March 15, 2015
The rise of the city at the heart of Yorkshire
Leeds was one of the last great British cities to arrive on the scene. At the writing of the Domesday Book a millennia ago a mere two hundred people were estimated to live on the lands now occupied by the city. In the following centuries growth remained slow, retarded by the logic of medieval settlement whereby towns grew up around castles and readily defensible places and not the other way around. In this respect West Yorkshire was already well served by castles at nearby Pontrefact and Wakefield.
Over the succeeding centuries a town did gradually grow in an area roughly bounded by Kirkgate, Briggate and the River Aire. By the time of the English Civil War Leeds was evidently large enough to merit a garrison, and as a Royalist stronghold (the town's motto, Pro Rege et Lege, means 'For King and the law') it was eventually stormed by Parliamentarian forces.
One of the oldest pictures I came across of Leeds was this one taken of Tudor-era cottages on Briggate. Very few of this style of home have survived the centuries. You can see in the top of my photo the spire of Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane, confirming this as the correct location.
In this rather spooky photo, two ghost-like figures, one an adult and one a child, appear in the window above a barber shop on Bridgeend, just across the Aire from Briggate. The building on the left survives as the Old Red Lion pub. Though I'm not entirely sure I got the window exactly right, this is definitely the correct building.
A sketch of Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane. Designed by William Etty, this neo-Classical church was completed in 1727, though it would be another century before the current steeple was added after the original (seen in the old photo) was blown down in a storm.
The streets at the heart of Leeds are filled on a busy market day in the 19th Century.
Before the Queen's Arcade was a swanky stretch of covered shops it was a rather narrow alley filled with pool halls, hotels and pubs.
A busy street scene on Land's Lane. Scaffolding has been erected in front of the Victoria Arcade.
21st Century Albion Street bears little resemblance to 19th Century Albion Street. This is at the intersection with Bond Street.
The bottom of Park Row. Here we see the old post office as well as the chambers for Yorkshire Bank.
The statue of the Black Prince figures prominently in this photo of City Square. On the left is the newer old post office, while on the right is Mill Hill Chapel. It looks like much of the square has been remodeled as well.
Several people loiter in front of the headquarters of the Yorkshire Banking Company. This photo was taken just after the building's completion. Above the door is the coat of arms of the city of Leeds, owls and all.
We see here Saint Paul's Church, which lends its name to the street on which it once stood. It was demolished in 1905 to make way for the offices of the city's water board.
A rather low-resolution engraving of the impressive Town Hall near the end of its construction.
A ball at the Town Hall to celebrate the Prince of Wales's visit to Leeds. The first dance with the prince was reportedly had by Mrs. Fairbairn, the mayor's wife, who along with her husband were hosting the ball.
The imposing Civic Hall on Portland Crescent was once a warren of slums. So in the depths of the depression, the scheme to build the Civic Hall was intended to clear out the slums while providing badly needed jobs for the unemployed.
This is the probable location for an extension to Fenton Street that occurred in 1914 only days after the start of the First World War. Later on the construction of the A58 completely reshaped the entire area, rendering it barely recognizable.
This early shot of Headrow was taken before the street was widened and redesigned at the end of the 1920s. Before it was a major thoroughfare across the city it was a rather minor street.
Some people pose for a photo at the end of Nelson Street. Nelson Street no longer exists, swept away in the dramatic redesign of the city centre during and after the First World War. But it did run parallel to Union Street. This was my best guess at where it may have once lain.
A view of the bridge over Bridge Street. The residential neighbourhoods in the background have become parking lots and office blocks.
Looking over someone's garden on Grafton Street.
Kirkstall Abbey, by Thomas Girtin. The picturesque ruins of Kirkstall Abbey were a magnet for Romantic painters, who were fascinated by the tranquil scenery that surrounded the towering ruins.
Another Romantic style engraving of the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey's refectory (dining room) by George Cuitt. The Abbey itself was founded in 1152 on the banks of the River Aire. Four hundred years later the abbey was dissolved on order of King Henry VIII and the buildings fell into ruin.
"Kirkstall lock on the River Aire" by J.M. Turner. He was painting from a hill overlooking one of the smaller branches of the Aire. The Bridge in the foreground still stands, and if you look carefully you can just make out the abbey's ruins between the tree branches of my photo. The hill where he sat to paint is now overgrown with trees and strewn with litter.