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.
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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.

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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.

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