Guest Post: The People’s Cafe

  • This week’s post comes courtesy of Russell Croft, who has kindly allowed us to republish a piece from his blog. The article – on the history of Leeds Bridge House – was researched using resources from our Local and Family History department and is an excellent example of how local history archives can work toward the reclamation of historical memory. The original post can be found on Russell’s website, while further images of Bridge House can be found on our Leodis photographic archive.

“I am not the first idler on his way into the Adelphi pub to notice that Leeds Bridge House bears a striking resemblance to the (rather more famous!) Flatiron Building in New York City, albeit on a more modest scale. Both are wedge-shaped and built in pleasingly Italianate styles on triangular corner sites between busy thoroughfares. The Leeds version is Grade II listed and was completed in 1881, preceding the arrival of its sky-scraping Manhattan counterpart by twenty years. Perhaps the latter’s American architect, Daniel Burnham, paid a covert visit to Yorkshire in search of some old-world inspiration? Perhaps not, but there is an interesting tale to tell about the early years of Leeds Bridge House as a landmark of Victorian moral paternalism.


I am grateful to Jon Howe and Jeffrey Zeldman for this composite image

The site for the building, bounded by Hunslet Road, Hunslet Lane and Waterloo Street, was acquired from Leeds Corporation by local banker John James Cousins on 6 October 1879. It was one lot in a general sale by auction of development land south of Leeds Bridge, and it cost him £1,338. Cousins, who lived at Allerton Park, north of the city, was manager of the Exchange and Discount bank on Park Row, and he hired architects Messrs. Adams & Kelly, also of Park Row, to design a building to fit the unusual shape of the plot. The conveyance to Cousins stipulated that the construction was to be at least forty feet in height, and the site invited something out of the ordinary since it is in the centre of one’s eye-line at the south end of Leeds Bridge.

In his inaugural address to the Leeds Architectural Society in 1881, its president, Mr J.B. Fraser F.R.I.B.A., welcomed the result as “a noteworthy and handsome addition to our public buildings, and very creditable to the architects”. He mentioned it in the context of “the increasing demand for better provision for the bodily comfort and for the improvement of the mental and moral status of the poorer classes.” This is because Cousins conceived the building as a so-called “People’s Café”.

The People’s Café movement, now apparently forgotten, was formed in 1874 “to establish places of resort and recreation for working men, conducted on temperance principles, but sufficiently attractive to compete with the beershop and the gin-palace.” Its promoters included the great nineteenth century Tory social reformer, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, prominent church temperance campaigner Canon Ellison, and hard-line Victorian self-help moralist Sir Charles Trevelyan. The idea was that financial support would be given to suitable men to start such businesses, who would then be left to manage them on a commercial, but strictly temperance basis.

The Leeds “People’s Café” was announced open by an advertisement in the Yorkshire Post of 3 September 1881, where it was stressed that its “Breakfasts, Diners, Teas and Suppers of the best quality are supplied at prices within the reach of everyone.” It also offered overnight accommodation in the shape of thirty “excellent bedrooms from 4s per week, or 1s per night,” and “Hot and Cold Private Baths, 3d”. The initial manager was a Mr C. Dilly, who had given way by 1886 to a Mr J. Walker.

An impression of their character and facilities comes from a description of a People’s Café newly opened in May 1875 at Whitechapel in London’s East End (this was the second such establishment, the first being in London’s Whitecross Street): “It is bright and cheerful within, and well ventilated. On the ground floor is a good-sized coffee-room, well supplied with little marble-top tables, and upstairs are a reading-room, where also is to be collected a small library, a room where chess, draughts, dominoes, and the like may be played; a room for billiards and also for bagatelle”. It was anticipated that the basement of the Whitechapel café would become an American bowling alley.

The scheme’s initial promoters were sure that people would flock “to make use of such places when the places are ready for them”, but the fortunes of the Leeds establishment suggest otherwise. The Leeds Mercury of 26 September 1888 reported that (after only seven years of trading) the business’s name had been altered to the “Cobden Temperance Hotel”. Taken over by the St James’s Hall Committee and “fitted up” on the same plan as the St James’s Hall (presumably the concert hall in the West End of London), it seems that the premises had, in modern parlance, been “rebranded”.

These new promoters were reported as expecting it to “prove an equally successful venture” as the St James’s Hall itself, and its reopening was graced with a recital of songs by the Temperance Choral Society performed to an assembly of worthies including the manager of St James’s Hall, Mr A. E. Brayshaw. But such high hopes were soon dashed. By June 1895, the ground floor had been converted into shops and the upper stories had fallen into disuse. Cousins died on 1 December 1897, when the main body of the building was still unoccupied. So it remained in November 1901, when his executors sold it to Nelson & Co Ltd (tea merchants of Louth in Lincolnshire). But the cycle of failure persisted, as that company was put into liquidation by creditors’ petition on 7 February 1905.

Thereafter the building was given over to commercial or office use, and eventually dereliction when it narrowly escaped demolition. It has never been returned to the hospitality trade, with or without an alcohol licence. Most likely it was simply built in the wrong place to serve a significant temperance market. Jackson’s city guide of 1889 describes what it quaintly calls “transpontine Leeds” (that is to say the working class suburbs of Hunslet and Holbeck stretching south from Leeds bridge) as “not famous for many of the charms which attract the eye of the beholder…now one vastness of toiling humanity”. Perhaps the citizenry south of the river did not care to be patronised by a dry venue aiming at their moral improvement, when there were any number of wet pubs close at hand.

And however cultured the later Cobden Temperance Hotel may have been, abstaining visitors would surely have preferred to stay at one of several more convenient temperance hotels in the city centre (over twenty are listed as trading there in the 1890s) rather than venturing into a noisy, dirty and probably rough part of town. Nowadays there is virtually no sign of its initial incarnation inside, apart from a dumb-waiter shaft which runs the full height of the building, presumably from what was originally a basement kitchen, with service hatches on each of its five floors. It is currently tenanted by charitable organisations so, in a way, the place has returned to its philanthropic roots.

Sources & Acknowledgments:

Revised Listed Buildings, City of Leeds, Vol. 2 (The entry for Leeds Bridge House wrongly gives its time of construction as c.1875); West Yorkshire Architects and Architecture, Derek Linstrum, 1978, pp. 370, 379; Leeds The Architectural Heritage, G. Sheeran & I. Beesley, 1993, pp. 40-1; Kelly’s, Post Office andRobinson’s Leeds Street Directories; The Builder, 1874 pp. 225-6, 1875 p. 472, 1881 pp. 676-7; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Mercury for the dates appearing in the text; Jackson’s Guide to Leeds, 1889, p. 207.

I am grateful to the current owner of Leeds Bridge House for giving me sight of the title deeds and for showing me around the building; I am also grateful to the staff at Leeds Central Library Local and Family History Services for their willing help.” – Russell Croft,

On John Lucas, 18th-Century Leeds and Foot-ball

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

With the football European Championships now well underway, this seemed like a perfect time to draw attention to one of the lesser-known treasures of our collection: the handwritten manuscript of John Lucas’ Memoranda Book.


Born in 1684, Lucas was primarily known as a schoolmaster in his own time: in 1712 he was a master at the Leeds Grammar School but, by 1726, had taken over St. John’s Charity School, the so-called ‘Blue Coat School’ (after the jackets provided to pupils). But Lucas is best known to us today – if he is known at all – as a local historian and a diarist (of sorts). His major work was his History of Warton Parish (in Lancashire, where he was born), which he worked on for a period of more than thirty years. Lucas dedicated that book to Ralph Thoresby, whose coin collection he helped to catalogue. The elder antiquarian appears to have been something of a mentor to a man developing his own keen interest in the past.

It is Lucas’ diary, however, which is of most interest to historians of Leeds; although it is not a diary in the sense we would understand that term today – and we do not even know why he kept it. Lucas gives little of himself away in his work – no personal observations or remarks, nothing about his work (either scholastic or academic) and little of his domestic life. Rather, his diary is more properly understood as, literally, a ‘memoranda’: that is, a memory aid – a collection of jottings that could be referred to at some future date.

Many of those notes relate to happenings in Lucas’ immediate locality. One such event occurs on the 16th and 17th of December when Lucas records that “a frost began which continues very severe (with abundance of snow)” for over a month. It was during this long period of climactic extreme that Lucas records seeing “hundreds of men playing at football upon the river.” This is the first recorded mention of the sport being played in Leeds.


The section of the Memoranda featuring Lucas’ description of football being played on the river

The Memoranda is primarily of use because it provides that kind of everyday detail about a period still somewhat neglected in the historiography of Leeds: the early 18th-century. Specifically, the most detailed sections of Lucas’ writing covers the years 1712-1716; a period just prior to the first publication of the Leeds Mercury in 1718 and for which there is partially a gap in Ralph Thoresby’s own diary (from 1714-1719).

We are honoured to hold this important document of Leeds and its history here at the Central Library. It was presented to us in 1932 by Alderman Perceval T. Leigh, a dentist, after a long period when its whereabouts were unknown following its author’s death in 1750. You can view the manuscript by visiting our Local and Family History department (note that two forms of identification will be required, one of which must feature your current address). A transcription of the sections relevant to Leeds can be found in Publications of the Thoresby Society, Volume 16, Second Series (2006). Edited by Jonathan Oates, that version also includes a superb introduction to Lucas’ life and works (from which much of this article has been derived).

Lucas himself was buried in St John’s churchyard, along with his son, Richard, and Richard’s family. His memorial reads “Vita labore perfunctus huc accesssit” (‘A Life of Labour Performed, He Came Here’), but we much prefer Lucas’ own preferred wording: the poetically-biographic “Me genuit Carnford; docuit Warton, altuique/Leeds celebris pannis; hic lapis ossa tegit” –

Carnforth begat me, Warton Instructed Me,
Elevated in Leeds, Famous for its Cloth,
This Stone Covers His Remains

Pottering About Thinking

  • By Tony Scaife, Heritage Volunteer, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

One of the advantages of a Heritage Volunteer/retirement job share is the temptation it gives you to wander about in the marvellous collection of the Local and Family History Library and digress from any assigned task. I am following the life and times of the Leeds Central High School (CHS) boys of the 1920s, as revealed in their school magazine The Palm. But, my next CHS task – involving stories of their school holiday exploits – will have wait a while until we have had a brief look at two wonderfully quirky volumes I chanced across.

Firstly, though, a little scene-setting. The Leeds and District Weekly Citizen for 7 August 1914 reported how attendance at the second day of the Leeds’ Workpeople’s Hospital Fund Gala in Roundhay Park had been spoiled. The first scheduled day, on Monday 3 August, had attracted record crowds but, by Tuesday, crowds had evaporated as news of the declaration of war with Germany spread. One feels for the organisers, who had no doubt laboured mightily for months to get such a big show on the road only for some ‘b—–’ to declare a war. One also feels for the now largely idle showmen and exhibitors, including an aerial display in which the pilot had thrilled Monday’s crowds with a loop-the-loop exhibition. Perhaps that pilot was Harold Blackburn:


We know Blackburn was in Roundhay Park ten days before because he was offering free flights for the two lucky winners of a ballot at the Fancy Dress Parade and Gymkhana held on Soldiers’ Field on Saturday 25 July 1914. (Our image comes from the event programme produced by the Leeds Cycle and Motor Cycle Charity, at shelf mark: LP 796.4 L571).

In the programme, we are given a glimpse into an innocent, vaguely comic – and at times downright scary – Saturday afternoon that’s now probably lost to all living memory. Throughout the event, which ran from 2.00 to 7.00 pm, the band of the Royal Engineers (Leeds Territorials) provided the soundtrack for bicycle, motor car and motorcycle ‘musical chair’ events, as well as a parade of decorated cycles, motorcycles and cars. There were egg-and-spoon races for cyclists and variations on apple-bobbing from motorcycles and motor cars. Men and women competed but always to a strictly amateur code, with only cycling accessories and the like offered to the winners. To me, the blindfold race for motor cars sounds very scary! Blindfolded drivers would be accompanied by a steward, but can you imagine a modern risk assessment for ‘blind’ drivers in a public arena? The programme records how that Summer afternoon passed, event after event, sometimes risky but never risqué.

A bicycle is advertised for £6/17/6, a motorcycle for £42 and a light car for £105. The approximate equivalent economic values today would be £3,714, £23,000 and £65,000 respectively. Clearly even bicycles were pretty expensive in 1914, but this expense would not have deterred another, earlier generation of cyclists featured in the Local and Family History collection…

The Potternewton Cycling Club appears to have been founded around 1883, and their Monthly Record 1891-95 (LQ POT 796) is a volume recording the very height of fashionable cycling in Victorian Leeds.


Potternewton Cycling Club winning team: F. Wadsworth, J. Stanton, W. Maude, W. Hall (seated), Harehills Cycling Tournament, 6 September 1890

Here we see the winning Potternewton team (self-styled as the ‘Potts’ or its singular members as ‘Potters’) in what looks surprisingly like modern Lycra but couldn’t possible be. Oh, what ripping fun these clearly affluent young men – and some women – enjoyed in their five recorded seasons, with their club meets on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, regularly riding to places like Otley, Ilkley and Wakefield. Then there were the annual longer rides to Thirsk and Hull, not forgetting Bridlington, where 6/6d covered all accommodation expenses for the trip. Food features regularly, with descriptions of pie-eating contests in Otley, a surfeit of boiled beef and ham in Hull, and an annual 1/6d ‘tuck in’ to a steak-and-onions end-of-season dinner at the Turk’s Head.

The annual subscription for riding members was between 5/- and 7/6d for men, 3/6d for ladies, and 2/6d for honorary members. Whilst lots of the semi-humorous reports allude to japes, drinking and drunkenness, the rides themselves had a semblance of order: one must never overtake the club captain whilst riding (although, since this injunction was often repeated, perhaps it was more honoured in the breach). Spills, crashes and punctures on the poorly-maintained roads were frequent. Many Potts rode city- and county-wide cycle races, but there is always a fierce defence of the amateur code: cash prizes could not be awarded under any circumstances.

The Potts had their rather grandly-named Headquarters in the Mexbro’ (or Mexborough) Arms on Harrogate Road, a building demolished shortly after the following photograph was taken:

6th January 1925. View shows the Mexbro' Arms (sometimes spelt Mexborough) public house on Harrogate Road. The landlord of this Tetley's pub was at the time Sydney W. Atterton. Built in the early eighteenth century on land previously owned by the Earl of Mexborough, it was originally known as the Bowling Green Inn. It was to close later in the 1920s when a new Mexborough Arms (now called The Three Hulats) was built to the side of it.

6 January 1925. Built in the early eighteenth century on land previously owned by the Earl of Mexborough, the pub was originally known as the Bowling Green Inn. It was to close later in the 1920s when a new Mexborough Arms, now called The Three Hulats, was built to the side of it. (Photo from

Their ‘Town Quarters’ were in the Grand Restaurant on Boar Lane, next to the London Dispensing Co, and it was here that W.H. Whitelocke, a proud Potter, kept the club photographs:

View of Boar Lane by night from a postcard with postdate 23 February 1904. The view looks east with Lockhart's Cafe on the left and London Dentistry and the Grand Restaurant on the right.

View of Boar Lane by night from a postcard with postdate 23 February 1904. The view looks east with Lockhart’s Cafe on the left and London Dentistry and the Grand Restaurant on the right. (Photo from

What a splendid window into affluent late Victorian Leeds the Potts’ Record provides. To ease the burden on tired cyclists as they toured all three Ridings, there were hired waggonettes and a regular cycle-carrying train service to places long since bereft of such an amenity. For several seasons, the Potts had a tent in a field adjacent to the Dyneley Arms on Pool Bank, or latterly at Bramhope. Camping was 6d per night or 1/6d per week (allegedly sobriety was not included). To get their blankets and other kit to the campsite, members were encouraged to use “Marston, the Otley carrier, who starts from The Greyhound, Vicar Lane, [for he] will be glad to convey parcels to the Dyneley Arms”.

The younger Potts and others in the Leeds and District Amateur Cycling Associations also held an annual lantern parade, riding their decorated cycles through the darkening streets of Leeds. As the Record puts it, “standing at the top of Victoria Road the innumerable coloured lights flitting about produced a very pretty effect” (April 1891). Let us savour that image of simple fun, for a nighttime world without extensive electric lighting is a dark place. The Potts, and indeed the riders leaving Soldiers’ Field late on that July evening in 1914, would need to light their carbide lamps. But what we now know, and they did not, was that no lamplight could illuminate the darkness their world was riding towards. For, as Sir Edward Grey was very shortly to observe, “the lamps are going out all over Europe”, as the peace initiatives failed and The Great War began.

But out of that darkness we have these two slim cycling volumes. The programme is simply cloth-bound in boards; The Record, a finer, padded, leather-bound and gold-tooled book, as befits the Potts. Both were acquired by the Central Library in the 1980s, the latter having been donated by Miss H.M. Ford, surely a relative of J.H. Ford who was Club President in 1893 and sometime editor of the publication.


Now, whilst these books contain no universal truths, I would argue that their inestimable value (despite being intrinsically valueless) lies is the fact of their ordered preservation and capacity to make this reader think. In both volumes there is a dissertation’s worth of evidence on social attitudes, economics, technologies (cycling, printing, photography), gastronomy and the politics of sport – ample food for thought indeed for any homo sapien. Admittedly, there is little public merit in recording my solitary, cognitive pleasure, but what do I, or you, know of the much more socially valuable thinking that may be prompted by a public library a hundred years in the future?

Today there are events galore in Roundhay Park and multitudes of clubs, groups and societies thriving in Leeds, all leaving a multimedia record worthy of preservation. If thinking is the destiny of homo sapiens then, surely, it is not an ignoble aspiration that we all strive to preserve a free-thinking space where these records may be collected, collated and managed, in order to illuminate the thoughts of our successors?

Now back to the day job and the Central High schoolboys…

Re-Discovering Leeds

  • Soon we’ll be unveiling a raft of updates to the 13-year-old Discovering Leeds website, a learning resource devoted to the history and development of the city. The new additions have been written by student Sophie Hedley during a placement at the Local and Family History Library. This week, she tells us a little about her experiences and adventures while gathering material.

Drawing of Leeds Town Hall by R.P. Leitch, 1858

When the opportunity to work on updating the Discovering Leeds website arose, I snapped it up. I know Leeds, I thought, and I browsed through the website and jotted down places and events that could be added to the ‘Present Day’ section, to make the website feel more current and up-to-date.

Writing this post during the final week of my six-week work placement, I now realise that shopping at Trinity Leeds, regularly visiting the First Direct Arena, and seeing various parts of Leeds being demolished doesn’t even scratch the surface, because to truly address and understand the city and how developments in its present day affect Leeds and its residents, you need to, first, immerse yourself in the history of the city.

This is why the first couple of weeks of my placement saw me sat in the impressive Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library, eagerly browsing through every page of Discovering Leeds, reading about the origins and developments of various parts of Leeds like Briggate and the Headrow, and learning lots of things about the city and its history that I’d never known before.

Things I learnt whilst browsing Discovering Leeds:

  • Queen Victoria hosted the opening of Leeds Town Hall in 1858.
  • The Headrow has been called several different names, from Park Lane to Lower Head Row.
  • Industry in Leeds began mainly with the marketing and trade of woollen cloth.

I then began to research changes and developments in Leeds to add to the website, such as the Victoria Gate development and the refurbishments of Kirkgate Market. The most accessible place to find information on pretty much everything is, of course, the Internet and I spent several days researching to find facts and figures about noteworthy things in Leeds which could be added to Discovering Leeds.

But in order for me to really take in the changes to the city and see how significant they were, and as any journalism student is encouraged to do so, I decided to go out and talk to people – those who know Leeds well, who live and/or work in the city, the people who these developments really affect. Chatting to strangers on the bus, outside the town hall and in cafés on your dinner break might be the kind of thing that’s frowned upon in everyday life but it was from those friendly and chatty people that I really grew to understand how things had changed in Leeds. Rather than just knowing the facts, I discovered how they influenced the city’s residents too.

There was the couple who lived in Granary Wharf’s contemporary and stylish apartment block, Candle House; the bus driver who had the day off on 5 July 2014, when he saw the Headrow “busier than ever before” as it hosted the Tour de France Grand Départ; the stallholder whose stall has been uprooted at Leeds Kirkgate Market as the big refurbishment is undergoing.


The snippets I learnt in these conversations had to be checked and verified by me, as Discovering Leeds is a factual website and it’s easy for people to be emotionally affected by changes in life and stray a little bit from the truth when discussing them. But it was going out and seeing the places for myself, and talking to the people who had experienced the changes that really educated me and inspired me when I began to write the updates for Discovering Leeds.

Things I learnt whilst updating Discovering Leeds:

  • There’s no need to big Leeds up or to compare it with neighbouring cities, to show off and try and present it as the grandest city of them all. The landmarks, heritage and history tell the story of Leeds and allow readers of the website to be informed and reminisce, without feeling like we’re trying to compete with other locations across the UK.
  • The internet is no substitute for experience – reading about the changes in present day Leeds is informative but not as inspiring and useful as seeing the places for yourself.
  • From live music to beer and food festivals, art exhibitions to charity runs, there are so many events taking place in Leeds throughout the year that it is impossible to keep up with.

Over the course of my placement, I’ve really enjoyed researching the history of Leeds whilst visiting some of the current major places and redevelopments in Leeds. It’s interesting to see just how much the city has changed and discover the parts that still remain from Leeds’s past, and also those areas that have changed for the better and positively transformed the culture of Leeds. There is always something new to learn about the city via Discovering Leeds and I hope my updates will help inform people of some of the more recent 21st-century developments.