(First published in 1987 in volume 3, pp. 67-68, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
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From Mill To Microchip
To mark Industry Year the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit (which was founded in 1983 by the Council's Libraries and Museums Divisions and the Manpower Services Commission) mounted an exhibition in the Industrial Museum, Eccleshill, with an opening ceremony on 29 August 1986. A booklet with the same title accompanied the exhibition, its purpose being to illustrate some of the changes which have taken place in trade, industry and employment since the end of the Great War. This has been done by making shrewd selections from the Recording Unit's considerable stock of archives.
The pictures of Salts' mill, the centre of one of the most famous industrial villages ever built, show dramatically how the mighty are fallen. In 1930 crowds throng the gates and jostle their way out at the end of a long day's toil. Twenty years later a much reduced line of workers make a more leisurely exit, and in 1986 a mere token force - two men - indicate that the game is up. The Wool Exchange, too, appears as a bustling place, with over 2,000 members in 1922, and most, it seems, on active service. Today only a handful remain, and a new use is being sought for this imposing building. Nevertheless the emphasis throughout the book is not on the decay we see all around, but on change.
The story begins with whole families going almost blindly 'into 't mill' and ends with the spotlight on individual initiatives - the exact reverse. Of course, there were always boys like Maurice Levi, who had enough ambition and ability to work himself up from counting house to Board Room. There were also thousands of young men who did a full week's work and spent three of their evenings at the Bradford 'Tech' in order to equip themselves for better jobs. The textile trade is still proportionately strong in Bradford, but we need to keep our minds open to the possibilities offered by Tourism, and even by Tupperware parties.
In his preface Tony Jowitt gives a brief but comprehensive review of Bradford's transition from the 'worsted workshop of the world' at the end of the 19th century, into a slow but sure decline. Some facts are startling. At John Wood's spinning factory, which was the largest in the town in 1830, out of 527 workers only 38 were men, and not one was over the age of 21. Out of 489 females only 16 were over 21. It was a very young world. In 1851 'Bradford borough had 32% of the spindles, 40% of the power looms, and 32% of the labour force in the UK worsted industry.' Statistics like this are worth studying, and we are grateful to Mr Jowitt for putting them together so concisely.
The whole project reflects great credit on Dr Perks and his team. This is not a mere 'nostalgic romp': more an example of well-directed initiatives.
From Mill to Microchip is available from BHRU , 140/148 Manningham Lane, Bradford BD8 7JL, price £1.50 plus postage.
© 1987, J.F. and The Bradford Antiquary