The biggest processions to ever take place in Bradford were to celebrate Saint Blaise. These recurred every seven years. Saint Blaise was an Armenia Martyr Bishop, famed for curing a child choking on a fish bone; and reputedly being tortured with woolcombs; becoming the Patron Saint of Woolcombers. All English wool towns used to celebrate his day, but Bradford’s were the biggest and best.Bradford developed with the wool trade, especially the trade in fine worsteds, made from long fibres (tops) that could only be got from combing; using heavy, heated combs. Worsteds made Bradford the largest wool town the world will ever know.Bradford’s woolcombers were a craft guild with a long apprenticeship. As Bradford grew, the Bishop Blaise procession grew. There may have been a thousand people in the 1825 procession, but unfortunately the woolcombers and handloom weavers went on strike soon after. After 23 weeks the strike was broken, and so were the woolcombers. Without the woolcomber’s organisation the Blaise celebration was almost forgotten. Mills replaced hand work, and almost every building standing in 1825 was knocked down before 1899.I have been trying to get people to celebrate Saint Blaise again for years: partly because of my love of history, but mostly because early February is a grim time of year and Blaise gives us a good reason to have a bit of fun remembering and rediscovering histories we all share. So why not join in?Glyn Watkins. January 2017
As friendship, love, and unity, Compose the bond of peace, In them may our community Join hands and thus increase. (part of a poem read out during the 1825 celebration.)22 Jan
I was stood on a Brighouse backstreet for the interview. As I told Tina: I had been working at Cromwell Bottom Nature Reserve, and was desperately wanting to get outside a pint
After at least a half dozen year’s of trying on my own to get Bradford to celebrate Saint Blaise, for the first time since 1825, this year I had help from fiends (especially Samantha Wass) and the thing grew faster than Bradford did in the 19th Century; and it looks like it could grow even bigger! I feel quietly satisfied but still pretty knackered. It al worked; and I had a small team that did an immense amount of work. Work I could not have done; or would have done badly; or would have only done if I had sacrificed other stuff.
The sun shone on Bishop Blaise all weekend.
Programme and Poster
I wrote the programme and the walk route; Samantha proofed it; Gleen Hustler drew the logo image; and Martyn Johnston designed it. The fact that Bradford Council paid for the printing directly from their ‘Healthy City fund’ meant we could print enough of them to make a difference. Without that help I would have been been paying for the printing myself, or more likely doing a very few on my cruddy inkjet.
The poster helped; but I think we can be proud of the programme. Anyone can use the map to walk themselves around historic Bradford.
One mistake was that I labelled the church that stood on the site occupied by the Oxfam shop as All Saint’s. It was intact Christ Church. Sorry about that.
The Bring Back Great Knits at Bradford Cathedral
This was Samantha’s idea and may turn out to be the most important long term part of the festival for two reasons.
One reason is that I had almost nothing to do with it (apart from lending some of my mum’s knitting), and had no urge to interfere!
The other reason is textile artist Tess, who already had big plans to create a nationally significant wool event in Bradford before she found out about the Bring Back Blaise Festival and joined in! She created a wonderful exhibition; and sat spinning and talking to hundreds of visitors who came to see it; including Dave Matthew’s from California!!
The Bring Back St. Blaise’s Festival Show at Salamander Brewery
I very nearly dropped my bobbins here! I took too much equipment because I had not properly check the venue; so I got a lift off my mate Bobby. When I unpacked I discovered I had left the Apple video cable at home, and nothing else can connect the laptop to the projector! Luckily Bobby had got lost on the Dudley Hill roundabout one way system and was still quite close. Went home and back and arrived panting.
After that it all went very well. It was standing room only; one local who was just there to drink beer kept shaking my hand afterwards and thanking me for a great show; and Samantha said:
“Your show was my favourite part of the weekend. You were ace. I did like it all but you did especially well.”
The Bring Back St. Blaise’s Procession around Bradford
Another great success (especially with the map in the programme being there for anyone who wants to walk the route themselves) but it being a Bradford City home match day made time tight; that made things a little rushed. We were arriving at places that were already crowded, which was delaying us even more. and that in turn made things more tiring.
I think the walk is worth doing again, but if there is enough going on at the next Blaise event this may be one to drop. If I do do it I also need to think about the length of the walk and were we stopped. It is great to walk so much of the route of the 1825 procession, but 3 miles is probably just too long for a ‘city stroll’.
Historic Plaque Washing
We washed some of Bradford’s neglected Green Plaques. This was a gesture we need to build on; but, hopefully, we will not need to do it again because the Council will take some care of them.
Bring Back Wool Day at Bradford Industrial Museum
This was the big one, and it proved to be better than I dreamt.
Les selling Salamander’s Saint Blaise Armenian Ale in the Little Sparrow pop-up bar added massively to the Museum.
The Museum’s display about Blaise added to even my understanding; and will be up for all of February.
The staff were brilliant: and Samantha worked so hard helping people, working the bar, looking after me, and taking photos.
The Bradford Guild of Spinners and Weavers were lovely and showed just what it was all about.
Having Hall Royds Band and the Bradford Voices Community Choir echoing around the mill building was magical. It enthralled people (especially the young and old). The band and the choir fed off each other. The choir signing while the band played Dancing Queen was a magical moment. As was the choir singing a Finnish song. My mum would have been so proud (although probably critical of the way they pronounced the words 🙂 ).
Wetherall the cat called into the bar regularly for a scratch, and I like scratching cats.
This is event and venue combination that could become very big. If Leeds Industrial can have a big ‘Wool Day’ to tap into the growing interest in craft wool production then why can’t Bradford do it bigger and better, just like we did in 1825?
Support from Napoleon’s Casino, Salamander Brewery, Bradford Council and the Sparrow meant I will not be poorer for having created this event; something that has happened only a dozen times, or less, before.
I told stories about wool and Bradford; listened to stories about wool and Bradford; put something back into Bradford; educated, informed and entertained; and made friends. As I said: something to be proud off.