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  

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