Lights, Camera, Action…Libraries

Central by Night_jpgYou could be forgiven for thinking you’d seen a ghost roaming the corridors of Leeds Central Library today, however the dapper gentlemen in bowler hats and ladies in bustles walking down the stairs were actors filming a new adaptation of Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of Youth’. This first instalment of Brittain’s memoirs covers the period of 1900-1925 detailing the changes faced by herself and British women during the First World War.

BBC 030

Lighting balloon in atrium stairwell

The 1884 built Central Library’s largely unchanged atrium and staircases with their marble pillars, English limestone entrance carvings and Grade II listed stained glass, creates the perfect backdrop for the dramatic personal narrative of a young woman who in 1915 abandoned her studies at Oxford to become a volunteer nurse. The film will be released later this year as part of the BBC First World War commemorations and for now we can only tease you with a behind the scenes image of the spaceship style light balloon hovering in the atrium. The library stayed open during the filming process with comments from the public including; “This is great – it’s really showing the building off, it’s making it come alive.”

ToYFind out more about the adaptation at the BBC website but for those of you who can’t wait for the dramatization we have copies for loan of Testament for Youth which can be reserved using the library online catalogue.

Leeds Central Library has memories of its own from the First World War which we will be bringing to you in a series of events and exhibitions over the next 4 years as part of our own commemorations. For those of you wanting to undertake your own research we have the following resources available to the public.


Absent Voters List – Servicemen from Leeds (as per 1918 boundaries), who were away from their place of residence and eligible to vote in the 1918 General Election.  The list records the man’s regiment, service number, rank and address in Leeds where he was registered. A name index is available to search online: For further details including the home address and the names of other people registered at the same address, please visit the Local and Family History Library:

First World War service records, pension records and medal cards – These national records are available to access on the website, which can be accessed for free in all Leeds Libraries, including the Local & Family History Library, with the use of a Leeds Library card.

Leeds and the European War News Cuttings – A 15 volume set of news cuttings from the 1914-1921, some of the collection has been indexed – please see our online newspapers index:

Scott, W.H, Leeds in the Great War 1914 – 18: A book of remembrance, (Leeds: The Libraries and Arts Committee, 1923) – This book tells the story of Leeds in the Great War and includes a Roll of Honour compiled by Leeds City Council.

People need to make an appointment to view the following material:

Cliff, Edith M. (Lady Nussey), The Great European War, Gledhow Hall Hospital  – A collection of photographs, newspaper cuttings, soldier’s artwork, and other general material relating to Gledhow Hall VAD Hospital, compiled by Commandant, Edith M. Cliff (Lady Nussey), daughter of William Dewhirst Cliff of Meanwood Towers.

Archibald, R.H. (compiler), Record of the National Ordnance Factories, Leeds 1915 – 18, (1919) – An account of the Royal Ordnance Factories at Armley, Newlay, Hunslet, and the subsidiary departments/stores at Holbeck, Great Wilson Street, Wellington Road, Marshall Mills on Sweet Street, and the ‘Meanwood Gun Proof Range’. Included is a section on the Women’s Labour Department and Welfare Department responsible for the welfare of women employed in these factories. The volume includes photographs of the factories, some munitions workers and management. These photographs have been indexed on our online index:

Appointments can be made by contacting the Local & Family History Department: 0113 247 8290, local&


Early Theatre in Leeds

We have a lot of fantastic theatres and entertainment on offer in Leeds now but how did it all start? From our playbills collection you can get an idea of some of the earliest theatre entertainment. The first theatre was built in Leeds in 1771 prior to which Leeds had relied on travelling companies of players who would have visited the town and performed their plays in the yards of inns like the Talbot and the Rose and Crown in Briggate.  In 1771 Tate Wilkinson opened the Theatre in Hunslet Lane, just south of Leeds Bridge which could accommodate 600 people.

The Theatre playbill 1781

The Theatre playbill 1781

The earliest playbill we hold is from 1781 when the comedy ‘Dissipation’ was performed and it was noted on the playbill that this was ‘as performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with great applause’ as well as ‘ the celebrated burletta Tom Thumb’.

Mrs Siddons in Isabella

Mrs Siddons in Isabella

The Theatre was only open in summer from May to July and most of the plays performed were comedies, or comic operas. As London theatres tended to close in the summer months famous actors of the days travelled with provincial companies.One such actress, Mrs Siddons visited Leeds on several occasions including one in 1786 when she performed in a tragedy ‘ Isabella’.

Mr Usher and his stud of performing cats

Mr Usher and his stud of performing cats

Pantomimes were also performed at the Theatre as well as more unusual acts such as Mr Usher and his ‘stud of real cats.

The music hall came to Leeds in 1794 when the Albion Street Music Hall was opened. The ground floor of the building was used as a cloth hall and was sometimes called Tom Paine’s hall. Upstairs was a picture gallery, a lecture room, and a larger Music Saloon, where there was room for about 850 people. The hall was mostly used for public meetings and musical concerts with Paganini playing there in January 1832. The concerts were supported by subscriptions, which admitted a gentleman and a lady to each performance. Non-subscribers had to pay 3 shillings and sixpence each.

Professor AndersonThe Music Hall also had a variety of unusual acts such as Professor Anderson who appeared in 1854 making his first appearance in Leeds since ‘his great American tour… in order to sustain his fame as the imperator of illusionists’.

To see more playbills from the Theatre and the Music Hall as well as many others visit our Leeds Playbills website 

International Women’s Day and Suffrage in Leeds

In celebration of International Women’s Day and the anniversary of a Leeds suffragette and socialist we are highlighting the Mary Gawthorpe collection and other Leeds Library Collections documenting women’s suffrage in Leeds.


Born January 12th, 1881 in the Woodhouse area of Leeds, Mary Gawthorpe was the middle of 5 children to John and Anne, a leather worker and political agent, and needlewoman respectively.  A national school graduate she became a pupil teacher in 1894 at age 13 and certified as an assistant schoolmistress in 1904.

Lectures from George Bernard Shaw and A. R. Orage at the Leeds Art Club introduced Mary to socialism and saw her swift rise through trade unionism and local radical politics until 1906 when she became vice-president of the Independent Labour Party, Leeds branch.  She soon moved away from teaching to take up a career as a political organiser and speaker.

Mary became a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Leeds branch in 1905; however an affinity with the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union led to her becoming a society organiser and taking up a position on their national committee.  Her 1907 writing Votes for Men drew parallels with the early male empowerment effort.
October 1906 saw Mary’s first imprisonment for her suffrage involvement and during future incarcerations she took up the hunger strike, though avoided force feeding.  This along with violent assaults during the 1910 general election campaign left her with deteriorating health.  In 1911 Mary co-created and co-edited The Freewoman, a feminist journal advocating female sexual emancipation and an opposition to marriage.  A differing of opinions in 1912 led Mary to resign from The Freewoman and as a WSPU organiser, withdrawing from active service due to ill health.

Mary moved to the United States in January 1916, returning to suffrage and labour organising causes, assisting in the creation of the Farmer-Labour Party, and campaigning in the 1920 presidential campaign for candidate Parley Parker Christenson.  Married to American John Sanders in 1921, Mary kept her single name and retired from public life in 1922.  Despite her retirement Mary retained her interest in political matters, staying in touch with the Suffragette Fellowship and movements in Britain including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Mary Gawthorpe died in the USA on March 12th, 1973 leaving behind a collection of papers including letters, diaries, postcards and photographs; a legacy of a lifetime of suffrage in Leeds, Britain and America.

The original papers were deposited in New York but various organisations and individuals in Leeds contributed to bring a microfilmed copy of the papers to Leeds.  Leeds Central Library was chosen as the best home for them and now anyone can view them in the Local and Family History Library.

The addition of the Mary Gawthrope Papers complements our existing Women’s History collection including the Alice Scatcherd scrapbook held at Morley Library. Alice was a life-long campaigner for women’s rights and women’s suffrage and her album of political, satirical and personal information was gathered during the 1880s and 1904.  She lived much of her life in Morley.

201175_172336The photograph on the right was taken on 28th July 1908 and shows a group of women carrying placards and banners as they take part in the Women’s Social & Political Union’s (WSPU) Procession to Woodhouse Moor where a huge rally was held. On a fine Sunday, 28th July 1908, they began their march from the Town Hall. Bands played on Woodhouse Moor where thousands of people, both men and women, had gathered to listen to the various speakers from the 10 platforms. One of the most famous of the suffragettes to address the crowds was Adela Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and sister of Sylvia and Christabel, all leaders of the British Suffrage movement. Also speaking was Emmeline Pethick Lawrence who in 1912 was arrested with her husband and Emmeline Pankhurst for taking part in a window smashing campaign. They famously went on hunger strike while serving prison sentences.

The day on Woodhouse Moor was a great success with a resolution put advocating ‘Votes for Women’. It was carried by a huge majority as reported in the Leeds Mercury. The image was in a collection of newspaper cuttings which once belonged to Leonora Cohen (1873 – 1978), a suffragette who lived in Leeds but gained notoriety when in 1913, in order to publicise her cause she attempted to break the glass showcase in the Jewel House of the Tower of London containing insignia of the Order of Merit. A note wrapped around the iron bar she used read “This is my protest against the Governments treachery to the working women of Great Britain.” She was arrested several times over the years, once when she went on a hunger and then a thirst strike while in custody in Armley Prison.

Beneath this photograph, in her handwriting is written, “I, Leonora Cohen was arrested and charged with inciting the public to militancy under Edward 3rds act, (“a trumped up false charge”) at the same period as George Lansbury and John Scurr. A protest meeting was held in Trafalgar Square, London for the release of the three charged under the old Antediluvian Act”. Leonora Cohen died at the age of 105. Between 1923 and 1926 she lived at no.2 Claremont Villas, Clarendon Road and a blue plaque is now displayed on this property in memory of her.

To find out more about Mary Gawthorpe visit her entry at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, at the Leeds Library & Information Service Online Resources page, this can be viewed for free using your Leeds Library card membership number.

The WSPU photograph comes from Leonora Cohen’s Scrapbook, part of a Leeds Museums & Galleries collection. The image and text above can be viewed online at Leodis the Leeds Library & Information Service photographic archive of Leeds.

Roll Up, Roll Up, the Circus Comes to Leodis

For those of you feeling like running away to join the circus take a look at the Leodis website, our photographic archive of Leeds, to see the circus visiting the city.

First we have 1950s images of crowds flocking to the Bertum Mills Circus big top on Woodhouse Moor, visible in the sky above is an elephant shaped balloon promoting the show.  Remembered for bringing lions, tigers and elephants to Leeds along with acrobats and trapeze artists Leodis commenters share their memories of the visits online.


“I was a girl who lived opposite Woodhouse Moor 50 yards away in Delph Street.  Whenever the circus came, the lions and tigers used to keep us up at night with their roaring, and we used to go watch the elephant being scrubbed by the keeper. So exciting.”


“The circus would set off in convoy to Woodhouse Moor with some of the less dangerous animals walking there”


“I remember going to see Bertrum Mills Circus with my school, about 1956. I remember dancing acrobats balancing on huge balls”

In the 1960s we had Billy Smarts Circus performing publicity stunts in the city centre.


December 1963, Dutch trapeze artist Ria Roeber can be seen swinging from a crane 100ft above Merrion Street.


December 1964, Spuggy, the clown at Billy Smarts Christmas Circus was treated by Knoble the chimp and assisted by Daphne Murgatroyd, an assistant at Leeds General Infirmary.


January 1965, a member of Billy Smarts circus pulling a Leeds City Transport bus full of passengers, with his teeth. Quarry Hill flats can be seen in the background

The Local and Family History Library in Leeds has a huge collection of photographs relating to the city. Before the Leodis site was set up these were only accessible by visiting the library and searching card indexes.  Today you can view these images from anywhere with an internet connection.  Originally just 40,000 images were uploaded but today the site boasts over 59,000 photographs of Leeds from the Library collections, Leeds Civic Trust, The Thorsby Society, Leeds Museums and Galleries, and West Yorkshire Archive Service.

To see over 59,000 images of Leeds go to