Remembering Barnbow during World War 1

This week we saw the return of a special item in our collections which had been out on loan to Lotherton Hall as part of their ‘Duty Calls’ exhibition. ‘Barnbow, No.1 (Leeds) National Filling Factory : a Short History and Record’ was compiled by R.H. Gummer, Chief Engineer in November 1918.

Cover of Barnbow, compiled by RH Gummer

Cover of Barnbow, compiled by R H Gummer

The preface of the volume states ‘The object of this work is to place on record the rapid growth and organisation of the No.1 National Shell Filling Factory. Throughout the whole of the operations, the works have been governed by a Directing Board, composed of the following gentlemen :- Joseph Watson, T.L. Taylor, Rupert Beckett, Bernard Bagshawe, Arthur Lupton, Major George Yewdall. Two of the members of this Board have been in daily attendance throughout the whole period covered by this record, having given personal supervision not only to the construction and production, but also to the financial side in such a manner as to gain the reputation of being one of the premier Filling Factories if not the premier factory in the United Kingdom.’

Workers in the 'box factory'

Workers in the ‘box factory’

The factory was built on land requisitioned from Colonel Richard Gascoigne in east Leeds and was constructed in 1915. Large numbers of women were employed there to fill shells with high explosives.

The volume contains a large number of photographs detailing the work at the factory as well as the after effects of an explosion there on the evening of 5th December 1916 when 35 women workers were killed. The factory ceased production for the first time on 11th November 1918 at the end of hostilities by which time 566,000 tons of ammunition had been produced.

Interior of the component store

Interior of the component store

This record and the photographs will be displayed as part of our commemoration of WW1 in August 2014 in the Central Library and is currently part of the collections in the Local and Family History Library.

We are looking to enhance our current collections of material associated with Leeds in the First World War.  If you have any material such as photographs of Leeds and its people during the war we would be interested to hear from you.  Please email the Local and Family History Library, with any details.


LGBT History Month and Goodbye Olympics

To commemorate February as LGBT Month and the end of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi we thought we’d delve deep into our Special Collections to bring back something from Russia with love.


A French enlightenment writer, Voltaire’s 1763 ‘History of the Russian Empire under Peter the Great’ vol. 1 begins with the Preface:

“Who could have thought in the beginning of the present century, that a polite and magnificent court was to reside at the extremity of Solikam, Casan, and of the banks of the Wolga and the Saik, should equal our best disciplined troops; that after having defeated the Swedes and the Turks, they should obtain victories in Germany; that an empire of two thousand leagues in length, almost unknown till our time, should be civilised in fifty years; that its influence should extend to all the European courts; and that the most zealous protector of learning in 1759, should be a Muscovite?  Whoever would have ventured to make such a prediction, would have passed for the most visionary man in the world.  Peter the Great having alone formed the plan of this revolution, and even executed it in his own reign, is perhaps, of all princes, he whose affections are most worthy of being transmitted to posterity.”

Known as a great reformer who wished to bring a western approach to Russia, Peter the Great introduced rules banning same sex relations in the armed forces in the 18th century despite being bisexual himself, something Voltaire does not cover in this history.


The map shows the Empire in 1759 and the borders have been hand coloured.

Anyone wishing to read further can view the book in the Information and Research Library of Leeds Central Library but prepare yourself for a text where the letter S looks like an F without the crossbar.  This was a common practice in printing up until the 1800s and was known as the Long S.

For more information on the Long S check out the Oxford Dictionaries Pro using the Library Online Resources:

Valentine’s Day Casanova

Looking for a scandalous love affair this Valentine’s Day?  Look no further than the Leeds Central Library Special Collections for ‘The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova written by himself now for the first time translated into English in twelve volumes’.

Privately printed in 1894 the title page explains that ‘This Edition is strictly limited to 1000 numbered Copies, 500 of which are for America’ with our edition marked as number 112.


While not as scandalous as its notorious contents the book itself carries its own story. Between 1826 and 1838 the translator Laforgue produced a French edition, and though he had access to the original manuscript his version was subject to heavy censorship, changes to the text, allegations that some sections were invented and a loss of four chapters never to be seen again.  It was on this edition that Arthur Machen based our 1894 English version.


For those of wanting the authentic story written in the original French we have the 1960 edition taken from the original manuscript now owned by the National Library of France.


On his death in 1798 Giacomo Casanova was the librarian for Count Joseph Karl Von Waldstein of Bohemia, proof that great romancers are not only found on the shelves of the library but stacking them too.

Items from the Leeds Central Library Special Collections can be viewed in the Information and Research Library on the second floor.

Alan Bennett on the Central Library

There is a romance to nostalgia. The fuzzy edges and dog-eared corners of our memories take us back to places we inhabited in our youth. Libraries are no different, especially when aged 129 years. Central Library holds many memories and not just those inside the books. In his 2011 ‘Libraries of a Lifetime’ article, author Alan Bennett remembers his time spent studying at Leeds Central Library.

“I used to do my homework in the Leeds Central Library in the Headrow. It’s a High Victorian building done throughout in polished Burmantofts brick, extravagantly tiled, the staircases of polished marble topped with brass rails, and carved at the head of each stair a slavering dog looking as if it’s trying to stop itself sliding backwards down the banister.”


“The reference library itself proclaimed the substance of the city with its solid elbow chairs and long mahogany tables, grooved along the edge to hold a pen, and the centre of each table a massive pewter inkwell. Arched and galleried and lined from floor to ceiling with books, the reference library was grand yet unintimidating. Half the tables were filled with sixth-formers like myself, just doing their homework or studying for a scholarship; but there would also be university students home for the vacation.


 “There were, too, the usual quota of eccentrics that haunt any reading room that is warm and handy and has somewhere to sit down. Old men would doze for hours over the magazines taken from the rack, though if they were caught nodding off an assistant would trip over from the counter and hiss, “No sleeping!”


“With its mixture of readers and its excellent facilities (it was a first-rate library) and the knowledge that there would always be someone working there whom I knew and who would come out for coffee, I found some of the pleasure going to the reference library that, had I been less studious, I could have found in a pub.”


“The few girls who braved this male citadel ([…]) worked harder than the boys and were seldom to be found on the landing outside where one adjourned for a smoke.”

Central by Night_jpg

 “Of the boys who worked in the reference library a surprising number must have turned out to be lawyers, and I can count at least eight of my contemporaries who sat at those tables in the fifties who became judges.”

Much of what Bennett describes remains the same, the dogs still head the stairs.  The reference library is now Local and Family History and computers now sit where the inkwells once stood but we are still the same, a place for study, a home for books, a warm refuge on a cold day in the city. I can’t promise we’ll come for a coffee with you but we might let you snooze a little.

Quotes taken from ‘Libraries of a Lifetime’, The Telegraph, Review. 13th August 2011.

Welcome to The Secret Library


“I go into my library and all history unrolls before me.” Alexander Smith

Welcome to The Secret Library, home to Leeds Libraries heritage blog.  We hope to bring you insights into the history and architecture of our 1884 Central Library building, a behind the scenes look at the Library and highlights from our Special Collections, including rare books hiding in the stacks. We will also be sharing highlights from our collections held in our branch libraries.

Our library staff will be writing articles showcasing our heritage.  Please get in touch with comments, or requests for anything you wish to know more about.  You can contact the blog directly using the contact link or tweet questions using the #secretlibraryleeds hashtag.

Where more images are available posts will link to our Flickr site.