Milestone anniversary for Bradford Archive Service – treasure…

Milestone anniversary for Bradford Archive Service – treasure trove of local history

THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of an Archives Office in Bradford, in what was then the Bradford Central Library.

Until the 1960s Bradford Reference Library and Museums mainly focused on acquiring substantial family and estate archives and the papers of local historians and antiquaries. The passing of the Local Government (Records) Act in 1962 seems to have been a stimulus to the collection of a wider collection of archives, as in the 1960s the records of the Low Moor Iron Company, the Bradford Poor Law Union, churches, businesses and societies were acquired.

In 1967 Bradford’s new Central Library opened; this provided new accommodation for these collections and as a result Cartwright Hall transferred all its collections to Bradford Central Library.

Throughout the 1960s it was realised that a specialist with professional qualifications was needed to manage the collections. Several of the constituent authorities which amalgamated in 1974 to form the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council had collections of documents; as well as the Bradford collections Keighley and Bingley Libraries had accumulated sizeable collections, and the Museums at Bradford and Keighley also had a number of deposits.

In the same year the West Yorkshire County Council established the West Yorkshire County Record Office, which had its headquarters at Wakefield, with a county-wide responsibility for the collection and preservation of archives.

Following the reorganisation of local government and the creation of Bradford Metropolitan District Council in 1974, David James was appointed the first District Archivist. (based in the Bradford Central Library). He, along with his staff, established the service, and promoted its existence to the public, to Local authorities and to potential depositors.

In the same year the West Yorkshire County Council established the West Yorkshire County Record Office, which had its headquarters at Wakefield, with a county-wide responsibility for the collection and preservation of archives.

In 1982 Bradford together with three of the other West Yorkshire Metropolitan Districts, amalgamated its Archive Department with the County Record Office to form the West Yorkshire Archive Service (the remaining District also joined the Service the following year); by this time the archive strong room was full and there was an urgent need for new accommodation. The provision of a new record office for Bradford became the highest priority for capital spending by the Archive Service. The West Yorkshire County Council was able to provide premises in Canal Road, Bradford for conversion to a record office.

David James oversaw the planning of the new office and the physical relocation of the records. The new office was officially opened on Sept 27 1985 by Councillor R Mitchell Chairman of the West Yorkshire Joint Committee in the presence of the Lord Mayor, Cllr Ajeeb.

David James died in 1995. His influence on the establishment and promotion of the archive service and on local history research in the Bradford area was incalculable.

The Bradford Archives office moved back to the Central Library in the early 2000s. It is currently based on the ground floor of the Margaret McMillan tower (formerly the Central Library) next to the Bradford Local Studies Library.

Since it opened the Bradford Archives office has provided a repository for Bradford’s immense and varied written heritage which includes records for local businesses, trade union records, records of political parties including the Bradford Independent Labour Party, and Bradford Conservative Club, records of the Bradford Civic Playhouse, records of the Bradford Cemetery Company (Undercliffe Cemetery), family and estate collections, local authority records and church and chapel records.

Its ‘treasures’ include records for the Alhambra Theatre, the Jowett Car Club, the Brown Muffs and Company Department Store and posters and other records relating to Oriental Arts (a South Asian Arts organisation).

It has also been the base for various archive service projects such as Cosmos, a millennium exhibition about archives and the peopling of West Yorkshire.

This article contains information which is contained in the Bradford Archives Guide 1974-1995 and has been written in tribute to all the staff who have worked at/are currently working at the Bradford Archives office and to the staff of the West Yorkshire Archive Service who have contributed to the conservation, listing and promotion of the records relating to Bradford.

* West Yorkshire Archive Service is at Margaret McMillan Tower, Prince’s Way, Bradford. Tel. (0113) 535 3020, email

Opening hours: Monday 9.45am-4.30pm (closed 12-1pm); Tuesday 9.45am-4.30pm (closed 12-1pm); Thursdays 9.45am-4.30pm (closed 12-1pm). Visitors are required to book their visit and order documents at least one week in advance. Some records are held in an out-store and may take longer to make available.