As the festive period is in full swing, one of our Assistant Curators of Collections, Dr Lauren Padgett, has been looking into a lesser-known bygone Christmas tradition in nineteenth-century Bradford of the Christmas Waits.
Christmas is full of traditions. There was a Christmas tradition in nineteenth-century Bradford which hasn’t been written about much and subsequently forgotten over time: the Christmas Waits. We have, however, been left with two obscure but detailed nineteenth-century accounts which I have used to piece this Bradford Christmas custom together. One was written by Bradford historian William Scruton1 and the other by local author, journalist and social commentator James Burnley2.
At the time of writing in 1888, Scruton acknowledged that ‘several years have now passed away since the old Christmas Waits were last heard in the streets’ and prophesised that ‘when a few more years have rolled away the fact that they ever existed at all will be spoken of as a thing only of the “olden time”’. He explained how in 1829, Mr Ellis Cunliffe Lister (the father of Mr Samuel Cunliffe Lister, Bradford textile baron) and Mr Matthew Thompson were magistrates in Bradford and gave Samuel Smith (known locally as ‘Blind Sam’) permission to form a company of Waits for Bradford.
Town Waits were originally watchmen who would use a musical instrument to signify that they were on duty and to mark the hour. Eventually this role developed and Waits became more skilled with their instruments and would work as a group or company. Waits were employed by the town to conduct this duty and would be called upon to perform at ceremonial occasions. The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 meant that Waits were abolished but some companies continued as Christmas Waits, singing and playing Christmas carols in exchange for money and gifts over the Christmas period.
With permission approved in 1829, Sam Smith then found other blind musicians to join his company: James Fletcher (also known as both Jem and Jim), Billy Blazeby and Jack Dodge. Carrying their musical instruments and all tied to a long pole so they would remain together, in the evenings and into the night, they would be led around Bradford by a blind or sighted guide who knew the way, ‘making music that could hardly be called sweet’.
Drama ensued in 1862 when a rival Waits company, ‘The New Borough waits’, formed causing ‘jealousies, bickerings and retaliations’ according to Scruton. Mr Abraham Holroyd (another local historian) declared it ‘very foolish, if the parties concerned had only considered that Bradford was then five times as large as it was thirty years previously’. According to Holroyd, Bradford could accommodate both companies ‘if they had only agreed to divide the Borough and the yearly gifts between them, there was plenty of room for both bands, and two more if competition must come’. Scruton was unsure about whether Bradford eventually came to terms with having two Waits companies, but he does point out that ‘both the old set and the new, have ceased to exist, and will in course of time pass into the limbo of “forgotten things”’.
Bradford’s (original) Christmas Waits make an animated appearance in James Burnley’s 1875 book West Riding Sketches. Burnley recounts ‘A Night with the Waits’ when, like an intrepid detective or astute social commentator, he tracked them down in Bradford one cold night and interviewed them. He described them in almost romanticised and mythicised terms calling them ‘the profoundest mysteries of creation. Like owls and bats, they belong to the night, and like then, they are more frequently heard of than seen’. They are grounded slightly with the following sentence which says he had ‘a friend who once conversed for ten minutes with the Clarionet [player] over a pint of Yorkshire stingo’. Burnley’s account, while flamboyant and self-indulgent, is fascinating to me as it places them specific Bradford streets and gives an insight into who they were, what they did and the response they received from Bradfordians.
Burnley himself had an ‘appreciation of their talents’ but this wasn’t universal by all Bradfordians as he went on to say ‘I have little sympathy with those newspaper correspondents who whine about them annually in print’, but ‘despite the petty objections advanced by their detractors, the Christmas Waits are not generally despised’. Burnley’s encounter with them was prompted by them waking him up ‘a few weeks prior to Christmas’. ‘As their music died off in the distance . . . [he] conceived the idea of making their acquaintance’. After making some inquiries, eventually he was told that they were likely to be on Manchester Road so, with a companion called Barnacles, he set out to find them. They ended up pursuing ‘a male figure’ ‘carrying an instrument encased in a bag’ with ‘greyhound fleetness and stealth’ but, alas, it was a case of mistaken identity.
After unsuccessful inquiries on the following nights, they eventually found the Waits around the bottom of Horton Lane in the early hours one morning. Burnley described them:
‘The oldest of the trio was a tall, gaunt man, with a face of silent melancholy. This was the Clarionet. The other two were players on stringed instruments – the second violin and the violoncello. He of the second fiddle wore a picturesque “billycock” and evinced a gaiety of demeanour which was lacking in the others’.
They were then joined by another companion. Burnley and Barnacles stayed with them while they tuned their instruments and then followed them as they made their way up Great Horton Road, listening to them playing songs under bedroom windows and asking them questions during intervals. The ‘Clarionet’ [sic], as he is referred to, said he had been a Wait for 29 years while ‘one of the Violins’ explained (in local dialect) that:
‘We begin five weeks afore Kirsmas an’ give over at Kirsmas Day. We meet ivvery neet – ah mean mornin’ – between twelve an’ one, an’ tak up whear we left off t’mornin’ afore’.
When asked about the rival group of Waits, the Clarionet replied
‘we’ve no connection wi’ ‘em, we’re t’owd orginal set . . . it affects is a girt deal . . . ‘cos we sometimes find they’ve been at places afore us. Some fowk divide what they hev to give between us, an’ other fowk ‘ll nobbut give to one’.
As it got colder and later, Burnley and Barnacles said goodbye to the ‘wandering minstrels’ and the account ends there.
What became of the Bradford Waits when they disbanded? In our collection, we have some portraits of ‘street characters’ painted by John Sowden at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century. James (or Jem or Jim) Fletcher, known locally as ‘Blind Jim’, was one of them. James was 83 years old when Sowden painted him with his stringed instrument. Sowden’s notes in his diary indicated that James was still known for his past life as one of the Christmas Waits, and stated that after they split up, James continued as a solo musician in pubs and on the streets. James had married a blind woman and was married to her for 43 years until she died, and he remarried in his seventies.
I turned to census records for more information about him and the 1871 census return shows a James and Martha Fletcher living at 83 King Street, Bradford. James is a 65 years old ‘musician’ and Martha is 77 years old. It is noted that James was ‘blind from 9 months old’ and Martha ‘blind from smallpox from 7 years old’. The 1881 census return shows James still at King Street, aged 75 and listed as a ‘violinist’ and ‘blind’, but he is now married to Betty, aged 64.
This December, think about how 150 years ago in Bradford, you might have been disturbed in the small hours by two competing tropes of musicians playing Christmas carols under your bedroom window.
18 November – 18 December 2020 is Disability History Month
1 William Scruton, Yorkshire Notes and Queries, vol. 1, 1888, pp. 234-236.
2 James Burnley, West Riding Sketches, 1875, pp. 334 – 351.
3 William Scruton, Pen and Pencil Pictures of Old Bradford, 1889.
In this blog, our Collections Registrar Pam Keeton gives a detailed examination and fascinating insight into her favourite object in our collection, a 17th century repaired plate.
Object number 41:1948
H 3.5cm x 24.5cm diameter
On display at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley.
Donated to Bradford Museums & Galleries in 1948.
This earthenware, lead glazed plate, vigorously decorated with the slip trailed image of King Charles II is one of my favourite objects. Its quirky, unique style never fails to catch my attention and charms me for a number of reasons….
There is nothing extraordinary about the earthenware plate by way of its size, material or construction. In fact it’s very ordinary, functional even. It’s the lively, exuberant ornamentation, the expression of the potters hand and the historic conservation which both amuses and fascinates me.
The decoration on the plate was created to celebrate the Coronation of Charles II and the Restoration of the monarchy in May 1661 after a decade of puritanical rule under Oliver Cromwell. Craftsmen, including the Staffordshire potters, reacted keenly to the resurgence in Royalist support and dishes and plates of this type would have been acquired by, or presented to, an individual with firm royalist and political affiliations. In fact a public holiday was declared on the 29 May 1661 and was known as Oak Apple Day after the tale about Charles escaping the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree. It was a day given over to all sorts of fun and merriment including being thrashed with nettles if you weren’t wearing a sprig of oak!
English decorative slip trailed ceramics were popular in the late 17th century and early 18th century and were produced mainly in Staffordshire. In the past it’s been viewed as a crude, rather unskilled and unselfconscious type of material culture, but now many view it with more respect: its workshop production involved distinct skills and processes which had to be mastered and the ‘naïve’ decorative style was quite deliberate, designed to appeal to the popular demand for decorative wares.
This particular style of slipware ceramic is often referred to as Toft-ware after the leading maker Thomas Toft (d.1689) but of whom little is known. The wares were elaborately decorated plates, dishes and chargers with the popular designs being of mermaids, unicorns, coat of arms, commemorative themes and notable figures of the day such as King Charles II and his wife Queen Catherine of Braganza. The rims frequently have the distinctive cross-hatch/lattice or interlacing line borders and sometimes carry the name of the potter. As well as the extended Toft family of Thomas, Ralph, Cornelius and James, other names associated with this style are William and George Talor, Ralph Simpson and Ralph Turner. Although there are relatively few examples of this work in existence, it can be seen represented in many major museum collections.
This plate has no makers mark and has not been attributed to a particular maker. It may have been made by an undocumented potter but it has similarities to the work produced by George and William Talor.
The decoration on this object may appear rustic but it’s far from clumsy – slip trailing requires great skill and dexterity from a well-practiced craftsman and no two pieces will ever be identical. The challenges that the slip-trail technique represent inspires me. The design was created by first coating the earthenware clay plate in a white pipe clay slip, then ornamented with trailed on slip in contrasting light and dark red earth colours, dotted with white and finished with a lead glaze that turns the white base layer a soft cream or ochre colour. There is no margin for error and any mistake has to be incorporated or the whole thing removed and started again.
‘Slip’ is the term used to describe liquid clay with a creamy consistency and the tone of the colours comes from the naturally occurring iron and mineral content of the clay. Traditionally it was applied from the tip of a horn or from a ‘slip cup’ that used a feather quill or hollow reed as a spout to deliver the slip onto the surface. The working time is very short and the slip must be kept moving constantly to keep it in suspension. The liquid clay stiffens as soon as it meets the dry surface and it’s this action that forms the raised lines similar to piped icing. Unfortunately, if the slip layers do not bond well enough to the body of the ceramic or if the object leads a particularly busy life, the surface is easily chipped and damaged.
Slip clay has a long history of being used to decorate pottery and tiles, in fact 5000 year old sherds of slipware have been found throughout Asia and Europe. As well as figurative designs it can be used to create marbling, feathering and scraffito where one layer is scratched through to another colour below. All of these techniques are still practiced by potters today and in the late 20th century studio potters Bernard Leach and Paul Spence paid direct homage to Toft-ware with their own versions.
There is another unique feature about this object that fascinates me as a conservator. It has been broken in half and repaired – not recently and not in a manner we would recognise today. The body of the ceramic has had holes pierced either side of the break and the plate has been literally stitched together with twine.
Historic repair methods to ceramics before the use of modern adhesives are well documented. ‘Sewing’ or ‘lacing’ pieces together with thread, twine or wire was common in the 17th and 18th centuries, as indeed in ancient history, but didn’t necessarily provide longevity. Thread can rot and fray and wire can corrode and chaff the body of the ceramic. The more common and widely practiced method of bringing broken edges together was by riveting with metal staples. This, like slip trailing is difficult to do well and requires great hand-skills and dexterity.
The broken object was first bound so that all of the edges were aligned and then a bow drill used to pierce holes either side of the break. For a successful repair, careful consideration has to be given to the position of the holes so that the rivets give maximum strength but don’t inadvertently spoil decoration (rarely entirely successful!). The holes were typically drilled at about 15-20° to the fracture so that the pressure from the rivet would pull the edges together. Some rivets are U shaped and can only be seen from one side, or they go all the way through and join at the other side. The metal rivets were made out of short pieces of iron, brass, pewter or silver rod. Each rivet was heated up, fed into the holes and tightened up the joint as it cooled. The cavities were then further strengthened by filling them with a gluey mixture or fine cement. Silver was the most expensive and ideal for white bodied wares whereas brass and iron were better for heavier and more utilitarian pieces. Their down side is that over time they corrode which can stain the pottery and cause the repair to fail.
In Europe, pot and China riveting was a well-known occupation as decorative ceramics were valuable, highly prized. There are bills of sale (1 shilling for 2 rivets but 2 shillings per rivet in silver in 1770) and trade cards in archives as well as being described in trade encyclopaedias and engravings. Similarly, the Japanese have a repair style known as Kintsugi or ‘golden joinery’ where the broken sherds are mended with sticky lacquer which is dusted or mixed with powdered gold. There is no attempt to disguise the repair because it’s accepted as part of the objects history and life – a well-balanced and graceful philosophy I feel.
Back to this particular ill-fated plate, that it was repaired and continued to survive for so many years until it was donated to the museum in 1948 says a lot in itself. We don’t know when it was broken, how it was broken, who broke it (and the consequences…), who repaired it and at what cost. Was it a relatively contemporary repair soon after it was made? By the potter themselves? Or later? But how much later?Why it got repaired speaks for itself: it has clearly always been a loved and highly prized belonging. It was considered worth the time and expense of being mended and this is a very neat, competent repair that hasn’t failed and has stood the test of time.
On the 22nd of September 2020, it will be the 105th anniversary of Bolling Hall opening as a Museum. In this blog, Dr Lauren Padgett, Assistant Curator of Collections, looks back at its 105-year history of being a Bradford museum that has both delighted visitors with its period charm and frightened visitors with its ghostly residents.
Bolling Hall is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the district. Bolling Hall was been split up into different tenements which were occupied by various Bradford families over the years. It fell into a dilapidated state by the early 20th century and concerns were raised about its future. In 1912, Bradford Corporation bought the Hall and surrounding land for a nominal sum from the owner Mr Paley, to convert the Hall into a social history Museum for the benefit of the people of Bradford. Butler Wood, who served as Chief Librarian and Director of the Art Gallery and Museum Committee for Bradford Corporation from 1884 to 1925, was the driving force behind this. Wood recognised the historical significance of the building and the important role it had played in the social and industrial heritage of the city.
Work behind the scenes lasted until 1915. Much of the building work carried out in the 19th century, to split the Hall into separate dwellings, needed to be undone to reveal and restore some of the historical architectural features of the Hall. When removing some of the 19th century walls, beautiful original wood panelling dating back to the 16th century and the stunning ghost room ceiling were discovered. As the restoration work was nearing completion, Butler Wood and the museum team began locating and filling the rooms with appropriately dated and themed furniture and artefacts.
On 22nd September 1915, Bolling Hall Museum opened its doors for the first time. At a ceremony attended by Sir Arthur Godwin, the Lord Mayor of Bradford and selected VIPS, Bolling Hall was officially opened. 2,500 visitors passed through the doors of the museum on its first day. As it was war-time, Bolling Hall gave visitors some escapism and something free of charge to do during what was a difficult and uncertain time. In 1916-17, an astonishing 200,000 people visited the Museum.
Since opening, further restorative work has taken place in Bolling Hall and within its grounds and the room displays have been refreshed, as photos taken at different times show. Arthur Godwin described Bolling Hall as a ‘silent witness of stirring bygone times’ during his 1915 opening ceremony speech but, on the contrary, we hope Bolling Hall tells the tales of by-gone Bradford with its period rooms and displays illustrating Medieval life, highlighting Bradford’s role in the English Civil War and showing how Bradford’s Georgian gentry lived.
In its 105-year history, it has inspired schoolchildren, entertained families and maybe scared a few visitors. Over time, Bradfordians have passed down stories and tales (some true, some half-truths and some fictional) about Bolling Hall to the next generation of visitors. Who was told that Civil War treasure is buried underneath the Hall?* Or that Bolling Hall is linked to Native American royalty?** Who was told about the secret underground tunnel running from Bolling Hall to Bradford Cathedral? Or about the poor maid who fell (or was she pushed?) from the balcony and how the bloodstain is still visible on a flagstone below in the Housebody? What about the Civil War ghost army that marches through the building? Or the phantom lady in pink on the Georgian staircase***
Highlights at Bolling Hall Museum over recent years include: curatorial and history talks; musical recitals; theatre performances; being featured in an episode of the TV show ‘Most Haunted’; numerous ghost sightings; English Civil War and First World War re-enactments; Medieval living history; after-hours Halloween events; Yorkshire Day events; and its annual Winter Wonderland event with the Friends of Bowling Park.
Bradford Museums and Galleries staff are working hard behind the scenes to make Bolling Hall Museum Covid-safe for staff and visitors and look forward to welcoming visitors back soon. We hope the people of Bradford, the UK and beyond can continue to enjoy Bolling Hall for another years as a when it reopens to enjoy another 105 years as a museum, a record and ‘silent witness’ of Bradford’s history, its present and whatever the future may hold. In the meantime, please follow our social media accounts which are updated regularly with information about our sites and content about objects in our collection.
*A half-truth as a Civil War sword was discovered under the floor by two boys who lived at Bolling Hall before it began a Museum.
** True. Robert Bolling, whose father was John Bolling of Bolling Hall, emigrated to America and married Jane Rolfe, granddaughter of Pocahontas. The wife of President Woodrow Wilson is also a Bolling descendant – due to this link, Woodward Wilson was sent a sent guidebook about Bolling Hall Museum when it opened the Art Gallery and Museum Committee received a reply from the White House, signed by Woodrow Wilson and dated 15th May 1916 thanking them for the ‘very interesting volume’ and saying that Mrs Wilson and himself with ‘value it, alike for its sake and because of the thoughtful courtesy which it represents.’
*** We think these ghost stories are better left with an air of mystery around them, waiting to be proven true or false out by those who are brave enough.
John Ashton, Photo Archive Assistant, tells us that Bradford born photographer Ian Beesley is a keen supporter and friend of Bradford Museums Photo Archive. In recent months, the lockdown and enforced isolation has given him the opportunity to begin sorting his own vast photographic collection, spanning seven decades.
While the closure and demolition or change in use of public houses has accelerated in recent years, for a range of reasons, the process began much earlier. Here is the demise of one particular pub, told in Ian’s own words.
The Moulders Arms Sticker Lane Bradford
Whilst the Moulders Arms was never the most attractive of pubs, it was the hub of a once thriving community. After the surrounding streets had been demolished and their occupants scattered to new developments around the city, many would return to the pub that was the centre of their social lives.
The Moulders ran football team, darts and domino teams; it was the home to pigeonmen, allotment holders, the Sons of the Desert, the Buffaloes and a trade union, all who had a particular night for their meetings.
But Friday was music night and anyone who could sing a song or play a tune was welcome. It was there in 1982 I made my debut as a pub piano player.
The pub was on borrowed time, the land behind it had been sold to an electronics company, who insisted, if they were going to build their new factory in Bradford, bringing much needed employment to the area, The Moulders Arms had to go.
Against strong opposition from the public and Websters brewery the Moulders was condemned.
Assistant Curator of Collections Dr Lauren Padgett tells us about how a family’s 18th century botanical gardens are now public woods in Bierley for Bradfordians to enjoy centuries later.
Anyone who wanders off the beaten track in Bierley Woods, Bradford, might stumble across the remains of stone steps and a wall. This was once the site of Bierley Hall, owned by the Richardson family. But who were the Richardsons and why was their house in the middle of Bierley Woods?
In 1561, Nicholas Richardson left Durham to move to Bradford where he bought the Manor and Estates of Bierley. Down the ancestral line, William Richardson (born 1629, died 1667) married Susannah Savile of Greetland (b. unknown, d. 1708) in 1659. William and Susannah’s surviving eldest son was Richard. Let’s call him Richard Senior so we don’t confuse him with his namesake son later on. He was born in 1663 and went to Bradford Grammar School before attending the University of Oxford and the University of Leiden, Netherlands. In Leiden, Paul Hermann, a Professor of Botany, sowed the seeds of interest in plant biology within Richard Senior. He returned to Bradford and practiced as a doctor of medicine, often working pro bono locally. He travelled around Scotland, Wales and England collecting botanical specimens, becoming a leading botanist in mosses and native species. He married his first wife, Sarah, in 1699 who sadly passed away in 1702. He had a memorial cross for her built in Oakenshaw; this cross is still there today. He married his second wife, Dorothy, in 1705. Their son, Richard Junior, was born in 1708 and later followed his father’s footsteps, studying at Bradford Grammar School, becoming a doctor of medicine and also having a fascination with botany.
After Nicholas had bought the Manor and Estates of Bierley in 1561, a traditional 17th century manor house was built out of timber and plaster just off Bierley Lane. It was rebuilt around 1690 by Richard Senior, in a Dutch Renaissance style using stone. In 1718, Richard Senior built one of the first glasshouses or hothouses in Yorkshire, if not one of the first in England, within the grounds of Bierley Hall. It was used to grow non-native plants and exotic fruit, such as pineapples. Bierley Hall was later remodelled more classically by Richard Junior in the mid-18th century. Just prior to 1750, some of the Hall’s stained glass windows were removed and installed at Bolling Hall, where they remain today. Richard Junior had no heir when he died in 1781 so the estate was inherited by close relative Frances Mary Richardson Currer. She was a prolific book collector – a contemporary described her as ‘head of all female book collectors in Europe’ as she had one of England’s largest libraries. She inherited not only the Hall, grounds and Estate but, luckily for her, an entire library of botanical and historical publications. The Hall was tenanted in the 19th century before being bought by the Borough of Bradford in 1895. After 1895, Bierley Hall became an isolation hospital. It was given to the Ministry of Health in 1948 and continued to be a hospital until 1968, after which the Hall was demolished.
Bierley Woods is the botanical garden of Bierley Hall which Richard Senior and Richard Junior landscaped using their knowledge and interest in botany. Richard Senior had created traditional formal gardens at the front of Bierley Hall, but early in the 18th century, he started planting a large botanical garden, or woods, beyond that with almost 2,000 different species of trees. Of note were cedars of Lebanon which Richard Senior successfully cultivated after receiving seeds in 1721 from botanist Sir Hans Sloane. Richard Senior tried growing them in his glasshouse at first but they failed to grow so he planted several around the grounds. They grew too well as most of them had to be cut down in 1850 as they towered over the Hall. The last surviving cedar, reaching a height of 17 metres or 54 feet in height and 4.6 metres or 15 feet in circumference, was cut down in 1907 and its stump can still be found in the grounds, it is said. Richardson Junior is responsible for the most dramatic transformation of the grounds and for Bierley Woods’ unique features. He dammed the nearby steam to create cascading artificial ponds, and built a grotto (now blocked) and a ‘Druid circle’ or temple from stone quarried from Wibsey. It is believed that this work was completed by 1751. After Richardson Senior’s and Junior’s botanical and landscaping endeavour, the woods have been virtually untouched apart from the felling of the Lebanon cedars. Today, Bierley Woods is now a public wooded area and perfect for scenic walks and seeing a variety of wildlife.