Stepping Out

Last week’s fossil hunt on the Secret Library blog had us running up and down our impressive stone staircases more times than we’d care to mention. And, while we all agreed the fossils themselves were pretty interesting, the one thing we couldn’t seem to reach a consensus on was how many steps there were from the bottom to the top of Leeds Central Library.

Some counted a hundred exactly – a temptingly round figure – while others used different criteria to reach different conclusions. Does one count the final ‘step’, for instance, or is that simply ‘the top’? The whole thing reminded us of this delightful description of the futility of trying to count the steps to Whitby Abbey, taken from the 1950 edition of Ward Lock’s Illustrated Guide Book, which you’ll find in the Local and Family History section at shelf mark Y WHI 942:

“No two persons have ever been known to agree, however, nor do any two ascents or descents give the same result. To the best of our knowledge, information and belief, there are 199 steps, but if any reader will send a sworn affidavit by himself and five others, each of whom has been up and down at least six times, to the effect that the number is wrong, we shall be happy to make a correction in a future issue.”

The city of Leeds has its own long set of outdoor stairs, leading down from Belle Vue Road to Westfield Road in Burley. As you can tell from their local name – the Ninety-Nine Steps – their number is thankfully less controversial. Here’s the earliest photograph we have of them on our Leodis website, taken in 1913:

Westfield Hairdressing Saloon at number 1 Westfield Road, adjacent to the Ninety-nine Steps seen to the left.
Westfield Hairdressing Saloon at number 1 Westfield Road, adjacent to the Ninety-nine Steps seen to the left.

http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=200434_22877139&DISPLAY=FULL

Fast-forward just over fifty years and Leodis gives you a view looking in the opposite direction, but you can still see that distinctive handrail leading down the middle:

Ninety Nine Steps, c1970s
Ninety Nine Steps, c1970s

http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=20061013_162117&DISPLAY=FULL

The steps are still there today, of course, if you fancy counting them in person. But we understand if you’d prefer to explore some beautiful Leeds staircases without getting out of breath. If that’s the case, head on over to Leodis and try searching on a few keywords. We recommend ‘Allders’ if you’re into art deco, ‘Leeds Library’ for a neat spiral staircase you might not have come across before, and ‘Bischoff House’ if you’ve ever wondered what a ‘barley sugar newel post’ looks like!

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