Leeds Facts – Some Things You Maybe Didn’t Know About the City of Leeds

leeds facts

No ordinary guidebook, Not a Guide to Leeds pokes around in some of the city’s dustier recesses. Did you know, for example that the Town Hall clock sometimes strikes 13 – and nobody quite knows why. Here are some fascinating facts about the city of Leeds…

Leeds Mysteries
The Crown & Fleece closed in the 1930s but two carved skulls remain on the outside wall until 1974. Then they vanish. Then they reappear! The skulls first appear in the eighteenth century. They supposedly belong to two men who hide in the pub’s stables to avoid the army draft. While hiding, they suffocate in the hayloft.

Sometimes, the Town Hall clock strikes thirteen. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s usually at night, but not always. No one knows when or why, only that it does.

Situated in an isolated area between the River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, local legend states the Abbey Inn, Newlay Lane, has a tunnel running between it and Kirkstall Abbey. As an inn, its history can only be traced back to 1826; prior to that records show it as a farmhouse. The mind races to think why there had to be a tunnel to the monks.

“The Knights Templar owned two corn mills”

sugarwell mill leeds windmill guide

Sugarwell Mill

Leeds Windmills
There are at least seven remaining windmills in Leeds. A few more may well survive in one form or another (dereliction being the most common), though none are still in use as mills.

The earliest reference to a windmill in Leeds was in the Domesday Book of 1086 at Hillam, but both village and mill are no more. This particular mill uses water-power from the Cock Beck and shows on a 1775 map. As far back as 1185, the Knights Templar owned two corn mills and one fulling mill at Temple Newsam, on the River Aire.

By 1258, Edmund de Lacy has two mills on his 90 acres of arable land. Most of the mills in the Leeds area are corn mills, constructed as ‘Tower’ mills rather than ‘Post’ mills. The post mill is incorporated into a hotel on the York Road. Yet another has been converted into living accommodation and is surrounded by a housing estate. A third, which is in a lovely, tranquil setting, has also been converted into a home. There are others dotted about the area, some of which are in residential use.

Statue of Joseph Priestly on City Square leeds

Statue of Joseph Priestly on City Square

“Modelled on an Egyptian-style temple”

Benefactors of Leeds
Propelling Leeds into the Industrial Revolution were:

Benjamin Gott: His Armley Mills factory was once the largest factory in the world. He reinvested money for the benefit of his employees. The grounds to his house are now a public park and golf course.

John Harrison: Endowed Leeds Grammar School and St John’s church. Invented the marine chronometer, which established the longitude of a ship at sea. It had seemed an intractable problem – so much so that the British Government offered a prize of £20,000 (£2.87 million today) for finding a resolution to the difficulty.

John Hives: A flax manufacturer; his mill, Banks Mill, on the River Aire, used 600,000 gallons of water per day.

John Marshall: He built the innovative flax-spinning Marshalls Mill. It is modelled on an Egyptian-style temple, and has model sheep grazing on the roof.

Matthew Murray: An engine and machine-tool manufacturer, Murray designs and builds the first commercially viable steam locomotive. He is an innovative designer in many fields and sets up his own factory, supplying machinery to the mills in Leeds.

Joseph Priestley: He was a Presbyterian minister, liberal educator and scientist who discovers the properties of oxygen. He counts Benjamin Franklin among his friends.

John Smeaton: He was one of the first people to call himself an engineer. His multi-skilled approach to problems marked him out as a pioneer in engineering. Smeaton’s name is remembered through a community college in Leeds.

“Based on the Lamberti tower in Verona”

Two-Italianate-chimneys leeds guide not holbeck

Two of the Italianate chimneys at Holbeck.

Quirky Buildings
Ledsham church, though about 11 miles from Leeds, is within the metropolitan borough of the City of Leeds. The name Ledsham contains elements of the original name for Loidis/Ledes. The church, dedicated to All Saints, claims to be the oldest parish church still in use. The walls of the nave and the tower base date back to the early eighth century.

There are three towers in Holbeck Leeds which deserve a mention if only for the sheer generosity of design by the factory owner Thomas Harding. He had the chimneys built in various styles of great Italian artists. The first tower is based on the Lamberti tower in Verona, the second is based on Giotto’s marble campanile in Florence and the third is based on a Tuscan tower.

Meanwood Towers has a certain allure: it is a Victorian edifice that could not quite make up its mind what style to follow! There is a Juliet balcony, a square tower, a gabled wing and stone mullioned windows.

Rebellious Leeds

c.1753 – When the first turnpikes open the toll payments cause such a lawless rampage that a mob demolishes a gate between Leeds and Bradford. When a troop of dragoons arrive, the mob furiously attacks them, as they did the constables.

1763 – Toll bar riots caused by the expense of provisions. Such is the violence that there is a call for the King’s troops who, firing on the rioters, kill eight people, with many more injured.

1844 – A fight ensued between soldiers and the newly formed police force, after the police tried to arrest two soldiers.

1975 – During bonfire night, some 300 teenagers fight running battles with the police. Two officers are critically injured after their car is stoned and crashes into a tree.

1981 – Forty-three police are injured and £2 million damage is caused to shops in Chapeltown by rioting and looting youths.

‘Not a Guide to Leeds’ by Diane Holloway is priced at £5.99 and is available from The History Press.

hicks mill old in snow leeds

Hicks Mill


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