On Saturday 2nd March our guest speaker was Keith Williams Architect, Project Manager and Principal Conservation Officer in Leeds. His knowledge in the growth and development of the city proved to us his obvious affection for the city. His story really begins with the stages of growth during the Middle Ages. Although there is some evidence of Roman and later Anglo- Saxon settlement, the real growth begins with the formation of the manor of Leeds given to Ilbert de Lacy after the Conquest in 1086. The manor was granted borough status in 1207 to Maurice Paynell.
The history of early Leeds is reflected in its street names. First there is Kirkgate, the oldest street in Leeds, which led to the parish church. Under Paynell a new layout began with strips of land on either side of what became Briggate. This was the street that led to the only crossing at the time of the river Aire and where the first market place was located.
The woollen industry first began with emphasis on the setting up of fulling mills which eventually expanded into a flourishing textile industry through the 16th and 17th centuries and indeed up to the 20th century.
With the aid of maps, plans and photos, Keith revealed how Leeds’s wealth increased and that new churches were built such as St John’s in early 1600s and Holy Trinity in 1721. Housing for the working classes were at first ‘back to back’ while the wealthy merchants and industrialists inhabited first Park Square from 1794 then to Little Woodhouse and then Headingly.
Transport links improved starting with the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool canal in 1777 and a railway linking coal seams worked at Middleton was constructed leading to the centre of town and its river. Leeds first rail branch opened linking Selby for steam trains in 1835.
The 19th century saw the rapid growth in engineering as well as in the textile industries. Gotts mill on Wellington Street was the largest woollen mill in the world when opened in 1792. A flax mill in Holbeck known as Temple Works was so called because its owner, John Marshall, had its exterior created to look like a temple at Edfu in Egypt. Matthew Murray had his engineering works nearby which built steam engines.
Such was the rapid growth wealth and population in the 19th century and that the civic leaders reflecting their pride in the town saw to the building of the Town Hall, opened by Queen Victoria in 1857, followed by other public buildings such as the Corn Exchange 1860 and Mechanics Institute 1868 now the Museum. The General Infirmary on Great George St designed by the George Gilbert Scott and layout influenced by Florence Nightingale.
Then onto the 20th century and new streets, shopping arcades and department stores were created.
Keith’s fascinating talk also produced some interesting facts Leeds such as Marshall’s flax mill had sheep grazing on grass laid out on its roof; Leeds once had a company that built named after its owner Joseph Blachburn based near Roundhay park; parts for submarines were once manufactured in Leeds; the first moving pictures made on Leeds Bridge by a French man Louis le Prince in 1888 and the first shopping mall in Britain, the Merrion centre was opened in Leeds in 1960s.
Keith’s talk generated a lot of interest judging by the many questions put to him and he could have entertained us with many more interesting stories had time permitted.
Our February guest speaker, David Scriven, was able to deliver a talk in place of Ian Dewhirst who was originally programmed to appear. However Ian suffered injuries due to a fall and has since died. Ian was a very popular speaker and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and condolences go to his family.David is also a regular speaker at our meetings and was able to deliver a talk on a subject similar to the one Ian would have delivered. Holy Trinity church in Ossett dominates the skyline for miles around and this church with others in the district originally came under the parish at Dewsbury. Long had been the rivalry between non-conformism and the Anglican church in Ossett that by the end of the 19th century there were more places available in churches and chapels of Ossett than the total population of the town! The census of 1851 shows that attendance for morning services were 18%, for the afternoon 25% and evening was 17%. It was also noted that women and children dominated these attendance while the menfolk were more than likely in the pub.
Non- conformist chapels, mainly Methodists, often had higher attendances than the Anglican churches. Women usually played little or no part in church administration. There were exceptions and these were where some women kept open- house for social as well as religious purposes. Some aspects worth noting: pew rents were finally abolished by 1894; more churches and chapels could afford to have organs installed; Sunday school not only delivered religious issues but also lessons in reading and writing based on biblical stories.
There were various ways for the church to reach out to the local population and at the same time raise funds .These included annual Sunday School Feast when a parade took place and there was prize giving. Then there was the Annual Soiree when talks were given, exhibitions displayed and refreshments provided.
By mid-century church schools were introduced and in 1878 Board schools were provided in England but not, however, in Ossett! Architecture of chapels and churches in Ossett varied from plain to ornate and from classical to Gothic styles. To finance new buildings money was borrowed and paid back by raising funds from holding bazaars or from wealthy individuals.
Today many have been demolished or converted to apartments. One such was a Primitive Methodist chapel which is now the Prince of Wales pub!
David’s talk was one that showed a great amount of research had been done and was delivered in his usual impeccable style.