Volunteering as an oral historian.

Barbara Walker: born and bred in Bradford and very proud of my home city.

After leaving school I trained as a nursery nurse at Bradford College and have come full circle, now working there as a casual examination invigilator, having taken voluntary redundancy from my ‘proper job’ almost 20 years ago.

My interests are leading walks for several different groups including Bradford Council, gardening, cycling along towpaths and cycleways, theatre and going out for lunch.

My family has always had a keen interest in our forebears with many tales passed down orally through the generations. I feel oral history is extremely valuable for keeping the past alive so I jumped at the chance of taking part in this project. I have already found a teacher willing to be interviewed after seeing a post of mine on FaceBook.

 Barbara went to visit Lesley Wood a 72 year old retired teacher.

I found Lesley through something I put up on FaceBook, she must have seen it and responded, which is very puzzling as why would she see something when we’re not friends? FaceBook is a mystery to me…

And then there was quite a delay before we could meet, I had a new kitchen fitted, there was the referendum, my own work: invigilating and then she didn’t get back to me for ages…eventually I texted her and she said there had been a family emergency. We arranged a time when her husband was absent and I made sure she didn’t have a dog. I don’t do dogs.

Then I changed my mind, around the I.T mostly, not around talking to somebody, I find things like that very difficult…the IT, I’d just had to learn to use a new hob, a new phone and it all seemed like too much new I.T! But with a bit more training I decided to try it …I was still anxious about it, but went along…

During the interview, I wanted to make sure it was recording and didn’t want to record over what we’d done, so I stopped the machine to check it and then wasn’t sure it was on at all…and when I listened back to it, it sounded really slow like sssllllooowww. Then I didn’t know how to switch it off so I just let the batteries run out! However, it seems to have recorded OK and I feel better, I enjoyed the experience of doing it…

I liked the way Lesley talked about the process of bussing, she hadn’t met any parents – she’d never thought about that…I liked the way she responded to the situation. She was sympathethic. Didn’t think it was good and said it ended because of finance…

You can hear a clip from the Lesley Wood interview on SoundCloud and in the audio section of this website.



Sir Edward Boyle.

Sir Edward Boyle went to visit Beaconsfield Road Primary School, Southall in 1963 because of mounting political pressure from parents campaigning against the school being swamped by immigrants from Commonwealth countries. The Conservatives were in power and Sir Edward Boyle was the Minister of Education 1963 -1964. At the school he had a private meeting with parents and governors, he was so moved by their plight that he went back to the House of Commons and in a speech on 3rd December 1963 said:

I must regretfully tell the house that ‘one school’ must now be regarded as irretrievably an immigrant school. The important thing is to prevent this happening elsewhere.”

Sir Edward Boyle was instrumental in formalizing dispersal, through Circular 7/65, of ethnic minority children out of urban inner city schools. A process initiated in Southall, so that no school across the U.K needed to have more than thirty percent Black or Asian children on roll. Local Education Authorities are advised to arrange for the dispersal of immigrant children over a greater number of schools in order to avoid undue concentration in any particular school” (DES, The Education of Immigrants, Circular 7/65, London, HMSO, 1965, p. 4).

The illustration of Sir Edward Boyle is from a series called : Education Secretaries by Malcolm Laverty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

What is the point of history?

At Bradford Festival this weekend, I was talking to local people about our project. An elderly Gujarati man asked me: “Why bring all these things back up now? Its long time now, better forget about it”. In his book Why History Matters John Tosh argues history can provide counter images, by which he means alternative readings of the past that can shed light on the present and provide alternative futures. He also says history is about engaging with the past and acknowledging it in an age of presentism. Presentism means the way we live from moment to moment without understanding how those that came before shape each moment. Therefore engaging with the past must be from a 360degree perspective, in that we should look at culture, politics, economics as well as events and the people who lived them in order to create historical narratives.

So what did the elderly gentleman mean by forget about it?

One of his friends said: “We were so poor” and another “They didn’t send the white children, on the buses, only the Asians, why? ”

I think the elderly man meant that its painful to think about those days of poverty, racism and the strangeness of a new country and we have to move on.

Pictured above, two famous sons of India : Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi  both had Gujarati as their mother tongue. Lest we forget…