Memories of Leeds Central Library

Do you have memories of working in the Leeds Municipal Building on Calverley Street? Leeds Library Service is keen to hear from you, as their local history Librarians begin an exciting new project exploring the heritage of one of the city centre’s most iconic Victorian buildings.

1884. An 1884 engraving of the new Municipal Buildings, designed to concentrate all the administrative council departments of Leeds under one roof. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service,

First opened in 1884, the Municipal Building has variously (and, at times, simultaneously) been home to the City’s Engineers, rate departments, police force, Museum service, and much more – but is now the home of Leeds Central Library and the always-popular Tiled Hall Café, which connects the Library to the neighbouring Art Gallery.

January 2000. This notice pointing towards the headquarters of the C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department) can still be seen on the first floor of the Municipal Buildings. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service,

It is hoped that the many hundreds of people who have worked in the building over the years will have more than their fair share of quirky and interesting stories to tell – including the time a live snake escaped from a Museum ‘Living Exhibition,’ disappearing into the depths of the Library, never to be seen again! There have also been numerous reports of spooky and un-explainable sights and occurrences – not surprising for a building that can boast more than 130-years of history.

c1969. A woman studies a display of water birds from all over the world at the Leeds City Museum on the first floor of the Municipal Buildings. (c) Leeds Museums Service,

So, whether you were a museum curator, city policeman, Librarian, or one of the many joiners, electricians or builders who worked there over the years – the Library Service would love to chat to you and find out more about some of the amazing stories and secrets the building holds, as they work toward publishing an illustrated book detailing its rich heritage.

The research team working on the book are especially keen to gather the kind of everyday nitty-gritty of working life that often escapes an official building or organisational history, as they are rarely recorded in archival documentation – the finer details of the portcullis system at the Calverley Street entrance, for instance, or specifics of changes to the building layout through the decades – plus much, much more about the after-hours staff parties which they’ve been told took place in the 1960s…

The currently unused Portcullis, in the Central Library basement. (c) Leeds Library and Information Service

So, if you have these or any other memories to share, you can join the project team on Thursday the 18th of July for an informal reminiscence session to get the ball rolling. Attendees don’t need to book: just pop into the Sanderson Room on the 3rd floor of the Central Library anytime between 1 and 4pm, to receive a warm welcome together with coffee and biscuits – plus the chance to catch-up with friends and colleagues from yesteryear. Photos and other nostalgic material will be on hand to spark recollections, at this fantastic opportunity to contribute your memories to the history of a much-loved Leeds institution.  If you cannot make that session, the team still want to hear from you: call them on 0113 37 86982 or drop them an email at

You can view many more historic images of the Municipal Buildings on the Leodis website

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