Heritage Open Days: Back-to-Back Houses, Harehills

University of York PhD researcher Joanne Harrison is collaborating with Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History department and the Compton Centre Community Hub again, to deliver two events during the national Heritage Open Days weekends. She reports here on the tours and exhibition, her research over the last year, and how to get involved if you have a connection with the back-to-back houses in Harehills.

The Events
It’s that time of year again, when there’s a flurry of activity, excitement and anticipation about the Heritage Open Days events that are being held across the country in September. This year, the event has been extended, running over two long weekends – Thursday 6th – Sunday 9th, and Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th.

Following the success of the walking tours of the back-to-back houses in Harehills last year, there will be another four tours running this year. You will be guided you not just through the back-to-back streets of Harehills, but through the history of their development between 1891 and 1912, setting it in the context of late Victorian and early Edwardian social and sanitary reform and national legislation. There will be the opportunity to view historic maps, photographs and other documents, and look at the latest maps that have been created to show the diversity of house designs in the area. We will look at the architectural detailing, materials and features, and discuss the impact of modernization and improvement works on the historic character. The tour will take a circular route, following roughly the chronology of house building, beginning in the Lambtons, moving South towards the Bayswaters, Bexleys and Edgwares, then East to the Ashtons, Florences, Darfields and Conways, before moving North to the Luxors. For a sneak preview, check out the Secret Library Leeds blog detailing the highlights of last year’s tour: https://secretlibraryleeds.net/2017/09/20/walking-tours-of-the-back-to-back-houses-harehills/

This year tours take place:

Saturday 8th: 11am-12.30pm and 2-3.30pm

Sunday 16th: 11am-12.30pm and 2-3.30pm

Further details and booking: t: 0113 3786982 (Local and family history library) / e:backtobackhouses@gmail.com / web: https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/back-to-back-houses-and-their-communities-in-21st-century-leeds / / https://www.facebook.com/groups/backtobackhouses/events/

To complement the tours, there will be another chance to see the exhibition ‘The back-to-back houses and their communities in Leeds’ at the Compton Centre on Harehills Lane. This gives a detailed account of the special history of the back-to-backs in Leeds, and you can also discover a little about some of the early residents of Darfield Road.

The exhibition will be open:

Friday 7th: 12-7pm

Saturdays 8th and 15th: 10am-4pm

Sundays 9th and 16th: 12-4pm

Monday 10th – Friday 14th: 9am-7pm

Further details: web: https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/walking-tour-of-the-back-to-back-houses-in-harehills / https://www.facebook.com/groups/backtobackhouses/events/

The Local and Family History Library and My Research
One aspect of my research that has been particularly interesting over the last year stems from my use of the Leeds directories held in the Local and Family History Library. These are basically like early versions of the Telephone Directory and Yellow Pages, with a section for residents listed alphabetically, and a section for businesses listed by type. However, the feature that has brought about their ease of use for me, is that there is also a street section, with all streets listed alphabetically, houses listed numerically (separated into odds and evens), and the name or names of the lead occupants, often with their occupation. I have to say, I’m not entirely sure why the Victorians and Edwardians would have found a street directory to be particularly useful, but thank goodness they did because my work would have been almost impossible without it!

My study area includes almost 2200 back-to-backs in the Harehills Triangle area, but for now, I have been looking at just the shop-houses. These are located on the ends of streets or at cross-roads, and were identified initially from a survey of the area, although consultation of the original building control approval drawings has provided additional evidence where recent modifications have concealed the original architecture. The directories have added another layer of evidence, in many cases verifying that the houses were originally built as shop-houses, but in a few cases, providing clear evidence that they were not! And of course, there are question-marks over a few too. It’s been a fairly time-consuming process trawling through the pages of the 1891-1906 directories, made more complex by the fact that most of the shop-houses have two addresses – one for each street that they face.

There are quite a few little peculiarities within the directories:

  • some addresses appear only once and all other listings for the property are given in relation to its ‘other’ address;
  • where both addresses are listed, they sometimes repeat the same occupant information, and sometimes give different names and occupations – perhaps some properties were occupied as both a residential unit, and a separate ‘lock—up’ shop unit, or perhaps one of the listings refers to a lodger…;
  • occasionally, it appears that a resident has moved on, but then after a break of a few years, they will be listed at the address again – did the resident move away and rent out the property, was the resident still there but perhaps not working and so the shop manager was listed instead, or have lodgers have been listed…?

Other historical documents (such as census or electoral registers) may help me answer some of these questions, but it’s possible the information is not documented.

Moving to the more specifics of my findings, the most common shop categories (largest first) were general grocery, cloth and clothing, meat and fish, green grocery, boot/shoe manufacture and repair, confectionary, and cooked food (aka fish and chip shops). There was a wide variety overall, although I’m sure it had a very different feel to Harehills today.

Figure 1 52a Harehills Road c. 1918 (www.leodis.net) and recently.

In some cases, it’s clear to see that there was a family business. Mr John Neall and his wife Margaret ran a greengrocers’ shop together at 79 Bayswater Place from 1898-1903, while the draper Dennis worked with the dressmaker Miss Annie Armitage at 19a Lascelles Road East between 1897 and 1904. The Kennedy sisters ran a grocery store at 80-82 Bayswater Place, and Gallon and Sons were pork butchers and grocers at 156 and 158 Roundhay Road.

It’s been intriguing to see people’s entrepreneurial spirit. For example, the butcher’s shop at 72 Harehills Road was run by the aptly named Alfred Hogg from 1897-1904, but in 1903 he was also listed as a refrigerator maker. I can really imagine how this man, keen to keep his meat fresher for longer, would have loved to have a refrigerator, and working with two colleagues, set about making one for himself rather than buy a commercially available model. I was disappointed that there was no listing in subsequent years – perhaps Leeds just wasn’t ready for refrigeration at that early date… or maybe the refrigerator business outgrew the back-to-back and moved elsewhere in the city. The meat sales seemed to be going well in Harehills though – Alfred had an additional store at 56 Bayswater Road from 1901-1905.

Figure 2 Alfred Hogg’s shop is now the Al-Hayat grocery store.

Another aspect that I’ve found fascinating, is that some of the shop uses are the same today as they were more than 100 years ago. Ashley Road Off-licence and General Store was a grocery shop from 1897, selling beer from 1900. Similarly, the newsagent on Ashley Road was a newsagent from 1899. Others however, combined shop uses that we no longer see together, like the hairdresser tobacconists at 111 Bayswater Road and 152 Roundhay Road, while others, like the tailor and coal merchant at 16 Lambton View can’t possibly have combined both uses in a single room!

Figure 3 The Ashley Road Off-licence and General Store has the same use as when it was first occupied, and in comparison to many of the other shop-houses in the area, has a relatively unaltered appearance too.

I’ll keep digging into the records, surveying the area, and talking to local people…and hopefully, in a few years, I’ll have a really thorough understanding of life past and present in the Harehills Triangle back-to-backs.

Getting involved
I’m particularly keen to hear from current residents of the Harehills Triangle, and those with a connection to the area in the period 1891-1950. If you would like to participate in my research, you can find out more at https://backtobackhouses.wordpress.com/ and fill in an online questionnaire by following the relevant link below

  • Current residents – Questionnaire Q1
  • Former residents (up to about 1920) – Questionnaire Q2a Obviously this latter group is out of living memory, so I’m hoping to collect information that has been passed on to people from their parents / grandparents etc.
  • Former residents (post 1920) – Questionnaire Q2b

Word / pdf files can be accessed at https://backtobackhouses.wordpress.com/documents/ These can be emailed/posted back to me, or you can contact the Local and Family History Library on 0113 378 6982.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Fascinating stuff – to me red brick back-to-backs are quintessentially Leeds. When I lived away I’d always notice the density of them when I came back and felt like I was home.

    1. Thanks Francesca – a really interesting comment on the connection between Leeds’ identity and this type of housing!

      I hope you don’t mind, but your comment also directed me to your own blog and I’ve just read the article there on High Royds, which was as fascinating as Joanne’s article and really quite moving. I fully endorse your remarks in that piece about the patient’s material – the letters – and how they could or should form part of a public exhibition. Possibly something to explore in the future? Get in touch with us at the Central Library in Leeds via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk if you ever wish to chat about it some more.


      Local and Family History
      Leeds Central Library

  2. Hi Antony – I don’t mind at all, I’d be very keen to explore this further! I moved back to Leeds six months ago and I’ve been thinking about trying to put on some kind of event about High Royds and speaking to some other researchers and writers who have worked on it. I’ll definitely drop you an email as I think there could be potential for a really interesting exhibition.

    1. Hi Francesca, that’s great! – I definitely think there’s scope for something along these lines. I have to admit that the Library Service itself doesn’t have huge amounts of High Royds material (some though), but what we do have is a bookable exhibition space and links with the West Yorkshire Archives. It’s certainly something to explore, so do please get in touch with me when you can. Antony

  3. Lesley Bamford says:

    I called into the Compton Library and had a look at the information about Harehills back-to-back houses and found it very interesting. I didn’t realise there were different types of houses. Also you can still see cobbles coming through the tarmac in some of the streets off Harehills Lane.

    I grew up here during the 70’s. We lived in Gipton at the top of Strathmore Drive. Before that we lived on Scarfe Avenue off Ashley Road. It’s no longer there.

    It’s amazing on how much it’s changed. We never had a car but didn’t need to go to a supermarket because you could get most things off “The Lane”.

    We also spent many hours in the library and even helped out at one point. I can’t remember how that came about.

    Thanks for doing this research.

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