Leeds in The Builder

This week we hear from Library Officer Kiera Falgate on images of historic Leeds in the Central Library’s collection of The Builder, an architectural journal that begin in the mid-19th-century…

The Art Library on the first floor in Leeds Central Library holds the complete collection of The Builder from volume 1 in 1843 to the final volume 209 in 1965. We are the only library in the region to hold this.

One of the most influential illustrated journals of its era,[1] The Builder now forms a valuable source for understanding not only the architectural developments of the late 19th century but also the social and economic transformations of the time. In 1877 The Builder presents itself as an illustrated weekly magazine ‘for the architect, engineer, archaeologist, constructor, sanitary reformer, and art-lover’.[2] If you’re any of those things, this is the historic journal for you.

I had a look through our complete collection of The Builder for articles from Leeds.

In May 1843, the news that Leeds planned to build Armley Prison caused a rather scathing critique of the UK Home Office by The Builder magazine. As Leeds put out a call for architectural design applications, in line with the recent Pentonville prison building standards, The Builder was incensed by the lack of literature published by the government outlining the design requirements. After the Home Secretary Sir James Graham refused to issue the relevant information (produced for the recent Pentonville Prison build), The Builder has an editorial tantrum, sulking that the rejection was indicative of the low opinion that society held toward their profession:

‘…the law and the army and navy appear to be recognized as the qualifying ordeals of men entitled to legislate and govern; but artists, among whom architects are reckoned, are thought to be that class of poor devils… who should to all time personify that nondescript thing in humanity that exists by a conceded privilege, and fights a constant battle with poverty… Matters can never be as they should be with this disturbance of the social and political balance… Architecture must again assert her true dignity’.

A later open call for architectural designs unfortunately yielded no such drama from The Builder. In an August 1877 issue designs for the Municipal Buildings, now the home of Leeds Central Library, were discussed. While The Builder notes that ‘since the selection was made, and our illustrations were completed… the plans have been considerably modified, in consequence of the division into two distinct blocks, and the provision of accommodation elsewhere for the Fire Brigade’.[3] Even though the illustrated designs bear no resemblance to the ultimately realised design for the building which we appreciate today, it’s interesting to see what could have been. The old design also included two staircases, though strangely enough it makes clear that one is for men, and the other for women! This isn’t a policy we enforce in the library today.

The Town Hall (1853, 1859i) and the Corn Exchange (1861) also make appearances, as well as nearby Salt’s Mill (1854). If you’d like access to our collection, please ask a member of staff, and we can bring volumes out for you to peruse on a reference only basis. We stock dozens of fascinating and beautifully illustrated architectural journals other than The Builder, such as Architectural Review (1897 – 2011) and the Society of Architectural Historians Newsletter (1981 – 2004). Visit the Art Library and ask staff for more information.

[1] Ruth Richardson and Robert Thorne, Preface,

[2] 1877 volume title page

[3] 1877, 814, Saturday 11th August

The Builder title page, 1877
Corson design for Calverley Street Public Offices 1877, 812
Corn Exchange 1861. 649

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