Picture credit: Phillip Longley (IFY Community)

“What’s happened to Leeds? It looks like New York.” – Jeremy Clarkson

Leeds is the largest city in Yorkshire, with a population of around 700,000 people. It is located in the West Riding and situated on the River Aire. The city is famous historically for its manufacturing industries and latterly sustained growth in the service sectors, some of which are the largest outside London. Moreover, Leeds has a proud sporting heritage, extensive shopping areas and historic landmarks.

The haunting Kirkstall abbey was an important abbey for the region in Medieval Times. Picture crdit: Jonathan Rudd.
The haunting Kirkstall abbey was an important abbey for the region in Medieval Times. Picture crdit: Jonathan Rudd.

Kirkstall Abbey is the oldest of these and situated on the North bank of the River Aire. It was founded by Cistercian monks around 1152 but like most others was destroyed during the Reformation of the 1530s. Nowadays visitors can explore the ruin and grounds, which have been created into a pleasant riverside park. Across the road is the Abbey House Museum, which takes visitors back to life in 19th Century Leeds, with a recreated street, drinking house and collection of Victorian toys. There is also a gift shop, café’ and playground. The abbey site is also used for cultural events, including open air theatre productions.

Further down Kirkstall Road, is the Armley Mills museum, which concentrates on Leeds’ industrial history. It is housed in what used to be the largest woollen mill in the world and visitors can learn about the various manufacturing industries which made the city one of the largest industrial centres in the UK, such as wool-making, cloth-making, printing and engineering. Among the attractions are a collection of steam locomotives, the unzipped gallery, which tells the story of how the city changed its manufacture of clothing and a working 20s style cinema.

Thwaite Mills is one of the last examples in the UK of a water-powered factory, situated on its very own island in Stourton. It was owned by the Horn family and was a working mill as recently as 1976, making putty. It only closed when the weir in which it was powered from collapsed during a flood, stopping the water wheel from moving. This was repaired and turned into a museum, which tells the story of the island and mill in this corner of South Leeds.

The Royal Armouries Museum opened in 1996 in a purpose built building just off the city centre. It is one of four such museums in the UK and the USA. The Leeds site has around 5,000 objects on display including weapons, clothing and armour used during a range of military conflicts throughout the centuries. Moreover there are displays charting the history of hunting through the ages and Asian war artefacts. The museum also holds a range of events including jousting tournaments, falconry displays, magic shows and stunt acts in its arena.

The Leeds City Museum was opened in 2008 at the old Institute building on Millennium Square. It contains six galleries over four floors displaying the story of the city, its people, fashion, natural history and culture. Its centrepiece is the famous, Leeds Tiger, brought to the city as a rug from India but stuffed and put on display in the city’s museum, which existed at the time. Another interesting exhibit is the mummified body of Nesyamun, a priest who died in Egypt three thousand years ago. Other galleries include a history of Leeds from prehistoric times, and another, showcasing different cultures from around the world.

The Thackray Museum is one of the largest medicine exhibitions in the UK and is located in the eastern part of the city. It has twelve galleries, which show various aspects of medical history, including skeletal science, childbirth and disease. There is also a special exhibition, which explores life in Leeds around 1842 and in July 2014 a new gallery is due to open about the relationship between medicine and war.

Leeds Art Gallery situated next to the town hall displays a series of important works, including the “Shadow of Death” by William Holman Hunt and “Scotland forever,” by Lady Elizabeth Butler. The adjoining Henry Moore institute displays work from the locally born sculptor as well as being a place of study for up and coming artists.

Leeds is also home to a series of country houses and estates, most of which have become tourist attractions. The largest of which is Harewood House, located in the North of the city. It was built by Edwin Lascelles in 1759, with the house and grounds designed by an 18th Century “dream team” of architect, John Carr, interior designer Robert Adam, furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale and landscape gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

The results were a fine Georgian country house set in over 100 acres of grounds, including the lakeside and Himalayan gardens. Nowadays it is owned by descendant David Lascelles the 8th Earl of Harewood and the house and grounds have become a popular tourist attraction, which also includes a bird garden and adventure playground. The soap opera, Emmerdale is filmed in a purposely built village inside Harewood’s grounds.

Temple Newsham has a long history in the city. The original house on the site is so old that it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book, while the earliest parts of the property you see today were built in the early 1500s by Thomas Lord Darcy. The site has had a colourful history, twice being seized by the Crown, in the 16th Century and undergoing redevelopment around 1622.

Visitors to Temple Newsham can enjoy its extensive 1500 acre park and gardens, designed by Capablity Brown as well as a large collection of ceramics, pottery and art within its walls. It is also home to Europe’s largest working rare breed farm, which houses 400 animals, including sheep, goats, cattle and poultry. Its wide open spaces have also made the site a popular place for outdoor concerts, steam fairs and charity events such as Race for Life.

roundhay park cafe view2
Roundhay park is the largest city greenspace in Europe. Picture credit Jonathan Rudd

Roundhay Park is one of the largest city parks in Europe, covering an area of 700 acres. The lands were given to Norman baron, Ilbert De Lacey in the 11th Century, and have been passed through several hands over the centuries. In 1803 it was obtained by Thomas Nicholson and Samuel Elam, who split the land North and South. Elam’s half contained the remains of a coal mine and quarry, which he filled with water to create the Upper and Waterloo lakes. A third lake was proposed, but never completed due to the owner’s death and instead became “the arena,” and Hill 60, which over the years has hosted sport events and open air rock concerts. Top names, such as The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and Robbie Williams have played here as part of their respective tours. In the summer the arena is also used as a cricket ground.

The castle folly and mansion house were built by Nicholson overlooking Elam’s water features before his death in 1826. The estate then passed to other family members before being acquired by the council through an act of Parliament and given to the people of Leeds in 1871. Roundhay was also the site for the first ever electronic tram service in the UK, when it opened in 1891, and took passengers to the city centre, three miles away. The trolley polls are still standing today in one of its car parks. There have been many attractions added to Roundhay Park over years, not least Tropical World which houses a range of tropical plants, birds, butterflies and animals. It is located across the road from Roundhay Park and set in its own gardens. At the time of writing it is has just completed refurbishment, with the addition of a new crocodile enclosure and children’s educational area.

In the suburb of Adel lies Golden Acre Park, which was created in 1932 as a privately run amusement park, complete with miniature railway and swimming pool. These have now both gone, having been taken over by Leeds Council in 1945. Visitors can now enjoy several features, including a large collection of plants, Wildfowl Lake, café’ and two adjoining nature reserves.

There are numerous other city parks, most notably Woodhouse Moor (or Royd Moor), which is adjacent to Leeds University. It has a skate park, tennis courts and open space for fairs and circuses throughout the year. Crossflats Park in Beeston has multi-purpose sports facilities, including basketball courts, 5-a side football and bowling green.

Leeds St Anne’s Cathedral is small in comparison to its compatriots in other Yorkshire towns, largely due to its restricted city centre location. It is also relatively modern, having only being built in 1904 and is also of a Roman Catholic persuasion, with the flag of the Vatican flown from its tower.

The larger Leeds Minster, dedicated to St Peter stands in the old part of the town on Kirkgate. There have been several churches on this site dating back to Anglo Saxon times when Leeds was only a small village. However the building that stands today was built in 1841 to replace a previous structure which was damaged by fire. It achieved Minster status on Sunday 2nd September 2012, exactly 171 years after it was consecrated. Another church of note in Leeds is St Michael’s Church, which in its current form was built in 1886 and is the third place of worship on this site. The tower can often be seen in the background of cricket matches played at the nearby Headingley Stadium.

Leeds has had a long tradition in theatre, with numerous venues throughout the city. One of its oldest and most famous is The Leeds City Varieties, which was built in 1865 and is one of the few remaining examples of a Victorian era music hall. Some of the most famous performers of the time, such as Charlie Chaplin and Houdini have performed on its stage. From 1953 to 1983 the venue hosted “The Good Old Days” a BBC television programme, which aimed to recreate the old music hall era and featured well known performers, such as Bruce Forsyth, Morecambe & Wise and Roy Castle. The City Varieties is still going strong today, hosting a range of music, comedy, dance and plays, after undergoing refurbishment in 2009.

The Leeds Grand Theatre opened in 1878 and has a capacity of around 1,500 people. It stages a variety of plays, ballet, comedy, and musical performances. The Howard assembly Room is a more intimate venue, which shows operas and can be hired out for corporate events.

The more modern West Yorkshire Playhouse opened in 1990 and has two auditoriums. The larger Quarry theatre holds 750 people, while the smaller Courtyard has 350 seats. It shows a variety of dance comedy, plays and children’s shows. The venue has also gained a reputation for in-house production from its rehearsal rooms and production facilities. One of its most famous productions was the musical “Spend Spend Spend,” which charted the story of a West Yorkshire woman, Viv Nicholson, who famously won £152,000 on the football pools and went on to blow her fortune, ending up divorced several times and bankrupt in 1976.

Two other smaller venues worthy of note are The Hyde Park Picture House and Cottage Road Cinema, which are two of the last remaining independent cinemas in the city. The former opened in November 1914 and the building has retained many of its original features. Inside it is still gas lit; the only one to be so in UK plus it has its own piano and organ. The venue screens a range of current commercial releases, art-house cinema and movie classics. Cottage Road in Headingley is two years older, making it the oldest independent cinema in Leeds and also one of the longest running in the UK. It has been showing films continuously since 1912, including a range of current commercial releases, nostalgia and classic movies.

These two venues are indicative of the city’s long association with the moving picture. The first motion picture sequences were shot not in New York, Hollywood or London, but on Leeds Bridge in 1888 by Frenchman Louis de Prince. He came to live with his college friend, John Whiteley in the city around 1866 and built the first single lens camera. Using his new invention he made two three-second short silent “films,” “Leeds Bridge” and “The Roundhay Garden scene,” based in the park. Two years after this amazing breakthrough De Prince mysteriously disappeared and with it his status as the inventor of cinema, a claim since made by Thomas Edison.

The Leeds International film festival has been held since 1987 and is one of the largest outside London. It regularly screens over 200 films of various types, including an all-night “horrorthon,” called “Night of the Dead,” as well as handing out awards to films in different categories.

Leeds arena has brought many world famous artists to perform in the city. Picture credit: mtaylor848 wikipedai creative commons.
Leeds arena has brought many world famous artists to perform in the city. Picture credit: mtaylor848 wikipedai creative commons.

Leeds is also the traditional home of the region’s small screen productions at its Yorkshire (ITV) Television studios on Kirkstall Road. Since 1968 the studios have given the region some iconic television moments, such as the famous debate between Brian Clough and Don Revie, (1974) the plane crash in Emmerdale (1993) and a series of documentaries profiling the life of Dales farmer, Hannah Hauxwell, all surrounded by the famous “Y” chevron indent.

Leeds has numerous festivals throughout the year, most notably the longest running West Indian Carnival in Europe, held each August bank holiday weekend in conjunction with a similar event at Notting Hill in London. The carnival has run since 1967 and includes an extensive procession around the streets of Chapeltown and Harehills ending at Potternewton Park, where there are a range of stalls, music and food.

Leeds carnival always adds a splassh of colour to the streets of Leeds every August. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
Leeds carnival always adds a splassh of colour to the streets of Leeds every August. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Leeds music festival is held every August at nearby Bramham Park, attracting top international acts and local bands to play on its many stages. “Live at Leeds” is a music festival held each May at various venues around the city, culminating with a headline act performing in Millennium Square.

Nightlife in Leeds is very varied, with most musical tastes and atmospheres catered for within the city centre and beyond.

Leeds arena was opened on 4th September 2013 and has finally given the city access to top international acts, such as Sir Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart. Moreover the new venue was used to host the 2013 Sports Personality of the Year and other events, such as Premier League darts, comedy shows and family entertainment. The O2 academy was opened in 2008 and is another established live music venue, hosting acts such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Ellie Goulding and Beady Eye.

The City centre has several chain bars, such as Tiger Tiger, Fibre, Stone Roses and Revolution. Smokestack has also made waves on the club circuit for its retro American theme and music policy of motown, soul, blues and reggae. The venue also hosts live acts and has a variety of cocktails and bottled beers on its bar. The Hi-fi club is also worthy of note for its variety of live comedy and music nights throughout the week.

Out in Headingley, the Otley run is one of the most famous pub crawls in Yorkshire, incorporating sixteen pubs and bars. It traditionally starts at Woodies Ale House in Far Headingley and ends at The Dry Dock, on the edge of the city centre. It is a popular run favoured by students and often conducted in fancy dress with rules as to how many drinks must be consumed along the way.

Being the largest city in Yorkshire, Leeds is very well linked to other parts of the county and the rest of the UK. The city has three major motorways running to or near its boundaries, the M62, A1 and the beginning of the M1 to London.

The original M1 was built between 1958-1968, connecting Leeds to the capital, with extensions made in 1977 at the southern end and more recently a link road connecting it to the A1 at Aberford, to the east of Leeds. However it is the development of the Inner city ring road, which put Leeds firmly on the motoring map. To help ease heavy congestion a dual carriageway under the city centre was constructed, making it the first, “motorway city”. There are also two outer ring roads, the A6120, which links East to North Leeds and the A6110, down the western side to the South of the city. The M621 is a rather odd piece of motorway which links the M1 to the M62. A new 800-space park and ride scheme has opened in June 2014 on Elland Road to help ease congestion in Leeds City Centre.

Leeds was one of the last cities in the UK to get rid of its tram system in 1959, but unlike Sheffield has been unable to restore it, despite several attempts through the 90s and 00s. Currently Leeds is one of the places which will benefit from the HS2 rail link to London and at the time of writing there are also controversial proposals to introduce a trolleybus network to parts of the city.

However for the time being residents have to rely on its current bus and train services for public transport.

Leeds Train station was built in 1869 to accommodate the growing new transport phenomenon, which had started early in West Yorkshire, with the opening of the Leeds-Selby line in 1834. The current station, based on Wellington Street is unique, in that it is built on a series of pillars and arches, which nowadays hosts Granary Wharf and a series of retail and food outlets. The station is one of the busiest stations in the UK and has seventeen platforms, which also makes it one of the largest outside the capital. Services run nationwide to most major towns and cities as well as those in Yorkshire, such as York, Hull, Bradford and Doncaster. The original Leeds bus station in Quarry Hill was built in 1938, next to the market. It was rebuilt and modernised in 1996 to incorporate the entire city’s out of town bus services, to places including Ripon, Hull, Barnsley and Skipton. The Yorkshire Coastliner is one of the other major services, travelling across Yorkshire to Bridlington, Scarborough and Whitby on the East Coast.

Leeds Bradford International Airport is based at the town of Yeadon, located between the two cities. It was used for aviation use as far back as the 1930s, when it was known as Yeadon Aerodrome and it was not long before flights began to UK destinations, such as London, Edinburgh and The Isle of Man. In the mid- 1970s the airport really took off, with the popularisation of cheap package holidays to the continent, which led to its expansion and national prominence. Nowadays it is privately owned by Bridgepoint capital, and has flights to destinations worldwide.

Leeds has a very proud sporting heritage and is at the forefront of many major sports, such as rugby league, athletics and cricket. It also has a football team, Leeds United, which is the sole professional club in the city, unique for a place of its size. The club was formed in 1919, after the disbandment of its original football team, Leeds City and play their home games at Elland Road in Beeston. The late 60s and early 70s saw the club go through one of its more successful periods, winning the Division One title in 1969 and 1974, under the stewardship of Don Revie. They also won the last ever old league title in 1992, when Howard Wilkinson’s men saw off the challenge of Manchester United.

Either side of the Millennium saw the club consistently challenge for both domestic and European honours, which included an appearance in the semi- finals of the Champions League in 2001. However it was all too good to be true and the last twelve years has seen the club fall into administration and relegated to the depths of League 1 due to the financial pressures of maintaining this success. At the time of writing the club plays in the Championship and has just been taken over by another new owner, Massimo Cellino, prompting a new era for the club.

The Leeds Rhinos were formed as Leeds St John in 1870 and became one of the twenty breakaway clubs in 1895 to form Rugby League. They changed their name to simply Leeds, before adding the Rhinos in 1997 after the formation of the Super League. The club are the most successful rugby club in Yorkshire, winning the title on nine occasions, including six times in the last ten years. They play their home matches at Headingley stadium, which they also share with Leeds Carnegie Rugby Union team, who at the time of writing play in The Championship.

Next door is the home of Yorkshire CCC and internationally renowned Test Match venue, Headingley Cricket ground. The sport has a long tradition in the county and over the decades has produced some of the finest English Cricketers, such as Len Hutton and Geoffrey Boycott. The county side is also the most successful, winning the County Championship thirty-one times, the last being in 2001. The venue has also provided the Leeds public with some great Test Match moments, most notably the great Ashes Test of 1981, in which Ian Botham and Bob Willis batted and bowled England to victory against the odds.

Leeds has also made a large contribution to other sports, notably at the 2012 Olympic Games, where boxer, Nicola Adams and triathlete Alistair Brownlie won gold medals for Great Britain. In July 2014 Leeds became the most northerly city to host Le Grand Depart’, the beginning of the Tour de France, which saw the race start outside the Town Hall and begin competitively at Harewood House. The John Charles Centre for sport is the city’s principal multi-sport facility and is the home of several sports clubs, including the Hunslet Hawks Rugby league team and Leeds City athletics club. It was opened in 1996 as the South Leeds Stadium, but renamed in commemoration to the late Leeds United footballer. The site also boasts an Olympic size swimming pool, indoor bowling green and tennis centre amongst other facilities.

Leeds has three established universities and one of the largest student populations in the country. The oldest institution is the redbrick University of Leeds, which started as a school of medicine in 1831. It was given university status in 1887 and briefly joined with the federal Victoria Universities of Manchester and Liverpool, before striking out on its own in 1904. Nowadays the institution has maintained its roots in medical science, which is one of its most prominent courses, as well as engineering, arts, mathematics and business. The Parkinson Building tower is a notable landmark on the Leeds skyline and used as a logo by its marketing department.

Leeds Metropolitan is the old polytechnic and started life as a school of mechanics in 1824. It has campuses at Beckett Park, Headingley, and numerous city centre sites, such as the old Electric Press building in Millennium Square. The university offers a wide range of courses in creative subjects, such as art, animation media and performing arts, as well as more traditional courses, such as English, Law and Accounting. It has recently been announced that from September 2014 the university will be known as Leeds Beckett University.

Leeds Trinity is a relative newcomer to the Leeds academic scene with its picturesque campus in Horsforth. It was established as two teacher training colleges, Trinity for Women and All Saints for men in 1966, which then merged in 1980. The institution expanded to include other courses, such as Media, Management, History and Sport amongst others, accredited by Leeds University. In 2012 it gained full university status and the right to award its own degrees. It has gained a very good reputation for its research in Victorian Studies, and teacher training courses.

Leeds has also gained a strong reputation for specialised colleges in the arts. Leeds College of Music, based adjacent to the West Yorkshire Playhouse has a 350- seater auditorium and over 700 students. Many of its pupils perform here and at venues around the city. The Northern School of Contemporary dance is located in Chapeltown and was founded in 1985. It is home to the Northern Ballet, which tours nationwide. Leeds City College is the third largest further education institution in the UK and has many departments and buildings spread across the city and in Keighley. It was formed as a result of a merger between three smaller colleges, Park Lane, Thomas Danby and the Leeds College of Technology in 2009. The range of courses is therefore diverse, from construction and engineering to hospitality and business.

Leeds has for many years been a principal shopping area for the entire county and in some cases is the only place in which certain stores can be found. On Briggate, its main shopping street is a branch of Harvey Nicholls, the luxury department store found only in a handful of UK cities. This street and others around it were pedestrianised in 1996, creating a more pleasant shopping experience.

The largest and most recent shopping development is Leeds Trinity, which opened in March 2013 and houses 120 shops and restaurants. It is the result of a merger between several older, now demolished, smaller shopping malls, namely the old Trinity and Burton Arcades plus Leeds Shopping Plaza. Trinity Kitchen is a contemporary dining area, which has a host of independent food outlets serving cuisine from around the world. There are two silver statues in the mall, one of a packhorse with a roll of cloth and another named the “Briggate Minerva,” who is the goddess of weaving and commerce, a nod to Leeds’ industrial past and commercial future.

The iconic pack horse at the top of Leeds Trinity shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The iconic pack horse at the top of Leeds Trinity shopping centre. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

Leeds has other shopping malls in its city centre, namely the Leeds Merrion Centre, which was opened in 1964 and housed a cinema, ballroom, nightclub and several high street names. In 1977 the cinema closed abruptly, lying abandoned to this day, complete with old advertising posters on its walls from that era. Through the 90s and 00s the centre declined, being overtaken by newer developments. However in this decade the centre is in the process of being refurbished and with its proximity to the new Leeds Arena has a much brighter future ahead.

Across the road is the St John’s centre, which was built in 1985 and houses a mixture of large names, such as Poundland and independent retailers, like Jumbo records. Over the road from here is The Light Shopping Centre opened in 2001, with a 14-screen cinema, gym and series of restaurants. The Core, just down the road from The Light was formerly Schofields department store until 1996 and then simply known as “The Headrow.” It houses a gym, and other well-known stores.

The Leeds Corn Exchange was built in 1864 and after losing its original purpose, to trade corn, was made into an independent shopping centre in 1985. It underwent further regeneration in 2007 and has a host of unique products to be bought and sold.

Nearby is Leeds Kirkgate Market, which is the largest covered one in Europe. There are around 800 stalls and was originally built in 1822. The site is famous for being where Marks & Spencer was created in its original form, as a penny bazaar in 1894. The Centenary Clock marks the spot where the original bazaar was located and in 2012 the company opened a market stall here in commemoration.

The White Rose shopping Centre is an out of town mall based in South Leeds and opened in 1997. It contains many high street names, including Primark, Sainsbury’s and Debenhams within its one hundred store retail space. At the time of writing the centre is being extended and upgraded, with the inclusion of a cinema, new retail space and its very own railway station, connecting it to the City centre and other towns, such as Wakefield.

There are even more future retail developments proposed for Leeds City Centre in the shape of the Victoria Gate project, which will give the city a branch of John Lewis, a second Marks & Spencer’s as well as eight floors of food and retail space. The proposed development is set to be built on derelict land in the city centre and is set to be completed by 2015.

Leeds with its shopping, landmarks, heritage, academic institutions and sporting facilities is the focal point of Yorkshire, a place which has everything and more.

Leeds was known as Loidis in Ancient times and located in the Celtic kingdom of Elmet. Barrows dating back to the Bronze Age have been found according to Victorian records on Woodhouse Moor, while a Roman ancient stone path across the River Aire has also been discovered amongst others. In 2008 the West Yorkshire hoard, containing gold jewellery was found dating from the 7th-11th centuries. In Anglo-Saxon Headingley the Shire oak, which stood in middle of the ancient region of Skyrack until it blew down in 1941 was used as a meeting point and place to settle disputes.

After the Norman invasion of 1066 the lands were given to baron, Ilbert de Lacey, who as one of William’s favourites, meant that Leeds was spared punishment in the harrying of the north, unlike other Yorkshire towns. Furthermore Kirkstall Abbey was founded in the 12th Century and so began the first wool-making in the town. However, the abbey was still several miles down the river from the small town of Loidis, which consisted of around three streets in a triangle on the River Aire, where Kirkgate, and Briggate are today. They were surrounded by fields and forest and residents had little else to do but cultivate the land around them, thus creating a small agricultural economy. In 1470 Leeds was so small it was once described as being “a small place near Rothwell,” which had already acquired market town status. However in the next century, Leeds began to expand with another lane added at its front, called “The Headrow” and the population swelled to 4,000 people. By this time cottage industries of spinning wool from sheep on the surrounding hills and land owned by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey spread throughout the valley. By 1661 the town of Leedis appointed its first mayor and cloth making became its main source of industry.

Crucially at the beginning of the 18th Century the Aire-Calder Navigation system was constructed, which linked Leeds by water to the Humber estuary. Moreover the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which was completed in 1816 meant that Leeds had access to the sea both East and West, giving it the ability to export products around the world. The first half of the Nineteenth Century saw a rapid growth of Leeds, with mills and factories sprouting up around the city along with the workers, houses and slums which inevitably followed. In 1801 there were 20 factories in Leeds, but by 1838 this had increased to 106 woollen mills alone, employing around 10,000 people. By 1891 the population of Leeds had topped 500,000.

The three maps below show the growth of Leeds from the 16th Century to 1900, before and after the Industrial Revolution.

These maps show the growth of Leeds before and after the Industrial Revolution. Picture credits all wikipedia public domain
Leeds in 1560 wikipedia Public domain
Leeds in 1725
Leeds in 1725. Picture Credit wikipedia Public domain
Leeds in 1900. Picture credit wikipedia Public Domain
Leeds in 1900. Picture credit wikipedia Public Domain

The demand for machinery to be made for wool production meant that engineering companies developed. One of these was Fenton, Murray & Wood in Holbeck, who helped improve the engines in the first steam-powered machinery. These companies not only supplied local factories but also exported their innovations worldwide.

In the second half of the 19th Century, however Leeds’ wool-making industries were on the decline. The town faced stiff competition from nearby Bradford and some mills were even abandoned and closed down. Leeds needed to do something different to its competitors and the answer was found through a man named John Barran.

Barran was a manufacturing pioneer, who moved to Leeds in 1842 and set up his own tailor shop located eventually on Briggate. His idea was to design and manufacture his own “off the peg” clothing, which meant that he not only spun the cloth but he also made them into clothes and sold them to paying customers. In 1856 he developed a factory with thirty sewing machines and by the 1870s this had expanded to 2,000. The effects of this idea spread across Leeds, with some of the old mills re-occupied with the sound of these machines making clothes. Crucially this idea gave Leeds a competitive advantage over other towns, such as Bradford, which merely made the cloth to be sold in its original form somewhere else. This idea also saw the birth of well- known clothing stores, which started in Leeds, such as Burtons and Hepworths, nowadays known as Next.

Around the turn of the 20th Century Leeds was also at the forefront of the printing industry, which had begun as far back as 1718, when John Hirst started printing the Leeds Mercury newspaper. One of its most famous printing houses was John Waddington Ltd, which diversified into board games, the most famous of which was called “Monopoly.” During the two world wars Leeds was not as heavily damaged as some other Yorkshire cities were, although bombs were dropped on Beeston, Woodhouse and the Town Hall was damaged during the Second. The Leeds pals regiment during the Great War suffered heavy losses in the Battle of the Somme.

As the 20th century progressed, Leeds’ clothing industries declined, due to cheap foreign competition and for a short while during the Seventies the scars were there for all to see. However, in the spirit of John Barran, Leeds once again has re-invented itself into a booming, modern UK city, embracing the advanced technology created over the past thirty years. In the Sixties and Seventies the Victorian slums, which once housed the workers for its industries were demolished, most notably in the area of Burley, which lost an entire village, and new industries began to develop in their place.

One success story of the city’s modern economy is video game developer, Rockstar Leeds. They were formed in 1997, as Mobius Entertainments and based in Pudsey. Seven years later the business was bought by parent company, Rockstar games and re-named “Rockstar Leeds.” Since then they have developed the bestselling “Grand Theft Auto” series as well as other popular titles, such as “Max Payne.”

The Leeds skyline is a classic mix of old and new in the 21st Century. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd
The modern Leeds skyline is a classic mix of old and new. Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

In the 21st Century Leeds has since become a major city in the services sector, especially in the call centre, banking, legal and retail industries. It has become home to major companies, such as Asda and William Hill, while the city also has the only Bank of England building outside London. Moreover there are numerous opportunities for small businesses as it was declared an enterprise zone in 2011.

The year 2013 was a big year for the city with the development of its long-awaited arena plus the expansion of its retail areas in the shape of Trinity Leeds.

The ability to constantly re-invent itself from the development of “off the peg” clothing to its advances in modern technologies has made Leeds become the largest city in Yorkshire from very humble beginnings. In the future with its continuing expansion and growth in modern industry, Leeds is on the road to fulfilling its aim, to become the capital of the North.

In the 5th Century the forest of Loidis covered where modern day Leeds now stands and this is where the name comes from. It was then part of the Kingdom of Elmet. Locally a person from Leeds is called a Loiner.

In the Middle ages Leeds was a market town and became a centre for manufacturing woollen cloth and later white broadcloth which was traded at the White Cloth Hall.

Beginning in 1699 the Aire and Calder navigation was constructed . This made the Aire and Calder navigable and accelerated the growth of Leeds. Later in the 19th Century the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was constructed. The Leeds and Selby railway was built in 1834 and the rail network round Leeds developed. A circular walk of 62 miles, called the Leeds Country Way, will take you through the rural outskirts of Leeds. There is also an extension of the Dales way which follows the Meanwood Valley. The White Rose Way, which stretches all the way to Scarborough begins in Leeds City Square. Leeds City College provides further education to the city. Leeds has three universities. The University of Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan University and Leeds Trinity University. These institution have a combined student population of over 250,000 which is one of the largest in the UK.

The BBC television programme, The Good Old Days took place in the City Varieties Music Hall. Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini performed at the hall as well.

Several well know music acts come from Leeds. The Kaiser Chiefs, The Pigeon Detectives, Soft Cell, Alt-J and Melanie B of the Spice girls to name just a few.

Leeds hosts Europe’s oldest West Indian Carnival and is only second in size to the Notting Hill Carnival. Over 100,000 people attend over the three days of the event.

In Bramham Park, the Leeds Festival takes place every year and has some of the biggest names in Rock and Indie performing.

Leeds also hosts The Leeds Asian Festival. It is held in Roundhay Park.

Since 1963 Leeds has been home to the world famous Leeds International Pianoforte Competition. It is held every three years.

The Leeds International Film Festival show films from all over the world and is the largest festival of its kind outside London.

Leeds is also home to some outstanding sports Teams. Yorkshire County Cricket Club is based at Headingly. It is also an international cricket venue.

Leeds Rhinos are one of the top Rugby League teams in the country. Leeds Carnegie, play in the Championship of the Rugby Football Union. There were in the top flight but were relegated in 2011.

Leeds United play their home games at Elland Road. Presently they compete in The Football League Championship but they have been successful at the highest level of the sport. In the 60’s and 70’s they won two league titles, The FA Cup, The Football League Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Don Revie the manager went on the manage England. Leeds also won the league under the management of Howard Wilkinson.