Who Led Leeds? Case Study #1: Maud Dightam

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

Maud Dightam

Many readers will be familiar with the name and the achievements of Alice Bacon, the first woman elected as an MP in Leeds. And some of our readers will doubtless be in attendance at this week’s talk by Rachel Reeves MP, author of a new biography of Alice. Alongside that talk, we’ll be offering a glimpse from our Collections into the life and work of other local individuals involved in the Labour movement during the first half of the 20th-century. That display will include extracts from one of the Central Library’s most significant Treasures: Alf Mattison’s Collection of news cuttings, journals and ephemera.

Alongside the Mattison material will be a smaller, but no less significant, section dedicated to the memory of Maud Dightam. That’s a name unlikely to be known to most readers, or even to those with an interest in local political history. Maud, however, deserves to be known by a far wider audience: as the joint-first woman elected as a Leeds City Councillor, an accolade Maud shares with the Conservative candidate, Gertrude Dennison – an achievement which, of course, makes Maud the very first woman elected as a Labour Councillor in Leeds.

That’s not the whole of Maud’s story, however. She first came to our attention after a simple, single-line, enquiry from a member of the public – Maud’s grandson, Peter, in fact – who was wanting a few news articles about her initial success for his family history album. Further correspondence with Peter led to us finding out much more about Maud, her life and her work.

Maud Rose was born in Leeds, in 1876. At some point between then and her first appearance on a Census Return, in 1881, her family had moved to Wales, where her father, George, worked as a Leather Dresser. However, by the time of the next Census, in 1891, Maud had returned to Leeds, where she was now living with her Uncle and Aunt. At some point, one of Maud’s brothers joined her in Leeds for work – and also for politics; it was this brother who first interested Maud in the theory and practice of Socialism, though those efforts only bore fruit after he left Leeds for Lancashire, leaving his collection of radical literature in the hands of his sister.



The 1881 and 1891 Census Returns, showing Maud with her mother, father and siblings in Wales (top), and then with her Uncle and Aunt in Leeds (bottom). Images taken from Ancestry.com

Maud moved quickly and eagerly into the circles of radical Leeds life, becoming a key figure in the local political movement through her role in forming the Leeds Women’s Labour League and the East Leeds Socialist Sunday School. She was active in Suffragette circles and present during a 1913 visit of Philip Snowden to Leeds, joining “members of the Women Social and Political Union and of the Women’s Labour League in heckling Philip Snowden when he visited Leeds ‘on the grounds that the Labour Party had fallen away from its ideals in refusing to support sex equality.'” Her contacts and colleagues can be glimpsed in an autograph book kept by her daughter, Mary, entries of which contain the signatures of some well-known figures, locally and nationally.

Article from the Leeds and District Weekly Citizen (13.04.1914), showing the ten precepts of the Socialist Sunday Schools in Leeds

Article from the Leeds and District Weekly Citizen (13.04.1914), showing the ten precepts of the Socialist Sunday Schools in Leeds. Clicking on the image will provide access to a zoomable version 

Autograph of Sylvia Pankhurst, written after she stayed at Maud Dightam's house in 1916

Autograph of Sylvia Pankhurst, written in Mary’s book after she stayed at the Dightam’s house in 1916

Maud’s husband, Ernest, a draper, was no less committed in his political beliefs, glimpses of which can be found in newspaper articles reporting his presence at suffragette demonstrations just prior to the First World War.

Maud, Mary and Ernest Dightam (no date)

Maud, Mary and Ernest Dightam (c.1913)

Ernest’s politics, in fact, led him to take a position akin to that of a conscientious objector during the First World War, believing that British workers and German workers had more in common than did those people and their respective leaders. It was a war of “three kings”, he thought – the British, the German and the Russian – and a distraction from the class-based political struggles that should unite the workers of those nations. Ernest was arrested and jailed for his beliefs; in his discharge paper, seen below, we see the final verdict of the State: “An insubordinate conscientious objector.”

Extract from Ernest Dightam's entry in the British Army WW1 Pension Records: 1914-1920. Taken from Ancestry.com

Extract from Ernest Dightam’s entry in the British Army WW1 Pension Records: 1914-1920. Taken from Ancestry.com

In the 1921 council elections, just three years after woman over thirty years of age and with property qualifications got the vote, Maud chose to stand as the Labour candidate for the East Leeds ward. There, she faced opposition from an Independent Labour candidate, Walt Wood, who was able to claim the support of two MPs, Jack Jones and Will Thorne. Maud, however, could count on the support of the MP for Leeds South East: James O’Grady.


‘Two Sound Men for the Leeds City Council,’ Yorkshire Evening Post, 25.10.1921, page 5


‘Women Councillors,’ Leeds Mercury, 03.11.1921, page 4

It is of little doubt, however, that what happened next owed far more to Maud’s own qualities and vast experience in local politics than the support of any one individual: elected as a Councillor with a majority of more than 1,000, Maud wasted no time in setting out her priorities – “I hope to be on those committees dealing with maternity and child welfare,” she told the Leeds Mercury, adding that “I do not wish to be regarded as a women’s candidate, but purely and simply as a Labour representative.”

In doing so, Maud was able to effectively navigate a path between being narrowly defined – thus, easily dismissed – as a “women’s candidate”, while still bringing a much-needed voice from the margins into a political centre otherwise dominated by what Dennison called “the old washer-women of men of the Council.”

You can read more about Maud’s election and subsequent political career in Sylvia Jane Dunkley’s Women Magistrates, Ministers and Municipal Councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire: 1918-1939 (1991). The context for that election is explored in Michael Meadowcroft’s excellent article ‘The Years of Political Transition, 1914-1939,’ available in A History of Modern Leeds (ed., Derek Fraser, 1980). Further Central Library material on women in Leeds can be seen in our research guide.

Maud was a tireless worker for the causes she so strongly believed in – opposing, for example, the introduction of charges for dental and medical treatment for children – and a popular public speaker, whose efforts sadly took their eventual toll. Ill for more than a year, Maud died in December, 1932. It is a measure of the high regard in which she was held that her sister-in-law, Ellen Hainsworth, wrote the following poem on Maud’s death:


An obituary of Maud can be found on page 4 of the Yorkshire Evening Post, on the 28th of December, 1932.

The Dightam story does not end there, however. In fact, Peter – Maud’s grandson, and the original enquirer that sparked this research – has very kindly donated copies and original documents that trace the family history from Maud’s parents through to his own life story in more recent times. That group of materials – which includes school reports, autograph collections, certificates, passports, photographs, mortgage books and more – has all been collected together and added to the stock in Local and Family History as a self-contained set of archival material. This collection will prove invaluable to social historians of the future, as well as providing a concrete example of how such a valuable family archive can be put together in practice.

Maud’s story is also a practical example of how anyone can use the resources available in the Local and Family History department – newspapers, Census returns, etc – to put together an initial biography of the often-forgotten public servants of Leeds. That, in fact, is the aim of an extremely valuable new project – “Who Led Leeds?” – which we reported on recently. If you’re interested in contributing to that project and helping us to uncover more stories like Maud’s, do please get in touch.

Hands-On Urban History #1: Little Woodhouse

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

Last Saturday, as part of our 2017 Library Fest programme, we welcomed a group of budding urban historians and explorers to the Central Library, for a workshop where they would help staff from the Local and Family History department research and investigate a fascinating item that had been donated to us sometime in the last year.

The item in question was a folder containing a college project by one Peter Salmon, a student at the Leeds College of Art in the 1960s (and now an artist based in Canada). This folder had come to us after unrelated correspondence with a Library customer, Jane Bower, whose father had been Peter’s lecturer at the time (an interesting side note: Jane’s own family history is intriguing in itself, as she grew up in the famous Ashwood house of Headingley; she is due to give a talk for us on precisely that subject later this year. Jane can also be seen at the Leeds Grammar School in May, performing a play based on her father’s diaries).



Peter’s focus in his project was a small group of old cottages on Little Woodhouse Street, situated just between Chorley Lane (still in existence) and Leighton Lane (no longer in existence); while Peter had been able to identify that the dwellings roughly dated from around 1670 (along with a detailed analysis of their architectural features; his main area of interest), we were keen to take his research a little further, primarily using the resources available in the Local and Family History department: books, maps, photographs, Census returns, Trade Directory entries, newspaper articles, and so forth.

c.1890 map showing Little Woodhouse area. The location of the cottages is indicated by the circle

c.1890 map showing Little Woodhouse area. The location of the cottages is indicated by the circle. Map sourced from the Tracks in Time website: www.tithemaps.leeds.gov.uk

We were lucky enough to have in attendance Dr Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, and an urban historian, whose book What Is Urban History? informed and contextualised our approach to this event (and who also runs thought-provoking Urban History workshops of his own). Shane kindly offered some introductory remarks on the subject of Urban History.


Undated, Postcard view of Little Woodhouse Street, looking from Clarendon Road towards Caledonian Road. To the left is the end of Hyde Terrace, the wall has a message chalked on it ‘Errand Boys Rest’. On the right, a row of Old Houses with irregular roof lines can be seen, the junction with Leighton Lane is in the middle of the houses on the right (a single tall chimney can be seen behind). On the right edge is Chorley Lane. From Leodis.net

Following that short presentation, and some words from our Librarians introducing Peter’s project and our intended-aims on the day, attendees got to work searching for information about the cottages and their inhabitants over the last two-hundred years. We used as our starting point two photographs: one Peter took himself, and a very similar shot from our Leodis archive, showing the cottages in “Old Leeds”.

After that research was completed – including some fascinating Census finds on Ancestry.com – everyone present made their way out into Little Woodhouse itself, in search of any surviving signs of the cottages and their neighbourhood.

1881 Census return showing some of the Little Woodhouse cottages

1881 Census return showing some of the Little Woodhouse cottages


Present-day Chorley Lane

And, wonderfully, while the buildings themselves have long-since disappeared – swallowed up as part of the development of Leeds General Infirmary – a trace of their presence could still be seen in their absence, in the way that it seemed possible to trace the path of the older, narrow, road that ran down and round in front of the houses along the line of the present-day passage; and the way that seeing the boundaries of that road enabled one to spot the likely location of the cottages themselves, in an empty space just beside. A wall on the side opposite that location seemed also to be of likely significance.


The space just behind the car on the right of this photograph is the likely site of the Little Woodhouse cottages


The wall opposite

Following that eye-opening encounter with the past (how many other mundane locations around the city also contain such echoes of history?), the group set-off on a fascinating tour of the wider Little Woodhouse area: taking in Little Woodhouse Hall, a terraced house inhabited at one stage by Edward Baines Jnr. and his family, the Thoresby Society‘s old home at Claremont, Denison Hall, the squares of Little Woodhouse and Hanover, Joseph’s Well and, finally, Centaur House.


Woodhouse Hall


House owned by Edward Baines Jnr.


Denison Hall


Late 19th-century residential housing near to Hanover Square


Blue plaque opposite Woodhouse Square


Joseph’s Well, former John Barran clothing factory


Centaur House

Centaur House

Street map, near Centaur House. The location of the cottages is shown.

Street map, near Centaur House. The location of the cottages is shown

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating afternoon and plans are already underway for the next installment of our new Hands-On Urban History series. Please get in touch with us to register your interest in attending.

Resources (all available in the Local and Family History department)


We were also fortunate to have Janet Douglas, author of several superb local history books, in attendance at the workshop. Janet directed our attention to a Yorkshire Evening Post article on the history of Little Woodhouse by Edmund Bogg, featuring a drawing of very the cottages in question – most likely by Bogg himself. The image below shows that article – click on the picture to access a zoom-able version.


A Giant, Grade II* Listed Work of Art

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

For this year’s Library Fest, we decided to create a tour of the beautiful Leeds Central Library that reimagined the building as a huge work of art. Looking to its many and varied architectural features for inspiration, we drew on the works of artists such as MC Escher and Bridget Riley to reinterpret the familiar stairways, ceilings and tilework that visitors to the library pass by every day. The result was The Library Illusion, a new walking trail that guides explorers through three floors of stunning architecture and six centuries of art history, with an emphasis on visual tricks and deception.

As well as the tour (which took place last Sunday) and trail guide (available while stocks last!) we also challenged three artists to create new pieces in response to different aspects of the building’s design. These have been on display in Central Library throughout Library Fest.

The ground floor is home to Pilot by Jill McKnight, which is inspired by the stone dogs that guard our staircases. As well as being a fabric sculpture in velour, Pilot is an anamorphic perspective illusion, meaning that it requires the viewer to stand in a particular spot to fully appreciate its true form. The effect is reminiscent of the way a mysterious skull appears in Hans Holbein’s famous portrait The Ambassadors (1533) if you approach it from a diagonal angle, such as descending a nearby staircase. We’ll give you extra credit if you recognise the appropriate literary reference in our piece’s title… (Clue: it’s named after the hound belonging to a certain Mr Rochester!)

Pilot (top) and one of the library's heraldic beasts (bottom)

Pilot (top) and one of the library’s heraldic beasts

On the first floor, outside the Art Library, visitors are treated to a particularly spectacular view of the building’s staircases and archways, where the eye is bamboozled by a panorama of dizzying depths and perspectives. It’s here that we located our second artwork, an untitled photo-montage by Will Poulter, inspired by the Dutch artist MC Escher, who was famous for his designs of intricate – and impossible – architecture. Compare Will’s piece, below, with Escher’s celebrated Relativity (1953) and we’re sure you’ll agree that walking between floors in Leeds Central Library can be like stepping into a giant optical illusion.

We think this piece could have been titled Librarynth or Willusion!

We think this piece could have been titled Librarynth or Willusion

Finally, on the second floor, a piece of interactive art called Kaleidodrum encouraged visitors to create moving mosaics using the library’s colourful floor tiles. Inspired by the deceptive ceiling mirrors in Local and Family History (which give the impression of rooms beyond rooms bracketing the space) Lee Noon built a freestanding, free-sliding kaleidoscope that users can peer into and push around. It’s pretty ingenious and produces some striking and sometimes Kandinsky-like effects.

Local and Family History mirrors (top) and abstract art from the Kaleidodrum

Local and Family History mirrors (top) and abstract art from the Kaleidodrum

The art of The Library Illusion will remain in situ until the end of Library Fest, this Sunday 19 February, and we hope to write a version of the trail guide that visitors can continue to follow once the associated displays and artworks have been removed. Elsewhere on the Secret Library, you can read all about our stone staircase creatures and the staircases themselves.

Who Led Leeds? Public Service between the Wars

University of Leeds PhD student Pushpa Kumbhat is working on a new project with the support of Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History department. She writes…

We are creating a collection of short biographies commemorating the lives of public servants – local leaders of Leeds who served on the Council between the First and Second World War. Such a collection would be unique in Yorkshire.

These local leaders were ordinary people, elected as councillors and mayors to serve the city of Leeds. Their voluntary service on Leeds City Council helped build the city’s economy and democracy. Yet today, they, their backgrounds and their achievements are largely forgotten. Few, if any, collections exist about the lives of these public servants. We hope to commemorate their work in public service, charting their lives and achievements in a collection of personal biographies.

The Local and Family History Library holds a wealth of information about former citizens of Leeds, in card indexes, documents, regional newspapers on microfilm and in scrapbooks – as well as on websites such as Ancestry.com. With help from interested amateur historians, we aim to collect more biographical information about people of interest using these resources, and put together their biographies.

Here are a couple of examples of local figures we’ve identified and included so far:


Bertha Quinn

Bertha Quinn

  • Councillor: 1929-43.
  • Born in Middlesbrough, 1873.
  • A Trade Union representative – Tailors and Garment Workers: 1915-43.
  • Received the Bene Merenti Medal in 1946.
  • A militant suffragette, she chained herself to the House of Commons and was arrested five times, being imprisoned once.
  • Died in Leeds, 1951.



David Beevers

  • Councillor: 1927-57.
  • Born in Manchester, 1890.
  • One of six siblings.
  • Began work aged 11.
  • Mayor of Leeds: 1945
  • The David Beevers Day Unit at St James’s Hospital was named in honour of his work in health care.
  • Died in Leeds, 1957.

Would you like to help build this collection? Perhaps you have an ancestor from Leeds who you would like to know more about? Or maybe you’re just curious! If so, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m hoping to put together a small team of voluntary researchers to work on the project. You can do as little or as much as you’d like, from researching one past councillor to several. Once we have a few interested people, I’ll organise a little get-together to take the task forward. If you’d like to be a part of it, you can email me via: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk  

The Ghost Stories of Lord Halifax

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

Last Monday, I accepted an invitation from Bob and Jacki Lawrence of the East Leeds History and Archaeology Society to speak at their monthly meeting, and decided to take along one of my favourite items from our Local History collection as my inspiration.


Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book was compiled by Charles Lindley Wood, the 2nd Viscount Halifax and an avid collector of ‘true’ ghost stories. Born in London in 1839, he had a long career in the English Church Union and held Yorkshire estates at Hickleton and Garrowby. His son Edward (who went on to become a notable Cabinet minister) inherited the reputedly haunted Temple Newsam House in 1904 – a situation that delighted the elderly ghost-hunter, who believed it might finally afford him the genuine brush with the supernatural he had always craved. (Accounts differ on whether it did or not… More on that later!)


Lord Halifax, ghost-bookster

The evening began with an atmospheric article from the Yorkshire Evening Post entitled “The Spectral Shades of Templenewsam: Investigation of Legends of the Old Mansion” from 1923. The author, named only as SJP, prowls the darkened halls of the house in search of apparitions, assessing each room’s ghostly potential:

“The blue damask bedroom is another haunted chamber. It was here, so the story goes, that Viscount Halifax had a visitation. Whether it was a vision between sleeping and waking his Lordship does not attempt to say, but he states that he saw, as clearly as ever he witnessed anything in his life, a woman with a blue shawl over her head pass silently behind the dressing table from one door of the room to another. And the rooms on either side of the blue room were empty… The room itself is vacant now, save for the old four-poster bed.”

Further tales of ‘somewhat gruesome’ goings-on at Temple Newsam were provided by extracts from the memoirs of Lady Mary Meynell. Her autobiography Sunshine and Shadows over a Long Life (available in our Leeds collection) devotes several pages to unexplained screams in the night, mysteriously ringing bells, and whispering sighs in the long gallery. But it’s also a wry account of life in a huge old house before modern-day heating:

“No words can say how cold that enormous old house was… The old fireplaces with their huge open chimneys swallowed all the heat of the big fires heaped in them, and roared up the chimneys which equally smoked down them, and many times have I seen the carpets rising in billows from the draughts, and the wind howling round the walls.”


The Long Gallery at Temple Newsam (from http://www.leodis.net)

Before leaving Temple Newsam and its various chills behind, however, I thought it time to open Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book itself. Drawn from his notebooks and letters, this was published in 1936, proving so popular that it was followed by a second volume the following year. All of Halifax’s favourite spooky tales are collected within, including such offbeat accounts as The Vampire Cat and The Corpse that Rose. The one I chose is called Here I Am Again! and, like his own encounter it takes place in a dimly-lit bedroom in the middle of the night. Unlike Lord Halifax’s, however, the visitor is anything but benign:

“Suddenly, there appeared at my bedside the phantom of either an old man or woman, of dreadful aspect, who was bending over me. That I was wide awake is beyond all question. I at once became cataleptic, unable to move hand or foot. I could only gaze at this monstrosity, vowing mentally that if I ever recovered from this horrible experience I would never dabble in table-turning, planchette, etc., again, for here was a real materialization and the reality was too terrifying for description.”

A Leeds theatre playbill from our collection provided the inspiration for the next segment, a gruesome tale of misfortune called The Mistletoe Bough. You can see the full details of the 1850 Princess’ Theatre production via our Leodis Playbills website; but Samuel Rogers’ poetic take on the story of a young bride who hides in an old oak chest during a game of hide and seek captures its grim conclusion perfectly:

 There then had she found a grave!
Within that chest had she concealed herself,
Fluttering with joy, the happiest of the happy;
When a spring-lock, that lay in ambush there,
Fastened her down forever!

(from Ginevra, 1822)


Detail from Princess’ Theatre playbill, Christmas Eve 1850

You can also watch a charming but bleak little 1904 silent film version of The Mistletoe Bough courtesy of the British Film Institute. Who knows… perhaps Lord Halifax caught it on its original release.

Our last ghost story of the night was The Man in the Iron Cage, which I picked because it seems to have had a special relevance to Lord Halifax. Not, I imagine, because of its unusual setting (a run-down garret in Lille, northern France) but because, at the age of 94, he asked for it to be read to him on his deathbed by his friend and biographer, JG Lockwood. It’s a surprisingly unpleasant tale of a house haunted by the sound of ‘slow, dragging footsteps’, and its unusual feature is that it’s told across two separate accounts from unrelated sources – something that makes it unique among the contents of the Ghost Book. Perhaps Lord Halifax viewed it as his most compelling piece of evidence of the existence of ghosts… and, as he reached the end of his life, a reassuring hint at the possibility of continued existence on some other plane.

And what, finally, of his own supernatural encounter back in the blue room at Temple Newsam? Lockwood (who also wrote the introduction for the second volume of the Ghost Book) states that Lord Halifax “was never quite sure that he had not dreamt the apparition”. But Temple Newsam’s housekeeper, Mrs Pawson, who was interviewed in the Evening Post in 1926, claims that he was convinced, and quotes him as saying: “I believe in the ghost, and I tell people about it myself”.

Whatever the truth, Lord Halifax certainly did enjoy sharing his ghost stories and, thanks to his son’s book and an enthusiastic crowd, he was able to go on sharing them on a dark January night in Leeds, eighty years after his death.