One-hundred years ago today, 3000 women marched for peace in central Bradford, a demonstration against the ongoing carnage of the war. I have spent some time this year researching and making work for an exhibition that commemorates this event.
The march was organised by the Bradford Women’s Humanity League (BWHL), a group with roots in the Independent Labour Party and the No Conscription Fellowship. BWHL had initially supported unemployed women, in hardship because of the war, with practical help. However, from early 1917, they began campaigning in earnest for a negotiated peace. Esther Sandiforth of Shipley (my home town), a leading light in the peace movement in Bradford, wrote in the Bradford Pioneer in late 1916, ‘It is up to women to start a crusade for peace.’
BWHL held public meetings in the Textile Hall on Westgate every week, spoke on street corners, canvassed door to door, travelled to other areas to support other peace campaigns and began to prepare for their part in the Women’s Peace Crusade. This was a grassroots socialist movement active in the UK between 1916 and 1918. It aimed to spread a ‘people’s peace’ and large demonstrations and marches took place across the UK and Scotland in 1917. The march in Bradford on 9th September set out from Westgate and ended at Carlton Street (now Bradford School of Art) and was described in the Labour Leader as,
‘…magnificent. It exceeded altogether the expectations of the most optimistic among us. 3,000 women marched in procession with banners flying and bands playing…The great meeting was even better…The Bradford women are splendid… All honour to the Bradford women. May their example be copied by women all over the country.’
Other than these press reports little archive material exists about either the BWHL or the September 1917 protest march. I noticed a blue plaque outside the old textile hall on Westgate in the city centre and was intrigued by the story. My interest was amplified by the centenary commemorations of the First World War and more recently the grassroots activism of millions of women who marched in January 2017, shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump.
The work exhibited in this exhibition is an invocation of the 1917 march, as reimagined by myself. I have used found material from a route that takes in areas of Goitside and the bottom of Thornton Road, now brownfield sites. This material includes textile scraps, plant material turned into textile dyes, found metals used as resist prints. Embedded in each textile are hundreds of running stitches using old silk thread from Listers Mill. I was minded of the repetitious processes of the industries the women kept going during the war: munitions work, weaving cloth for military uniforms. My stitches produce their own rhythm, much like walking, each stitch offering a mark of resistance.
Resist is at Bradford Cathedral Artspace 30th September - 28 October 2017. I will be giving a talk about the work on Friday 6th October at 7pm at the cathedral, all are welcome.