Our blog today has been written by Caroline Perry, a member of our research group. Her research focus has been on a business operating as rag merchants, wool extractors and mungo manufacturers. Many thanks Caroline for this insight.
‘Today I found a nugget of gold. Admittedly a small nugget but pure gold. As a member of the Worn Stories research group I have been looking into a company called William Baxter & Co. and the families involved in running this business from the 1850s to 1918. I have been searching through trade directories, census and electoral roll records, property and land transfer and registration documents, newspapers and have spent hours searching on google. Trying to piece together a story about this business is like doing a jigsaw without the picture on the top of the box and with half the pieces missing. I have a timeline, I know when the business started, I know the families involved and have facts relating to these families; when they were born, who married who, where they lived, when they became involved in the business etc. so I can join together pieces of my jigsaw to give me a timeline. But who were these people, what did they believe in, what drove them? That’s where we come to my nugget of gold.
In 1918 The Bradford Daily Telegraph was celebrating its 50 year jubilee. The paper offered a £50 prize for the best suggestions to improve the City during the next 50 years. They received hundreds of submissions and through a rigorous selection process, chose the best 100 contributions. Contributions were judged on originality, literary merit and, most importantly, the improvements suggested had to be for “the joy of all”. These 100 winning submissions were then published in a little booklet. This booklet is now held by the Bradford Local Studies Library and thanks to the help of a wonderful member of staff I was given access to this and was able to read through it. It makes fascinating reading and gives a real flavour of the thoughts of people living in Bradford at this time and their aspirations for its future. But the nugget of gold is entry XLIX – J. B. WARING, 983 Leeds Road, Bradford. John Brooksbank Waring was the eldest son of Denton Waring and ran William Baxter & Co, with his brother Frankland Waring, from 1902 to when they sold the business in 1918. This little article gives me a first taste of John Waring as a real person. He called first for a more extended use of electricity in both industry and the home which would abolition the emission of black smoke and result in pure air and extra hours of sunshine for every man woman and child in the city, and as a result “Consumption, the dread scourge of mankind, will not find it so easy to claim its victims ..”. He talks of improved methods of production brought about by more scientific ideas in the application of power to output which would give men time to enjoy the good things in store. He wanted art to be encouraged and for the city “to be dotted by patches of green sward where men enjoy a brief rest from the whirl of machinery”. He ends by calling for the erection of many hundreds of pretty cottages “… each with some artistic feature and the day is coming when neighbours will enter into friendly rivalry in the beautifying of their home and surroundings”
There were so many practical, imaginative and ideological ideas for improving Bradford. However, my first prize goes to Mary Handby, 28 Northdale Road, Bradford, obviously a lady with a strong sense of humour. Mary starts her submission “One of the best ways of improving Bradford in the years to come would perhaps be to rebuild it on the top of Ilkley Moors.” ‘