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Leeds in 1839

LEEDS, the principal emporium of the woollen manufactures, is the most populous borough and market-town in Yorkshire ; its parish is co-extensive with the borough. It is situated in the West Riding, in the liberty of the of the honour of Pontefract, and in the wapentakes of Skyrack and Morley. Under the Reform Act it sends two members to parliament. Its population in 1831 was 123,393, and the number of £10 houses 6,683. Under the Municipal Act, the borough has a commission of the peace, is divided into 12 wards, has 16 aldermen, and 48 councillors. It is 186 miles north-north-west of London ; 40 miles north-east of Manchester, 33 miles north of Sheffield, and 24 miles south-west of York.

The township of Leeds comprises 3,050 acres, and a population of 71,602 persons ; the out-townships of the parish are Armley, Beeston, Bramley, Chapel-Allerton, Farnley, Headingley with Burley, Holbeck, Hunslet, Potternewton, and Wortley, which comprise 21,766 acres and a population of 51,791. The hamlets of Coldcotes, Osmondthorpe, Skelton, and Thornes, which lie at the west end of the borough are comprehended in it ; they are in the parish Whitkirk, but from time immemorial they have been ecclesiastically included in the parish of Leeds.


It is highly probable that Leeds was a Roman station ; for Roman remains have been found in various parts of the town. The great road from Tadcaster (Calcaria) to Manchester (Mancunium) passed through this place. The district was successively under the dominion of the Saxons, and the sea-kings, or pirates, from Scandinavia and the Baltic. The North-men effected the subjugation of the district about the year 850 ; and it was again conquered by the Saxons previous to the Norman Conquest. The remains of a Danish fortification near Armley, and various other remains, both Danish and Saxon, sufficiently attest the above circumstances.

The appellation Loidis (Leeds) is Saxon ; derived either from Loid, a people, or Loidi, the name of the first Saxon possessor. Nothing is known of the place in Saxon times, except that streets existed on the site of some of the present streets. It is mentioned in 'Domesday Book', from which notice it appears rather to have been an agricultural than a manufacturing district. Soon after the Conquest Leeds passed, together with other valuable northern possessions, into the hands of the De Lacies. The castle of the Paganells, who held the place under the De Lacies, was besieged by Stephen. After the Paganells, the manor was held by several successive lords ; it then reverted to the crown, and was afterwards purchased by a body of individuals, and has since passed into the hands of successive proprietors, who hold their court-leet, and are vested with the usual manorial privileges. We learn from Leland that in his time Leeds was considerably less than Wakefield, and Lord Clarendon (in 1642) speaking of Leeds, Halifax, and Bradford, calls them 'three very populous and rich towns depending wholly upon clothiers.' Perhaps no very definite time can be named as the commencement of manufactures at Leeds, but we may judge from the efforts made about the commencement of the sixteenth century for the various accommodations required by an increasing population, that such efforts were immediately subsequent to the commencement of its manufacturing activity. In 1638 Leeds had to furnish its proportion of ship-money ; the town also participated in the conflict between Charles and the parliament, - it suffered under several severe visitations of the plague, - and in 1644-5 more than one-fifth of its population perished. At this time the place was almost deserted, the markets were removed to a distance from the town, and grass grew in the streets. The first charter was granted by Charles I ; the second, by Charles II, was granted on the petition of the merchants, cloth-workers, and other inhabitants, to protect them from the great abuses, defects, and deceits discovered and practised by fraudulent persons in the making, selling, and dyeing of woollen cloths. This charter also granted the usual municipal powers and privileges. The funds of the corporate body were never great. Of late years the town has continued to improve rapidly, and it possesses all the local establishments requisite for a large commercial community, as well as the institutions and societies necessary for supplying the wants and advancing the interests of its labouring population. In 1808 W. Hutton, the antiquary, passed through the town, and after witnessing its internal elements of wealth, and its natural advantages, he remarks of it, ‘Leeds is rising, and will continue to rise except checked by a just and necessary war. The river, having been made navigable, gives an easy access to the markets. The number of elegant buildings recently erected shows what they have been able to accomplish ; but the enterprising spirit of the inhabitants will perform future wonders. Good fortune stamps the place her own.'

Situation and Inland Communication

Leeds is situated on the slope and partly on the summit of a hill which rises from the north bank of the Aire, and from the top declines to the east, west, and north. The northern and southern parts are connected by a freestone bridge, over which the traffic is very great. Two suspension bridges erected over the river, the first in 1827, and the second in 1832, form a connection between the town and its most populous suburbs. They are of a novel and simple construction. Instead of chains, the usual mode of suspension, two strong cast-iron arcs span over the whole space between the two abutments. The suspending arch is 152 feet wide, spanning over the river Aire and the towing-path ; there is besides a small land arch of stone on each side. The total length of one of these bridges is 260 feet, and the span of the suspension arch 112 feet ; the width of the bridge is 36 feet. The dimensions of the other bridge are rather less. The Victoria Bridge, from Sandford Street to the canal dock, is the pro perty of a company of proprietors, with a capital of £20,000. Its arch is 80 feet span, and 45 feet broad within the battlements : the first stone was laid in May, 1837. Leeds is admirably situated for trade, being placed in the heart of the inland navigation of the county. It communicates with the eastern seas by means of the Aire and Calder Navigation to the Humber, and westward by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with the Mersey. The warehouses of the Aire and Calder Company are of great dimensions, and suited to the immense traffic to which the are auxiliary. A second communication to the east is formed by the Leeds and Selby Railway, which has now been in successful operation several years, and to which a line of continuation is in progress to Hull. A similar means of communication westward will soon exist in the line of railway now in the course of formation between Leeds and Manchester. Indeed it is evident that Leeds will shortly be the great northern centre of these rapid modes of transit ; for the North Midland Railway will proceed from Leeds directly southward, and be connected with the main line to London ; while the York and North Midland will proceed northwards and connect Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.


The principal manufacture of Leeds is woollen cloth. There are a few worsted spinners and manufacturers, but the chief seats of the worsted trade are Halifax and Bradford. Twenty years ago there were in the clothing district extending westward from Leeds, and even to the confines of Lancashire, nearly 6,000 master clothiers, who employed, besides their wives and children, 30,000 or 40,000 persons. But the number of these small domestic manufacturers has diminished exceedingly, in consequence of the introduction and extension of the factory system. Still there are immense numbers of clothing hamlets and villages where the first stages of the operations are carried on, as spinning, weaving, and fulling. The clothiers are generally men of small capital, who have a little farm or some other occupation independent of their manufacturing operations. The introduction of machinery during the present century has caused the erection of extensive factories, in which the whole process, from the breaking of the wool to the finishing of the cloth for the consumer, is carried forward. (MacCulloch's Statistical Account of the British Empire, vol. ii., p. 57.) Till within the last thirty years Yorkshire produced only the coarser kinds of cloth. The present improved qualities of its goods are the result of the skill and perseverance of Mr. William Hirst, himself an humble manufacturer, who introduced such improvements as enable Yorkshire to enter into competition with the superfine qualities of the West of England cloths. Though the spinning of worsted and the manufacture of worsted stuffs is not extensively followed at Leeds, vast quantities of these goods are brought there to be dyed and finished ; these are chiefly purchased in the undyed state at Bradford and Halifax. The localities of the woollen and worsted manufactures in Yorkshire are - for woollen cloth, Leeds and Huddersfield ; for worsted stuffs, Bradford and Halifax ; and for blankets and carpets, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike. (MacCulloch's Statistical Account of the British Empire, vol. ii., pp. 50, 51.) The dye houses and dressing-shops at Leeds are very extensive. In these establishments both the woollen and worsted goods are finished after being purchased in the rough, at the cloth-halls and piece-halls of the towns named. The mills at Leeds for the spinning of flax for canvas, linen, sacking, thread, &c., are very extensive ; there are also large manufactories of glass and earthenware. These and the other operations of the district are facilitated by the abundant supply of coal, produced from the mines in the vicinity of the town. The number of steam-engines employed is at present estimated at 300, with an aggregate power of 5,500 horses.

The Cloth-Halls

The largest but at the same time the plainest buildings in Leeds are the cloth-halls. The Coloured-Cloth Hall was built in 1758 ; the White-Cloth Hall in 1775. Previous to 1711 the cloth-market was held in an open street ; a hall was then built, which was used till 1755, but it was abandoned when the present buildings were erected. In the cloth-halls, the principal sales of woollen cloths in their rough state from the country manufacturers to the merchants are effected. The Coloured-Cloth Hall is a quadrangular building, 127 yards long and 66 broad ; divided into six departments, which are called streets. Each street contains two rows of stands, and each stand measures 22 inches in front, and is inscribed with the name of the clothier to whom it belongs. The original cost of each stand was £3 and 3 shillings ; this price advanced to as much as £24 at the beginning of the present century, but it has now fallen even below its original value not owing to any decrease in the quantity of manufactured goods, but to the greater prevalence of the factory system over the domestic system of manufacturing. An additional story erected on the north side of the Coloured-Cloth Hall is used chiefly for the sale of ladies' cloths in their undyed state. The White-Cloth Hall is nearly as large as the Coloured-Cloth Hall, and is built on the same plan, the price of its stands has undergone similar fluctuations to those of the other, arising from the same cause. The markets for mixed and white cloths are held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, on which days only the merchants are permitted to buy in the halls. The time of sale is the forenoon, and commences by the ringing of a bell, when each manufacturer is at his stand, the merchants go in, and the sales commence. At the end of an hour the bell warns the buyers and sellers that the market is about to close, and in another quarter of an hour the bell rings a third time, and the business of the day is terminated. Fines are exacted from all who continue in the hall after this time. The White-Cloth Hall opens immediately after the other is closed, and the transactions are carried forward under similar regulations. The cloth is brought to the halls in the unfinished state, and it is dressed under the direction of the merchants.

Markets, Police, &c.

The Commercial Buildings may be considered as an Exchange for the merchants. The form is a parallelogram, with the south-western corner rounded. This portion is formed into a spacious portico, which has considerable architectural beauty. The entire edifice is of stone. Until 1823, the markets of Leeds were held chiefly in streets and thoroughfares, to the great annoyance of residents and passengers. At present the various markets are exceedingly commodious, and equal to the supply of all the wants of the dense population. The Free market occupies an area of 9,758 square yards ; the Central Market is a spacious covered building, and is one of the principal ornaments of the town. It has a handsome elevation in the Grecian style. It was erected by a company of shareholders, and cost £35,000. The area is divided into three walks, with stalls. The streets or alleys round the market are occupied chiefly by butchers. The South Market was also erected by a body of proprietors : it is chiefly used for the leather fairs, of which eight are held annually. The Corn Exchange is one of the ornaments of the town. The chief features of its elevation are two Ionic columns in antis, which support an entablature and pediment, and a small bell turret is raised above the whole. Between the columns is a niche with a statue of Queen Anne, which was restored at the expense of the corporation, and removed from the ancient moot-hall to its present situation. The corn market is held every Tuesday, between the hours of eleven and one. The banks of Leeds are numerous, and have always offered those facilities so needful to the prosperity of a commercial town. The court-house, under which is the prison and police office, was completed in 1813. In it the quarter-sessions and the petty sessions for the borough are held. The Michaelmas sessions for the West Riding are also held here. The gaol affords no opportunity for the classification of prisoners, and has only a small airing-yard. A new borough gaol is however contemplated. The cavalry barracks are just within the northern boundary of the township. The buildings and the parade ground occupy more than eleven acres of land. This establishment was provided by the government, at a cost of about £28,000, granted in 1819 and 1820. The work house is a large and well-conducted establishment, now under the control of a board of twenty guardians. The present management is in no degree inferior, as regards the comforts of its inmates, to what it was towards the close of the last century, when it was visited by Howard, and called forth his commendations. The other establishments connected with the economical and general police of the town are the water-works, the gas-works, and the fire-engine establishments. Water-works have existed in the town since 1694. In 1754 further measures were taken to supply the increasing wants of the population. In 1790 efforts were again made, but all these have been inefficient, and at the present time the water is not only indifferent in quality, but in quantity is only equal to about one-fifth of the demand. An act was however obtained in 1837, and works are in progress which seem to promise a full supply. The town was badly and partially lighted with oil lamps to 1828, in which year it was lighted with gas. A new company was formed in 1834, and from the competition consequent on the existence of two gas companies, it is now very efficiently lighted. The town contains good public baths. The building has a neat elevation, adorned with Ionic columns and pilasters. There is also a capacious swimming-bath adjoining the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The fire-engine establishments in various parts of the town are well kept up, and are in every respect creditable to the insurance companies. The savings' bank has a large number of depositors, and the provident institutions are numerous and well sustained ; they take the usual forms of benefit societies, annuity societies, and widows' fund societies. The places of public amusement are the theatre (a plain building), which is not much encouraged, the assembly-rooms and the music-hall, the latter of which is now used for various public purposes. An elegantly proportioned concert-room and a well appointed news-room are provided in the Commercial Buildings. The temperance societies in Leeds have accomplished a great moral change in the habits of many of the industrious classes. The late establishment of a day police has been attended with the effect of ridding the borough of disorderly persons.

Charitable Institutions, Trusts, &c.

The Leeds Infirmary was established in 1767, since which time great additions have been made to it, and it now possesses accommodations for more than 150 in-patients. This institution is secured from the too near proximity of other buildings by the purchase and presentation of 4,000 square yards of building-ground, by R. Fountayne Wilson, Esq. To the same gentleman Leeds is indebted for other munificent acts. The subscriptions and collections in support of the Infirmary amount to about £2,500 annually ; the rest of the income is derived from legacies and benefactions, from the dividends of £3,000 stock, and from certain shares. The number of in-patients who participated in the benefits of the infirmary in 1835 was 1,608, and of out-patients, 2,904. The House of Recovery, for the reception of persons attacked by infectious fevers, may be considered as an appendage to the Infirmary, and it is supported by similar means. Out of 179 patients who entered it in 1834, 137 were cured. The Dispensary relieves about 3,000 patients per annum, at an expense of about £600. The other medical charities in Leeds are the Eye and Ear Infirmary and the Lying-in Hospital.

Respecting the trusts in the hands of ‘the Committee of Pious Uses,' nothing very satisfactory or definite is know, except to those who act as trustees. It is a subject of complaint that no correct list of the trustees is accessible to the public ; neither is the nature of the property, its value, or its application thoroughly known. The Charity Commissioners obtained an inventory of the property about ten years ago, but it has altered much, both in amount and description, since that time. One of these trusts for the repair of highways in and near Leeds is of considerable amount, but the stock varies according to the assistance rendered by the committee to the different townships. There is also a trust for the poor, which is laid out in clothing, and distributed at Christmas. The estates of the free grammar-school are vested in the committee, and the property of several other charities. Harrison’s hospital was endowed in 1653, and its funds have since been augmented by various bequests. Jenkinson’s almshouses founded with money bequeathed in 1643, provide a residence for eight poor and aged persons. Certain rents are also distributed by the will of the founder among the aged poor of Leeds. Several augmentations have been made to the funds of this charity by later bequests. Potter’s hospital, endowed in 1729, provides for the reception of ‘ten ancient, virtuous, poor, necessitous widows;' the income of this charity has also been increased by later endowments. The sources of posthumous charity are considered to amount to more than £5,000 a year : in addition to this amount, upwards of £6,000 a year are distributed in the town and immediate neighbourhood for the support of local charities ; and besides this large subscription for local institutions, the inhabitants of Leeds are among the most munificent contributors to the various county charities and institutions for the support or education of those who labour under physical infirmities. The smaller charities of Leeds are the Benevolent Society, and the clothing, visiting, soup, and other charities. In every large town assistance of this nature is called for, either under circumstances of periodical and foreseen presence and difficulty, or for extraordinary and unlooked-for calamities.

Places of Worship

The parish church, dedicated to St. Peter is now (1839) being rebuilt upon its ancient site. The late building is supposed to have been erected in the time of Edward III, and enlarged during the reigns of Henry VII and VIII. The old vicarage-house was pulled down in 1823 to make room for the Free Market, when a large and handsome mansion was purchased in a very salubrious part of the town. The vicarage is worth upwards of £1,300 per annum. In consequence of the disorderly proceedings at a contested election for the office of vicar in 1748, the patronage was vested in twenty-five trustees. The vicarial tithes were commuted in 1823 for £500 a year, arising from £14,000, one half of which was the gift of R. F. Wilson, Esq., and the other half was raised by subscription. St. John's church was erected and endowed at the sale cost of John Harrison, Esq. This benefice is a perpetual curacy, and is now worth £375 per annum. Trinity church was built by subscription, and endowed by the Rev. Henry Robinson, the nephew of the above-named John Harrison, and whose charities were also very numerous. The other Episcopal places of worship in the town are St. Paul's, St. James's, Christchurch, St, Mary's, St. Mark's (the three latter built under the Million Act), and St. George's church ; the last was erected in 1837, and the entire cost of the building and endowment was defrayed by subscriptions, amounting to more than £11,.000. The townships of Hunslet, Holbeck, Beeston, Armley, Wortley, Farnley, Headingley, Kirkstall, Bramley, and Chapel Allerton have also episcopal chapels, and most of them several dissenting places of worship. The Catholics have two chapels in Leeds, and have lately erected a most splendid structure, to which the name of ‘St. Ann's Catholic Church' has been given. “The interior of this church consists of a nave and side aisles ; its inside dimensions are 100 feet 6 inches long by 58 feet 6 inches wide, and the outside extreme extent, including the tower, is 124 feet 6 inches. The tower and spire rise to the height of 150 feet. It is built in the style of architecture which prevailed during the fifteenth century. The accommodations in the body of the church are for 600 persons, with sufficient room for 200 other sittings to be fixed at a future period ; and in the gallery, which is a front one, and very spacious, 200 sittings are provided.” (Leeds Mercury, Oct. 27, 1838.)

There are 32 dissenting chapels in Leeds. The Wesleyans have six chapels, two of which are the largest and handsomest chapels in the kingdom, and each contains 3,000 sittings. The Warrenites, a sect who have separated from the Wesleyans, have four chapels. The New Connexion Methodists have three chapels ; the Primitive Methodists have two ; the Female Revivalists have two. The Independents, a very numerous and influential body, have seven chapels, two of which are very costly in their accommodations. The Unitarians have two chapels, in one of which Dr. Priestley officiated during the earlier period of his ministry. The Baptists have two chapels. The Inghamites, a sect which originated at Leeds, and which approach in their faith to the moderate Calvinists, have one chapel. The Friends, the Swedenborgians, and the Southcottians have each a place of worship.

In 1835 'the Leeds Cemetery' for the use of persons of all religious denominations was opened. It is situated near Woodhouse Moor, and occupies ten acres of land. The ground is laid out in walks and grassy lawns, and shaded with ornamental trees and shrubs. The same person is registrar and chaplain, and he and the sexton reside in houses adjoining to and forming part of the principal entrance. In the centre of the cemetery is an elegant chapel. The grounds afford space for 14,000 graves in addition to the vaults under the chapel, and an intended arcade to consist of a range of 48 spacious vaults, which may be subdivided to suit purchasers.

Schools and Scientific Institutions

The free grammar-school of Leeds was first endowed by the Rev. Sir William Seafield, in 1552, but it has received many subsequent endowments from various individuals. In 1624 John Harrison gave the present site, and the former edifice, was erected at his expense. A dwelling-house for the head-master was built in 1780, and the school was rebuilt in 1823, on an enlarged plan. In 1815 the trustees adopted a resolution by which the pupils receive the benefit of instruction in the elementary branches of the mathematics. In 1820 they further determined that the sons of all residents in Leeds should be freely taught, and that the masters should receive no presents. This school enjoys one of Lady Elizabeth Hastings's scholarships, and it has also a claim, in its turn, to a fellow ship and two scholarships at Emanuel College, Cambridge, in case they are not filled up from the free-school at Normanton. There are also three scholarships of £20 per annum each, at Magdalen College, Cambridge, for scholars from Leeds, Halifax, and Heversham schools. The Charity Commissioners reported of this school that it was ably and satisfactorily conducted. The number of scholars is upwards of one hundred. The annual income of the school is more than £1,600, and it possesses about £3,000 stock. Fines on copyhold estates form an occasional source of income. The masters are liberally remunerated.

St. John's charity-school, for the education and clothing of 80 girls, was established in 1705 ; it was originally in tended for 40, and included their maintenance. In 1815 its object was again partially changed, and it was converted into an institution for bringing up girls of twelve years of age and upwards as household servants. The property of this charity produces about £400 per annum, and arises from £5,900 3 per Cents., and various small investments. It is managed by subscribers who contribute one guinea a year.

The Lancasterian school for 500 boys was commenced in 1811. We ascertain from the last Report that 8,776 pupils have been received since its commencement ; that 350 were received in 1837 ; and 323 left in that year ; 477 were in the school at the date of the last Report (1838). A library is formed for the use of the elder boys, and the elements of mathematical drawing are taught. The committee consider that a carefully conducted common education is given at an annual cost of six shillings each pupil. The school owes much of its present efficiency to the untiring labour's of its constant visitor Mr. B. Goodman. There are several other Lancasterian schools in the town, and the Wesleyan Methodists have four large day-schools on a system in many respects similar. In the central school of the National Society there are 267 boys and 166 girls. The whole number of Church Sunday-schools, including this, contain 2,038 boys and 2,012 girls. The Sunday-schools in connexion with the Sunday-school Union contain 4,619 pupils, who are taught by 749 teachers. There are also several other Sunday-schools, which are not included in either of the above bodies. The Leeds infants' school was established in 1826 ; the building at present occupied was erected in 1836 ; the school is intended as a model-school, and for the instruction of teachers.

The chief institutions at Leeds for supplementary education are the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, established in 1820, which has about 300 proprietary and ordinary members and annual subscribers ; the Leeds Literary Institution, which has 500 members, and the Leeds Mechanics' Institute, which has 260 members. The Philosophical Society has an extensive museum, a laboratory, and a library, and it has published a highly interesting volume of Transactions. The Literary Institution has a large reading room, an extensive library, frequent lectures, and a collection of philosophical apparatus. Connected with the Mechanics' Institute a peculiar feature requires notice. In 1837 thirteen of the Mechanics' Institutions of the West Riding were formed into a union, to embrace the following important objects :- 1st, The interchange of opinion and advice on the local management of Mechanics Institutes, and the consequent rapid diffusion of improved methods ; and, 2nd, The procuring of first-rate lectures on scientific subjects, systematically arranged, and subordinated to each other, so as to present a connected and comprehensive view of each, at a much lower pecuniary cost than can be done by isolated engagements. This plan of the union of several institutions was strongly recommended in the ‘First Publication of the Central Society of Education;' it was brought forward at Leeds by Mr. Edward Baines ; it has been found to answer as far as could be looked for during the first year of trial, and there can be no doubt but, with the modifications which time and experience will suggest, it will work well for all populous districts. There is a School of Medicine at Leeds, and a Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts which has periodical exhibitions. The Leeds library, founded in 1768, on the recommendation of Dr. Priestley, is one of the most extensive in the north of England. There are also the New Subscription Library, the Eclectic Library, the Parochial Library, and the Young Men's Library.

A society has been formed during the last year for the establishment of Botanical and Zoological Gardens ; they occupy about 30 acres of land, and are now rudely laid out, ponds have been dug and shrubs planted ; the greenhouses and conservatories will be immediately erected.

Eminent Persons

Ralph Thoresby, She author of ‘Du catus Leodensis;' Dr. John Berkenhout, William Hey, Esq., F.R.S., a surgeon of great celebrity, Dr. Bentley, John Smeaton, Sir Thomas Dennison, Bishop Wilson, the Rev. Joseph Milner and his brother Dr. Isaac Milner, Dr. Priestley, David Hartley, and Edward Fairfax, the translator of Tasso, were all born at Leeds, or in the immediate vicinity. John Harrison, the philanthropist, was also a native and a resident of Leeds, where his name will be always venerated, not only for his active charities but for the purity of his life.