19th-Century Political Cartoons: Explorations in the Collection of the Leeds Library Service

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

Last Friday I gave the latest in our popular series of Lunchtime talks; my presentation was an introductory look at the Local and Family History department’s collection of 19th-century political cartoons. These mainly cover parliamentary elections in Leeds in the latter half of the 1800s, specifically the 1868, 1874 and 1880 elections. Here are a few representative images from that Collection, along with brief descriptions of the events and personalities depicted there:

"Fearful Disaster at Sea: Wreck of H.M.S. Poor Jack; Fate of Duncombe and Fairbairn."

“Fearful Disaster at Sea: Wreck of H.M.S. Poor Jack; Fate of Duncombe and Fairbairn.” 1868 cartoon

Here, we see the five Parliamentary candidates and their fates in the 1868 election being gently satirised. Edward Baines Jr. and Robert Meek Carter – Liberal party candidates – sat safely atop a rock in the aftermath of a shipwreck, reading the papers they were associated with, the Leeds Express and the Leeds Mercury. Carter exclaims “We are safe”, while we can also see the Tory candidate, William St. James Wheelhouse reporting “I have landed.” His fellow Conservative, Admiral Duncombe, meanwhile can be seen here on the far right adrift – “All is lost” he reports.

Sir Andrew Fairbairn – standing as an independent Liberal – is saying “I wish I had not resigned my former berth” – a probable reference to his resignation from the position of Mayor. Baines can be seen commenting that he could have saved Sir Andrew – but that, in doing so, he may have lost his place in the election race alongside the doomed Knight.

" Dr Lees and His Supporters". 1874 cartoon

” Dr Lees and His Supporters”. 1874 cartoon

This image from the 1874 election shows Dr Frederick Lees, a Liberal candidate who entered the Parliamentary race alongside the two incumbent Liberal MPs, Edward Baines Jr. and Robert Meek Carter (login to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography using your Leeds Library and Information Service account to read more about Dr Lees). The cartoon satirises Dr Lees’ desperation to gain office and the extent to which he was willing to make extravagant promises to working men in order to win their votes: one man can be seen asking “Will ye give us 8-hours pay for 4-hours work?”. Lees’ supporters are possibly portrayed as oafish members of the Leeds Irish community: the evidence being that “ye” and the fact another man asks “Will ye give us Home Rule?”.

"Parliamentary Election 1880"

“Parliamentary Election 1880”


This final image – from the 1880 Parliamentary election – shows the Radical leader John De Morgan attempting to extract a promise from the local Liberal association that he will not enter that year’s race as an independent candidate so long as the party agree to make him an official candidate at the next election. However, the two Conservative candidates – William Lawies Jackson and William St. James Wheelhouse – can be seen manipulating De Morgan in his electoral intervention, while publicly claiming the opposite.

All the slides from the talk – including further images from the Collection – can be seen by clicking here, while the full text can be read by clicking here. A spreadsheet constituting a rough early index to the full Political Cartoon and Prints Collection can be seen by clicking here. Further details as to the holdings and any queries as to access to the Collection can be gained by contacting the Local and Family History department in the Central Library.




Where Was Leeds Maze?

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

When Carver thought about the maze he could picture it very clearly. The thick green walls of leaves, the scuffed brown pathway that may once have been lawn, the iron trellis that was pulled across the entrance at six o’clock each evening. But apart from the fact that it had been somewhere in Roundhay Park, he could never recall its exact location.

So opens The Maze by Leeds-born author Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen). In the short story, a man’s hazy childhood memories of a labyrinth at Roundhay Park lead him into an obsession with working out exactly where it stood – to the extent that he begins to question whether or not it even existed. His quest brings him right here, to the local history department of Leeds Central Library, where he finally uncovers the truth, although not in the way you might expect.

It’s a strangely unnerving tale, featuring a wry description of this very building (“the library offered a sense of Victorian comfort … a steady municipal calm”), but it doesn’t offer a concrete answer on the matter of the maze. Did it exist? If so, what was it like?

One feature of the park that certainly did exist – at least until the 1980s – was the funfair. And, if you don’t remember that either, check out this photo on the Leodis website, where you can see it for yourself. Buried in the accompanying text is confirmation that the maze stood “just behind” but, sadly, it’s not visible in the photograph.

Visual proof can be found, however, in old Ordnance Survey maps of Leeds. In the same way that these sometimes give a surprising level of detail when it comes to buildings – the pews of an old church, for example, or the location of the stage inside a long-demolished theatre – they also come up trumps with a perfect plan of the old Roundhay Park maze. Here it is, just east of the Sports Ground, on the 1908 map of the area:


We had fun this week sharing our hunt for the maze with the pupils of Talbot Primary School, Roundhay, some of whom not only located it on old maps, but also managed to find their way to the centre of the labyrinth using a magnifying glass! With the help of an article published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 9 November 1996, they learned that the maze was laid out by Leeds Corporation around 1890, and stood for over eighty years before its eventual dismantling in January 1976.


The one thing everyone wanted to see, however, was a picture of the maze – the elusiveness of which might even have inspired Dyson’s story. There aren’t any to be found in the newspaper article, on Leodis, or even, most surprisingly of all, anywhere on the Internet… not, at least, that we’ve come across and, believe us, we looked everywhere. But we always rise to a challenge at Local and Family History and, after a lot of searching, we managed to uncover one.

The focus of the photo isn’t actually the maze itself – which may explain why so few people seem to have noticed it – but it definitely appears in all its hedgy glory within an aerial shot of the sports arena taken by N.S. Roberts in 1929. We won’t publish it here because we haven’t asked the copyright holder for permission but, if you want to see it, you can find it on the very last page of the first edition (1984) of Steven Burt’s Illustrated History of Roundhay Park, kept in the Local and Family History Library at shelf mark L ROU 712. (Don’t go looking in the second edition of the book from 2000 – it’s mysteriously absent.)

We have to wonder if Mr Dyson spotted it when researching his short story!

  • The Maze appears in Never Trust a Rabbit by Jeremy Dyson (Abacus, 2006). Several of the book’s other stories are also set in Leeds, which is why you’ll find a copy in Local and Family History at shelf mark L 823 DYS. And where better to read The Maze than the very library where its creepy and atmospheric climax takes place? Go on – we dare you!

Ethelwynne in the Spotlight

Last Friday, we published a sombre but moving post entitled A Leeds Schoolgirl Reflects on WW1. Now, blogger Maureen Jessop has sent a more lighthearted little update our way.

Take a look at the photo below (which, like last week’s poem, comes from the Leeds Girls’ High School magazine) and see if you can work out which of the pupils is playing the ‘canary’ in the school production of The Birds of Aristophanes

LGHS Production-1

Found her? That’s our poet, Ethelwynne Stewart McDowall. Click for a closer look, and do let us know if you think you’ve spotted her!

A Leeds Schoolgirl Reflects on WW1

  • As part of Dying Matters awareness week, The Secret Library investigates the story behind a powerful poem on the subject of death and loss. Our Heritage Volunteer Maureen Jessop discovered the piece while reading and indexing the magazine of Leeds Girls’ High, the school that stood in Headingley from 1876 until its merger with Leeds Grammar School in 2005. It was signed simply ‘E. McD’ but, with a little research using resources at the Local and Family History Library, Maureen was able to identify the pupil who wrote it and uncover the tragic truth behind the verse.

The Last Homecoming

So you are dead, are dead, my little brother,
And forever sleeping under a marble stone;
So you have winged your way, like many another,
Down into the mystic silence and dark, alone.

The sunlit leaves in the dawn wind may be shaken,
The sky may fuse to a glory of molten blue,
The sun may set, and the moon and stars waken,
But never, never, never again for you.

You are lost to us; you are gone – ah, who knows whither?
Is it to the land you left when you first drew breath?
Are you one with the wind you loved, and does sorrow wither
To nothingness on the other side of death?

Beloved, if there is a God, you are in His keeping,
Young life, pure life, strong life, life that is clean and true,
Forever safe on another shore lies sleeping,
Till the great dawn comes, little brother, – and this was you.

(Published in Leeds Girls High School Magazine, issue 61, 1918)

The poet was Ethelwynne Stewart McDowall, who was born in Castleford in 1896. She was a pupil at Leeds Girls’ High School and had won a music scholarship. Her brother was Hugh Stewart McDowall, born in Castleford on 28 November 1898. Their parents were Robert Moffatt McDowall, an architect/surveyor, and Helen Murdoch McDowall, nee Stewart.

Hugh enlisted on 3 July 1917, as a sailor with the Mercantile Marine, but he suffered a severe illness after a long voyage. On his recovery, he was discharged and, on 4 December 1917, was “appointed to a temporary commission as 2nd Lieutenant (on probation) on the General List for duty with the Royal Flying Corps”. He was attached to the 62nd Training Squadron at Hounslow when he died on 28 June 1918 “as result of aeroplane acc.” [accident].

The circumstances of the accident were reported in the Hounslow News section of the Middlesex Chronicle, 29 June 1918:

Yesterday morning as Lt. Hugh Stewart McDowall, RAF, was flying over the district, his machine got out of control, and in falling crashed into one of the buildings of a local gunpowder factory. Both building and machine were wrecked, and the young officer was taken from the debris dead, his terrible injuries including broken back, legs and arms. Fortunately the petrol did not ignite, or the consequences might have been much more disastrous, as a large number of hands were working in the vicinity at the time.

It was surmised that Hugh was taken ill during the flight, as he had previously flown the machine and the engine was found to be in order after the accident. Hugh’s funeral was reported in the Hull Daily Mail on 3 July 1918:

Lieut. Hugh Stewart McDowall, RAF, aged 19, only son of  R.M. McDowall of Victoria Avenue, Hornsea, was quietly laid to rest in Hornsea Cemetery on Tuesday, in the presence of his immediate relatives, after a service with full military honours, held on Sunday at Hounslow Aerodrome.

McDowall Grave Hornsea.2

Maureen paid a visit to Southgate Cemetery in Hornsea, where she took this picture of Hugh’s grave

On 24 December 1919, the Hull Daily Mail also reported that, in Hornsea, “A war memorial tablet in brass was unveiled by the Rev. J.J. Matson Hillary in the Congregational Church on Sunday morning. The tablet bears the inscription, “The Souls of the Righteous are in the Hands of God. To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of the following members of this Church, who laid down their lives in the European War 1914-1919 … [Several names follow] … Hugh Stewart McDowall, Lieut. 62nd Training Squadron, RAF, accidentally killed at Hounslow, June 28 1918, aged 19. Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. This tablet was erected by members of the congregation”.

Memorial in Hornsea United Reformed Church

Memorial in Hornsea United Reformed Church – temporarily taken down during decorating (photographed by Maureen)

  • We’re proud to share with our readers the moving tribute paid to Hugh McDowall by his sister almost a century ago; and, as the anniversary of one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles, the Somme, approaches, we hope it gives you pause to think about those you hold dear and what they mean to you. We’ll be marking the hundred years since the Somme with a special exhibition at Leeds Central Library in June/July, together with a short series of talks and other events, including a poetry reading. Look out for more details soon.

New Research Guide: Frank Kidson Collection

Good news if you’re a fan of folk music, or enjoyed our previous post Folk Hero Frank Kidson… We’ve just published a new research guide aimed at helping you get the best out of the large collection of materials held at Leeds Central Library relating to the city’s esteemed music historian, Frank Kidson (1855-1926).

From his notable compendiums of songs, singing games and broadsides, to articles he contributed to newspapers and other volumes, there’s plenty to explore by the author himself, including some of his own sketchbooks and notes. As well as these, you’ll find biographical pieces by those who knew him, including his niece, Ethel, who continued editing and publishing his work after his death.

Pop into the Local and Family History Library to pick up a copy of the guide, or download it as a PDF by clicking on the image below.