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:

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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.

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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!
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