WHEN you walk around the city centre, the names of buildings and streets often carry a history that we know little about.

Growing up in Bradford, many names became familiar. From school I sometimes went for a walk in Lister Park. The light blue trolley-buses stopped at Forster Square.The red West Yorkshire motor buses dropped me off in Godwin Street. However, until I came to research my recent book, Every Day Bradford, I knew little about the people behind these names.

How many people, for example, walking away from the National Science and Media Museum passing adjacent buildings called Margaret McMillan Tower and Sir Henry Mitchell House know anything about these forgotten and remarkable 19th century champions of education? Today’s story is about Sir Henry Mitchell, champion of tertiary education. My next story will be about Margaret McMillan - one generation later, the champion of nursery and primary education.

Sir Henry Mitchell (1824-1898) was one of Bradford’s finest ambassadors and public servants. Born in Esholt, he moved into his father’s wool business where from age 14 he was taught practically every branch of worsted manufacture. Three years later he became a buyer at William Fison and Co Ltd. Soon he was made a partner and travelled extensively, especially in the USA. He became a leading authority on the worsted trade, appointed English juror for silk and woollen fabrics for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (1876).

A councillor, magistrate and mayor, he was at the forefront of city life for many years. He was President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce for six years and a Governor of Bradford Grammar School during its resurgence under the headmastership of Rev WH Keeling. Without doubt, though, his biggest single achievement was the foundation of the Bradford Technical School in 1882.

Mitchell’s travels showed him the need for appropriate education to sustain Bradford’s position in the wool industry. Britain was falling behind its European counterparts. Only the Mechanics’ Institute attempted to fill the gap developing in providing educational support outside the workplace. What was needed was full-time practical education for those joining the textile industry. Mitchell had been fortunate in learning about it from his father.

The importance of the new school was crowned by Bradford’s first-ever official royal visit for its opening on June 23, 1882. The Prince (later King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales had stayed overnight as guests of Titus Salt Junior at Milner Field, near Saltaire, and travelled in a procession through Lister Park, down Manningham Lane into Bradford, greeted by cheering crowds that grew larger as they reached the new School building in Great Horton Road. All Bradford’s industrial leaders were present, including Samuel Lister, Sir Isaac Holden, Sir Henry Ripley. In a speech WE Forster, Bradford MP and himself a pioneer of state education who drove the 1870 Elementary Education Act, toasted Mitchell: “We owe him more than to any other man the formation and the success of this college. I do not mean to say that we should not have had a Technical College without him; but most certainly should not had it so soon. His Royal Highness has paid us a great compliment today. He tells us that we stand in the van in this movement in England. It is true, but England does not stand in the van as compared with countries. It was beginning to suffer very much from being behindhand in the race.’ (Bradford Observer, June 24, 1882)

Despite such a triumph and him being knighted in 1887 for services to education, Bradford was slow to recognise the achievement. It wasn’t until 1898 when the Corporation belatedly honoured Mitchell as its first freeman, 13 years after the Honorary Freedom of Boroughs Act 1885 allowed municipal boroughs to honour ‘persons of distinction’...’who have rendered eminent services to the borough’. Prominent cities such as Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were much quicker to honour their own. When Bradford did do so, it was almost too late. Mitchell was seriously unwell and could only be told the news at his Manningham home by a small deputation, including the Mayor and Town Clerk. Earlier that day at a special meeting, many councillors gave fulsome tribute to Sir Henry’s commercial leadership, philanthropy and steadfast support of the city.

Five days later Sir Henry Mitchell died, followed three days later by a funeral attended by thousands.

The Technical College thrived as Bradford’s home of higher and further education. After many years of campaigning for university status, the higher education side became in 1957 a College of Advanced Technology (Bradford Institute of Technology) which in 1966 developed into the University of Bradford, while the further education side became what Bradford College.

l Martin Greenwood’s book Every Day Bradford has a story for each day of the year about people, places and events from Bradford’s history. Available online and from bookshops including Waterstones and Salts Mill.