Celebrating Women’s Suffrage in my Mother’s Family’s Home City!

It was an emotional occasion when I visited the Bradford Local Studies Library on March 10 to join with others in learning about and celebrating women’s suffrage in my mother’s family’s home city!

I had travelled from Shropshire to hear Helen Broadhead’s illustrated talk on The Bradford Suffragettes and to look at some of the records held by the Library. It was particularly moving to see the historic 1918 Electoral Registers containing the names of my maternal grandmother, great grandmother and great aunts as first time registered electors for Parliamentary Elections. Also listed for the first time were my grandfather and great uncles. All of them qualified either in their own right or through their husband’s property occupation qualification. It felt momentous and of course it was.

I wanted to learn from Helen what sort of activities my grandmother Maud Brear might have taken part in, since, before her marriage in 1912, Maud had been an active supporter of the WSPU in Bradford.


Maud Brear on her wedding day Aug 1912 at Tong Parish Church to Edward Williamson combing overlooker at Joseph Dawson’s Mill.
Maud who worked at Cawthra’s Mill until her marriage, made her own outfit including the hat. She had taken dressmaking and millinery evening classes. 
They set up home together in Blanche Street, Laisterdyke, where Maud lived until her death in 1963.

She was not one of the heroines who were arrested or imprisoned, not an organiser or a speaker at meetings, probably not one of the activists who poured purple dye into the Chellow Dene reservoirs or daubed the green, white and purple of the suffragette’s flag onto the green of Bradford Moor Golf Club (No Votes No Golf!) or set light to letter boxes; but, rather, a young woman who felt sufficiently strongly to risk the disapproval of her neighbours and employers and support events as a rank and file member. One such event, her most daring, was to join a march in the centre of Bradford with a girl friend. She carried hidden in her clothing a brick wrapped in a Votes For Women poster, intending to lob it through the window of Hulme’s Department Store (later Brown Muffs).  Until recently I believed that she HAD thrown the brick, running away to evade the police; but barely ten years ago my mother put me right. In fact when she saw the police presence in the area, Maud lost her nerve, quietly put down her brick and quickly walking away! So a myth was exploded!  But clearly the window smashing action was pre-meditated, probably organised by the local branch of the WSPU and at least for a while she was prepared to contemplate risking arrest. We have not yet found a newspaper report of the march so further research is needed to confirm my grandmother’s story.

Almost certainly Maud attended some of the many rallies and meetings organised in Bradford and the surrounding area.   So she probably heard Emmeline and Adela Pankhurst speak at the Shipley Glen mass rally on “Yorkshire Suffrage Sunday” in 1908. Her fiancée’s family were Pudsey ILP members and friends of the future ILP MP for Bradford Fred Jowett, so she possibly was at the meeting in Pudsey in 1908 where Adela Pankhurst and other speakers were barracked and pelted with rotten oranges!   On many of these occasions Maud was joined and encouraged by her brother Fred, listed in the 1901 Census as  ‘a hewer in a coal mine’, a life long socialist who  ‘took the Daily Worker all his life’. She took up the wider causes of the women’s movement of vegetarianism and healthy living, attending lectures and reading pamphlets. She retained a thirst for knowledge and education all her life.

Yet hers wasn’t a good beginning. Born in Bradford in 1885, starting as a half timer aged 11 in a woollen mill, the first 15 years of Maud’s life were hard in the extreme. Her mother Hannah, born in Bradford in 1863, was a worsted spinner and single mother at the age of 17. She had a further 2 children: a single parent and juggling work and child-care, she was frequently moving. A disastrous marriage to a petty thief, more often in than out of prison, left her with a fourth child. But she soon found herself abandoned altogether, with 4 children and no support.  So bad was it that she had to turn to the Bradford Union Workhouse and suffered the humiliation of it being reported in the local paper. Up till now my husband and I had painstakingly uncovered the details of the family using online resources but at this point we enlisted the help of Local Studies Library staff member Sarah Powell who searched the records of the Bradford Union and concluded that Maud probably received Out Relief: there being no record of Hannah and her children being admitted to the Horton Workhouse. Sarah was also able to also confirm our fears that Hannah’s mother had not been so lucky and had entered the Union on at least four occasions eventually dying in the Horton Workhouse.

Hannah went on to have two more children alone before eventually finding stability and ‘respectability’. The 1901 Census lists what appears to be a typical working class family unit of husband and wife and their six children aged 3-20.  But Hannah had reinvented herself. The ‘’head of the household’ was not the father of the six children and Hannah was not his wife (divorce being unaffordable for working class women, she was still married to the thief). And they all took the surname Brear!!  The 25 years from 1901 until her death in 1926 were the most stable of her life. My great grandmother became a respected member of the Cutler Heights working class community in Tong: acting as unofficial midwife, medical herbalist and layer-out of bodies for her neighbours. The 1911 Census records her as head of the household and a ‘widow’. How wonderful, therefore, to see her name recorded in the Electoral Roll of 1918 qualifying in her own right through renting a house valued in 1910 at £6 !!

Hannah Brear

Hannah Brear   1920’s.  She died in 1926 aged 63

Thank you to the staff of the Local Studies Library who are friendly, welcoming, efficient; generous of their time, expertise and resources. Not easy in these days of ‘austerity’.

Ann-Marie Hulme

Women of Bradford: Heritage walk

Manningham Library

001Manningham Library

Manningham Library was the start of this fascinating guided heritage walk by Helen Broadhead on 21st April.

This historic building was first opened in 1910. Four decorative stone works on the front of the building feature great writers: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth.

Today as part of Bradford Library Service this library offers the full rage of library services including books in a range of languages, children’s activities, free internet access, daily newspapers and access to local and family history information.

Manningham Tradesmen’s Homes

Nowadays these houses provide retirement accommodation. However these beautiful houses and chapel that form a peaceful oasis in the centre of this bustling area of Bradford were built for a special purpose: to house ‘decayed tradesmen’.

The charity commission website states:


The plaque reads:

Tradesman's homes 3


Lilycroft Primary School


The plaque reads:

‘Miriam Lord 1885 – 1968 Champion of the Nursery Children. She was the first head teacher in 1921 of the Lilycroft Open Air Nursery School with its emphasis on outdoor play, visitors came from across the world to see the new nursery movement in action. The school is behind the primary school. Erected 2007.’

Her work was influenced by Margaret McMillan who worked on the Bradford School Board and aimed to get free school meals and milk into schools.

Bradford Local studies Library is now sited on the side of the building now known a Margaret McMillan Tower.

Manningham Mills

Manningham Mills strike centenary

The plaque reads:

‘Manningham mills Strike Centenary 1890-1990. At this place in December 1890 began the Manningham Mills strike which lasted until April 1891. This led to the founding of the Bradford Labour Union which in turn saw the formation of the new national independent Labour Party in Bradford three years later.’

Manningham Mills was otherwise known as Lister’s Mill. This was once the largest silk factory in the world. It was built by Samuel Cunliffe Lister to replace the original Manningham Mills that were destroyed by fire in 1871. At its height, Listers employed 11,000 men, women and children.

The chimney of the mill is 249 feet (76 m) high, and can be seen from many areas of Bradford

Manningham Mills

Bradford Children’s Hospital

Bradford Children’s Hospital on St Mary’s Road, Manningham, the hospital first opened in October 1890.

The hospital, with its distinctive round wards, touched the lives of many Bradford families over the generations.

Now this fine building has found a new purpose as a Shia Mosque.

Thank you to Helen Broadhead for this journey of discovery around the streets of Manningham and for sharing her thorough research and knowledge of the local area. Helen’s guided walk around these iconic locations in Bradford was full of the stories of inspirational women and men who lived, worked and campaigned in the city for social improvements and justice.


Keighley Women

In Keighley Local Studies Library on Saturday 3rd March, retired librarian and celebrated local historian Ian Dewhirst MBE gave a very well received talk about notable Keighley women. The talk was well attended by the many people who had braved the icy conditions to be there.

Ian Dewhirst 2 Keighley Library

Thursday 8th March was International Women’s Day and Ian illustrated how Keighley has certainly has had its share of feisty ladies over the years.

The varied selection of ladies included Mrs Emma Groves, temperance advocate and Miss Sandra Dorne, film star. In his talk he spoke also of the late Mollie Sugden who played Mrs Slocombe in the 1970’s sit-com ‘Are You Being Served’. As mistress of the comedy double-entendre she had come a long way from her non-conformist roots at Ingrow.

Throughout history there are many forgotten personalities whose stories can be uncovered by delving into our Local Studies Library collections. The talk featured are some less well-known ladies with unusual stories such as Miss Annie Collett who kept an autograph album while visiting Keighley War Hospital in 1917-1918 and Miss Maud Marks of Keighley Salvation Army who was caught up in the fall of France in 1940.

This year is also the 100th anniversary of reforms to the voting system in 1918 where women over 30 years married to a householder or with a degree were given the vote for the first time.

Mr Dewhirst described the visit of suffragettes, Adela Pankhurst and Mary Kenney to Victoria Park on Sunday May 24th 1908 where the speeches were drowned out by the singing of popular songs. He spoke of the work of women in the First World War which had contributed greatly to their being given the vote.

The talk was accompanied by a display from Keighley Local Studies library collections which will remain in Keighley Local Studies library over the coming weeks.

Ian Dewhirst 1 Keighley Library

International Women’s Day

Wednesday 8th March is International Women’s Day and today we feature two ‘Women of Conviction’ active in local historical reforms: Frances Smith and Margaret McMillan.

Frances Smith was the first woman to winboth a municipal council election in Keighley and sit on the town’s Industrial Co-operative Society in the 1940’s and 50’s. One of her roles was chair of the council’s maternity and child welfare committee..

Margaret McMillan worked in deprived areas of Bradford in the 1890’s and agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children.

Frances Smith

Frances Maddocks was born at Hope St, Pennington, Leigh, Lancashire on the 1st August 1891. One of five children her father Edwin was a coal miner and her mother a silk winder. Her father premature death at the age of 44 from TB had a lasting effect on Frances. The family had to become resourceful. Aged only 9 Frances and her siblings sold fruit to the queues of people outside the local theatre and her mother took in boarders. Frances first job was as a Silk weaver and it was through seeking work in this industry that she moved to Keighley some time before the First World War.

In 1915 she married local man Harry Smith an iron Moulder and they went on to have one son Edwin in 1916. It is no longer possible to find out what stirred Frances’s involvement into the Co-operative moment or Local Politics but by 1943 she was actively involved in the movement and became the 1st woman to be elected to the board of directors of the Keighley Co-operative Society Ltd.

But Frances involvement in local issues did not stop there. By 1945 she had been working for the labour party for some years. Frances had forged a friendship with Ivor Thomas who in July 1945 took up his seat as Labour MP for Keighley on the labour parties winning of the general election. With his support, Frances was invited to stand as candidate for the 1945 municipal election. In November 1945 Frances won her seat with the biggest majority of the day. She signed the declaration book on 2nd of November 1945, and made history again by becoming the first woman to win a contested municipal election.

Frances wins the North east Ward Seat Municipal Election

For more information on Frances Smith see the full article ‘A Woman of Conviction: Councillor Mrs Frances Smith, First Lady of Keighley by Frances Gilbert and Angela Speight, published in Bradford Antiquary (2012) Volume 16 available at Bradford and Keighley Local Studies Library.

Margaret McMillan

Working in deprived districts of Bradford and Deptford, Margaret McMillan agitated for reforms to improve the health of young children, wrote several books on nursery education and pioneered a play-centred approach.She was born in New York in 1860. Her parents, were from Inverness but had emigrated to the United States in 1840. When she was four, an epidemic of Scarlet fever killed her father and sister. Mrs. McMillan returned to Scotland with her daughters Margaret and Rachel, where both attended the Inverness High School. Margaret went on to study Psychology and Physiology, followed by Languages and Music in Germany.

By 1888 both sisters had become active in local politics.In 1889, Rachel and Margaret helped the workers during the London Dock Strike. In 1892 they moved to Bradford. There they joined the Fabian Society, the Labour Church, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party.

With Bradford’s school medical officer, Dr. James Kerr, Margaret carried out the first medical inspection of elementary school children in Britain. They published a report and began a campaign for local authorities to install bathrooms, improve ventilation and supply free school meals for children, after seeing the success of Bradford Cinderella Club providing a warm meal to underprivileged children.

Their experiences in Bradford were to shape their later work in Deptford.

For further reading about Margaret and Rachel McMillan we have a good selection of books in Local Studies, please see the list below:

Select reading list of Margaret McMillan books in Bradford Local Studies Library

 Margaret Macmillan: portrait of a pioneer by Bradburn, Elizabeth. Routledge (1989), 9780415012546

All children are mine: inaugural Margaret McMillan lecture by Greenwood, Arthur London U.P (1952)

Margaret McMillan in Bradford, with reminiscences: fourth Margaret McMillan lecture by Lord, Miriam. London U.P (1957)

Our children: Margaret McMillan and the open air nursery school by Lord, Miriam. Lund Humphries

Margaret Mcmillan the childrens champion by Lowndes. Museum P (1960)

Margaret Mcmillan:founder of the open air nursery school by Margaret McMillan Memorial Fund

Camp school by McMillan, Margaret. George Allen & Unwin (1917)

Margaret McMillan: ‘I learn, to succour the helpless’ by Moriarty, Viv. Nottingham Educational Heritage (1998) 9781900219136

The young child and the life of today: third Margaret McMillan lecture by Niblett, William Roy. London U.P (1956)

Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931: reminiscences by Rachel McMillan College Association

Social and political change in England: Margaret McMillan and the battle for the slum child by Rees, Rosemary. Longman Resources Unit (1986) 9780582173637

Childhood, culture and class in Britain: Margaret McMillan, 1860-1931 by Steedman, Carolyn. Virago (1990) 9781853811234

Margaret McMillan: prophet and pioneer: second Margaret McMillan lecture by Stevinson, Emma.