Blink and You’ll Miss it: The Peace Museum UK in Bradford

Entrance to the Peace Museum UK in Piece Hall Yard, Bradford.  Credits: Peace Museum UK

Entrance to the Peace Museum UK in Piece Hall Yard, Bradford. Credits: Peace Museum UK

Established in the city that played host to some of the worst British riots in the 20th and early 21st century, Bradford may not have been, to some, the most obvious place to locate the UK’s only dedicated peace museum.

But, look deeper into its history than the  front page headlines and it becomes clear that Bradford has long led the way in attempts to ensure not just calm and harmony, but to create a more equal and happier life for all through non violent protest, even in the face of the most challenging situations.

Visit the museum and you will find that this is due to the tireless work of local political activists and politicians, early educational reformers, artists, whole neighbourhoods and the academics, who are located in the biggest university Peace Department in the world and, altogether, helped the city earn the title  of City Of Peace in 1997.

Peace plea tree

Peace plea tree

Found in Piece Hall Yard, a side street in the centre, The Peace Museum UK is a proud testament to these local communities, which it knits together with the fights and successes of campaigners from across the country and abroad.

Only open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10am until 4pm, many people may struggle to see first hand this extraordinary collection of tales and 6,000 artefacts, but whether you take a holiday off especially, or are a bit more canny and call in whilst officially ‘at the dentists’, a visit is guaranteed to leave you feeling inspired and thinking of the city in a very different light.

But in the mean time, here’s the first of a three part overview of some of the campaigners and movements based in the region who are focused on in it.

The early peace movement 

Bradford's Victorian campaigners for peace and equality

Bradford’s Victorian campaigners for peace and equality

Bradford’s links to peace have roots that are hundreds of years old. One of these

early campaigners for the cause was Richard Cobden, an MP for West Riding from 1847-57, whose anti-war stance and belief in arbitration as opposed to aggressive military strategies in international conflicts eventually cost him his political career. He was, however, never really welcomed by more radical left wing campaigners, due to  his liberal leanings that led him to believe that free trade would promote peace and prosperity.

The large mural that adorns a building in Hall Ings, near to Chapel Street, and is pictured in one of the museum’s displays commemorates the birth of the Independent Labour Party as a national party in the city in 1893, which at the time was one of the foremost industrial locations in Britain. The first party to stand up primarily for the rights of working class residents, it formed from the ashes of the Manningham Mills strike in 1880 and the resulting Bradford Labour Union that followed behind. By 1906 it had won its first parliamentary seat, in West Bradford, due to its commitment to progressive social reforms guided by the aim of securing collective and communal ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange . In terms of welfare, these included policies to provide free education ‘up to the universities,’ the provision of medical treatment and welfare programmes for the disadvantaged and young, reform housing, establish measures to reduce unemployment and give aid to the unemployed. Meanwhile, in the workplace, members campaigned for a minimum-wage law and the abolition child labour, overtime, piecework, and long working days.

Independent Labour Party mural

Independent Labour Party mural

In terms of international relations, they were the foremost advocates of pacifism during the Boer War and favoured international cooperation for the production and distribution of wealth. However, despite their best efforts, the party did not remain immune from factionalism and several strands emerged that, by the outbreak of World War One argued for different policies regarding defeating outside threats to Britain.

The ILP played a central role in the formation of the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner to the Labour Party, and remained closely, if uneasily, affiliated to it.

Amongst the most notable politicians to rise out of the party was Philip Snowden, a

Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden

Philip Snowden, 1st Viscount Snowden

weaver’s son and chartist supporter who was born in Cowling and entered politics professionally  after an accident led to his decision to quit his former job in the civil service, which he had taken up after a stint as an insurance clerk in Burnley. Although initially a member of the Liberal Party he joined the ILP after becoming convinced by the ideology of socialism. Once a member, he rose through the ranks to become one of its most celebrated members through his role as Labour Party MP for Blackburn from 1906-1924. During that time his opposition to war grew, culminating in his 1913 dossier which he presented to parliament to highlight the issues surrounding the international arms trade. He correctly predicted that if war broke out it would only lead to a future desire by Germany to create new allies to try restore its international position and condemned army recruitment, stating that he refused ‘to ask any young man to sacrifice his life for me.’ He later became the parliamentary crusader for conscientious objectors, complaining about the abuses of tribunals and military overseers.

However, later in life his radical political stance lost its way and he was eventually vilified by some sections of the Labour Party after agreeing to join the Conservatives in the 1931 national government.

Margaret McMillan and Miriam Lord

Margaret McMillan and Miriam Lord

Margaret McMillan and Miriam Lord were two Bradfordian residents who took it upon themselves to radically reform the education system to make it more inclusive and caring and thus encourage peace and a ‘civilised society’ amongst younger generations. Margaret moved to Bradford from New York in 1892 after training as a teacher. She believed that all children should have access to education and receive good, all round care. Her most famous policy was the introduction of free school meals for poor children, a scheme that eventually spread nationally. She also provided one of the greatest influences to Bradford-born Miriam, who trained as a nursery teacher and became inspired to create a safe space to eduate young children. The first headteacher of a pioneering open air nursery school in Manningham, Lilycroft, she led its devotion to ensuring that the pupils were well-fed, encouraged to play, learn and be happy. Her work at the school led one former pupil and soldier who visited the school to declare that ‘if all children in every land could have such a start, the world would not be in the chaos that is it today. Happy people don’t make wars.’

J B Priestley

J B Priestley

Manningham-born Joseph Boynton Priestley is most well-known for his work as a celebrated novelist, playwright and broadcaster. Yet, during his life, the talented literarian also left an indellible mark on the British peace movement. Although not a pacifist (he felt that in certain circumstances war was necessary, for example, to prevent Hitler from depriving Europe of freedom and democracy) he became gradually more concerned about the contemporary state of international relations. In 1957, this led to him writing an article in the New Statesman called Britain and the Nuclear Bombs, which highlighted his worry about nuclear bombs and the Cold War. Most importantly, it put forward a convincing argument about the lack of need for Britain to own nuclear warheads and urged the government to partake in nuclear disarmament. Following its publication, the paper’s editor sent the letters to the National Campaign against Nuclear Weapons and a meeting of like-minded campaigners was called, which included Priestley. There, they decided to launch a national movement, which was called the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and placed the writer as its vice chair.

Protest photographs featuring Kenneth Hockney

Protest photographs featuring Kenneth Hockney

The father of one of Bradford’s greatest living painters, David, Kenneth Hockney was a committed pacifist and artist who brought up his son in a radical, working class household. A conscientious objector throughout World War One, he was drawn to the campaign against nuclear weapons from the 1950s. A proponent of practical artwork that held clear political messages, he was one of Bradford CND’s main poster and banner makers, which were used on demonstrations around the country. One such slogan simply but concisely remarked: ‘One bomb on Bradford and that’s the end’. His work influenced David, who helped create banners when he was at art school and was himself a conscientious objector who avoided his military service obligation by working in hospitals for two years.

Look out for part two soon!

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