Leeds Central Library – The Hallowe’en Files


  • by Sally Hughes, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

For a building almost 130 years old the walls of Leeds Central Library have many tales to tell. If you have visited or even seen photographs of this beautiful Victorian building you will know that there is a rich history to be explored inside. A large part of this building is hidden from view; behind 7 foot doors under lock and key, down winding stone staircases, bricked up behind walls and underneath the building. These parts have never been seen by the public…until now.

In the spirit of Hallowe’en we’d like to share a few of our favourite eerie spots around the Central Library…

The Yorkshire Room


Apparently the most haunted room in the Library, the Yorkshire Room has always been off limits to the general public, first used as offices and today housing books, newspapers and ephemera relating to Yorkshire. Reports of strange smells, the sound of footsteps and glimpses of figures between the shelves makes this room the first on our spook list!


The Stairs to Nowhere


It’s clear there were once stairs here…but where did they lead to? And what happened to them? These are part of what we call the ‘Tiled Stairs’ which run through the staff parts of the building and we can only assume they were covered over for some eerie suspicious reason…

The Stacks


After warnings that the Building may begin to collapse under the weight of the stock inside, in 1966 thousands of volumes were removed from the Library and temporarily housed in the basements of surrounding buildings. Where the courtyard that you can see in the photograph above once was, a 5 story concrete construction was built from the ground up to ensure we had enough space for all our stock to be housed safely.

The stacks today are one of the most eerie places in the building. As you climb the narrow staircases inside the stacks you can feel the dip in temperature and hear the clanking book lift in the middle of the structure.


Behind locked doors are the stack rooms themselves, again eerily cold and dark. Even our most sceptical members of staff have noted feeling uneasy in the stacks and numerous ghostly sights and sounds have been reported…


The Basement

We really have saved the best, and most spooky for last. The basement.

If you have visited before, you may be aware that you can arrive into the building at basement level and take the journey up in the lift to our further 3 floors. But wait…there is another basement. Past the generators, the telephone switchboard and down stone steps is the real basement.


The depths of this Victorian building were once used by Library staff but now lay untouched with only a brave few engineers ever venturing down there, as this area is now inaccessible.


We warned you it was spooky!

If you dare to see the ‘behind the scenes’ sights of our beautiful Grade II Listed Central Library (it’s not all spooky we promise) you can book onto one of our Heritage Tours that run regularly. Keep an eye out for future dates/ticket information on Leeds Libraries Twitter (@leedslibraries) and Facebook (Leeds Libraries) or on our Ticketsource page https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/leedslibraryevents

Be sure to check back here soon for a report from our sold out Haunted Heritage Tour which is taking place after the building closes this Friday 30th October.

Happy Hallowe’en!

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Read More: Agincourt, 1415 – and Pontefract Castle

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

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

With Sunday marking six-hundred years since the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, we thought it an appropriate time to bring you details of relevant holdings in the stacks of the Central Library; resources that would help interested readers gain a deeper understanding of both that battle and the wider Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Our stack holdings are generally drawn from titles published up until the 1900s and are written from a broadly academic perspective; readers wanting more modern  introductions might be interested in titles such as these.

Any serious study of the Hundred Years’ War has to start with Jonathan Sumption’s monumental three-volume study, with the Information and Research department holding the first two volumes. Shorter introductions include Desmond Seward’s The Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453 and Alan Lloyd’s illustrated study. Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Burne’s The Agincourt War is a military history covering the latter years of conflict, while a 1971 volume, edited by Kenneth Fowler, contains thematic essays by prominent historians of the time. The wider contexts of the times are laid out in works such as Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th-century, while the national mood in both countries is explored in works such as Gerald Harriss’s Shaping the Nation: England, 1360-1461 and Georges Duby’s France in the Middle Ages, 987-1460: From Hugh Capet to Joan of Arc.

agincourt 4

Of the major protagonists at Agincourt, the library possesses many biographies of Henry V –including full-life studies by Margaret Wade Labarge (1975) and James Hamilton Wylie’s three-volume The Reign of Henry Fifth (1914). E.F. Jacob’s 1947 study focuses specifically on Henry’s invasion of France. One notable presence on the French side was that of Charles, Duke of Orleans. Captured by the English – after he was discovered under a pile of corpses, unwounded but incapacitated by the weight of his own armour – Charles d’Orleans was held captive for the next twenty-four years, including at Pontefract Castle.

Spending his time wisely, Charles wrote around five hundred poems in both French and English; you can read more about the poet-Duke’s life in Enid McLeod’s Charles of Orleans: Prince and Poet. Further information about the fascinating history of Pontefract Castle – which includes the likely murder-scene of King Richard II and three fierce battles during the English Civil War – can be gained through various resources available in our Local and History library. These include The Honour and Castle of Pontefract, a privately-published 1865 volume by the Reverend C.H. Hartshone, and a 1990 guide produced by the West Yorkshire Archaeological Service and written by Ian Roberts.

Reproduction of Pontefract Castle in the 15th-century. Taken from Lorenzo Padgett's Chronicles of Old Pontefract

Reproduction of Pontefract Castle in the 15th-century, just prior to the Duke of Orleans’ imprisonment. Taken from Lorenzo Padgett’s Chronicles of Old Pontefract

That little anecdote about the poet of Pontefract is the kind of detail you are most likely to find in contemporaneous accounts of an event. Several such reports from the Hundred Years’ War are also available from our stacks, including Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (covering the period to 1400); a richly-annotated translation of the Latin Gesta Henrici Quinti (“The Deeds of Henry V”); and a collection covering accounts from Froissart, Jean le Bel and Enguerrand de Monstrelet.

agincourt 2

Perhaps the most interesting item from our collections, however, is Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas’ 1827 work The History of the Battle of Agincourt, an in-depth account of the battle drawn from further contemporary accounts – and one which includes the ‘roll of the men at arms in the English Army’; or, to give the full description: the “names of the Dukes, Erles, Barons, Knights, Esquires, Serviteuers and others that wer with the Excellent Prince King Henry the Fifte, at the Battell of Agincourt, on Fryday, the XXVth Day of October, in the Yere of our Lorde God, 1415”.” Perhaps your ancestor was one of these men, Shakespeare’s “few…happy few…band of brothers”? To make a start on uncovering any possible connection, visit our Local and Family History library and talk to staff about researching your family tree.

Map of the Agincourt battleground. Taken from Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas' book

Map of the Agincourt battleground. Taken from Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas’ book

Unexpected Perspectives #3

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

We’re back causing trouble in city centre shops again this week, squeezing ourselves around an upstairs window display to get an elevated view of one of Leeds’s busiest retail routes, Briggate.


You’ll need to ride the escalator or lift to the first floor of clothes shop Zara to get a gander from this angle, heading for the window in the far corner of the menswear department. (If anyone accuses you of trying to sidle behind the counter at this point, just remain very still and pretend to be a mannequin.) The trip is especially worth making on a Saturday afternoon, when the throng of shoppers at ground level becomes a mesmerising flow of bobbing heads when seen from above.

Our photograph reflects a window of opportunity on a less busy weekday (and, yes, there’s plenty of reflecting visible on the window in the image – sorry). As well as appreciating the surprising slope of the street from this angle, you’ll find it’s the often ornate upper levels of the surrounding buildings that stand out, rather than the shops beneath. Take a look at the next photo, from 1909, and see if you can work out which buildings it shows.


The clue of course is the Pack Horse Inn, the entrance to which is also visible in our more modern photograph (on the extreme left). The entrance to Pack Horse Yard is at number 56 Briggate, one of the oldest buildings in Leeds when the 1909 picture was taken, but which stands no longer. You can still visit the pub, however, which dates back to 1615 and has an original Templar Cross affixed to the wall beneath its gables – a sign that the building once belonged to the Knights Templar.

The entranceway itself is one of the city’s ‘low ins’. This is a 19th Century name for the various doorway-sized entrances between the shops and businesses of Leeds, which lead to a network of passageways and yards behind. Some locals believe that, over time, the expression ‘low in’ gave rise to the term ‘Loiner’, referring to a resident of Leeds. Many of these entrances remain open today and, if you decide to explore them, you’ll discover unusually-named yards, a handful of hidden shops, and more of the city centre’s oldest pubs.

  • For more photographs of bygone Leeds, visit our Leodis website.

Black History Month: A Brief History of the African-Caribbean Community in Leeds

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

Since the publication of this article on the 16th of October, 2015, new research has been undertaken, which takes the story into the 1980s. A BA dissertation by Tom Woolmore, a student at Queen’s University in Belfast, entitledKeep On Moving: Black Responses to Racism and Government Policy in Chapeltown During the 1980s” – which utilised primary resource material available in our collections – has recently been added to stock in the Local and Family History department of the Central Library.



The contributions of the African-Caribbean community to the history of modern Leeds are many and varied. Even so, this history, in its earliest years, remains – in many respects – a ‘secret’ history: the arrival in Leeds of settlers from the Caribbean during the post-war era and the subsequent struggle of that first-generation to carve out a meaningful life in unfamiliar and often-unwelcoming new surroundings.

As Melody Walker has written, the “greatest weapon” of those first settlers “against feelings of alienation and displacement was unity”; that is, community. And that community spirit would ultimately become crucial to the Leeds story; not as something extra, or additional, to the ‘mainstream’ of Leeds’ history – but as a vital and essential part. Who now can imagine the cultural life of Leeds without the West Indian Carnival? That festival is justifiably known throughout the city and beyond, but it is only one part of the wider story: so, to mark Black History Month, we bring you a brief history of African-Caribbean Leeds.

While there is some scattered evidence of African people in Leeds stretching back to 1749 – when local schoolmaster John Lucas commented, in his diary, on the arrest of Thomas Mawson, an army drummer – the real history of this community begins in 1948 with the arrival of economic migrants from the Caribbean Islands.


Extract from the diary of John Lucas, 1749

Attracted by the promise of work in the burgeoning post-war economy and the establishment of the NHS, these pioneers raised the numbers of Black people in Leeds from around 1,000 in 1951, to around 4,000 in 1961 (by 1971 there were estimated to be 11,000). Most of these early settlers were single, under 40-years of age and had backgrounds in skilled trades: carpenters, masons, tailors, seamen, mechanics, painters, electricians, clerks and teachers were among the first arrivals.

Even so, the world encountered by these individuals was, quite often, not as promised or as expected. The weather was cold and damp and grey; housing was cramped and inadequate; and jobs were hard to come by, even for those individuals with the necessary qualifications. Many of these problems with housing and employment were, it is almost certain, the consequence of ignorance or outright racism on the part of the indigenous white population; some trade unions were hostile to the presence of workers who they felt were in competition with their current members, while unscrupulous landlords took advantage of settlers’ need for accommodation by exploiting the run-down Victorian housing of Chapeltown and Harehills to its fullest extent. One tenant, living in the Leopold Street area of Chapeltown, was reported as telling the Director of Housing for the Council that “the houses at the side of me are boarded up, we have no kitchen, just a place under the steps, with snails always up the wall, just enough room for one person at a time, they aren’t really fit for pigs to live in.”

2nd February 1954 View from Reginald Street junction across Chapeltown Road to number 176, Reginald Stores on the corner with Back Newton Grove. Taken from www.leodis.net

2nd February 1954 View from Reginald Street junction across Chapeltown Road to number 176, Reginald Stores on the corner with Back Newton Grove. Taken from www.leodis.net

But that very clustering of the African-Caribbean population into a specific area had its positive consequences too: the fostering of a spirit of unity leading directly to the creation of clubs and organisations playing a central role in giving a strong voice to that community. The earliest was the formation, in 1946, of the Caribbean Cricket Club, which became far more than ‘just’ a sports club, filling – in part – the vacuum of social welfare provision for the African-Caribbean population. Two founders of that Club – Errol James and Glen English – were later instrumental in the creation of the Aggrey Society, a housing association, and the United Caribbean Association, which would give evidence before a House of Commons Select Committee on race relations in 1972.

The growth of such organisations was exponential. By 1975 a Community Directory would list 15; 1982, 41; and, by 1992, 110 groups catering for the needs of ethnic minority groups would be recorded. Problems and issues – such as racism at the Cowper Street School in 1973, or the clashes between youths and police in 1975 and 1981 – were tackled through community forums and action groups. Cultural and social issues were prominent: the West Indian Brotherhood, formed in 1962, taught Black History classes from Veryl Harriott’s house in Harehills, before Veryl herself went on to initiate the formation of the Chapeltown Citizen’s Advice Bureau. In 1972 a community newspaper – Chapeltown News – was launched and, in 1967, Arthur France, a founding member of the UCA, initiated the Leeds West Indian Carnival.

25th August 1980. Crowds are gathered in Chapeltown Road on August Bank Holiday Monday. Taken from www.leodis.net

25th August 1980. Crowds are gathered in Chapeltown Road on August Bank Holiday Monday. Taken from www.leodis.net

By the late 1970s, African-Caribbeans were playing an active role in local politics, with trade-unionist leader Norma Hutchinson being elected a local councillor in 1991. Like Norma many of the early community activists were from a Jamaican background. Six of these – Nettie White, Travis Johnson, Errol James, Elizabeth Johnson, Lizette Powell and Yvonne English – felt the need of an organisation that would meet the specific needs of the Leeds-Jamaican community. In 1977 they launched the Jamaican Society, which was to become one of the most respected of all such societies in the Jamaican diaspora. This group did not restrict itself to any arena, taking on social welfare issues, initiatives related to health and crime, cultural activities, children’s events and community fundraising. Since 1989 the Society has been based at Jamaica House, 277 Chapeltown Road – a lasting tribute to the strength and resilience of the Afro-Caribbean community in Leeds.

The [Jamaican] people who came in the 1940s to the early 1960s are, in my eyes, heroes and heroines: whether it was their presence on the larger public stage of local and national activism or the personal sacrifices they made for their families and communities.” – Melody Walker

If this snapshot has sparked your interest in your own ancestry, why not attend an African-Caribbean Family History workshops being held at the Library as part of Black History Month? If so, a session will be taking place on the 21st of October, from 10.30am-12pm.

Please contact us via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk or on 01132 478290 for further details or to book a place.


These items are all available to view in our Local and Family History library:

  • Max Farrar – On The Move: An Introduction to the Migration and Settlement of the Black Communities in Leeds (1993)
  • Farrar, Max – Racism, Education and Black Self-Organisation (1993)
  • Leeds International Council – ‘Strangers in our Midst’: Report of a Conference convened to study the Relations of White and Coloured People in Leeds (1955)
  • Oates, Jonathan ed., – The Memoranda Book of John Lucas: 1712-1750 (2006)
  • Walker, Melody – A Journey Through our History: The Story of the Jamaican People in Leeds (2003)
  • Zulfiqar, Mohsin ed., – Land of Hope and Glory? The Presence of African, Asian and Caribbean Communities in Leeds (1993)


Unexpected Perspectives #2

  • By Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Now is the time to wander down to the West Yorkshire Playhouse and take advantage of a relatively unobstructed view straight up Eastgate to the Headrow. Once the new multi-storey car park of the currently under-construction Victoria Gate shopping centre is complete (it’s due to open late next year), we wager you might still be able to see as far as the Town Hall clock tower – as seen below – but, depending on the shape of the new development, it’s by no means a given.


Today, the boughs of trees frame the prospect seen from this viewpoint at the eastern edge of the city centre but, forty years ago, you would have been staring out from beneath the arched entrance of the country’s largest housing block, Quarry Hill Flats. The complex stood on the site from 1934 to 1978, and a visit to our Leodis photographic website will show you exactly what it looked like. The picture below, however, from 1967, shows a view similar to that above, albeit with two big differences. Firstly, the left of the two ‘Bookend Buildings’, only recently demolished, still stands – the mirror image of its companion across the road. Secondly, Eastgate Roundabout (in the foreground) remains the location of Appleyard’s petrol station… Look closely and you can make out its petrol pumps where, today, flower beds and pelican crossing points stand.


Our vantage point, or hereabouts, is also the place from which to try to catch a glimpse of one of the city’s most mysterious and little-seen phenomena, known amongst the select few who’ve witnessed it as ‘Leedshenge’. It’s whispered that, if you’re standing in the right spot (somewhere around here) at the right time of day (sunrise or sunset) at the right time of year (accounts favour the vernal or autumnal equinox), the sun will momentarily rest upon the horizon, lining up perfectly with the buildings that flank the Headrow, and lending the landscape an unearthly, near-indescribable glow. You’ve missed your chance for this year, we’re afraid, but perhaps we’ll meet you there next March… that’s if that car park’s not in the way.