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’. A talk by Anne Fletcher

Come and meet Anne Fletcher on Saturday 14th July at 12pm on the first floor of City Library, Bradford, and then come and join her for a free talk and chat at 2pm in Bradford Local Studies Library, Margaret McMillan Tower (side entrance).

This is the story of the man from Bradford who beat the casino. Anne Fletcher is his great-great-great niece and in this true-life detective story she 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’.

Free event, all welcome



Book Review: Punjab to Bradford: Life Stories of Punjabi Immigrants in Bradford

Punjab to Bradford: Life Stories of Punjabi Immigrants in Bradford. By Ramindar Singh and Kashmir Singh Rajput. Privately published (, 2013
204 pp.  ISBN: 978-0-907734-71-10.  £10.00.

Available at Bradford Libraries

Dr Ramindar Singh MBE

This book presents the lives of 44 Punjabi migrants who came to Bradford in the 1950s and made the city their home. With only a few pounds to their name they came here with great hopes and some with good academic qualifications. They were obliged at first, however, to take up unskilled work on the buses, in mills and foundries, finding their qualifications were not recognized in Bradford. They suffered much discrimination too, until opportunities arise where they could use their knowledge and skills more appropriately.  Local colleges, particularly Bradford Technical College, played a significant role in making this transition possible. It was good to find, too, that most of their children became well-qualified and successful in their occupations. As seen with other migrant groups, early arrivals often gave room in their homes to new arrivals, in spite of difficulties it caused. This of course had a substantial effect in promoting community cohesion. The reunion of families when wives came to join their husbands and find work themselves outside the home, must have contributed significantly towards social mobility of their families.

This book gives personal accounts of how the early Punjabi immigrants in the 1950’s coped with their frustrations, humiliations and discrimination.  After an editorial introduction explaining how the book was compiled, there follows an account of the Punjab and reasons of why migration occurred, and its process.  An account is then given of the development of the development of the Punjabi community in Bradford.  The main part of the book contains the stories of individuals who left their homes and families in the Punjab during the 1950s through 1970s to seek their fortunes in vilayat (England).  At the conclusion of these accounts there is a chapter entitled: Reflections of life through Mehfil (informal gatherings). Topics covered here are: Community spirit and mutual support; Understanding local people; Learning new work norms; Duality of conduct; Life in a male dormitory; Entertainment; Women’s position and experience; and Utopian Vilayat vanished.  Finally there is a useful Glossary of Punjabi words and phrases.

In their Conclusion, the compilers note how the Bradford that the 1950 pioneer migrants experienced is no more, and that their children and grandchildren experience a very different world. Reminiscences such as those here are important in keeping the heritage alive. Something, of course, which is true of all cultures, whether migrant (from overseas or other parts of Great Britain ) or even non-migrants. This book is a valuable contribution to Bradford’s social history.

Dr Singh is a former Bradford College lecturer, JP, and deputy chairman of the Commission of Racial Equality. He is author of The Struggle for Racial Justice: From Community Relations to Community Cohesion in the Story of Bradford 1950-2002. K.S.Rajput was a senior education officer with Bradford Council. Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.


Book Review – Windyridge: A Classic Yorkshire Novel

Windyridge: A Classic Yorkshire Novel by Willie Riley; with a new introduction by David M. Copeland. Northern Heritage Publications, 2010. 62 + 245 pp. ISBN 978-1-906600-18-1 pbk; 978-1-906600-34-1 hdbk.

Available at Bradford Libraries


Windyridge was a sensation when first published in 1912. Written as a story told to two motherless girls he and his wife had befriended, they badgered him to send the script to a publisher. This he did, and struck lucky, very lucky. Featuring a cast of Yorkshire characters as well as locations based on real West Yorkshire moors and villages, Windyridge sold some half a million copies, remaining in print until 1961, with Riley becoming a household name.

This iconic novel has now been reprinted in an elegantly produced edition with a new introduction by Riley scholar, David Copeland, giving an account of the author’s life. Riley’s text has been reproduced in its entirety, including the photographs of the Yorkshire landscape that appeared in the original book.

When the book was published in 1912, Riley had been Managing Director for fourteen years of the Bradford-based firm of Riley Brothers Ltd., an innovative company hiring and selling optical lantern slides and the associated equipment, including an international mail order business.  This activity was but part of the family business activities, all of which had been established by Willie’s father, Joseph, who had gone into business on his own account as a stuff merchant.  Riley junior was also a major figure in northern Methodism, being an active and sought-after local preacher, as well as a popular speaker on a variety of subjects.  He had never intended to become an author, and although not writing his first, Windyridge, until he was 46, by the end of his life in 1961 he had written a total of 39 books, selling a total of over a million copies.

The storyline is simple and straightforward: Grace Holden, a single lady of thirty-four, left London where she worked, and rented a cottage in ‘Windyridge’ (based on Hawksworth) to experience the country life and ways of a small Yorkshire community. Grace gets to know the district, including the nearby communities of Marsland (Baildon), Fawkshill (Guiseley), Romanton (Ilkley), the cities of Airelee (Leeds) and Broadbeck (Bradford), and the famous Uncle Ned’s inn (Dick Hudson’s).  The tone of the novel is homely and positive, with a strong Christian ethos.  Windyridge was followed at almost yearly intervals by books in similar vein.

Copeland’s extensive 62-page introduction is based on his Master’s thesis for Bradford University. It covers the genesis of the story; the importance of location and Riley’s pen-portraits; an extensive account of the reviews and the reception of the novel; the innovative marketing of Windyridge by publisher Herbert Jenkins (whose first book it was); the consequences for the village of Hawksworth; Riley’s early history and his career change on joining the literary world; his family life and his later years.  I would have welcomed a list of Riley’s other books and something about them, perhaps at the expense of the numerous reviews of Windyridge, but we welcome back into the public domain this popular author, and hope for more Riley reprints.

Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.


BOOK REVIEW: The 5 Heads of Humbert Wolfe: Poet, Wit & Civil Servant

The 5 Heads of Humbert Wolfe: Poet, Wit & Civil Servant. By A.D.Padgett. ADP Publishing, 2014. 181pp. £9.99. ISBN: 978-0-9572919-6-6

Humbert Wolfe

Humbert Wolfe was born in Bradford in 1885 and educated at Bradford Grammar and Wadham College, Oxford. He then worked for the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Labour, making ‘a significant contribution to the war effort as controller of labour regulation in the Ministry of Munitions during World War One’ (p.11). He became a CBE in 1918 and a CB in 1925. In 1938 he was appointed Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and responsible for equipping the country’s labour force for war. He died in 1940.

He was also a poet; a poet of considerable standing, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and one of the favourites to become Poet Laureate in 1930. In the Bibliography to this anthology of Wolfe’s work, compiler Padgett lists 26 published volumes of poetry, five of prose, seven poetry translations, ten of poetry criticism, seven poetry collaborations, and three ‘other works’ including the unpoetical, though lucid, Labour Supply and Regulation (1923) – two given! Also listed are three writings on Wolfe, six texts referring to him, and three texts inspired by Wolfe. This bibliography alone is a useful contribution to Bradford’s literary history.

Anthony Padgett is an award-winning sculptor and the great great nephew of Humbert Wolfe. In 2014 he sculptured five busts of Wolfe to represent five different phases of his life, cold-cast in bronze, pewter, copper, marble and granite to go in key cities associated with his life and work: London (two), Oxford, Bradford (located in the City Centre library) and New York. The impressive 153 selections of Wolfe’s literary output presented in this book is similarly divided, though some alchemy has transmuted pewter and copper into silver and gold!

  • Marble – Birth and International Career
  • Bronze – Youth and Bradford
  • Silver – Oxford and Literary Criticism
  • Gold – London and Literary Creativity
  • Granite – London Civil Service and Death

I focus here on Bradford and select just a few snippets:

There is an old loom, an old warp and woof,
older than the knitting fingers of the roaring machine,
older than the bales of cloth ranged in the dim warehouses.

(‘Bradford’ from Out of Great Tribulation, 1939)

The Grammar School building stands (or stood) at the bottom of Manningham Lane. … Its back loured over a large mud playground upon the railway-lines, and its two sides outfaced two rows of slum-houses. (‘On the Grammar School’ from Now A Stranger, 1933)

I heard two men in bowler-hats and leggings discussing not worsted nor shoddy but the misdoings of a bailiff. Sweeter far to me that talk than any adventure story in the world. The town-child was for a bewildering instant in the real, living, practical, winter country. But all too brief because he was hastily recalled by a snowball in the neck to life as it really is. (‘On Saltaire’ from A Winter Miscellany, 1930)

Walmer Villas is a grey street of semi-detached houses sloping up sharply from Manningham Lane. There used to be a certain grim quiet about it, as though stillness had been trapped between buildings that held hard onto anything they caught. You could, of course, hear in those days the rumbling of carts along the uneven stones of the Lane, and the occasional screaming progressions of the steam-tram. But the street was marked by that fierce reticence, which in Bradford, at least, converted the Yorkshireman’s home into his dungeon. (‘On His First Poem’ from Selected Poems by Swinburne, 1928)

The business-man opposite had lowered his Bradford Observer and was watching him with an amused grin. “It’s bright and early,” he said, “to be talking to yourself.” “I wasn’t talking,” he replied loftily, “I was reciting.” “Ay,” he answered, “but it’ll do you no good among them chaps at Oxford if they think you’re a softie.” “How did you know I was going to Oxford?” he enquired. “Seeing that you’ve had your ticket out ten times and asked porters at Laisterdyke and Halifax where to change, it was easy guessing. You’re Boogs Wolff, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he replied defensively, with an air of one who added, “ and why not?” “Well then, young Boogs,” he said, “don’t give yourself away. Sell yourself.” He saw at a glance that this was no mean commercial advice, but he could find no answer. The man still watched him. “You’ll have to try hard,” he said, “It won’t be none too easy for you.” “They don’t expect me to get a Scholarship,” he replied. “It’s not Scholarship I’m meaning,” he answered. “You’re clever enoof, they say. It’s being a Bradford Jew and thinking yourself a nob. Nay,” he said, seeing a movement of wounded pride, “Ah’m not meaning to offend you. Just warn you to go slow-like.” (‘On Leaving Bradford for Oxford’ from The Upward Anguish, 1938)

I wish that I could go back
to Spring Wood below Hawksworth – yes!
I wish I might sleep, and wake
under the branches of those loved trees.
But Bradford lies far away,
and the wood beyond Bradford far;
and never between night and day,
not under sun, nor cool star,
shall I go back to Bradford,
to Spring Wood below Hawksworth Hall.
There is no way back at evening;
there is no way back at all.

(‘Spring Wood’) from This Blind Rose, 1928)

The book also contains brief chapters on the life and work of Wolfe. The author’s prose could have done with editing, but I’m grateful for his wide selection and for bringing us an introduction to a neglected ‘son of Bradford’.

Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.

Copies are available in Bradford Libraries


Note: Readers of our blog may recall that in December 2015 a sculptured head of Humbert Wolfe was presented to City Library by Anthony Padgett. This is on display on the first floor of City Library.

Book Review – We who served … Stories of Addingham and the Great War, 1914-1918.

We who served … Stories of Addingham and the Great War, 1914-1918. By Catherine Snape.

Addingham Civic Society (email:, 2015. x + 310 pp. ISBN: 978-1508859536. £10.00.


“From Addingham, a close-knit village of millworkers and farmers, with a population of less than 2,000, over 400 men marched off to fight in the 1914-1918 war.

The war brought many changes and much hardship. Families rallied to help each other in the hope that their menfolk would return. More than 80 did not, but the true unsung heroes are those who did, and the families who supported them through those long dark years and helped to rebuild their community.

The book tells about these families, their remarkable stories of stoicism, hope and sacrifice, and about their men who went to war.”

This text from the book’s cover indicates the nature of this attractively-produced book.

Chapter One establishes the pre-war context, covering Addingham’s changing society, its businesses and shops, children at work, industrial unrest, and the outbreak of war. Chapter Two features each of the years 1914 to 1919 with text taken from local newspapers. Chapter Three looks at the Home Front, featuring attitudes to Germans, postal services, the fear of invasion, the garrison town of Skipton, the White Feather Movement, women in the workforce, women’s magazines, volunteering, local war hospitals, DORA (Defence Of the Realm Act), conscription and war memorials. Chapter Four – Taking the King’s Shilling – looks at joining the army, its requirements and service conditions, daily life in the army, postal and medical services, and prisoners of war. Chapter Five – For King and Country – covers the service given by Addingham families, medals, where the servicemen lived and what news was received from the Front.

An impressive 140 pages (almost half the book) gives copious details of all the Addingham men who served, with supplementary lists by the categories: Regulars and Reservists, Territorials, Places men served, Naval personnel, Lord Derby recruits, and the ultimate sacrifice. An impressive range of sources has been used, including illustrations, many from the Addingham Digital Archive

This book came about in response to publicity surrounding the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War:

One objective was to research the names on the Addingham war memorial in the Main Street, but when it became apparent that there were names of village servicemen who were not on the memorials, it was decided to extend the research to the lives, times and service of all men who served their country in the armed forces.

This book joins others that have been compiled in memory of those who fought and died in the 1914-18 war, and those who lived through it, three of which – those on Bradford, Low Moor and Ilkley – were reviewed in the 2015 issue of The Bradford Antiquary.

Bob Duckett

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.

Book Review – Strange Tales in Bradford Dale

Strange Tales in Bradford Dale, by Irene Lofthouse. Gizmo Publications (, 2015. 124 pp.   ISBN: 978-1-900827-54-6   £7.99 (Strange Tales Book 2) Available in many of Bradford’s Libraries.  You can check the catalogue here


 What a delightful read is this book! It is clearly fiction, but so well grounded in Bradford history that I finished my read both pleasantly amused and historically richer. I learnt that a ‘cottar’ is a peasant farmer or a tenant renting land from a landlord, and that a ‘piecer’ is someone who pieces broken threads together. I also learnt that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was the manager of actor Henry Irving who died at the Midland Hotel in 1905 leaving, some say, a ghost, and that a brownie, once asked its name, turns into a boggart and will plague you for ever!

This book, Number 2 in the Strange Tales Books series* consists of seven Bradford-based stories for 7-12 year olds. Here we find an alternative account of the killing of the Bradford Boar; child labourers in a mill befriended by a brownie; a nightmare ride in a haunted carriage; the city hall statues frolicking in City Park after midnight; a local tribe defeated by Romans from Olicana (but carrying on the head cult); a theatre rehearsal terrorized by ghosts; and twilight terrors in a Victorian cemetery.

Irene Lofthouse writes well: her style is well-suited to pre-teens and her stories are well told. More impressive for readers of this journal though, is that the stories are clearly Bradford-focused. Here we find Roger de Manningham and John Northrop, Spinkwell and Cliff Wood, a large cemetery with Egyptian portals, and City Park. In her endnotes the author admits being inspired by the Bradford Playhouse, Undercliffe Cemetery, the Bradford Beck and a real-life mounting block. Other end-matter includes Fun Activities such as protecting yourself against a boggart; drawing pictures of a stone head and a phantom carriage; a Wordsearch; a Did You Know? (six items); some websites; and a Glossary of special words such as Green Man, Scour, Tenterfield and Sphinx.  I particularly liked the author’s matching of language and personal names to the period covered by the stories. The Boar-scared children are Ranulf, Aleycia, Elfric, etc., good medieval names; the mill kids are Tom, Sarah, Zach and Edie, while today’s kids scared in the cemetery are Sienna, Fatima and Luca. Some of the quoted speech is in dialect, thus: “You do look nithered. Come t’fire an’ warm thissen.” (My 9 yr old grandson is fascinated by dialect!). And while today’s kids use their mobile phones and i-pods as torches in Undercliffe’s Egyptian vault, the youngsters in Cliff Wood use knives and a bow-and-arrow! Context and background are impressive.

How to get youngsters interested in history is ever a problem. Maybe Irene Lofthouse has the answer – though I would have liked to have seen more illustrations.      Bob Duckett

 *Book 1 was Strange Tales in the Dales (2015) and Book 3, Strange Tales in Caldervale (2016).

Review reprinted from the Bradford Antiquary, 2016, courtesy of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.

Book Reviews – The Low Moor Explosion

The Low Moor Explosion, August 21st 1916. A Mystery Explained? By Ronald Blackwell. Augmented Reprint. Published by the Low Moor Local History Group, 2016. 144 pages. A4 format. Illustrated.

Yellow Poppies. The Dead and those who received honours as a result of the 1916 Low Moor Munitions Explosion. By Barbara Reardon and Mary Twentyman. Low Moor Local History Group, 2016. 110 pages. A4 format. Illustrated.

On August 21st 1916, a series of explosions took place at the Low Moor Munitions Works which resulted in the deaths of forty people, six of whom were corporation firemen. It was wartime, and picric acid was produced at the works. The acid was reduced to a powder and bagged ready for transportation to shell-filling works elsewhere. The cause of the initial fire appeared to be either that a drum containing the powdered acid was not adequately insulated on its exterior surface and inappropriate handling of the drum by a worker caused picrate deposits to combine with the metal leading to combustion; or, that the drums, which were being transferred to a packing shed, were not covered on top as safety requirements stated and a spark or descending hot clinker from an adjoining part of the works could have come in contact with the open drum and caused ignition. The fire thus started in the drum entered the building where the stored picric then caught fire, leading to explosions all over the site. Hot flying debris landed on adjacent corporation gas holders, leading to their wholesale destruction and that of adjoining buildings. The accident investigators commented that the works were holding far more picric acid than its licence permitted. The company, though, was under pressure to produce as much as possible for the war effort.

In 1987, Ronald Blackwell wrote a detailed and comprehensive account of the accident, but his book has long been out-of-print and hard to obtain. Since its publication more details have been uncovered with much research carried out on the people who were killed or who were involved. As a consequence the Low Moor Local History Group decided to commemorate the centenary of the explosion by re-printing the book and to add these further details. The book has now been reprinted in its entirety with the addition of Blackwell’s article in the Bradford Antiquary of 1987, which gave a simplified account of the disaster and a revised list of the dead. Also added is are two new names, other new information, and the transcription of the citation recommending a bravery award that had been submitted later. Ronald Blackwell supported this augmented re-publication.

Since the 1980s new sources have become available, most notably census data and the ability to search some newspapers digitally, so it was decided to research details of the people who were killed in the explosion and those who received national awards for their bravery. Their stories are told in a separate publication, Yellow Poppies. The title relates to the fact that the people working in the area were often referred to as ‘canaries’ due to the fact that their skin often acquired a yellow tinge from the sulphur content of the acid, and also, of course, the poppy being a symbol for the war – the reason why explosives were being manufactured at Low Moor in the first place. Typically, each of the forty victims has a double-page spread giving details of their part in the disaster, their background, and information about their surviving families, with photographs. Similar treatment is given to a number of the firemen, managers and telephonists who were involved in the disaster but survived.  Finally there is information about the national and local awards for bravery that were awarded. The book is profusely illustrated.

Both authors are experienced in family history research and this marvellous publication demonstrates how much information can be discovered using modern research methods, despite the difficulties caused by wartime news restrictions. More importantly, it brings back life these brave and innocent people, of which Low Moor can be proud.

Bob Duckett


The publications can be borrowed from the library service or purchased from the publishers c/o 13 St Abbs Fold, Odsal, Bradford, BD6 1EL. Email:


Book Review – Alfred John Brown, Walker, Writer and Passionate Yorkshireman

Alfred John Brown: Walker, Writer and Passionate Yorkshireman,
by John A White (Author)

Readers of our blog may recall that in August 2015 we featured an exhibition in Burley library about local poet and writer Alfred John Brown. Now a new book about ‘AJB’ as he was affectionately known, has been published by John A. White.


The author, John Anthony White was born in 1945 in Bradford where he attended St. Bede’s RC Grammar School. He took retirement from an academic career in 2003 when he developed an interest in the Yorkshire topographical writers, discovered Alfred John Brown and spent several years investigating his life and works, which culminated in this biography. He now has a renewed interest in rambling, an activity he first enjoyed in his former scouting days, and has often toured around Yorkshire in his renovated VW camper van to follow in the footsteps of ‘AJB’.

Alfred John Brown, ‘Yorkshire’s Tramping Author’ was a Bradford businessman living in Burley who began writing while recovering from illness during the First World War. He is best known for his classic topographical books about walking in the Yorkshire Dales but he also wrote semi-autobiographical novels, personal stories and verse.

Bradford Local Studies library has a good collection of his books including ‘Tramping in Yorkshire’, ‘Striding through Yorkshire’, ‘Poems and Songs’ and ‘Broad Acres’ as well as ‘Four Boon Fellows’ about a 100 mile weekend walk one Easter weekend from Barnard Castle to Ilkley.

This biographical account tells the fascinating story of this prodigious walker, prolific writer and passionate Yorkshireman who became a cult figure with iconic status in his day. It portrays the details of the intriguing life events which influenced his literary works and describes the complex character of one of the most widely read authors about his beloved Yorkshire.

Below is an extract from the book:

‘Alfred regarded ‘God’s Own Country’ of Yorkshire as more of a kingdom than just a country, and was of the opinion that: ‘If you took all the best parts of every country in England, and put them together, you would have something resembling Yorkshire.’ He was the most robust of walkers and covered almost the entire length and breadth of his beloved country on foot.’

 Finally a few words from ‘AJB’ himself:

‘…always one must keep one’s eyes fixed sharply on some directing point on the horizon, and reach it, or risk being benighted in the high secret places. In these wild delectable places, the difficulty is not where to go, but where not to go, once you are in the high places. As like as not, you will find yourself torn asunder with doubts and conflicting desires; like me, you will want to walk north, south, east and west at the same moment, and in such crisis the best way out is to shut your eyes and let your legs decide.’  (Alfred John Brown, Twin Joys’)