Bradford Libraries have a wonderful stock of teach yourself art and drawing books, DVDs of art techniques (Keighley Local Studies), and regular online story times with related activities

Many Bradford and District adults and children in Lockdown turned to art to express their emotions, moods, to escape and to find a sense of fulfilment in difficult times. Bradford Libraries published some in the books: Stay at Home: Poetry and art from the people of Bradford in response to COVID-19 and Stay at Home: Poetry and art from Bradford children and young people in response to the Covid-19 pandemic 2020 (Bradford Libraries paperback 2020) both available in Bradford Libraries . Let’s hope that such comforts can be carried with us into the future for whatever challenges face us and thankfully there’s plenty of advice and inspiration out there to help us to do that.

Keep up to date with what’s opening up and available in your area through Bradford Libraries, Galleries and Museums at:

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies

Census 2021 – history in the making

Another first is about to happen in March with the digital-first census in 2021 but when was the first census, why was it taken and what use has it served and will serve in the future?

The census is a head count of everyone in the country on a given day. A census has been taken in England and Wales, and separately for Scotland, every ten years since 1801, with the exception of 1941, due to WW2.

In 1801 to 1831, the government basically wanted to know the number of people in each area, their sex and age groups. The government was not bothered about personal details, just statistics. Sometimes the enumerator took down more details but this is a rare occurrence. This changed in 1841, when the names of people in each household were included together with information about each person.  Thereafter more information was added each decade.

How the census was taken in the past?

In the week preceding census night, the appointed enumerator delivered the forms to all households in an Enumeration District (approximately 500 people). Censuses did not strictly follow county boundaries. The first page of each District states the route taken. Everyone who slept in the house that night had to be included, even if it wasn’t their permanent home. No person absent was included so salesmen, for example, were included in the census where they lodged on their journey. Census dates are important and vary but they were taken on a Sunday as the night when most people would be at home. Earlier in the year is preferred, since 1851, because many people helped with harvesting in the summer and daylight was always needed for enumerators to carry out their rounds. Forms were filled in for anyone who was unable to read and/or write and there are often many spelling mistakes and some names spelled differently.

On the Monday the forms were collected. The information was then transferred to the Enumerator’s books. The General Record Office compiled the statistics. The date for our 2021 census is Sunday 21 March. For more information, please follow these links:

The Release of the 1921 Census

There is a 100 year closure for freedom of information and data protection reasons for the full household census returns so that the last census to be released was the 1911 in 2012. In 2022 the 1921 census will be released on Findmypast to which Bradford Libraries already have a subscription.

However, a Register was taken in 1939 and this provides some householder information. It is not a full census.  

To obtain free access to historical censuses and the 1939 Register, Bradford Libraries have provided free use of Ancestry from your own home during lockdown. Please follow these instructions:

To access Ancestry Library you will need a Bradford Libraries membership card.

Go to  and join the library and/or log in to your library account with your card number and pin. Remember to input just the numbers. Next, click on the special link to Ancestry Library Edition.

How useful is the information collected?

Census returns can be used for social and economic historical research for the Victorian period. As they also give place of birth, they can be used for the study of migration, for trades and occupations, and of course for household and family structures. They are a must for family history and house history researchers and can be used in the study of town and village growth and development.

Why we should take part most especially in 2021.

As a thorough analysis of population the census helps determine social needs and future development. Census information helps plan and fund services in your own area including healthcare, education and transport. It is also used by charities for funding arrangements and businesses for market research and start-up and so impacts on job opportunities. After Covid,  the 2021 census will have particular importance.

To learn more about the census in 2021 please follow these links:

In Bradford:


Initiative for Bradford Secondary School Students to contribute

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies Library

International Women’s Day – March 8th 2021: The Indomitable Molly Jones.

From time to time people who I remember from my earliest days working at Keighley Library will suddenly pop into my head, usually for no particular reason, sometimes stirred by memories from a newspaper article or picture that I have been looking at. Not long ago I was thinking about a man called Reg Jones. Reg was a good man and we would often pass the time of day on his frequent visits to Keighley Library. This got me thinking again about that old adage ‘behind every good man there’s a great woman’ and in Reg’s case no truer word was spoken.

When I was invited to write this blog (my first one ever incidentally) there was one lady who’s name immediately sprang to mind. On International Women’s Day 2021 with the NHS very much to the fore, this lady’s life is well worth celebrating. In my eyes she is an unsung hero of whom Keighley owes a huge debt. I never met Molly Jones, but growing up in Keighley in the 70s and 80s I heard her name mentioned constantly. Looking back at Molly’s life and her remarkable achievements, it is only now that I have come to realise what a true pioneer she was in every sense of the word. Keighley should be extremely proud to claim Molly Jones as one of its own, she paved the way for health services that exist in this town to this day.

Molly, christened Mary, was born on a farm in Cockerham and attended Lancaster Girls Grammar School. Her father was not keen on her choice of a career in nursing, so at first Molly took a clerical job with the school health service. However her desire was such that Molly decided to leave her well paid secretarial job behind and enrolled to train as a state registered nurse and midwife on her 21st birthday. By 1942 she was working as a nurse in London and recalled that her pay was £30 a year which increased at the rate of £5 annually until it reached £75. She then transferred to St. Pancras where her work involved supporting new mothers by visiting them when the midwives ended their duties fourteen days after giving birth. As a trainee Molly had to sit with three women who died as a result of back street abortions and this horrendous experience would drive her on to campaign vigorously for abortions to be made legal.

Molly’s next move was to Keighley where she was a health visitor in 1948 on the day the NHS was born describing it as ‘a normal working day’. She was very impressed by the new council estates that were springing up all over the town. Health visitors in their navy uniforms were instantly recognisable and were often called in by mothers who saw them on their way to visit new borns. In that same year Molly married Reg Jones and settled in to her home at Utley going onto have four children of her own. It was soon after her marriage to Reg that Molly retired from paid work, however her involvement in health matters was as committed as ever.

Molly, who had taken mothers under her care in London to a family planning clinic, was by now well positioned to give advice on the subject in Keighley. She told them about a Marie Stopes Clinic in Leeds despite being warned by her superiors not to do so. A pioneer in the field of contraception, Molly was also keen to help women who did not want more children. In 1952 she worked as a volunteer at an evening clinic in Shipley set up by the Family Planning Association. It proved so popular that women started to arrive way before it opened just to make sure that they were seen. Molly would laugh as she recalled ‘they used to make a night out of it with a fish and chip supper on the way home!’

As a health visitor half a century ago Molly also set up a baby and anti-natal clinic at Westgate. She recalled giving out National Dried Milk alongside brand named baby milk, orange juice, virol and cod liver oil. She firmly believed that parenting was the most important thing for any child and that the government should not be encouraging mothers to go out to work.

Molly set about learning relaxation techniques so that women might not need pain killers when giving birth and spearheaded relaxation classes. She was keen to highlight the over-prescribing of tranquilizers and set up several support groups.
Fast-forwarding to the year 2000, Molly called on health chiefs in Airedale National Health trust to provide Macmillan nurses in order to support patients from the moment they are diagnosed with cancer. She believed that it offered a more focused and specialised service compared to district nurses.

I know that a lot of Molly’s achievements will have never been recorded so I will not be aware of them but in later years she became involved in the care of older people and founded SHAPE (a pioneering Senior Health Awareness Project) on Temple Street. She was a staunch supporter of Keighley’s Voluntary Sector through membership of several management and working groups, including Keighley Council for Voluntary Services (KCVS). Heavily involved in many other groups, such as Airedale Community Health Council (KCVS), the Women’s Health Group and a support group for Parkinson’s disease.

Her accolades include winning a Yorkshire Women of Achievement Award and Keighley Community Personality of the Year in 1989.

Molly eventually benefited from some of the services she had supported during her lifetime, such as the Parkinson’s group. She was still attending a keep fit class at the Salvation Army well into her 80s.

On Molly’s death in 2015 at the age of 98, Val Mills, the long-time leader of Keighley Voluntary Services, paid tribute in the ‘Keighley News’ to Molly’s long and active time as a dynamic and determined community health campaigner and volunteer. She said “Molly was an ardent and very vocal campaigner on public health issues, particularly for women. She was often well ahead of the game in new public health issues and growing concerns. She gave many hundreds of hours of volunteer time during 40 plus years.”

Molly’s daughter, Chris Baillie, said “some of my earliest memories are connected with mum’s tireless work for the health of the people of Keighley. She was a campaigner who always fought to right any injustices she saw. My mother’s memory let her down in the last few years, but the spirit carried on.”
Molly’s son, Mike jones was a canoeist who at 19 descended the Grand Canyon and led an expedition down the Blue Nile, later writing a book about his exploits. He drowned in 1978 in Pakistan trying to save his best friend. A film was made about his life.

Molly’s grandson, Tim Baillie, won a gold medal for pair’s canoe slalom at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Molly’s life was well lived and thinking back to Reg in the library back in the day, I think he was a very lucky man indeed to have Molly in his life. I’ll leave the last word to Molly Jones (not many people can say this) summing up her lifetime in health care she said simply “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my work.”

Janet Mawson.
Keighley Local Studies Library.