Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living

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

Today is Workers Memorial Day, marking the sacrifice of those who have died as a result of their job, and reminding all employers and employees of the importance of looking after their colleagues. In front of Leeds Central Library, a new plaque was unveiled bearing the inscription: Dedicated to workers throughout the world who have suffered illness, injury or death as a consequence of their work. Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living.

Workers Memorial, 2017

Inside the library, a new display tells the stories of some of the tragedies that have taken lives at workplaces around Leeds, from incidents in local mills in the less safety-conscious 19th century, to more recent accidents like the Lofthouse Colliery disaster of 1973. One such tragedy, the effects of which have continued to be felt throughout the city for many decades, is the many lives lost as a result of asbestos contamination in Armley during the first half of the last century. The story is told below and, if you follow the links to the Leodis photographic website in the picture captions, you’ll be able to read comments from those whose lives have been affected first-hand by the events described.

25th October 1943. Asbestos factory of J. W. Roberts on Canal Road, Armley. Visit Leodis to find out more.

Founded in Armley in 1874, J. W. Roberts Limited was a textile producer based at the Midland Works on Canal Road. In 1906, the factory had begun manufacturing asbestos insulation and, in 1920, merged to form Turner & Newall Limited, whose asbestos-based products were exported worldwide, generating large scale profits for the company.

The manufacturing process resulted in the exposure to blue asbestos of all workers based in the factory, while the ventilation system discharged asbestos dust out into the surrounding area. Streets, homes and a local school were described as being coated in a blue-white dust, as though they were covered by a fall of snow.

The factory closed in 1959 and, in 1978, Turner & Newall Limited paid £15,000 to Leeds City Council to assist with the decontamination of the factory site. However, no reference was made to homes in the surrounding area. In the late 1970s, investigations led to the discovery of asbestos in homes adjacent to the factory, while a Yorkshire Evening Post inquiry brought to the attention of the public the dramatically high number of mesothelioma-related deaths suffered by former workers and residents who lived close to the factory. This series of articles related to what became known as the ‘Armley Asbestos Tragedy’.

The case was further championed by local MP John Battle, with a case finally heard in court in 1995, in which Mr Justice Holland found the following: “There was knowledge, sufficient to found reasonable foresight on the part of the Defendants, that children were particularly vulnerable to personal injury arising from the inhalation of asbestos dust… Reasonably practicable steps were not taken to reduce or prevent inhalation of emitted asbestos dust.”

Many of those affected by the asbestos died long before the companies responsible could be compelled to make recompense.

25th October 1943. J. W. Roberts, asbestos factory, on Canal Road. More information can be found on the Leodis website. 

The Leeds Owl and the City Arms

  • Over the next few months we’ll be featuring several articles from guest blogger Kiera Falgate. Kiera is a student at the University of Leeds and has been using the books and other resources available in the Local and Family History department at the Central Library to find out more about some of Leeds’ most interesting heritage. You can read Kiera’s previous post, on the Leeds Cross, by clicking this link.

29th August 1949. View shows the Leeds coat of arms with “a safety city” sign underneath at the Leeds Boundary at Seacroft. A field is in the foreground and a truck can be seen on the road on the right. Taken from www.leodis.net

The Civic Hall in Millennium Square is flanked by golden owl sculptures on tall, decadent columns. Owls also feature on the war memorial outside the Henry Moore Institute, and in countless other architectural details across the city. But just what does this wise bird have to do with Leeds?

They’re an emblem taken from the official coat of arms of Leeds, and originate from the earliest use of the shield in 1626. They were taken from the arms of John Savile when he was appointed as the first alderman (elected council official) of the city.

The fleece in the centre of the shield is a reference to the main industry of the area – wool. In 1662 the three stars were added, borrowed from the arms of the first mayor of Leeds, Thomas Danby. In 1836, the motto PRO REGE ET LEGE (for the King and for law) was added. Finally, in 1921 the alderman Sir Charles Wilson officially registered the arms with the College of Heralds, and changed the colour of the owls from silver to owl coloured – a sensible decision.

4th January 1952. View shows a Leeds Public Health Department ambulance (a Morris van) after an accident, parked in a Leeds City Transport garage. There is a clear view of the Leeds coat of arms on the bodywork. Taken from www.leodis.net

Heraldry is a fundamentally aristocratic custom, and the Leeds arms arguably holds social issues due to the class of the men whose family shields influenced it. That said, it has over the centuries become a part of the city’s identity, causing some surprising links. The primary colours it uses are blue and gold, the same colours as the kits of Leeds United, Leeds Rhinos, and also the little used West Yorkshire flag.

The Leeds coat of arms is formally described as:

Shield: Azure, a fleece or, on a chief sable, three mullets argent; Crest: On a wreath or and azure, an owl proper; Supporters: An owl proper ducally crowned or; Motto: “PRO REGE ET LEGE.”

Leeds Library’s collection holds a huge capacity for fascinating research in local history, or any other avenue of interest. The building also features a fair few owls, if you can spot them!

What the Moon Saw

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

We’ve been thinking a fair bit about chimney sweeps recently at Central Library… Not because the chimneys here need attention (it’s a long time since any of our various original fireplaces held an open fire) but because our student-curated Sweepiana exhibition is currently occupying Room 700 until 5 May 2017. Objects on display range from a real – and tiny – top hat worn by an unfortunate young sweep, to a life-size mock-up of a chimney for you to stick your head inside and shudder at the thought of having to climb. We also have, as you’d expect, a fine selection of books, mostly from the city’s Henry Collection, which focuses specifically on the subject of sweeps.

One of the most exciting things about this collection is the sheer variety it encompasses, whether it’s rare and beautifully illustrated editions of William Blake poetry (“A little black thing among the snow / Crying “’weep! ’weep!” in notes of woe!”) or medical studies of chimney sweep health in the Victorian era. For me, one surprise was the sixteen different books of stories by Hans Christian Andersen, an author I previously associated only with what I assumed to be children’s fairy tales involving little mermaids and ugly ducklings. A less familiar but fairly characteristic story of his, entitled The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweeper, explains why he’s so well represented in the Henry Collection, but there’s also another story included in some of the volumes that mentions a sweep – one that’s not as well-known, and which I think remains one of Andersen’s most unusual tales.

Fairy tale compendiums from 1905 and 1887, included in the Henry Collection

What the Moon Saw was published in 1839, making it the 21st fable from Andersen’s pen (a number that would eventually total 168). Uniquely, it is split into 33 short parts, each describing unrelated scenes witnessed by the Moon as it travels around the world, looking down at its inhabitants over the course of some fifty or so nights. Fittingly for a tale told entirely after sunset, the tone is dark, even occasionally bleak – something I didn’t immediately associate with this author, despite being mildly traumatized as a child by a story of his called The Daisy (no one, be they flora or fauna, survives that grim little piece).

In What the Moon Saw, we’re first introduced to a young artist who has moved to a garret in the city, only to find his creative passion outweighed by loneliness: “Instead of green woods and hills, I had only chimney pots on my horizon. I had not a single friend, and there was not even the face of an acquaintance to greet me.”

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Illustration by Rex Whistler, from Fairy Tales and Legends by Hans Andersen, published by Cobden-Sanderson Ltd (1935) and part of the Henry Collection

But one familiar face does eventually appear in the sky outside his window – that of the Moon, who decides to check in on the artist each night, describing a scene for him to paint and enabling the creation of ‘a very fine picture book’. (In fact, the story was originally published under the name A Picture Book without Pictures.) The rest of the tale is not really a tale at all, but a collection of abstract impressions, some dreamlike and haunting, some almost unbearably tragic, and many concerned with death. We don’t encounter the artist again until the ‘Eighth Evening’, when the Moon can’t appear due to some unfortunate cloud issues; and – after that – never again, as the vignettes take over from the original narrative completely and What the Moon Saw drifts into what it really wanted to be all along: a multifaceted and powerful prose poem about introspection, finding one’s place in the world, and recognizing that none of this ultimately amounts to very much after your star has twinkled out.

The moon itself, of course, has long been regarded as symbolic of inner emotions. The light it shines in this pictureless picture book is full of compassion – and yet a very real sense of distance, as it can only ‘kiss’ with its rays those who evoke its sympathy. Across the many scenes the Moon recounts, we hear about a suicidal actor, a little girl whose favourite doll is stuck in a tree, the deserted cityscapes of Pompeii and Venice, the birth of new life, and many bereaved and dying characters of all kinds. Here’s one of the lighter moments – the ‘Twenty-Sixth Evening’, and another reason why the works of Andersen sit alongside the others of the Henry Collection:

“It was yesterday, in the morning twilight … in the great city no chimney was yet smoking—and it was just at the chimneys that I was looking. Suddenly a little head emerged from one of them, and then half a body, the arms resting on the rim of the chimney-pot. ‘Hurrah!’ cried a voice. It was the little chimney-sweeper, who had for the first time in his life crept through a chimney, and stuck out his head at the top. ‘Hurrah!’ this was a very different thing to creeping about in the dark narrow chimneys! the air blew so fresh, and he could look over the whole city towards the green wood. The sun was just rising. It shone round and great, just in his face, that beamed with triumph, though it was very prettily blacked with soot. ‘The whole town can see me now,’ he exclaimed, ‘and the moon can see me now, and the sun too. Hurrah!’ And he flourished his broom in triumph.”

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Illustration by Thomas, Charles and William Robinson, from Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, published by Dent & Co. (1905) and included in the Henry Collection

To find out more about the Sweepiana exhibition and the books included, come to our free Meet the Curators event on Monday 24 April at Leeds Central Library. Book your place via Ticketsource.

Saxons in Leeds!

  • Over the next few months we’ll be featuring articles from guest blogger Kiera Falgate. Kiera is a student at the University of Leeds and has been using the books and other resources available in the Local and Family History department at the Central Library to find out more about some of Leeds’ most interesting heritage.

    View of the old Leeds Parish Church of St. Peters. This building was demolished in 1838 and the present church constructed. The new church was consecrated in 1841. This is a Percy Robinson Print and was taken from www.leodis.net

It’s not hard to imagine Leeds’ industrial history, its grand architectural legacy is everywhere. Evidence of the area’s medieval history is far more subtle, and under-appreciated. To see the art of some of Leeds’ earliest inhabitants, go no further than the Minster down in Kirkgate. As well as boasting a variety of stunning mosaics and stained glass windows, it is home to an Anglo-Saxon carved stone sculpture. (For those who like me, forget the time-frames for these old civilisations – the Anglo-Saxons were after the Romans, and before the Normans.) Known as the Leeds Cross, it’s an impressive 7 feet tall, and was smashed up and forgotten for centuries, before being reconstructed in the nineteenth century.

A delve into the local library records shows that a church has been on the site, near the river Aire, for well over a thousand years, but it has been rebuilt several times. In 1838 (the year Queen Victoria was crowned), the medieval church was demolished, and architect Robert Dennis Chantrell discovered the shattered remnants of an uncertain number of Anglo-Saxon sculptures. Carved between the years 700 to 900 in local stone, we have no idea what their purpose was, worship, grave marking, architectural, or decorative. In his Headingley home, he reconstructed the tall stone cross we can see today, Frankenstein’s monster style, using parts from many different sculptures. The rest of the carved stones were incorporated into the new tower of the church. Chantrell took it with him when he retired to Brighton, using it as a rather impressive garden ornament, and the Vicar of Leeds engaged in a difficult legal battle to get it back. It was cemented into the altar flat, where it remains today, hopefully never to end up in anyone else’s garden.

Leeds Central Library’s local collections are broad and fascinating. If there are any local mysteries that you’re interested in, it’s worth a look.

Once Upon a Time in Leeds Central Library

  • by Rhian Isaac, Collections Manager, Leeds Central Library

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  – Neil Gaiman

During Library Fest in February we delivered an array of fairy tale related events from children’s theatre performances to film screenings. Abbey House Museum is also currently displaying a Fairy Tale and Fantasy exhibition which you can visit until December 2017. The popularity of these events with people of all ages show that there is an enduring fascination with magic and fairy tales.

At Central Library we are lucky to have wonderful examples of fairy tale literature from all over the world in our collections and this post will tell you a little bit more about some of these items.

We have all heard of fairy tales, but what actually are they? They are often thought of as a type of folk tale, and were popular stories that would have been passed down by word of mouth. Fairy tales have recurring recognisable characters and motifs, such as evil stepmothers, princesses and giants and they must have some magical element or invoke a sense of wonder.   It is also a prerequisite for fairy tales to have a happy ending and the novelist Italo Calvino called them ‘consolatory fables’. Many of them offer hope from poverty, cruelty and oppression. An obvious example is the servant Cinderella winning over her prince whilst her cruel stepsisters are punished for how badly they treat her. As Marina Warner says in her book Once Upon a Time, ‘Fairy tales evoke every kind of violence, injustice, and mischance, but in order to declare it need not continue’.

Hans Christian Andersen

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, part of the Henry Collection

One of the most famous fairy tale writers, Hans Christian Andersen, could have been a character in one of his own stories. Born the son of a poor cobbler and a washerwoman, he eventually worked his way up the social ladder and ingratiated himself with the nobility. He was always ashamed about his impoverished background and once he had become successful he rarely mixed with the lower classes.  His personal experience is reflected in his tales that often explore the limits of social mobility in a closed and unjust system. His tales express sympathy for the underdog and people who have been deprived chances because of their humble origins. As part of the Henry Collection of Sweepiana we have a number of beautiful editions of the tales, some of which are currently on display in Room 700.

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm were two young German librarians whose collection of folk and fairy tales became the most famous of its kind in the Western world. They strove to collect authentic folk tales from across Germany and the first edition printed in 1812 comprised of 86 stories. By the final edition in 1857 the tales had grown to 210 and had evolved from their oral folk origins to something that suited the tastes of a more literary public. Despite their ambition to keep the tales true to their origins it was in fact Wilhelm Grimm’s interventions that make the tales what they are today.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

One of my favourite images is this one of Little Red Riding Hood, by Arthur Rackham in one of our Grimm’s Fairy Tale books. Anthropologists have studied over thirty five versions of Little Red Riding Hood and found variations of it all over the world. Whilst European versions tell of a little girl tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version it is a tiger. In Iran the main character is changed to a boy. It was previously thought that that the tale originated in C17th France but it has been found that the variants share a common ancestor dating back over 2600 years. The tale may have been used to pass on tips for survival and spread across trading routes.

The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby

This classic story was written in 1862 by the Reverend Charles Kingsley in response to the horrors of child labour in Victorian England and the publication of the controversial Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. Kingsley and Darwin were close friends and Darwin cited the support of Kingsley in his second edition as he felt that this would help lessen the accusations from the Church that he was trying to attack Christian beliefs. You can read more about how Kingsley incorporated the origins debate into The Water-Babies in this article by Rosalind White.

The Water-Babies, Limited Edition, Illustrated by Warwick Goble

The Water Babies fell out of favour with the public due to its prejudices against sections of society, including Jewish and Irish people. However, it was an important force in the campaign against child labour and a year after its publication parliament began a process that would ultimately lead to the 1864 Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act, which saved many children from a life of dangerous work.

The Water Babies, like the Hans Christian Andersen books, make up part of our Henry Collection and we have over twenty different editions, some of which are currently on display in Central Library as part of our Sweepiana exhibition. We have also loaned some to Abbey House for their exhibition so there are plenty of opportunities to see these wonderful books.

Japanese Fairy Tale Series

These tiny volumes are a little treasure trove of unusual tales that were produced by Tekejiro Hasegawa in the mid 1880’s. The books are printed onto crepe paper which gives them a distinctive look and feel. This use of crepe paper was incredibly popular with Western readers who thought it was exotic and liked the unique texture. Included in the series are the traditional Japanese Tales, The Little Peachling, the Tongue Cut Sparrow, and my favourite The Battle Between the Crab and the Monkey.

As C. S. Lewis said ‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again’ and where better to reacquaint yourselves with your old favourites than at the library. All these books and many more are available on request. Enjoy!