There will be a slight change of format for my Random History posts this year. The random number generator will still pick the year (any year between 1850 and 1999), but the date will be as close as possible to the actual calendar date of the post. For the 1st of January we are going to a rather strange tea party in Bradford ….. in 1881.
If you were in Bradford on New Year’s Day in 1881 you could have entertained yourself by going to the Mechanic’s Institute to a “Mesmeric Tea Party”, courtesy of Professor Kershaw, Electrician, of Southport. “Mesmeric entertainments” used a combination of hypnotism, psychic demonstrations, and new-fangled electric tricks to entertain the general public. Performers such as Professors Kershaw, Smalley and others of their like used pseudo-science to entertain the general public.
This old vintage postcard has never been used, so there is no postmark to provide a clue as to the date. From the style of the card, it must date from the first decade of the twentieth century – when picture postcards were the social media of their age. Kirkgate Market was built in 1872 and was one of the most notable buildings of the city for a full century; before being demolished in 1973 to make way for an Arndale Centre. I can still remember the old market with its rows of stalls selling just about everything imagineable.
We caught a bus to Bradford yesterday to do a little Christmas shopping and to look at the wonderful Victorian architecture that still lines the stone city streets. A few days ago I came across an old copy of an 1893 Yorkshire Trade Directory – before you ask, yes it was lodged up my back passage – which includes a series of wonderfully atmospheric engravings of West Yorkshire towns and scenes. This illustration of Market Street is taken from the book, and perhaps it was the memory of those towers, pillars, arches and pediments that drew me towards the Bradford bus stop.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Bradford is at its best when the strong rays of winter sun highlight the ornamental stonework and make shapes on the streets. We did a bit of Christmas shopping, but for the most of the time we were there we simply looked up at the buildings.
My life continues to be dominated by the Herculean task of clearing the garage of thirty years of accumulated rubbish, so that a new door can be installed in ten days time. I have managed to dispose of a library’s worth of books, a china shop’s worth of cups and saucers, and enough old files, forms and facsimiles to keep a bureaucrat happy for months. A big part of the problem is that I find so many of the things I am supposed to put into rubbish sacks or charity bags fascinating, and so I attempt to rescue them from the shredder, and share them with all those other people who find 1931 adverts for Armstrong Siddeley cars equally enthralling. And that, of course, means you.