The Headrow: Coffee, Change and Loss in Leeds City Centre

Part I in a loose trilogy of posts exploring (some) meanings behind the study of local history. Part II is here and Part III is here

by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

The proper study of history should always be far more than a record of ‘great’ events. History is as much about the grain of everyday life, the texture and feel of our surroundings, the little details – the streets we walk, the buildings we pass, the places we visit, the conversations we hold – which cumulatively build a sense of lives lived at a particular time in a particular place. It would be easy to think that our environment is somehow inevitable, that the things around us have always been the way they are today – but behind each location, however unassuming, lies a story rich in the humanity of those that came before. History – which is just another way of saying ‘change’ – is, then, all around us in every step we take and our familiarity with its contours and detours reminds us that nothing should be taken for granted.

That is the case with our recent discovery that Leeds’ first Espresso Coffee Bar opened in 1954; a seemingly uncomplicated event that holds behind its headline detail an archaeology of major changes to the way everyday people lived everyday lives in the city. Because the location, indeed the very existence, of that Espresso machine – in the Schofield’s Centre on the Headrow – was itself the result of changes that had been gradually taking shape along one of Leeds’ oldest roads over more than 20-years; a shifting mutation before the very eyes of Leodiensians – from narrow lanes, cramped back-yards and one-storey family emporiums into a major shopping and entertainment centre for a growing urban middle-class.

The first accurate survey of Leeds was published by Netlam and Giles in 1815. It clearly shows the different types of development at each end of the Headrow. At the West End is the newly built Park Estate surrounding Park Square, with wide streets, houses with gardens, some of them with views over the surrounding countryside. There is almost no development north of Butts Hill and Park Lane. Contrast this with the narrow streets, and crowded terraces of back-to–back houses of the east end. The town centre, on both sides of Briggate and north of the Upper Head Row and Lower Head Row was a maze of alleyways, yards and courts and working-class housing. Text and image taken from our Discovering Leeds website

The first accurate survey of Leeds was published by Netlam and Giles in 1815. It clearly shows the different types of development at each end of the Headrow…[including] the narrow streets, and crowded terraces of back-to–back houses of the east end. The town centre, on both sides of Briggate and north of the Upper Head Row and Lower Head Row was a maze of alleyways, yards and courts and working-class housing. Text and image taken from our Discovering Leeds website

View of what was then called Lowerhead Row, July 1891. Image taken from our Leodis photograph archive

View of what was then called Lowerhead Row, July 1891. Image taken from our Leodis photograph archive

10th September 1928. Kings Arms Yard, off Lowerhead Row, looking south. A horse pulling a cart can be seen through the entrance in the background. Part of the yard has already been pulled down and the rest would soon demolished as part of the plans to widen Lowerhead Row and convert it into part of The Headrow. Text and image taken from Leodis

10th September 1928. Kings Arms Yard, off Lowerhead Row, looking south. A horse pulling a cart can be seen through the entrance in the background. Part of the yard has already been pulled down and the rest would soon demolished as part of the plans to widen Lowerhead Row and convert it into part of The Headrow. Text and image taken from Leodis

That change began in 1924 when the Council approved plans to widen what was then the narrow ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ ‘Head Row’ into a main road of some grandeur, an artery that would connect east and west and one which would serve as a grand route to the Park Lane area running along the front of the Municipal Buildings and Town Hall: the Civic heart of the city.

Park Lane and Alexander Street, 1928. Now part of the Garden of Rest site outside the Municipal Buildings, with Alexander Street ending by the side of the City Art Gallery. Wharton's Hotel was cleared during the redevelopment of the area. Photograph taken from Leodis

Junction of Park Lane and Alexander Street, 1928. Now part of the Garden of Rest site outside the Municipal Buildings, with Alexander Street ending by the side of the City Art Gallery. Wharton’s Hotel was cleared during the redevelopment of the area. Photograph taken from Leodis

That widening would require the clearing of properties on the north side of the proposed new road. And that clearing meant the loss of many of the buildings that had occupied that space for more years than most cared to remember. The occupants of those buildings – family-run shops, in the main – were replaced with the opulence of sites designed to a uniform scheme laid down by Sir Reginald Bloomfield. Those sites, including Permanent House, Lewis’s department store and the Odeon Cinema, marked the emerging transition of the city from a centre of textile and industry to something more closely resembling the service-driven economy we know today.

14th October 1928. Image shows the corner of Albion Street and Guildford Street with the Commercial Hotel on the corner, and Guildford chambers to the left. The road was renamed as The Headrow after widening took place in the 1930s but this section was formerly known as Guildford Street. In the background, left, building work is in progress on the Leeds Permanent Building Society site, Permanent House, at the corner with Cookridge Street, now part of The Light. Text and image taken from Leodis

14th October 1928. Image shows the corner of Albion Street and Guildford Street with the Commercial Hotel on the corner, and Guildford chambers to the left. The road was renamed as The Headrow after widening took place in the 1930s but this section was formerly known as Guildford Street. In the background, left, building work is in progress on the Leeds Permanent Building Society site, Permanent House, at the corner with Cookridge Street, now part of The Light. Text and image taken from Leodis

The same corner in 1931. Image taken from Leodis

The same corner in 1931. Image taken from Leodis

That transition had already been under-way on the south side of the new road since the Victorian era, with the development of such retail centres as the Thornton and Victoria Arcades. It was in the latter that Snowden Schofield began his retail empire, extending from one small shop in 1901 to the acquisition of the entire Arcade by 1947. Along the way Schofield obtained the sites of the 17th-century Red Hall (1912); the Hippodrome Theatre (1934); and the Cock and Bottle Inn (1938): all significant sites of heritage and memory, all lost in a rush to growth that was as inevitable and even, perhaps, as necessary as it was destructive (after all, those cramped back-yards were far from hygienic).

A photograph of June 1930 which shows Schofields on either side of the Cock and Bottle, but before the store took over the whole of Victoria Arcade. Text and image taken from Leodis

A photograph of June 1930 which shows Schofields on either side of the Cock and Bottle, but before the store took over the whole of Victoria Arcade. Text and image taken from Leodis

1914 View looks from King Charles Street onto the Red Hall. This property was built in 1628 and was probably the first brick building in Leeds. Text and image taken from Leodis

1914 View looks from King Charles Street onto the Red Hall. This property was built in 1628 and was probably the first brick building in Leeds. Text and image taken from Leodis

That expansion, and the wider redevelopment of the Headrow, reveal the exponential demand for luxury consumer experiences in the 20th-century. And that demand is the context for the arrival, in September 1954, of a new destination for a middle-class keen to sample goods associated with the taste and fashion of 1950s Europe. The Schofield Espresso machine, then, marks the shift from one kind of Leeds – the organic outgrowth of a 19th-century industrial powerhouse, a place known for making things – to another, far more recognisable, Leeds – with an ultramodern, but more than faintly ersatz, focus on leisure and consumption

Article taken from the September 1954 issue of Shop magazine and proudly announcing Leeds' first Espresso Coffee Bar

Article taken from the September 1954 issue of Shop magazine and proudly announcing Leeds’ first Espresso Coffee Bar

That may seem like a lot of cultural weight for one Espresso machine to carry, but its story certainly matters: matters most simply because, as Walter Benjamin wrote, “nothing that is human should be regarded as lost to history”; but it matters more subtly because that Espresso bar altered the environments – Schofield’s, the Headrow, Leeds – in which it was located. Our environment shapes our identities; and those identities shape our interactions, determining as a consequence the character of the places we inhabit each and everyday. Identities alter in the presence of an object that signifies something different to the familiar objects of daily life; people alter in the presence of such an object. And when people change, places change too.

But the Espresso machine also matters because it reminds us of those individuals who made the best lives they could in circumstances not entirely of their own making; those who struggled to survive in the narrow cramped back-yards around the ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ ‘Head Row’; and those whose small businesses were swept away in the changes required to make that new Headrow a fashionable destination for retail and entertainment.

Detail from the 1933 6-inch-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey map for Leeds

Detail from the 1933 6-inch-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey map for Leeds, showing the huge changes since the 1815 map above

Those lives should be remembered each time we make the journey across our city centre in search of somewhere fashionable to eat or shop or drink. Because bit-by-bit, in their own small but very significant way, each one of those lives contributed something to the growing wealth of a city that expanded to accommodate that first Espresso Coffee Bar in 1954, growing to an unfathomable number by 2015 – all set within the stone ‘bars’, the boundaries, of the old medieval township.

One of those bars – the West, or Burley, bar – was to be found on the corner of Albion Street and what was formerly known as Guildford Street, which ran down to the Guildford Hotel (now The Northern Monkey), alongside shops that were described even in 1906 as ‘old fashioned’.

14th September 1927. On left, offices of Liverpool Victoria Insurance Offices then the junction with Albion Street. No 24 George Eastman tobacconist. No 22 Alfred Warwick violin maker. No 20 A Kirk Verity antique dealers, double fronted shop. No 18 J Easby, left window is chocolates with notice declaring fire damage to factory. Right window displays fruit. These shops were estimated to be around 200 years old. Burley Bar was situated here, the westward limit of the ancient Leeds boundary. These shops were to be demolished for improvements to what was to be called the Headrow. Text and image taken from Leodis

14th September 1927. These shops were estimated to be around 200 years old. Burley Bar was situated here, the westward limit of the ancient Leeds boundary. These shops were to be demolished for improvements to what was to be called the Headrow. Text and image taken from Leodis

The Burley bar can still be seen close to its original location, only now inside the headquarters of the Leeds Building Society, one of the many new buildings constructed after the widening of the Headrow. That the bar is situated just yards from an opportunity to enjoy a genuine Italian espresso, inside another building – Permanent House, now The Light – that sprang up alongside the same widening – is perhaps a fitting place to end our story: a reminder of just how much has changed within our city centre, how much has been lost to bring that change into being – and how much still survives behind and beneath the glittering face of modernity.

Espresso in Leeds today. Disclaimer: other coffee houses are available and this drink was paid for with the author's own money

Espresso in Leeds today: La Bottega Milanese in The Light, former home of Permanent House.

Disclaimer: other coffee houses are available and this drink was paid for with the author’s own money

Resources

When Industry and Art Meet

  • by Vickie, Art Library, Leeds Central Library

This week’s post returns to the theme of an Industrial Leeds – specifically the title of ‘City of Industry’ – a name that is also title to the current exhibition devised and co-curated by local illustrator Drew Millward in the gallery space at Colours May Vary.

After previously touching on the quirkier side of local industry in our last industrial blog post via an Automatic Bacon Slicer, we’ve become interested in the idea of the individuals and lesser-known establishments that colour our local economy and history. Paying a visit to Millward’s City of Industry has got us thinking about Leeds’ rich creative heritage…

“Dark Satanic mills, green and pleasant hills” – these words by William Blake, an industry unto himself, accompany the exhibition and compliment the works on display. This is a great choice not only for painting a vivid scene of life in early Industrial Britain, but because Blake himself was also a prolific painter and printmaker.

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Gallery space at Colours May Vary

The exhibition boasts an impressive line-up of creative contributors from Leeds and further afield to respond to the theme, in which community and craft is explored through personal narratives, as well as the character of localities, buildings, and individuals.

Nods to our industrial past and present are illustrated through familiar faces. Michael Driver’s work of a sooty-faced miner is cheerfully wistful, and the Leeds-savvy will recognise Matthew Hodson’s ‘Barrel Man’ – a painting of the statue that stands outside the St. John’s Centre and commemorates the twinning of Leeds and German town Dortmund. The contribution of Drew Millward’s portrait of engineering enthusiast and TV personality Fred Dibnah offers a deeper exploration into our changing relationship towards heritage, with ‘Destroy’ & ‘Preserve’ serving as a comment on Dibnah’s career, with Millward adding – “It was always interesting to see the evolution of his TV work, from what was essentially a documentary about knocking down buildings, to a much more educational approach, focusing on restoration and preservation.”

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Works by Matthew Hodson, Michael Driver and Drew Millward

This idea of the ‘evolution’ in shifting attitudes towards the preservation of heritage keeps cropping up – some works act as a celebratory tribute of traditional crafts used to this day, such as Anne Peaker’s homage to Yorkshire’s textile industry, while other pieces are nostalgic. Regardless, the real poignancy of the exhibition lay in the collective graphic art prints that adorn the walls of Colours May Vary – they reflect a printing tradition that stretches back 300 years to the first known printer in Leeds, John Hirst, printer of the Leeds Mercury, who set in motion a technology that continues to this day.

Here at Leeds Central Library, we have a large archive of printed theatre playbills, periodicals and ephemera, spanning back over two hundred years, and we celebrated this recently with our Prints and Playbills Day. You may’ve seen examples from the collections in a previous post – they fit into the rich tradition of printing in Leeds that City of Industry alludes to, and one of the most industrious printing companies in England started life printing Leeds theatre playbills at the turn of the last century…

Waddington’s is best known for its printed playing cards and board games, and was notably the UK publisher of Parker Brothers’ Monopoly and Cluedo, making the company a household name in its own right. Founded by John Waddington of Leeds in 1896, the company had a huge print house on Wakefield Road, and several other factories around Leeds. At it’s height, Waddington’s employed around 4,000 Leeds workers.

views from the Wakefield Road junction, showing the size of the Waddington's factory in the background, 1930s

Views from the Wakefield Road junction, showing the size of the Waddington’s factory in the background, 1930s

In the 1920s, Waddington’s was becoming the foremost poster printers in the country, and were commissioned by leading national companies to print advertisements. Always happy to take on a challenge, Waddington’s were approached to print what was at the time the ‘largest ever poster’, produced for the British Empire Exhibition, held in Wembley in 1924. Printed on twenty-four sheets that were then pasted together, it measured a total of 10 feet by 40 feet, and required half a ton of ink for its run of 3,000 copies.

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Waddington’s ‘largest ever poster’

Similar to the landscapes in City of Industry featuring mills and collieries now defunct, Waddington’s has all but disappeared from the Leeds map, with its landmark neon lights and red brick factory that stood on Wakefield Road being replaced by a call centre in 1999, after the company sold to Hasbro in the 90s.

With hindsight, it’s easy to think back to times of British manufacture and mourn a loss of industry – and whilst the UK has lost a lot of its manufacture, recent government surveys suggest the UK creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year, and growing. The dip in large-scale production in comparison to the last hundred years or so may mean artisanal trades are harder to spot, but not that they aren’t still practised.

With recent shifts in the last decade back towards an emphasis on local and hand-made goods, perhaps it may no longer be apt to judge our worth and local identity on factory numbers and large-scale production, but in the individual specialist skillsets and knowledge that can make up and define a local area – the collectives, small businesses, and practitioners – and the artists in City of Industry are making a very good case for that.

City of Industry runs until Wednesday 30 September at Colours May Vary, Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds, LS9 8AG.

Some relevant resources in our Leeds Libraries collection include:
www.leodis.net – our collection of historic photographs
The Waddingtons Story (Local and Family History, L 338.7 WAD)
Leeds: The Centenary Art Exhibition (Local and Family History, YP 709.42 SHE)
Creative Passions: The People of Outer East Leeds (Art Library, 700 LEE)

What’s in a Noun?

Our weekend of Heritage Open Day tours is in full swing here at Leeds Central Library – and places are all now fully booked up (sorry!). This year, as well as enjoying a trip around the nooks and crannies of our grand Victorian building, our visitors are getting a peek at some little treasures from our collections. And, in the case of one of them, we really do mean little…

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The Book of Nouns, or Things which may be seen is a miniature children’s book dating back to the very early 19th Century. As you can probably guess from the picture, it measures only 6cm by 4.5cm and is about 1cm thick. Our copy was printed in 1802 by Darton and Harvey of 55 Gracechurch Street, London, while a note later in the book suggests it was actually first published on 25 March 1801. Its tiny pages alternate between short lists of things (‘a Mace, a Nest, Oaks, a Pink, a Quill, a Rake’) and beautiful engravings – not always of the same items. So, for instance, you’ll find a turkey, a jackal, a well, a rook and an archer among the 64 images inside. Very occasionally, there’s also a brief fact, such as ‘The otter lives on fish, roots & plants’ but, for the most part, it’s up to you to surmise why each item was included.

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It’s not a dictionary (although from page 56 onwards it does suddenly decide to start following the order of the alphabet) and not everything inside is named. In fact, it took another old book to explain for us the way in which it’s intended to be used. ‘The use of this little trifle is to connect reading with intelligence,’ explains A Catalogue of Books, for the Amusement and Instruction of Youth (1801); ‘When each name is read, the thing it signifies should be shewn’.

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We wonder if the book’s original young owner benefitted from it in this manner. Her name, according to the handwritten inscription on the inside cover, was Sarah Mortlock, and ‘her Book given her by the Rev John Buddell’.

Whatever the case, it’s certainly a delightful little publication, as mysterious today as it is charmingly simple. If you’d like to have a look, bring a magnifying glass and some ID, and ask at the desk in our Information and Research department, giving the shelf mark SR 099 B644. Also, if you’re worried you’ve missed your chance to take one of our heritage tours, fear not – we’ll be announcing some more dates soon, including a special Haunted Heritage Tour just in time for Halloween, on Friday 30 October.

A Visual Feast!

It’s the annual Heritage Open Days festival next week and, to celebrate, we’re bringing out some of the best prints and playbills from our archives. A large selection will be on display in Room 700 (formerly the Arts Space) in Leeds Central Library on Saturday 12 September, 1-4pm. Staff from the Local and Family History department will be on hand to offer background on the items, as well as further information about the many more not featured in the display (but available online and on request). To give you an idea of what’s in store, we’re showcasing a selection of intriguing examples below…

No booking is required to attend, and all are welcome. Details of our address can be found here. For further information, contact localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk

Arrival of Queen Victoria at the Town Hall, during her visit to Leeds in 1858

Arrival of Queen Victoria at the Town Hall, during her visit to Leeds in 1858

Playbill from the Empire Theatre on Briggate, showing some very famous names

Playbill from the Empire Theatre on Briggate, showing some very famous names

A spectacular sounding Circus performance in Leeds, 1843

A spectacular sounding Circus performance in Leeds, 1843

One of our very oldest playbills, from the Hunslet Lane Theatre

One of our very oldest playbills. From the Hunslet Lane Theatre

A wartime playbill from the Theatre Royal on the Headrow. Note the lower admission price for soldiers in uniform

A wartime playbill from the Theatre Royal on the Headrow. Note the lower admission price for soldiers in uniform

A sample from our extensive collection of prints satirising 19th-century Parliamentary elections in Leeds

A sample from our extensive collection of prints satirising 19th-century Parliamentary elections in Leeds

Some of our most popular prints relate to the circus performer and proprietor Pablo Fanque. Most famous for his mention in The Beatles song

Some of our most popular prints relate to the circus performer and proprietor Pablo Fanque. Most famous for his mention in The Beatles song “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, Fanque performed many times in Leeds during the 19th-century. The image here shows just part of a print advertising Fanque’s circus. To see the rest….come along to the open day!