The Museum of Leeds Facts by Chris Nickson

Did you know all of these amazing facts about Leeds? Chris Nickson shares some of the gems that are the basis of some of his stories in Leeds, The Biography which will be launched at the end of the month.

18408078340_4afa1024c0_zIt’s July, and if the newspapers can make this the silly season (although for many of them that seems to be year-round), so can this blog. Instead of one topic, this time around, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Museum of Leeds Facts, a miscellany of glorious information you can use to fascinate your friends and bemuse your co-workers.

You know Quarry Hill, of course. It’s where the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the DWP building now stand. But it might well have been the oldest settlement in Leeds. Although any trace of physical evidence is long gone, it’s believed to have been the site of Cambodunum, where a small number of Romans lived when they occupied Britain. Fast forward to the 17th century and it housed the plague cabins, where victims of the 1645 plague were kept isolated from the town. And in the 1930s, of course, the huge bulk of Quarry Hill Flats was almost a town in itself, home to several thousand people. Contrary to rumour, though, it was never intended to be Hitler’s Northern HQ if he’d conquered England.

We’ve had plenty of attention lately from the documentary The First Film. But Leeds didn’t just give the world its first moving pictures – thanks to Louis Le Prince, if you’ve been paying attention – it was also home to the biggest manufacturer of cinema projectors. Abram Kershaw designed and built the Kalee projector in 1911 and opened a factory in Harehills in 1917 which at one point employed over 3,000 people.

Le Prince shot some of his historic early footage from a building at the south end of Leeds Bridge. But forty years before that, in 1847, the same place was where the Band of Hope, which aimed to keep youths away from drink, was founded by the splendidly named Reverend Jabez Tuncliffe.

The Pack Horse Inn, on Briggate, is reputed to date back to Elizabethan times (the property was once owned by the Knights Templar). During the Civil War, according to legend, the inn offered a month’s free entertainment to occupying Roundhead troops, and in return they agreed to spare Leeds from destruction. Fact or legend? No-one knows. In 1910 wires linked the Pack Horse to various music halls, allowing drinkers to don headphones and hear the performances live in what might be the world’s first instance of live streaming.

Reestones. Have you ever heard of it? It’s part of Leeds, or it once was. Now we know it as Wortley. The name is in the Domesday Book, sharing an entry with Armley. By 1277, though, it was called Wortley. Coincidentally, the area was owned at that time by William de Wirkeley.

Many people will have heard of the old Shire Oak that once stood by the Otley Road, right outside the Original Oak pub (hence the name, in case you ever wondered). The tree was the meeting place for the Skyrack Wapentake in Viking times. The wapentake was an administrative area, and local leaders would meet under the tree to discuss matters that affected them all. Why wapentake? They’d remove their weapons to prevent bloodshed in case of disagreements. The Skyrack Wapentake covered an area from Bingley to Aberford. Skyrack is a derivation of Shire Oak. Think about it then say it out loud.

Pulling a sickie, or unofficial holidays, is hardly a new idea. But in Victorian times workers were far more organised about it. They’d set up a fund and contribute weekly until a pre-agreed amount was reached. Then they’d take a day off work and drink until the money was spent.

Leeds had a ducking stool at one point and it brings us neatly back to Quarry Hill, as it was sited there. It remained in use until the middle of the 18th century. It was used for punishment, although notably only of women, for quarrelling, gossiping, and lewd behaviour. Perhaps it’s better to let that go by without comment…


LTB 1 Green (1)It’s the BIG LAUNCH! You had a preview of the delights within Leeds, The Biography at our June festival, well now it’s ready to be unleashed properly into the world.

Chris Nickson will be discussing and reading from Leeds, The Biography: A History of Leeds in Short Stories, a collection of tales which takes in many facets of Leeds’ history beginning in 363 AD in Chapel Allerton and finishing in 1963 with the Beatles at the Queen’s Hall.

Come along to Outlaws Yacht Club, 6.30pm, Thursday 30th July, to be amazed and astounded, not least of all by Chris himself!

Leeds, The Biography is published by the unstoppable Armley Press. Mick and John will be there, you have been warned but it certainly makes for a very entertaining evening.

This is a free event, no ticket is required.  More information here.

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