Christmas Capers of Yorkshire Past

Department Store Christmas

Arrival of Father Christmas, Busbys’, Manningham Lane, Bradford
C.H. Wood, (Bradford Museums’ Photos)

The first purpose built department store in England was Brixton’s Bon Marché opened in 1877.
It was not until the end of the 19th Century that electric lighting was common in shops and with that came some wonderful Christmas lighting. Busbys’ department store was founded in 1908 (merging with Debenhams in 1958) and over the succeeding 70 years became one of the most popular shops in Yorkshire. At Christmas, Busbys’ Santa’s grotto was a must visit for many families in the Bradford district. The following quotes are taken from Busbys’ A Shop Full of Memories by Michael Callahan and Colin Neville (Bradford Museums, Galleries & Heritage, 2008).

“I was chosen to be ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and I felt very proud to be doing this. The day the Grotto opened we started out for Busbys’ on a big flat lorry from Dockfield, in Shipley. There was Mother and Father Christmas and their fairy, and myself in the lorry, and we were joined by some of the Hammond Sauce Band and they played Christmas songs and carols along the route. We had a big bags of sweets, and all along Manningham Lane there were children and mothers just lining the road and we threw sweets to them all along the way; it was such a big event. In the Grotto I had my own little sweet shop and talked to the children while they were waiting to see Father Christmas. The Grotto was so big; it was never-ending! There was a lot to see – and it was magical. Dorothy West”

“As the electrician at Busbys’ from 1972-75 I have great memories of the family atmosphere there. The highlight and privilege was wiring all the working models and fairy lights for the Grotto. Seeing the children’s faces from behind the scenes was magical. Keith Brown” p. 71

Father Christmas’s Grotto, Busbys’ Department Store, Bradford
C.H. Wood, (Bradford Museums’ Photos)

“My memory is being taken to see Santa Claus when very small. My memory is a huge display of lights and tinsel and magic. We had to walk down paths and over bridges, pull strings, and glitter snowed down on us. It seemed as though we walked for ages before we saw Santa… that walk and the magic has never been equalled in any display since. A.Wallace” p.59

‘I must have been the only child who didn’t enjoy the visit to Santa’s Grotto. I was aged about 3, and when we finally reached Santa he said, “what do you want little girl” I replied, “I want to get out of here!” Anonymous, p. 61

Mill Christmas

Messrs. Heatons’, Keighley, decorated for peace celebrations, 1918 (Keighley Local Studies)

Many textile mills decorated workplaces, and even some machinery, for royal events but also for Christmastime:

‘We would buy a few packets of crimped paper, which we cut and made into streamers to decorate the room at the mill. We would have a walk round at dinner time to see the other rooms and decide which we liked best. As Christmas drew near there was always someone singing carols during meal-times. Someone would start “Hark the herald angels sing” or “While shepherds watched”, and soon it was taken up by another and another, till soon almost everyone had joined in. It was in the mill that I was introduced to Handel’s Messiah. Most of the mill workers, if they could sing, would be taking part in the Messiah at their own places of worship. They put in a bit of practice while working.’ Picking up Threads Reminiscences of a Bradford Mill Girl by Maggie Newberry (Bradford Libraries, 1993), p. 52

At Christmas we’d take some sherry and mince pies, and happen a Christmas cake, and have a break for about an hour in the afternoon. The weavers, you could hear them going mad, but we weren’t with them, we just sat round our mending tables and had us own bit of fun. We never went in any other part of the mill at all.’ Woman.  Born 1915 From Textile Voices A Century of Mill Life by Tim Smith and Olive Howarth, BHRU (Bradford Arts, Heritage & Leisure, 2006), p. 115

Salt’s Mill (Saltaire) Limited, final Christmas party for the burling and mending department, (n.d.) BHRU, (Bradford Museums’ Photos)

Artists’ and Writers’ Christmas

David Hockney: One Tuesday afternoon in December 1951 three boys from Bradford Grammar School boarded the trolley bus. The three, namely Hockney (David), Taylor, M.S. (later Oxford University scholarship), and Dixon, M. (minor), had all been subjected to a ‘half Tuesday’ – detention – for a variety of misdemeanours. It was decided a visit to Busbys’ to see Father Christmas and the grotto was in order. We joined a long queue. After what seemed like hours we finally arrived at the head of the queue. Alas! We were approached by a very imposing commissionaire in uniform complete with bristling moustache who enquired ‘where were our parents?’ On being informed they were at home he said ‘sorry, but we could not see Father Christmas’. He politely showed us the Emergency Exit and kicked us out! On the wall immediately opposite was the famous Busbys’ sign with the marching guardsmen and the slogan ‘The Store with the Friendly Welcome’. The now world famous David Hockney was heard to mumble ‘some friendly welcome!’ “ Michael Dixon  in Busbys’  A Shop Full of Memories by Michael Callahan and Colin Neville (Bradford Museums, Galleries & Heritage, 2008) p.71. See also

Charles Dickens: On 28th December 1854, ‘Mr Christmas’ himself, Charles Dickens (author of such Christmassy works as A Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers and The Chimes) read from his works to a packed audience at the new St George’s Hall in Bradford. Special trains were put on for journeys to Halifax and Huddersfield, such was the popularity of the event. However, for some female members of the audience, the evening might not have turned out quite as Dickens had initially promised, that is like “a small social party assembled to hear a tale told round the Christmas fire…” because, as a skilled actor, his dramatic readings of the violent murder of Nancy in Oliver Twist, for example, had been known to cause women in the audience to swoon into a dead faint.

Charles Dickens’s Mr Pickwick

J.B. Priestley: Much later in time, a great fan of Charles Dickens, a young Bradford born J.B. Priestley, who would frequently forego dinner to buy books, was said to have “spent one Yuletide with a chum at an old inn near Bradford where he smoked a church-warden pipe and tried a brew of punch”, in order “to sample Christmas very much as Dickens’s Mr Pickwick would have done.” (Rebel Tyke Bradford and J.B. Priestley by Peter Holdsworth (Bradford Libraries, 1994), p.45

Nativity Christmas

Nativity play at Heaton Middle School, Bradford, BHRU, (Bradford Museums’ Photographs)

The school nativity has long provided a Christmas gift that keeps on giving to parents and teachers alike. Let’s hope that this year will be the only year that for many has to be watched only on film at home or not at all. If you have never seen or been part of one, Gervase Phinn gives some lovely and humorous accounts from his Yorkshire School Inspector days, such as at St Helen’s school where the teacher, Mrs Smith had asked the children to write parts of the Christmas story in their own words, one child read,

’The three kings were very rich and they wore beautiful clothes and had these crowns and things. They looked at the stars every night. One night one of the kings said, “Hey up, what’s that up there, then?” “What?” said the other kings.  “That up there in the sky? I’ve not seen a star like that one.” The star sparkled and glittered in the blue sky. “You know what?” said another king. “It means there’s a new baby king been born. Shall we go and see Him?” “All  right.”’

The narrator continued: ‘They shouted to their wives: “Wives! Wives! Go and get some presents for the baby king. We’re off to Beth’lem to see Him.” “OK,” said the wives.’ Head Over Heels in the Dales (Michael Joseph, 2002), p. 95  These books are available for loan, follow:

Charity in Depression Christmas, 1932

Roberts’s Model Lodging-house, Leeds St, Keighley, c.1924, (BK36, Keighley Local Studies)

In 1861, Francis Middlebrook wrote, “Mother went to Keighley workhouse to see all the inmates get rum and tea”, the latter being donated by William Busfield Ferrand of St Ives. Keighley News 24 Dec 1982

In Keighley at the two lodging houses, Mr Edward Roberts, landlord, provided a ham and egg breakfast and an anonymous donor provided parcels of tea and sugar. Mr Roberts organised an annual fund and as a consequence each resident was also given free lodgings, tobacco and cigarettes on Christmas day. Each child in various Keighley institutions was also given a new shilling piece by a Mr Asa Smith. Keighley News 10 December 1982

Unruly Christmas

The Keighley Police Force in 1865, (Ian Dewhirst MBE archive)

Hearth and home in Victoria’s reign was not for everyone. With no regular police force yet, law and order in Bradford and Keighley was kept by Watchmen. In Keighley, there were 6 patrolling the streets.  One of these kept a diary between the years 1848-1853, now held in Keighley Local Studies Library archive (BK 309) and was called, James Leach. He had a very busy Christmas in 1848. In his diary he reported that at one o’clock on Christmas Day morning Mrs Wilkins’ Star Inn had “company in her house from 15 to 20 persons”. They were still drinking there at a quarter to three on Boxing Day.   On 27th December one Zyckriah Ashton was found in Cony Lane drunk and very ill. On the 28th December at one o’clock there was fighting at the Black Horse amongst a group of men and at two o’clock Mr Lapish of New Town was found drunk and disorderly. On the 31st , Samuel Smith, ‘comonley caled Mucky Sam’, ‘threw Patrick Waterhouse over the batlment at Damside a depth of 5 yards & cut & wounded im daingerousley’. The New Year started in a similar way…

War Time Christmas, 1939

Christmas war certificate for donations made. (BK10/683, Keighley Local Studies)

During WW2, Keighley people on the Home Front, as in other districts, did their best to provide “comforts” for those serving in the forces. They provided funds for recreational and rest huts. During November, four large bales of knitted woollen comforts were despatched to France, also to the Navy and Air Force. “Cigarettes, sweets, candles etc.,” were also sent. Firms such as Ward, Haggas & Smith; Clapham Bros., and Dean, Smith and Grace also had schemes to provide comforts as well as Christmas parcels to their work people serving in the Forces. Keighley News, 9 December 1939
For those Evacuees remaining in Keighley and the Worth Valley over the holidays, there was a large Christmas party on 4th January with a film show, community singing and a play. On other days, there were to be games in schools, walks and visits to museums and places of interest. Keighley News 23 December 1939.

Hospital Christmas

Keighley and District Victoria Hospital held regular children’s Christmas parties even during the war years. Ian Dewhirst noted that in 1943, the visiting Santa Claus was none other than Dr Joseph Chalmers, hospital surgeon. Nursing staff also performed a pantomime, “Boy Blue” and patients received presents from the Matron’s Christmas Fund and the Workpeople’s Collection Committee. Keighley News 21 December 2001.

World’s first ‘socially distancing’ cracker

Hawksworth Hall, 1961, C.H. Wood (Bradford Museums’ Photographs)

COVID Christmas 2020

Another shadow, another queue, hopefully we shall soon be on the bright side…….

Father Christmas at a works’ children’s party, 1955 C.H. Wood (Bradford Museums’ Photographs)

To join the library, borrow books and examine local 19thC newspapers using our online services from home, as well as gain free access to Ancestry and Findmypast, follow the link below:

See also Bradford Museums Photo Archives:

Bradford’s Oral History collection is housed in Bradford Local Studies Library. It consists of 800 tape recorded interviews (also transcriptions) with local people’s memories including subject areas such as textiles, health, war, immigration to Bradford.

Other useful sites:  traditional and modern mills’ repository of records and photographs

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies Library

Bradford and District Mills – a continuous contribution to cultural growth and diversity

Photograph of merchants on the main floor of the Wool Exchange, Bradford 1954.
(C.H. Wood, Bradford Museums and Galleries)

By the 1850s it’s estimated that Bradford processed two thirds of the country’s wool production and was generally known as the wool capital of the world. People sought work in Bradford as local rural employment declined but eventually they came from all parts of the world. In 1974, Bradford became a metropolitan district and absorbed other areas such as Keighley that had also experienced early economic and population growth due to its textile trade and related engineering industries.

Despite this propitious beginning and rapid production and success, the District’s textile industry has declined over the years and now the local economy relies on a diversity of industries and technologies. Nevertheless, much of the industrial landscape remains but far from being predominantly the “dark satanic mills” of dereliction and waste, today very many of the old mills have been re-purposed in unique and creative ways so that they can continue to contribute to the social, economic and cultural development of the District. Today we see mills playing a role in pioneering digital technology, film, performance art and culture and they will be an essential consideration in the “Northern Powerhouse” agenda for the District.

Architectural innovation and majesty

Fabric Huge by Mark Keighley

The early mill owners built grand houses that we still admire such as Heathcote, Ilkley (John Thomas Hemingway, Richardsons’ wool merchants);  Cliffe Castle, Keighley (Butterfield family, worsted manufacturers and merchants), Eastwood House, Keighley (William Sugden, worsted spinner);  Lady Royde Hall, Bradford (Henry Illingworth, worsted spinner, manufacturer). However, they also built their mills on a grand scale too, continuing to use the best architects around. Amongst the most splendid mill examples still standing today are Lister’s (Manningham) Mills, Bradford built by Samuel Cunliffe Lister to replace the original Manningham Mills, destroyed by fire in 1871. Built in the Italianate style of Victorian architecture (listed Grade II), the architects were a local firm, Andrews & Pepper who went on to design many fine buildings in Bradford. For all architect details, please see:  Salt’s Mills built by Sir Titus Salt and designed by Bradford’s Town Hall architects Lockwood & Mawson,  is also now Grade II listed and in it floor size at the time was the largest industrial building in the world. It has been described as an Italianate palace as the architecture is after the 15thcentury Italianate style;  Dalton Mills , Keighley (Grade II listed 1134129 ) was built for J. and J. Craven, worsted spinners and manufacturers the complex originally consisted of 3 ornate mills in an eclectic classical style (minarets style towers included) round a small courtyard, Tower Mill, Genappe Mill and New Mill. They were designed by William Sugden of Leek, Staffordshire who also built the Secular Hall in Leicester  All these mills can be examined in more detail individually on the English Heritage Listed Buildings web site:

As well as this grand architecture, mill owners built houses for workers, public buildings such as Institutes, offices and warehouses, some similarly ornate such as in Saltaire Model village and Little Germany in Bradford.  In the last century, mills themselves that were structurally still sound began to be refurbished to produce flats and apartments. These were also popular because of their location near scenic waterways, such as in Saltaire at Victoria Mills and in Bingley. Another of Bradford’s main developments is that of Lister’s Mill. Once the largest silk factory in the world, the Grade II listed buildings have now been converted by Urban Splash into apartments, penthouses and commercial units. The following site shows the transformation with excellent photographs:

Conditioning House, Bradford, is another large and prestigious building development and won the UK Property Award for best residential development in Yorkshire 2018/19. Smaller mills all over the District have also been converted such as Hewenden Mill, Haworth, and others such as Baildon Mills are in the pipeline, so maintaining Bradford’s unique industrial architecture.

Technical Education

The Great Exhibition of 1851 exposed weaknesses in Britain’s manufacturing and industrial educational policy and pinpointed deficiencies in technical drawing skills of students going into industry and manufacturing. Subsequently, the Department of Science and Art was created to raise standards, together with the National Art Training Schools of South Kensington to provide specialist instruction in drawing, designing and modelling. A system of national scholarships was also established. In the late 19th century, students of Keighley Mechanics’ Institute particularly benefited and won many scholarships, encouraged by Swire Smith of Fleece Mills. He travelled through Europe examining different educational methods and skills, gave lectures, served on the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction (1880) and contributed papers to the Technical Education Bill (Technical Instruction Act 1889) and its committee. He received a knighthood in 1898. Keighley Local Studies library holds his archive and a collection of pamphlets.

Digital Technology

Salts Mill, small industrial unit, sculptor, Andrew Orlowski, who came to England during 1980 after studying at the famous Academy of Sculpture, in Poland. (BHRU, Bradford Museums and Galleries)

The repurposed Salt’s Mill played a role in training and employment when it opened new units for crafts but also in new technologies when it gave space to Pace Electronics, a British company pioneering digital technology for satellite receiving equipment. Today the mill houses the Advanced Digital Institute (ADI).

Into the future, Bradford’s mills are set to play an important role in developing the use of drone technology and smart city management. Dalton Mills, Keighley has already been noted in the report findings of the first phase of the pioneering “Flying High” programme. Bradford is one of only five areas designated “drone cities” for this leading project for the drone industry. For details follow the following links:  (page 56 for Bradford District)

Immigration and Diversity

Illingworth, Morris PLC. Employee of the spinning mill on Thornton Road, Bradford.
(BHRU, Bradford Museums and Galleries)

Since the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s population has been on the move to find work as rural employment became scarcer. Bradford District witnessed large Irish migrations and the use of orphans from as far away as London to be employed in the textile trade. The German worsted merchants built Little Germany warehouse area and also became cultural philanthropists, supporting buildings such as St George’s Hall. The composer Frederic Delius and the painter William Rothenstein came from such families in Bradford. After World War 2,  Displaced Persons were given European Volunteer Worker status and recruited to work in the mills in the Bradford District. By 1987, there was upwards of 10,000 people of Austrian, Italian, Baltic and Eastern European origin living in Bradford, many working in textiles and its related industries (Wool City by Mark Keighley, G. Whitaker & Co. Ltd., 2007, p.143). The largest recent migration, however, was that from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan. Most of the new Commonwealth workers became employed in textiles as well as public transport and the Health Service, making valuable contributions to the local economy and its diverse cultural development. In the late 1960s, textile firms relied so much on workers from India and Pakistan for combing and spinning processes that without them it is recorded that textile production and profit would have seriously faltered. (See also Textile Voices edited by Olive Howarth, BHRU 1989 and Here To Stay, Bradford’s South Asian Communities, BHRU 1994)

Arts, Culture and Heritage

The move to re-purpose rather than demolish mills, championed by such schemes as the Prince’s Regeneration Through Heritage initiative has led to some becoming social, retail but also performance art and cultural hubs.

Aerial view of Salt’s Mill, 1973 (Bradford Museums and Galleries)

Amongst the first in the country, and the most outstanding in Bradford, is Salt’s Mill whose wide ranging contribution has led to Saltaire village becoming recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The original vision of entrepreneur Jonathan Silver (1949-1997) as a retail and leisure scheme, Salt’s Mill became a major cultural centre as it was progressed from Bradford Festival productions in the mill to the exclusive 1853 Hockney Gallery in the former spinning mill. Today it still houses the largest continuous exhibition of art works by the world famous English artist, David Hockney. You will also find there today a large book shop, antiques centre, craft and outdoor retail, cafes and restaurants and the Early Music Shop, (See Salt & Silver A Story of Hope by Jim Greenhalf, Bradford Libraries, 1998) Other mills have also been adapted to the benefit of the local community and encouragement of the Arts.  Dalton Mill complex in Keighley, has also been refurbished in part and now has an arts centre and thriving Business Park. Melbourne Mills opposite Dalton, and like Salt’s Mill, has also contributed to the long tradition and progressive link between mills, music and Yorkshire bands. In the mid-19th Century this consisted of one of the first Yorkshire mill brass bands, Black Dyke Mills band being created, today there are pop and rock bands using recording and rehearsal studios as launched by “Jam on Top”. The mill also houses a radio station.

Examples of smaller conversions also include Antiques at the Mill, Cullingworth; Ponden Mill B & B, Stanbury and Albion Mills business centre, Greengates.

Film and Television

Because of their impressive and historic architecture, and it has to be said because of some dereliction, Dalton Mill in Keighley and Saltaire’s mills and village have frequently been used as film locations. Dalton Mill most recently was filmed for the popular television series Peaky Blinders.

Dalton Mills, Keighley (Keighley Local Studies)

This availability of impressive film locations has contributed to Bradford marking its tenth anniversary in 2019 as the world’s first UNESCO City of Film and helped it to highlight how Bradford is leading the way in film literacy with a programme that is regarded as one of the best of its kind in the UK, promoting new ways of learning in primary schools (Emma Clayton, T&A, 12 Feb 2019 pp. 2-3).  Bradford has now launched a unique FilmMakers 25 project to spot and nurture talent and to teach skills of film making to students across the District.

It’s good to see that Bradford District’s mills not only continue to contribute to the local economy but now also to the District’s cultural development and progress, with a key role to play in the development of some of the most advanced technology in the world. The regeneration of textile mills in the area is now a key part of the “Northern Powerhouse” agenda. This is a fine testimony to Bradford District’s diversity and spirit of hard work and enterprise as Bradford now makes its bid for the title of UK City of Culture 2025.

Bradford and Keighley Local Studies Libraries hold a wealth of books and archive records and resources if you would like to find out more about mills and the textile industry. Bradford is also fortunate to have its own Industrial Museum that hosts regular widely acclaimed exhibitions.

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies

Belle Vue Studio collection: a unique collection based in Bradford’s Museums and Galleries. The studio became a popular destination in the 1950s for those coming to work in Bradford from other parts of the world. Digitisation of the photos is almost complete:

See also Bradford Museums Photo Archives:

Bradford’s Oral History collection is housed in Bradford Local Studies Library. It consists of 800 tape recorded interviews with local people’s memories including subject areas such as textiles, health, war, immigration to Bradford.

Other useful sites:  traditional and modern mills’ repository of records and photographs  online illustrated guide to Britain’s industrial history

Update. Local Studies services from 4 November 2020

The Local Studies research appointment service has been suspended at the present time as one of the steps taken by Bradford Libraries in line with the Government regulations. There will be no access to study spaces during this time.

This is a perfect time to delve into local and family history and Bradford Libraries will continue to offer the free use of AncestryLibrary and Find My Past from home at the current time. This is available to anyone with a library card. 

Local studies library staff are continuing to provide a telephone and email service to answer enquiries involving the unique local collections. You can contact Bradford Local Studies Library on 01274 433688, email or Keighley Local Studies Library on 01535 618215, email

Apologies for any inconvenience and we hope to see you back soon.

Local Studies Update

An email and telephone service is available for local and family history enquiries. Please contact us with details of your request using the details below. 

In addition we are now able to offer access to visitors by appointment only, to use local studies publications and original records for study and research.

Booking a session

To make an appointment, contact us by email or telephone. We will allocate you a session for research.

We only have limited slots so the date or time you want might not be available but we will do our best to accommodate your needs. Please book your appointment as far in advance of your visit as possible.

To keep staff and visitors safe, all items required must be pre-ordered. Access will be limited to local studies and archive material.

Please note that we require at least 72 hours notice and at busy times this may be significantly longer.

On booking your appointment via telephone or email, our team of library staff will help to search the catalogues to identify appropriate items if required. They will then prepare the items for use prior to your visit.

It is essential that all materials/documents are ordered and an appointment made in advance. No requests can be made on the day.

Customer details (name and contact details) will be taken in compliance with the NHS Test and Trace system. These will be retained securely for 21 days after which the information will be securely destroyed.

Your visit

To ensure a safe and productive visit we request that you follow the guidelines below which have been designed in line with current advice to prioritise the safety of all.   

Please arrive at the allotted time.

Please wear a face covering during your visit. Wearing gloves is optional.

Please sanitise your hands on entry and exit.

Please observe social distancing and keep 2 metres distance from staff and customers at all times.

No food or drink will be permitted during your visit.

We are unable to provide face to face support to our customers such as assistance with using documents and no general browsing facilities are available at the present time.

Our card catalogues are not available to public access at present.

There will be no access to public PC’s however Wi-Fi is available using your own equipment.

Please bring all stationery required as we are not able to supply or lend any stationery.

Photocopying, scanning or printing services will be unavailable at the present time; however researchers are permitted to photograph items from the collection for personal use or study with their own equipment. No other kind of reproduction will be permitted without the necessary permissions which must be arranged via email.

If you have requested the use of a microfilm/fiche reader we request that you use the antibacterial wipes provided to clean the surfaces before and after use and follow the disposal guidelines for the wipes.

When you have finished your research visit please place the research items in the designated area. Please do not leave the documents in the study area or return them to shelves or cabinets. 

We hope that you have a safe, comfortable and productive visit. If you have any further enquiries please don’t hesitate to contact us via email or telephone.

Arrangements for disabled visitors

Arrangements for disabled visitors remain the same.

Please let us know when booking if you have any special requirements.

If you require someone to accompany you when you visit, please let us know at the time of booking.

Online services

Please remember too that many of our online offers are still available remotely or from home. These include AncestryLibrary, Find My Past and British Library Newspapers. For further information please visit:

Contact details

Please contact us via telephone or email:

Bradford Local Studies Library


Tel: 01274 433688

Keighley Local Studies Library


Tel: 01535 618215

Brief Guide to Tracing Your Black British Ancestry

New Pentecostal Church of God,
©Bradford Museums Photo Archive

To mark Black History Month, here is a selection of online guides to tracing your family history. Bradford Libraries of course hold book stock for loan covering the basics of family history research, the sort of records you might come across and dedicated guides to aspects of Black history and Black family history, such as Madeleine E. Mitchell’s Jamaican Ancestry How to Find Out More, (Heritage Books, 2008) ISBN 978-0-7884-4282-7.

Background historical information

Black people have been in Britain from at least Roman times and increasingly more research is being done into their history and valuable contribution to the development of British society and culture. Here are a couple of sites you may find useful: 

The website was launched in 2003, and funded by the New Opportunities Fund. It is one in a series of online exhibitions produced by Pathways to the Past web resource. It was established to provide an historical context for lifelong learners using the archives in their own research. It includes resources such as digitised records and artworks from the National Archives’ collections and elsewhere. 

The Every Generation website was launched by Patrick Vernon after mentoring young black people in Brent and Hackney. He was inspired to create this online resource for young people and families for genealogical research and to explore Black British identity.

BBC articles for Black History Month on great men and women

BBC iplayer programmes:  TV series with David Olusoga  Radio 4 series with Gretchen Gerzina

More suggestions are available on the Bradford Council’s page:

Family History – making a start

If your family has a long heritage in Britain then please follow the guides’ link below to a leaflet that includes an outline of some of the records you may come across in your research. Please note that census records did not identify ethnicity until 1971 so although early censuses do identify the country of birth in some cases from 1841, your search will be by address and surname. All are accessible through Bradford Libraries’ Ancestry from home service. You can start with the 1939 Register and then work through 1911 back every 10 years to 1841.

Free online guides are also available on this site on all aspects of general and particular British family history research. Follow this link and type in your search needs:

Further areas of research

This leaflet highlights some of the background history to migration from the 1940s.

Passenger lists for African-Caribbean heritage during the period c1948-1960

The British Transport Collections include some of the migration records of British citizens from Caribbean countries to the UK from this period and these are held at the National Archives, Kew. The National Archives also has a series of guides that you can read online and/or print off to read.

These include the UK inbound passenger lists up to 1960. However, these are currently available to all Bradford Library card holders from their own home. Follow the instructions below to access Ancestry and/or the more restricted access to Findmypast.

Ancestry includes the ‘Windrush’  inbound passenger lists and other inbound lists 1878-1960. UK outbound lists from 1890-1960.

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

Findmypast  includes UK outbound lists from 1890-1960. Access is limited to a certain number of searches per month.  To access please email

A guide for National Archive records that relate to aspects of the slave trade, slavery and unfree labour in the British Caribbean and American colonies:

Personal Accounts of Research for Black Ancestry

One man’s journey to uncover his routes back from his Liverpool family:

African-Caribbean heritage: two free online talks this month with Paul Crooks

If you would like to pursue this topic more informally, Manchester Library is hosting two family history talks, free online, by the author and family historian, Paul Crooks who pioneered research into African Caribbean genealogy during the 1990s. Join him as he explains how he traced his family history from London back 6 generations through to slavery in a Jamaican sugar plantation and how he researched his father’s history using the Passenger lists above mentioned. The events take place on the 19th and 20th October and are online, you register using your email and do not have to be a member of Manchester Libraries.

Paul Crook’s books are available in Bradford Libraries, please follow this link and you can use the click and collect service

Family Research War Records

You can search for war records on the Ancestry and Findmypast web sites. You may also wish to look at the following:  American soldiers

Bradford Museums’ and Libraries’ Records

Belle Vue Studio collection: a unique collection based in Bradford’s Museums and Galleries. The studio became a popular destination in the 1950s for those coming to work in Bradford from other parts of the world. Digitisation of the photos is almost complete:

See also Bradford Museums Photo Archives:

Leading fireman , Alfa Kalay of the Green Watch
©Bradford Museums Photo Archive

Bradford’s Oral History collection is housed in Bradford Local Studies Library. It consists of 800 tape recorded interviews with local people’s memories including subject areas such as textiles, health, war, immigration to Bradford.

Further links for tracing immigrant and ethnic ancestors:

The BBC continues to be involved with black history and family history research. Here is a useful link:

The British Library houses the Oriental and India Office Collections, relating to all the cultures of Asia and North Africa and European interaction with them.

UKIRA  UK Information Resources on Asia provides collection descriptions of resources held in university, special and public libraries; also access to holdings of newspapers in any language published in Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and information on the range of linguistic expertise in Asian languages available across the UK.

The National Archives holds the records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices.

SOAS Library & Information: housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, this is one of the world’s most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Site covering the history of the Commonwealth including a photo archive   The Mundus Gateway is a guide to collections of overseas missionary materials held in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

General Archive Research links   the A2A database contains catalogues of archives held across England and dating from the 1900s to the present day.

AIM25: provides electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and learned societies within the Greater London area.

ARCHON: the Archon Directory includes contact details for record repositories in the UK. The Archon Portal provides information about archival resources and projects. The site is hosted and maintained by the National Archives.

A good web site with some current free tips on getting children involved in their family’s history.  This site also has free genealogy layout forms to help you organise your research as you go.

We hope that this guide proves useful to you, please follow this link to find out what else is on in Bradford and Bradford Libraries and Museums  to honour Black History Month.

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight, Keighley Local Studies

Follow the Vets’ Film Trail through our region.

Once again our region has been chosen to feature as the backdrop to heritage filming. Bradford and Yorkshire are key areas chosen for some great television and film productions. The most recent is the remake of the popular classic All Creatures Great and Small , based on the hilarious and uplifting best seller books by James Herriot about the novice vet from Glasgow who settles into a veterinary practice in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s.

The current village of Darrowby is essentially Grassington and Mrs Pumphrey’s  palatial home is Broughton Hall Estate near Skipton but Bradford District makes its appearance in the use of the wonderful Worth Valley railway line, Oakworth and Keighley Worth Valley stations for all things rail related.

Of course Bradford District is no stranger to filming from films such as Room at the Top and Billy Liar of the 1950s/60s to Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, the Railway Children and Peaky Blinders. The list is a long one and starting earlier through the decades. Bradford’s City Hall, its centre, and local towns and villages have become firm location favourites for heritage sites and atmospheric shoots. Heritage buildings like Little Germany’s former 19th century wool merchant district have been used for a Hindi horror movie in 2013, when the streets doubled as 1920s London,  and most recently for Gentleman Jack, Downton Abbey and the Netflix history of football in the North of England, The English Game.  The model village of Saltaire too is a popular venue for period streets, shop fronts and terraced housing and The English Game crew made full use of these as a film location. Also on football, let’s never forget the Ripping Yarns’ episode Golden Gordon (1979), also filmed locally, about the trials of footy fan Gordon Ottershaw in his support of the worst team of 1935, Barnestoneworth United, starring Michael Palin. The diversity of the townscape has also attracted Bollywood film makers, Bombay Stores was used for the film Karachi, a comedy drama, in 2015:

If you would like to follow some inspirational tours of award winning filming in our region check out the site for Filmed in Yorkshire:  and see where it takes you in our very own district. Why not plan your own trail, taking in your favourite films and TV series.

James Herriot’s Vet novels and non-fiction about the glorious dales are still available for loan in Bradford Libraries, just click and collect:

Books on cinema and film are also available for loan, such as Made in Yorkshire by Tony Earnshaw and Jim Moran that includes in-depth accounts of more than 30 films and looks at the history of filming in this beautiful county.

Of course no conclusion can be reached without a reminder of the National Science and Media Museum  and also that Bradford has been internationally recognised as the world’s first UNESCO City of Film, a permanent title,  and in part attained because of such popularity as a location hotspot. If you would like to find out more about this accolade, what it means to you and your area and also subscribe to a newsletter that will keep you right up to date with local films and filming please follow:

For the future, Bradford can look forward to the development of a diversity of film talent as a result of Screen Yorkshire’s successful initiative Beyond Brontës to help young people (18-24) from diverse backgrounds to establish careers in the creative industries. In June 2020, the first group of trainees successfully completed the scheme. The following link gives full details of the initiative and the kind of training and experience that the students gained. There is also a video link as well:

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies

Nature Cure – Bradford Parks and Woodland

Another lockdown may loom but the Bradford District is blessed with some beautiful countryside, moorland walks and has parks and woodlands to stroll and commune with the natural world. Take a look at this excellent site listing all the grounds available in our area.

Each has its own history and development, click on the links provided to find out more about your own local area. There are photographs, useful location maps and information about new environmental policies and change as well as funding bids. Did you know that 6 of our parks have green flag awards and that 10 are listed on English Heritage’s Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England including: Bowling Park, Lister Park, Peel Park and Horton Park?

The need for public parks began in the nineteenth century and the park movement was inspired by the need to get people taking ‘rational recreation’. Many people worked long hours in the mills in Bradford and the Temperance movement was keen to advance the healthy living option of fresh air and exercise as opposed to the pub.  With all the hours that people worked, there was little time for travelling to the most fun areas regionally or to the seaside so the development of local parks was a benefit to all. Birkenhead Park in Merseyside is generally thought to be the first publicly funded civic park. It was opened in April 1847 and was designed by Joseph Paxton of Crystal Palace fame. The following gives a short history of the public park:

The history of private and public gardens has also influenced plants and garden design in public parks and vice versa. The following links can help you to  trace influential developments and follow the plant hunters as they discovered plants such as the fern and find out about the origins of flowers and shrubs such as the rose and the rhododendron and new species. Don’t forget that Bradford’s own Lister Park has its own botanical garden as well as the Mughal garden and that Cliffe Castle in Keighley has just undergone restoration of its formal and ornamental gardens and glasshouses and has an aviary as well as parkland.

If you want to know more about current plant science and current studies, Kew also has online films and reports. and the Natural History museum site will help you to trace the natural history of the garden in their “try at home” sections:

Gina Birdsall, Keighley Local Studies

The Brontës and their reading: what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

4 – Where did the Brontës get their books?

In part one of an examination of Brontë reading, we looked at some of the books that edified, influenced and comforted the Brontës throughout their lives. We touched on a couple of sources of books and journals, however, this is still a subject of some speculation, especially considering that the Brontës, even after publication, would never have had much spare money to subscribe widely to journals or to purchase many books.

Keighley and Haworth Mechanics’ Institutes

Both Juliet Barker and Bob Duckett, library historian, note that the parsonage library was small and of mainly classical subjects and natural history. Both give excellent accounts of book and journal sources. Both have successfully argued that the Brontë girls did not directly borrow works from Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute, though it is likely that as a member himself, Patrick was familiar with its library (the Institute’s archive, including catalogues and annual reports, is available to view in Keighley Local Studies Library from c1835). However, Patrick was the first President of the Haworth Mechanics’ Institute and Charlotte was an active supporter.

Mechanics Institute

Circulating Libraries

It is generally agreed that Charlotte used the circulating libraries in Keighley, based on evidence from Mrs Gaskell and on Charlotte’s association with Thomas Hudson of High Street library and bookshop and Robert Aked in Low Street, printer and circulating library service. The latter also printed Haworth Church hymn sheets and printed Patrick’s works such as The Sign of the Times (1835). Both Patrick and Charlotte ordered books from John Greenwood’s of Haworth and by 1853, there were 5 booksellers in Keighley, 21 in Leeds and 8 in Halifax.

c1849 OS map

Local Families

Bob Duckett identifies local families such as the Greenwoods of Old Oxenhope who lent books to the Brontës. He has also written extensively about the Heatons and their library at Ponden Hall, often the stopping place for the Brontës on their walks, especially perhaps Emily who may have used some Heaton family history for Wuthering Heights. We do know that Charlotte and her sisters also visited the home of Dr John and Marianne Milligan. They lived in South Street. Mrs Milligan was from Haworth herself and married the Keighley surgeon and workhouse doctor to the Union (from 1838). Dr Milligan was a book collector and became vice president of the Mechanics’ Institute. He lectured on health and disease in manufacturing communities and the effect of poverty. Keighley Library now has a small collection of his former library.

A Curiosity for you

As there is much online on this topic, we would like to leave you amongst the bookshelves of Eshton Hall near Kildwick, the home of Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785-1861), daughter of Rev. Henry R. Currer. Miss Currer was very wealthy, a bibliophile and a generous philanthropist and a member of Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute. It is also speculated that she was at one time the anonymous benefactor of Patrick Brontë. She was patron of the Cowan Bridge School, also a neighbour of the Sidgwicks of Stonegappe where Charlotte was a governess in 1839. It is probable that she was the source of the name “Currer” Bell used by Charlotte as her pseudonym. Did any of the Brontës ever visit Eshton Hall’s magnificent library?

Jeffreys map 1771


The Brontës. Juliet Barker (Phoenix, 1995)

‘Where did the Brontës get their books?’ Bob Duckett in Brontë Studies, Vol 32, Part 3, Nov. 2007 (Brontë Society, 2007)

‘The Rev. Patrick Brontë and the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute.’ Dr Ian Dewhirst. Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 14. No. 5 (Part 75). 1965

Free online leaflets and fact sheets on the Brontë family are available at:

The most useful for this study are:

The Brontë Collection. Angela Speight (Keighley Local Studies Library, 2017)

Keighley & the Brontë Connection and Haworth & the Brontë Connection, both guides to resources in Keighley Local Studies Library. Gina Birdsall (Keighley Local Studies Library, 2017) These include details of further publications by renowned Brontë expert and author Ann Dinsdale, Prinicpal Curator, Haworth Parsonage and Steven Wood, author and specialist local historian on all things Haworth.

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers and magazines played a large part in the lives of the Brontës. The most predominant influence was that of Blackwood’s.

Blackwood’s Magazine.

Blackwood’s Magazine was a monthly journal published by William Blackwood of Edinburgh from 1817. It contained comment and satire on contemporary politics and literature with extensive and detailed reviews on new works of politics, travel, history and fiction. This magazine appears to have influenced them greatly and inspired their own works of imagination and illustration.

Newspapers and other journals

The Brontës could not afford many subscriptions. Patrick subscribed to Fraser’s, the Leeds Mercury and the Leeds Intelligencer and it was Rev. Jonas Driver of Haworth who leant the family Blackwoods and John Bull.

However, newspapers and journals were not just read by the Brontës but were, particularly for Branwell, a source of publication for his poetry and those of his local poet friends. As well as reading Bell’s Sporting Weekly, he sent poetry of to the Bradford Herald, the Halifax Guardian, the Leeds Intelligencer and the Yorkshire Gazette. The latter was a York newspaper produced by the bookseller and stationer, Henry Bellerby who also ran a public library from his Stonegate shop from which Branwell also borrowed books (The Brontës, p464).

The Brontës may well have had access to the Keighley & Haworth Argus and The Keighley Visitor, as both were connected to a bookseller, Mr Thomas Duckett Hudson, and a printer, Mr Robert Aked, with a circulating library used by Charlotte. Whether or not the Brontë sisters generally read any of the journals in which their own poetry and novels were to be reviewed is not clear for this blog. Such reviews, however, appeared in the Athenaeum, the Critic, the Atlas, the Britannia, the Spectator and the Dublin University magazine. For information on other related journals look at Juliet Barker’s The Brontës and articles from the Brontë Studies published by the Brontë Society referenced at the end of this blog.

Local outdoor and indoor visits (or just online) during  relaxing lockdown

Haworth Parsonage and village.

If you have never visited this wonderful, still atmospheric place or not been for some time then you have missed out. Continually upgraded, with wonderful exhibitions and packed full of Brontë artefacts and manuscripts, it is quite breath-taking in its scope. Treat yourself and follow in the footsteps of the Brontës and the literary curious such as Virginia Woolf, Simon Armitage and Kate Bush. You will be informed and inspired. On a good day, take a picnic. It is Anne Brontë’s bicentenary in 2020 so look out for any continuing events/exhibitions about this brilliant writer who, uniquely for the time, tackled alcoholism and domestic abuse in marriage.

Scarborough the fair

Scarborough is a great Yorkshire seaside resort and has strong Brontë associations, being a favourite place of Anne Brontë as well as her final resting place. Follow this link for the history of the Brontë connection:

Other useful related links:

The Lakes and the Romantic poets

Mrs Gaskell in Manchester

John Ruskin in the Lakes and Sheffield: and


The bookish interests of the Brontës were wide ranging. They were acquainted through the sisters’ London contacts with some of the great literati of the early 19th Century, they were aware of the political concerns (the aftermath of the French revolution) and changes of this internationally and locally turbulent time (industrial changes and the Chartist movement), also influenced by their father Patrick’s work as vicar and his involvement with religious debate, parish health, welfare and education, not to mention Branwell’s own wide variety of local friendships, some literary , such as the Gargrave poet Robert Story, John James, local historian (History of Bradford) and Joseph B. Leyland, a Halifax sculptor who was lauded in London for his talent.

It’s sad to think that none of the Brontë siblings ever had the opportunity of a university education and it’s likely that all the sisters at one time or another would have echoed these words extracted from a letter written by Branwell to his close friend Joseph Leyland:

“I used to think that if I could have for a week the free range of the British Museum – the Library included – I could feel as though I were placed seven days in paradise, …” (The Brontës, p. 230)

NOTE:  Keighley Local Studies Library is currently closed so we apologise for the limited references for this introduction. In his article referenced below, Bob Duckett lists other in- depth studies of the books read by the Brontë family.


The Mother of the Brontës. When Maria Met Patrick, Sharon Wright (Pen and Sword History, 2019)

The Brontës. Juliet Barker (Phoenix, 1995)

Classics of Brontë Scholarship. Selected & introduced by Charles Lemon (The Brontë Society, 1991), various studies included

Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor and plain. Brontë Parsonage Museum (The Brontë Society, 1991), brochure

Why not join the Brontë Society and get your own copies of Brontë Studies with up to the minute scholarship and discussion on all things Brontë:




Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight, Keighley Local Studies Library

Treasure of the week. No. 33: The wild man of Cottingley : the wandering life of Jack Lob

‘A Sketch of the Life and Vagaries of ‘Jack Lob’ of Cottingley, near Bingley; a wandering beggar’, pages 10-16 in Interesting Interludes in the Singular Life of William Sharp, alias ‘Old Three Laps’. Printed by Thomas Harrison of Bingley, c. 1856. (Reference: JND 116/4)


The life of Jack Lob was a continual struggle for existence; want of instruction, deprived of his parents when young, and isolated from the working classes by his own indolence and partial insanity, he wandered from one place to another wherever he could pick up a penny of a crust of bread. In the cold nights of winter, in frost and in snow, he crept into old barns, mistrals, pig styes, under hay stacks, and into hedge row bottoms, with an empty stomach and scanty clothing.

John Robinson, better known by the name of Jack Lob, was born at Coppy Coppice, near Cottingley. His father was a soldier but died when John was young. “He was rather short, his physiognomy exhibiting a want of intelligence, having the appearance of an Ourang Outang or wild man of the woods.”

His friends persuaded him to take work in the various coal pits, where he could find employment as a drawer up of coals, but his long habits of vagrancy and mendacity led him to fall back again to his old course of begging, for he said he liked liberty with all its privations better than labour.

He was once confined, as he called it, in the Bastile, or Thackley Workhouse, where his wants were amply supplied but one night escaped though the closet seat. Efforts were made to find him and bring him back, but he managed to evade the vigilance of the parish officers.

Some exploits of this wandering and homeless man are recounted in this tract, giving us, today, something of the flavour of a problem still with us. On his death, local landowner, William Ferrand, without being asked. generously made up what was necessary.


The Brontës and their reading: what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

3: Tutor –Governess –Schoolmistress

All the girls were sent to school at different times to be educated for governesses and Branwell himself took on some more detailed study of the Classics when he decided to become a tutor. The following standard work for governesses during the nineteenth century was included in the small Brontë library: Miss Richmal Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the use of young people (1813 edition). It included various questions and answers, arranged like a quiz book. This apparently continued to be used in the education of young women until the turn of the twentieth century.

The education for a governess was not so extensive as that received by boys but Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to improve their French and German in order to plan for opening their own school and expanded their knowledge of European history, drawing and music and foreign literature such as the works of the French author Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).

Religion and the Natural World

Each child owned at least one Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. They also attended Church services and Sunday school. Patrick had always emphasized the importance of reading the Bible. Juliet Barker also speculates that Aunt Branwell may have had some “Methodist Magazines” full of miracles and apparitions (The Brontës p.146). Later all the children would take their turn as teachers in the new (1832) Sunday school at Haworth. As adults all the siblings struggled with their faith at different times in their lives and this was a period of lively religious debate, even in Haworth and Keighley.

Living as they did virtually on the moors, it is not surprising that the Brontë family had access to books on the natural world and apart from the classics and religion, the books in Patrick’s library were largely on natural history. They had several books that were illustrated by Thomas Bewick, such as the History of British Birds and probably his illustrated editions of Fables for Children (The Brontës, p. 150). Another popular book at the time was also Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. They would also possibly have had access to local herbal remedies, botanical and natural folklore and folktales through their servants and local village contacts.

Bewick’s History of British Birds (British Library)

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight