Local history librarian, Ross Horsley, revisits the site of the former Adam and Eve Garden on Woodhouse Moor.
A couple of weeks ago at the Secret Library, we looked back to the early decades of the twentieth century, when a miniature Garden of Eden – home to its own Adam, Eve and Tree of Knowledge – occupied the corner of Woodhouse Moor closest to the Library pub. As it turned out, the ‘tree’ was actually a highly toxic Ricinus communis (I’ll let you Google that one yourself) and the biblical couple were more likely to have been statues of… well, something even more obscure. Although all three residents are long gone, the garden itself remains as beautifully tended as ever, ruled over today by a long-serving monarch known throughout the world – and with her own place in Leeds history.
Queen Victoria visited Leeds in 1858 to attend the opening of the newly-built Town Hall, and the moor was the busiest part of her procession route, accommodating tens of thousands of spectators. The statue you can see in the photographs above is a bronze memorial to the Queen on a Portland stone base, but it was never originally planned to stand in the park.
Its original position was in front of the Town Hall, where it stood for over thirty years from 1905. In the 1930s, two changes took place that resulted in the statue being moved to its current site. Firstly, the whole of the area outside the Town Hall, extending east to what’s now the Light, was redeveloped following the demolition of Centenary Street, which ran in front of the Central Library and Art Gallery. Secondly, Adam and Eve went missing from Woodhouse Moor (under circumstances you can read about in Bill’s post) resulting in a loss of character for the popular garden. The Queen moved in and has presided over the flowerbeds ever since.
A few interesting images from our Leodis archive tell the story of her former life. In the first, a postcard view from 27 November 1905, rows of police hold back the crowds at the statue’s unveiling ceremony, presided over by the Lord Mayor, Edwin Woodhouse. The dark, many-columned building in the background is obviously the Town Hall and, if you look closely, you’ll see a brass band playing on the steps. These curved steps were removed when the statue left in 1937, making room for a carriageway and the simpler straight steps seen there today.
The colour-tinted postcard below, dating back to 1906, gives you a closer view of the memorial – as well as a good look at some typical outfits from the time. Victoria herself wears her Coronaton robes and crown and below her are Renaissance-style figures representing Peace (left) and Industry (right). You can read more about the technicalities of the monument in its Grade II* listing description.
This final photograph has to be one of my favourites from Leodis – a hurried snapshot of King George V and Queen Mary, who’d come to Leeds to open the Civic Hall on 23 August 1933. The lady in the foreground wears a fur trim that looks a little stuffy for summer but would have been the height of 30s fashion, and whoever took the photo probably felt like knocking that stylish hat off her head to get a better view. The statue of Queen Victoria can be seen in the background, with Oxford Place Chapel on the right.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Victoria Gardens – close to where the Victoria Memorial originally stood – join us on a free guided walk on Wednesday 30 August, from 1.15 to 1.45 pm. We’ll meet at the War Memorial outside the Henry Moore Institute for a little wander whatever the weather. I also have a prize for anyone who can tell me which other well-known city centre location bears a detailed (and rather beautiful) representation of Adam and Eve – possibly the only one left since Woodhouse Moor lost its statues. Comment below if you know!