What is the best way for people to recall their favourite memories? Perhaps opening up an old photo album, looking through all those snapshots of funny and heartrending moments? With the development of photojournalism, the newspaper in the twentieth century came to function like a photo album of the nation’s common memory. Every part of British social life can be found within its pages, from protests and politics, to pop music and potholes – it is all there. The photographic library of the ‘Daily Herald’ newspaper – part of the collection of the National Science and Media Museum – gives us the opportunity to see the entirety of one newspaper’s photographic output. So what can this reveal to us about the place it now finds a home? What story does it tell about Bradford?
For the last few months we have been searching the Daily Herald archive for images relating to Bradford as part of the Bradford’s National Museum project. Our ongoing research aims to uncover how Bradford has been pictured in a national context, during different time periods. It is widely perceived that the national media have come to use Bradford as a ‘go to’ destination for ‘bad news’ stories on everything from the decline of northern industry to the failure of multiculturalism in Britain. But has this always been the case? Does the Daily Herald, which functioned for the majority of its run (1911-1965) as a mouthpiece for the Socialist cause, paint a different picture of Bradford?
Finding relevant local images amongst over 3 million photographs is not an easy task. This is particularly so because the archive is not catalogued. Instead it is preserved as a working picture library: the photographs are kept in the original boxes and filing cabinets that they were housed in at the Daily Herald, and exactly the same pre-digital systems of categorisation are used. There are no easy routes to finding the images. Yet this, often frustrating, process of searching, was more revealing of Bradford’s representation, than the images that we actually found.
The archive is broadly split into four main sections; people, places, events and daily life (work, industries, hobbies, sport, religion, entertainment and politics and so on). ‘Places’ was easy to navigate; whole filing cabinets on other countries could be instantly cancelled out. The ‘Bradford’ folder in the box ‘Yorkshire A-C’, containing roughly 30 images of mainly generic street scenes and landmark buildings, was easy to identify thanks to the alphabetical filing system. The people section was again arranged alphabetically, so we were quickly able to pull out files of images of famous Bradfordians like J.B.Preistley and David Hockney.
Finding relevant images in the ‘events’ and ‘daily life’ sections was a different matter. The only other folders categorised geographically were the ‘crimes’ and ‘sports’ sections. ‘Sports’ are organised alphabetically by team so it was easy to pull out files of team photographs, action shots or victory parades relating to ‘Bradford City’ or ‘Bradford Northern’. However, the most plentiful sources of Bradford related images we found in the whole archive, was unfortunately the ‘Murder Box: Wors – Yorks’. Here we found fascinating images of truly Yorkshire crimes such as ‘murder by teapot’ and the case of the ‘Thin Man’. The ‘photofit’ (left) of the prime suspect in the latter, gives some indication of the paucity of police methods at the time.
Ultimately it was the ‘dead ends’ – the places we searched where we found no relevant images – that provided the most insight into how Bradford has (or hasn’t) been represented by the national press. The Herald was essentially a paper of the Labour movement – it started out as a ‘strike sheet’ for the London printing unions and was jointly run by the TUC (Trade Union Congress) and Odhams Press for the majority of its existence. Given the fact that Bradford was the birthplace of the Independent Labour party and played an ongoing pivotal role in the labour movement, we assumed that there would be many photographs relating to the City in the ‘Labour Party’, ‘politics’ and ‘industrial action’ files. Not a single image could be found. Similarly, only two images relating to Bradford – the Worstedopolis, the epicenter of the wool industry – could be found amongst the hundreds of images of wool production.
The City fast becoming known for welcoming refugees and migrants, and for its religious diversity, was completely absent from every file covering the countries various religious groups. We searched for pivotal moments in Bradford history, such as the World War II bombing of August 31, 1940, a night when many of the City’s cinemas and shops were extensively damaged or destroyed. The same result: nothing. The numerous photos in the ‘bombing’ file for this month showed that the paper had its lens completely focused on London at this time.
This paucity of images did not, however, tally with our searches for textual references to Bradford in the Daily Herald, which, revealed that the paper had delivered fairly extensive and varied coverage of the City’s life. Football dominated the search results, for sure, but we also found stories on a young Bradfordian woman torn between her family setting sail for Australia and her lover back home, ballet dancers finding love and sanctuary in Bradford and the ongoing mystery of a missing Polish priest. One outsider’s feature on the City focused on Bradford’s reputation as the ‘graveyard of comedy’, concluding after witnessing the good humour in the City that Bradfordians only refuse to pay for ‘laughs’ as they wrote all of the good jokes in the first place.
Interestingly, the citizens of Bradford were also often afforded the opportunity to share stories of their everyday life or their impression of their City. So for example, in 1923, Margaret Newboult, describes ‘Bradford’s Change to a New City’ in her own exquisite and typically deadpan prose:
We built an exchange once in the nineteenth century, in the Venetian Style or something of that sort. We felt proud. We even felt highbrow. We invited Ruskin to open it. He came. He saw Bradford and frowned. He saw that great, pretentious and top-heavy building, now decently veiled in black, then stark naked, and he told Bradford the whole truth. Since then we have only dealt with recognised artists.
She continues to connect the earnest beginnings of better town planning and urban regeneration with the towns turn towards socialism. Elsewhere, Bradfordian weaver, Bert, became the focus of the regular ‘Fellow Men’ column, which span a yarn (excuse the pun) of ‘warm-hearted Yorkshire folk’, ‘ a ‘tranquility of mind’ and a ‘passion for botany’ nurtured in the ‘heavenly dales of Yorkshire’. These articles, the words of the paper, did not tell a singular story of Bradford, but showed it as a vibrant and multidimensional city: a plural society of grafters, jokers, explorers, entrepreneurs and dreamers.
So it seems that the stories the Daily Herald tells of Bradford are pluralistic but the images it features paint a singular picture of a gritty mill town, filled with murder and crime. Indeed, the vast majority of articles relating to Bradford were simply not illustrated with photographs, like the vast majority of news articles during this time-period. So could it be that the Daily Herald staff photographers simply didn’t often travel far outside of London, unless it was particularly sensational news? Was the cost of paying local agencies just too high? This requires further research and perhaps the daybooks here at the Daily Herald Archive will provide some clues. In any case it appears likely, that the crime-filled picture the Herald paints of Bradford is, not the result of any desire to portray the City in a negative light, but rather a consequence of a different media bias – the London-centric focus of our national institutions. This tendency to equate the ‘national’ with London is something that the museum itself has, of course, had to continually battle against throughout its existence. As a project we are experimenting with whether the spatial concept of ‘translocality’ – a concept which focuses on harnessing local-to-local connections that bypass capital cities and thus often national media institutions – offers one route to resisting this tendency. Watch this space!