London, Switzerland, Germany… What do all these places have in common? The answer is: you can find them all within the Leeds-Bradford area.
Today we thought we’d take a little journey through Europe, Secret Library style. We’ll start in the well-known Leeds suburb of Little London, before calling in on the city’s other Little London, then chug past Little Switzerland to end up in Little Germany, by which time we’ll be in Bradford. Why? Well, it’s a nice day for a trip out – even if it’s only an imaginary one – and we’ll get to see some interesting resources from the Local and Family History department along the way. All aboard!
Stop 1: Little London, Leeds
History books – of which we have many – generally agree that the name Little London began as a nickname for the area around Lovell Park Road, Claypit Lane and the Oatlands, just north of Leeds city centre. Historian John Gilleghan, puts it down to this once being a “fashionable area with interesting architecture and expensive mahogany used in many houses, comparable with parts of London” (see Leeds: An A-Z of Local History, shelf mark: L 942.819 GIL). While we’re here, let’s have a quick look at two offbeat items from our collection, both relating to the area.
Here’s the opening of Little London as I Knew It by E.W.E. Bailey, penned in 1949. It’s a handwritten account of growing up in the late Victorian era, full of colourful detail like the songs sung by local children, and the perhaps surprising fact that most shops in the area would open from 8am to 10pm daily (but definitely not on Sundays). We particularly enjoyed Bailey’s description of early media technology:
“Not a cinema! No one even dreamed of such a super marvel. We therefore didn’t miss them. No radio – no gramophone – why, I was scared to go and hear the first ‘phonograph’ – then known, merely, as a ‘talking machine’. The first in Leeds was heard, by paying, at the end of the Big 1889 Exhibition. Black Magic! – I daren’t go in.”
Leaping a century forward, we have the Little London News, which covers the years 1972 to 1981 – an impressive lifespan for an independently-produced community newsletter! We hold a full set in Local and Family History, smartly bound and looking like this:
You might be wondering why anyone would be interested in such an obscure little publication. Well, that’s a fair question, considering we have access to so many well-researched history books and academic studies on our shelves. But reading an intimate little paper like this really is like wandering the streets of Little London back in the 1970s. You’ll hear about the reception given to the area’s first ever CCTV camera; the eagerly-awaited coming of the Christmas lights each year; and minor but fascinating social changes, such as the influx of ex-tenants from the nearby – and then recently-demolished – Quarry Hill Flats. It’s a perfect example of the kind of quirky, not-available-online resource we keep in the library.
Anyway, we could spend all day in this little suburb but time’s a-wasting, so let’s head over to…
Stop 2: Little London, Rawdon
How confusing that the city should have more than one London! The two places have completely different characters, however. We’ve left a densely-populated area bordered by a busy ring-road to arrive in one known for its stone cottages and protected wildlife. So why the name London? Graham Branston, in Little London, Rawdon, Leeds: The History of a Community (LQ RAW 942), explains the moniker as “the creation of a local resident, possibly Benjamin Grimshaw [a landowner], who visited London and was so impressed that he wanted to name part of Rawdon after it.”
That’s a photo from our own Leodis website (www.leodis.net) showing some of the area’s characteristic cottages. Note the unusual bay window, built at an angle on the corner property. Most of the stone used in the building work here came from local quarries, since man and horse were the main forms of transportation at the time.
Our next stop will be a flying visit. Take a look out of the window on the left for a glimpse of…
Stop 3: Little Switzerland
We’re in northeast Leeds now, in the suburb of Gledhow. Our map comes from 1936 and is one of the many Ordnance Survey maps in our collection. Its scale is 25 inch to 1 mile, which you can see is great for making out buildings, pathways and other features. See all those trees? They might be part of the reason the area got its unusual name. We dug out the following information from a short article in the Yorkshire Post in 1973:
“Gledhow Lane, as it winds upwards from Gledhow Valley Road, north Leeds, wooded on each side, is known as Little Switzerland. The steep sides of the valley, the abundance of trees, provide a reasonable explanation of the title – but there could be another. In the 18th century there lived at Gledhow Hall one Jeremiah Dixon, who occupied a mansion in front of the present Hall and adorned it with surrounding plantations. It was he who introduced the Apherhously Pine to the neighbourhood and it may be that the pines, since superseded by native hardwood, gave the district a Swiss appearance and its title.”
With the pines of Gledhow Valley receding into the distance, then, it’s time to look forward to the final station stop on our little journey…
Stop 4: Little Germany
Past Pudsey and beyond the boundaries of Leeds, we soon find ourselves in the heart of Bradford, and it’s here – once we’ve disembarked at Forster Square station – that we’ll part ways to explore the area known as Little Germany. The Local and Family History department can furnish you with a couple of useful guides: John S. Roberts’ Bradford City Trail No. 3 (YP BRA 942) and, for that authentic retro touch, an information leaflet from 1987 – just before the area went through a major regeneration. Within, you’ll discover why all the businesses here once bore Germanic names, which former warehouse boasts a flamboyant spiral staircase, and where to go birdwatching for ornate stone eagles and pelicans.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt through some of our resources, and encourage you to pop in and take your own whistlestop history tour soon!