Local History Librarian, Helen Skilbeck, recounts a tale from our recent walking tours of Victoria Gardens – the area outside Leeds Central Library that has seen its fair share of history and still bears the shrapnel scars from an explosion 76 years ago…
On the night of 15 March 1941, Leeds was under attack from a German air raid that targeted various buildings, including the Town Hall. Its Calverley Street entrance bore the brunt of the damage.
The City Buildings Superintendent, Mr Tansley, had been resting on a bed in his office when something impelled him to go to the side entrance. The bombs had been falling fairly nearby. He had just entered a room where the porter was about to make some tea, when the bomb fell. Mr Tansley was thrown across the room into the fireplace, just in time to meet a huge fall of burning soot dislodged by the blast. Some of the soot went down his throat and he was half suffocated. The porter went to his aid and gave him milk to relieve the agony of his burned throat. He was incapacitated for the next ninety minutes but then spent five hours giving orders to staff.
The watchman, Bill Hollingworth, had been buried in the ruins of the Calverley Street entrance but was rescued by police and auxiliary firemen. He refused to go to the Infirmary until he had passed on some keys to Mr Tansley. He was back at work in few days and volunteered again for night duty.
A second bomb had fallen on an upper floor of the Town Hall but firemen dealt with it promptly and it did not explode.
The damage to the side of the building was extensive but there were some curiosities. One glass door had been blown off its hinges but not a pane of glass had smashed. Mr Tansley’s room was wrecked but his bed was untouched.
Cleaners arrived at 6.00am, as they usually did, and got the undamaged part of the building ready for the day’s Assize Court. It was business as usual at Leeds’ most iconic building.