Educating Bradford

Educating Bradford

6. Pioneering People

Bradford in the late 19th century and early 20th century was at the forefront of pioneering education reform. Individuals like W. E. Forster, Margaret McMillan and Miriam Lord spent time in Bradford observing education and social issues and campaigning for change to not only Bradford’s education system but also of the whole nation.

William Edward Forster (1818-1886)

“To his wisdom and courage England owes the establishment throughout the land of a national system of elementary education.”

inscription on statue of W. E. Forster in London

W. E. Forster was born in 1818 in Dorset. In 1841, he and William Fison became partners in a woollen manufacturing business in Bradford, later moving to Burley-in-Wharfedale. Forster was elected as a Liberal MP for Bradford in 1861. From 1866, he started campaigning for education for all and began working on education reform in 1868. This led to the 1870 Education Act which introduced school boards to provide elementary education for children aged 5 to 13, with powers to inspect all schools in their district and to build and manage schools.

Margaret McMillan (1860-1931)

“educate every child as if [they] were your own.”

Margaret and Rachel McMillan

Born in America in 1860 before her family moved to Scotland, McMillan and her sister Rachel became involved with political and social campaigns in London. They moved to Bradford in 1892 to help improve the health and education of Bradford’s poor children. In 1892, McMillan and Dr. James Kerr (school medical officer) conducted one of the first, school medical inspections in Britain. Based on their findings, McMillan argued that local authorities should provide schools with bathrooms and good ventilation, and free school meals to improve the health of sick, poor and hungry schoolchildren.

She joined the Bradford School Board in 1894, introduced a school medical inspection scheme in 1899 and a free school meal scheme in 1904, one of the first in the country. Her campaigning for compulsory free school meals brought about the 1906 Provision of School Meals Act and the 1944 National School Meals Policy. She remained committed to improving children’s education and health until she died in 1931.

Miriam Lord (1885–1968)

“We…should do better to concentrate on nursery schools, on lines such as yours, than on any other development of education.”

HMI report on Miriam Lord’s nursery school in 1929

Miriam Lord was born in Bradford in 1885. Inspired by McMillan, Lord was determined to continue her legacy in Bradford. She became Superintendent of Lilycroft Open Air Nursery, Bradford, in 1921.

This followed the Nursery School Movement, which emphasised outdoor and creative play. Like an open air school, this nursery had verandas for good ventilation and fresh air. It became an international case study of good practice. Lord published papers on the benefits of this kind of nursery education and experience. She recognised that child poverty was connected to adult issues, such as unemployment.

From 1933, she took on roles with local organisations to help improve community and social issues. In 1945, Lord launched an appeal to raise funds to build a memorial college for Margaret McMillan which opened in 1952. She also founded the Margaret McMillan Trust. Lord was awarded an OBE for her services to nursery education and the community.