History of the city of Leeds

Leeds Civic Hall opened in 1933
Leeds Civic Hall opened in 1933
view of canal
view of canal
The Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange
Leeds Town Hall was designed by Cuthbert Brodrick and opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria.
Leeds Town Hall was designed by Cuthbert Brodrick and opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria.
Parkinson Building, University of Leeds
Parkinson Building, University of Leeds
City Square
City Square
Black Prince statue
Black Prince statue

In about 730, Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History gives the following quotation about events in A.D.627: "In the place of which the later kings built themselves a COUNTRY-SEAT in the Country called LOIDIS [LEEDS]. But the altar, being of stone, escaped the fire and is still preserved in the monastery of the most reverend abbot and priest, Thridwulf, which is in Elsiete wood."

The name Loidis was applied to the district not to a single place or settlement, and this is confirmed by two names, Ledsham and Ledston, containing the same element. These two villages are about ten miles from the city of Leeds. This then became Leodis, then Ledes, then Leeds.

Natives of Leeds are known as "Loiners", there are various theories as to the origin of the term, none of which are definitive. Loiner could derive from the name Loidis as above, another explanation is a Loiner is someone born within the sound of the church bells of Briggate. In the 19th century there were many yards and closes around Briggate whose back entrances were known as "Low Ins" or "Loins" hence "Loiner". Another theory is that there were a number of lanes in the Briggate area pronounced "loins". Men who gathered at the lane end to gossip etc. were "Loiners".

Ledes was also mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. The centre of the town was initially a cluster of buildings near the parish church of St Peter. In 1207 a new town was founded by the Lord of the Manor, Maurice Paynel between the parish church and the corn mills, at the river crossing. Its spine was a new road, Briggate, the road leading to the bridge. The common spelling became Leedes, for example, the first map of Leeds by John Cossins in 1725 was titled, 'A New and Exact Plan of the Town of Leedes'.

The movement of the cloth market from the bridge into Briggate itself in 1684 created the core of the modern city of Leeds. The population grew from 10,000 at the end of the seventeenth century to 30,000 at the end of the eighteenth. With its churches, chapels and meeting houses, Assembly Rooms, Infirmary and its new Cloth Halls, Leeds became one of the busiest and most prosperous urban centres in the north of England.

The Industrial Revolution set Leeds off at a gallop. The population grew to over 150,000 by 1840 and the place was transformed. Not only was it a centre of marketing and manufacture, it was also the centre of a network of communications, especially by water. In 1699 the Aire and the Calder rivers were made navigable, linking Leeds with the Ouse, Humber and the sea. In 1816 the great Leeds to Liverpool canal, a coast to coast link passing through Leeds, was completed.

In such a situation, Leeds was ideally situated for the development of an engineering industry - making machinery for spinning, machine tools, steam engines and gears as well as other industries based on textiles, chemicals and leather and pottery. Coal was extracted on a large scale and the still functioning Middleton Railway, the first commercial railway in the world, transported coal into the centre of Leeds.

The Leeds Rifles were raised in 1859 when the Volunteer Force was formed to meet an invasion threat from France. The Corps was titled 7th Yorkshire, West Riding, (Leeds) Rifle Volunteer Corps. Many prominent Leeds businesses raised complete companies from their workforces, including Joshua Tetley's brewery. The Tetley family played a central part in the Leeds Rifles for well over a century providing a number of officers, commanding officers and honorary colonels. The Leeds Rifles at first had their barracks next to the Town Hall where the Law Courts stand today. For a more detailed account see The Leeds Rifles.

Leeds became a city in 1893. With elaborate new public buildings like the Public Library and the General Post Office and with its famous arcades threading through the blocks on either side of the main streets, it was possibly the best at that time.

By the end of the Great War, the industrial and social structure of Leeds had already begun to change. Such a vital and thriving city had to become a centre of study and teaching. The Yorkshire College of Science and the Medical School were merged to form the University in 1904. The corporation established Colleges of Technology, Art, Commerce and Education, which were later to be fused into the Polytechnic, which in 1992 became Leeds Metropolitan University.

The hospitals, especially the Infirmary and St James Hospital, established international reputations as major medical centres. The town centre became a commercial centre for retailing and offices and now can claim to be the commercial capital of the North.

Since the Second World War and more particularly since the fifties, another transformation occurred, namely the rebuilding of the city. Tens of thousands of slum dwellings were replaced by modern housing estates which have now earned Leeds the accolade of Environment City of the UK and Leeds pioneered the Buchan principles of planning for the motor car and pedestrian.

Leeds stands today as a city of regional, national and international importance. With its rich history, diverse economy, enterprising people and cosmopolitan atmosphere, Leeds looks set to continue its success story well into the future.

For a more detailed account see The Urban Geography of Leeds: an historical analysis of urban development.

Some significant dates in the history of Leeds
731 Bede’s "History of English Church and People" mentions Leeds Parish Church. Leeds was then called Loidis.
1086 Leeds mentioned in the Domesday Book
1152 Foundations of Kirkstall Abbey built (Cistercian)
1155 Knights Templar take over Newsam
1207 Maurice Paynel grants Leeds a charter
1258 Market operating in Leeds
1380 Leeds Parish Church rebuilt
1469 Woollen industry well established in Leeds
1539 Dissolution of Kirkstall Abbey
1552 Leeds Grammar School was founded by Sir William Sheafield
1626 King Charles l grants charter
1634 St John’s Church, Briggate consecrated
1642 Civil War – Royalists take Leeds
1645 Bubonic plague kills 1325
1661 Second charter gives Leeds a mayor
1663 Farnley Wood Plot to overthrow Charles ll
1715 Ralph Thoresby published the first history of Leeds "Ducatus Leodensis"
1745 Mob attacks John Wesley in the town
1754 Leeds Intelligencer, now Yorkshire Post, founded
1755 Street lighting introduced
1759 Beginning of the Middleton Railway
1770 Leeds-Liverpool Canal commenced
1792 Benjamin Gott builds Bean Ing Mills (site of Yorkshire Post)
1808 Leeds Library, Commercial Street is completed
1812 Matthew Murray's steam engines begin operating on Middleton Railway
1816 Leeds-Liverpool canal is completed
1819 The city is lit by gas
1831 Leeds School of Medicine founded
1832 Cholera epidemic strikes in Leeds
1841 New Parish Church opens
1847 Leeds prison at Armley is built
1858 Leeds Town Hall opened by Queen Victoria
1859 Thoresby Society founded
1863 The Corn Exchange is opened
1872 Roundhay Park opened
1874 Yorkshire College of Science founded in Leeds
1878 Thornton’s Arcade and the Grand Theatre are opened
1884 The launch of the famous ‘Penny Bazaar’
1884 Municipal Buildings designed by George Corson opened to house to various Civic departments, Police and Central Library
1888 City Art Gallery opened
1893 Leeds becomes a city by Royal Charter
1894 Electric tramways are started
1903 The Black Prince in City Square is unveiled
1904 St Anne’s Cathedral is consecrated
1904 University of Leeds granted its own Charter as an independent institution by King Edward VII
1905 The first cinema in Leeds is opened
1908 Visit of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to open new wing of the University
1911 Children strike in Leeds schools
1922 BBC broadcast from Leeds
1928 Britain’s first permanent traffic lights installed in Park Row
1933 Leeds Civic Hall opened by King George V and Queen Mary
1941 Worst air raid on Leeds - 60 killed
1959 Last tram in Leeds withdrawn from service
1964 Merrion Centre is opened
1974 Leeds becomes a Metropolitan District – population increases by 50%
1981 Riots in Chapeltown
1992 Leeds Polytechnic becomes Leeds Metropolitan University
1995 Royal Armouries Museum opens
1996 Leeds hosts Euro ’96 football matches
1997 Leeds Grammar School moves to new campus site at Alwoodley Gates
1998 Super bus lanes introduced
2000 Millennium Square opens
2001 Nelson Mandela is made Honorary Freeman of Leeds
2002 Queen's Golden Jubilee Visit


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