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Bradford Technical College Archive

Archive reference: BTC.

The Bradford Technical College (1882-1956) was set up to meet the educational needs of the city's textile industries.  It developed into what is now the University of Bradford.  Its Archive is rich in names, images and stories that help us understand the history of Bradford, its region, its industries and its development.

History of the College | About The Archive | Archive Catalogue | Useful Links

Our 100 Objects showcase includes several stories about the history of the College:

Programme 1882 Opening

This image shows the cover of a programme for the Opening of the Bradford Technical School in 1882, including a view of the city, its coat of arms, and a goddess who appears to depict the city.

History of Bradford Technical College

1832: the Mechanics' Institute

In 1832 the Bradford Mechanics' Institute was founded. Bradford's wool industry was growing quickly and leading nonconformists felt morally obliged to improve the education of the people streaming into the city to work in the textile mills. The Institute's lectures and classes originally emphasised general education, but the dominance of textile industries meant scientific and technical topics were most popular.

The mill owners often did not encourage efforts to educate workers, valuing instinct and common sense rather than theory.  They were sometimes unwilling to share their secrets with competitors. The Institute founded a School of Industrial Design and Art in 1848 which was not well supported.

However, attitudes changed as European wool industry competitors began to overtake Bradford in the 1860s. In 1863, the Institute was able to establish professionally run classes including textile topics. The 1870s depression and the shock of the poor response to Bradford textiles at the 1878 Paris Exhibition meant further action was possible. A small Weaving School was opened in the Institute in 1878, soon enlarged to form the Bradford Technical School.

1882: Opening

The first building for the new Bradford Technical School was opened in 1882, by the Prince of Wales. The purpose of the School was "technical, scientific, artistic and general instruction in the various processes involved in the production of Worsted, Woollen, Silk and Cotton fabrics ..." Four departments were created: Textiles, Art and Design, Engineering, and Chemistry and Dyeing. Soon after, the School was re-named Bradford Technical College, possibly in response to the Yorkshire College of Science at Leeds.

Governance and growth

The College was run by a Council, including its President, local industrialist Sir Henry Mitchell. Subscriptions from Bradford mill owners were supposed to fund the College, but these were not forthcoming. Eventually, in 1899, after the death of Sir Henry, the College’s dire financial situation led the Council to hand control to Bradford Corporation. At this point there were 143 full-time day students and 623 regular evening students.

The change meant the College was run by a board of aldermen and councillors, who believed teaching should focus on vocational subjects. The original Technical Instruction Committee was replaced by the Education Committee of Bradford City Council in 1904. In the same year, the Art Department was re-constituted as a separate School of Art.

The College continued to develop. By 1930 there were Departments of Textiles, Chemistry, Dyeing, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Commerce and Banking, Pharmacy and Biology, Physics and Mathematics. To cope with the expansion further buildings were added in Carlton Street and Great Horton Road.

Harry Richardson's Quest

Should the College become a university? The idea of a technological university in Bradford had been suggested by the M.P. for the city, W.E. Forster, as early as 1868. Talks were held with Leeds University about amalgamation in 1913, but foundered on the issues of funding and governance.

In 1920, Harry Richardson, a physicist, was appointed Principal. From Manchester, he brought new perspective and commitment to seeking University status for the College. But he was in a sense too late. The country now had a binary system of tertiary education, thanks to the creation of the University Grants Committee in 1919.  Other colleges, such as those in Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester, had "evolved" into universities before this happened, but Bradford had missed out.  Richardson was however tireless in his pursuit of university status: he wrote letters, addressed meetings, lobbied Parliament and local politicians.  At the same time, he ensured the work of the College reached very high academic standards.

1956: the coming of the CAT

Just after Richardson announced his retirement in 1956, the Ministry of Education issued a White Paper on Technical Education. Among other provisions, a small number of technical colleges would "concentrate entirely on advanced studies ... undergraduate, postgraduate and research". Bradford was later named as one of these Colleges of Advanced Technology. The new college was confirmed as Bradford Institute of Technology by the Hives Committee in 1959, while the name of Bradford Technical College was retained as an institution to undertake work of a level below Higher National Certificate.

The Archive

The Archive includes:

  • Annual reports 1883-1903, calendars, prospectuses, prize lists.
  • Correspondence and press cuttings on university and technical education.
  • Staff Association minutes 1903-1935.
  • Staff publications and lectures.
  • Associateship dissertations 1907-1928.
  • Bradford City Council Education Committee, epitome of minutes 1904-1919.
  • Photographs (mainly of buildings and equipment, a few of people) and ephemera such as posters for lectures and events.

Archive Catalogue

Bradford Technical College Archive Interim Catalogue (409kb, pdf)

Bradford Technical College Archive Interim Catalogue (130kb, docx)

We are creating a database of staff and students at BTC and BIT, not yet available online, so please do contact Special Collections if you are looking for a particular individual.

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