- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
- Beresford, Maurice and Christopher Hammond. Walks Round Red Brick (2013)
- Beresford, Maurice. ‘The Rise and Fall of a Second West End,’ Chapter 10, in his East End, West End: The Face of Leeds During Urbanisation, 1684 – 1842 (1988)
- Census returns via Ancestry.com (free to all library members in Leeds Libraries)
- Images of Little Woodhouse, via the Leodis collection
- Leeds map collection. See our Maps research guide for more details of our holdings
- Local and Family History department collection of Trade Directories
- Matthews, Freda. A Walk Around Little Woodhouse (1997)
- Salmon, Peter. Little Woodhouse Cottages Project Folder (1964-65)
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.