The Monopoly Man in Leeds: Waddington Plc

University of Huddersfield history student and library volunteer Haaris Mahmood continues his series of articles for The Secret Library, by looking back over the achievements of the Waddington company in the first-half of the 20th-century…

Selection of Waddington board games – available to view in the Local and Family History department

In recent years the evolution of gaming has proved to be revolutionary with many new platforms being established such as video games and virtual reality. However, you simply cannot beat the classics of board games that have been around for centuries and still prove to be popular today in an evolving technological society. Some of the most well-known board games include Monopoly, Risk and Cluedo, but what if I was to tell you there is a link between these games and the city of Leeds? What if I was to tell you that it has been forgotten that Leeds people were the pioneers of board games and established the trend and popularity of these family games over a century ago? This is the case when we look at the famous company, born and bred in Leeds, named Waddington.

10th October 1938. Two views of Low Road and Wakefield Road junction as the proposed site for hoardings. Top view shows property and land for sale place name sign with Leeds crest and tram stop to pavement. Bottom view shows cleared land with Waddingtons factory in distance. (Leeds Libraries,

During the late 19th Century, the company Waddington was established by John Waddington as a printing business in Leeds, heavily revolving around the local theatrical scene.[1]

After 1922, the company began to focus on playing cards after the increase in demand for them as a result of the First World War. However, the name of the business was most heavily recognised in 1935. The founders of the legendary game Monopoly, ‘The Parker Brothers’, created the game and visited Waddington. Here they first marketed the game and made Waddington the first company in the UK to publish Monopoly. The games success, as is already known, was immense, with the game reaching 80 million sold in 1975 and becoming the biggest selling copyright board game in the world.[2] What is significantly more interesting about the relationship between Waddington and the game Monopoly is the role they both played during WW2.

During the Second World War, the expertise in Waddington printing allowed them to print in silk squares maps, maps that could become visible and invisible and fluorescent inks on maps that were used for navigational aid for aircrafts and soldiers on D-Day. They were also heavily involved in espionage after the British secret service had Waddington create a special line of Monopoly board games that could be given to prisoners of war. The pack would include real money, real gold tokens, maps and compasses to help prisoners of war to escape capture and find their way to safety.[3] The factory of Waddington was built between Leeds and Rothwell on the present A61. It was said by Victor Watson, who later became chair of the company, that his father and two others were the only ones to know of the secret room built in the factory for the purpose of the secret mission of espionage to help in the war effort.[4] Furthermore, there was an area of the factory for confidential businesses which related to the creation of ammunition for the war effort. However this proved costly for the business, and John Waddington left the company in a case of unofficial bankruptcy of £3000 after the war.

Regardless, this was far from the end of the Waddington Company; but rather the beginning of their rise into an international conglomerate business. After the war, new management transformed the company into a healthy business. In 1949, the company published a new hit board game, Cluedo. This murder mystery game was a huge success for the company that eventually resulted in a movie being made in honour of the game, called Clue (1985) starring Tim Curry.[5] The organisation expanded, focusing on games, packaging, printing and more. A company that began with only 20 employees was holding a labour force of 3000 in Leeds as early as 1958, and was being sent 100 games a day by board game enthusiasts to become published.[6] The company was responsible for publishing hundreds of games during its times, others including Risk, Sorry! and Top Trumps.

10th December 1969 View of Queenie Fields, the cleaner opening the £80,000 factory for John Waddington (Games Division) at Woodlesford. The managing director Victor Watson is on her left. The company was founded in the 1890s and sold its games interests to Hasbro in 1994. (Leeds Libraries, – (c) West Yorkshire Archive Service.)

Internationally, the company was recognised as the pioneer in the invention of plastic packaging, containers and games.[7] It began to open branches around the country and was the conglomerate business for their market. Unfortunately, during the early 90’s, the company fell on hard times and was forced to sell its games division to the American company, Hasbro in 1994 and so ended the life of board games in Leeds.[8] However, the story of Waddington is important to the local identity of Leeds as it demonstrates the city as a place filled with innovation, success and international recognition.

[1] David Thornton, Leeds: A Historical Dictionary of People, Places and Events (Huddersfield: Northern Heritage Publications, 2013), s.v. WADDINGTONS.

[2] Yorkshire Post (1975) – Life begins at 40 for the table-top tycoon’s game.

[3] Leeds Graphic (1958), Histories of Leeds companies- The house of Waddington. No2.

[4] Yorkshire Evening Post (1993). A Life of Fun and Games.


[6] Yorkshire Evening Post (1988)- Picking a Winner, page 4.

[7] Leeds Graphic (1958), Histories of Leeds companies- The house of Waddington. No2.

[8] Yorkshire Post (1993)- A Life of Fun and Games, page 5.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Suzy Butterfield says:

    The Waddington’s site did actually continue to produce into the 2000’s and moved into the folding cartons and food packaging industry. Names it was known as included Bonar Imca Ltd and M.Y. Cartons Ltd. I never worked for Waddingtons itself but did work for the two companies above with other colleagues who transferred in from Waddington’s back in the later 90’s.

    1. Hi Suzy,

      Thanks for this extra information – much appreciated!


  2. Alan Johnson says:

    Someone once told me,the first transatlantic phone call out of leeds was from Waddingtons to the parker brothers about the Monopoly game.But Waddington’s forgot about the time difference and everybody at Parkers had gone home.I can’t vouch for this information it’s just what i was told.

    1. That’s a great story – we do hope it’s true! We’ll keep a note of it and hopefully do some further research at some stage; this would make a lovely little blog article.

      The Secret Library
      Leeds Central Library

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