This week we welcome guest author Phillippa Plock, who has been working with Leeds Museums and Galleries on their Wikithon, where they write Wikipedia articles on important Leeds Historical Figures as part of their 200th birthday volunteer project. In this article Phillippa will discuss her two most recent articles on Harris Simrie and Elizabeth Beecroft.
So, what does an enterprising farmer’s wife from the late 18th century have in common with a Polish Jewish tailor who arrived in Leeds in 1886? They are both featured in the exhibition Leeds to Innovation at Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills until 26 September 2020. They also now have entries on Wikipedia because of a Wikithon held by Leeds Museums and Galleries as part of their 200th birthday volunteering project.
The exhibition features some of the most innovative people to have lived in Leeds over the past three centuries including Elizabeth Beecroft, a pioneering businesswoman who turned Kirkstall Forge into a very profitable enterprise, and Harris Sumrie, credited with providing the first ready-to-wear male garments to the London fashion market. At the start of the project, Elizabeth had two lines on Wikipedia, and Harris didn’t have an entry at all, so after attending the Wikithon, I decided to give these innovators a bit of a Wikipedia make-over.
Wikipedia is really easy to edit – with its new Visual Editor, it’s just like working in Word. I found Elizabeth easy to research and quickly added lots of new information working from her diary published in 1906 and also a history of the forge written in the 1970s by Rodney Fawcett Butler. There was even a portrait of her that I could add as a photograph using the Wikimedia Commons site. My favourite piece of evidence was definitely her diary. She records not only details of her childhood growing up near Otley; her early career selling butter and her marriage to a Bramley farmer; but also her determination to take over the forge as well as her strong religious beliefs. She describes some of the reformed preachers in Leeds, and a holy-woman called Effem Banks, a linen draper and grocer in Leeds who gave her spiritual instruction. I’d love to know more about Effem.
With Harris Sumrie, I made my first Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, because I only had a couple of references, the first draft was rejected by Wikipedia, but with the help of staff from Leeds Industrial Museum, I was able to flesh out the entry using newspaper articles from the British Newspaper Archive online. I was also able to add a portrait of Harris that’s at the Museum and a photograph of Sumrie House taken in 1937 that I found on the Leodis site. Hopefully this new draft will past muster.
From small beginnings, Harris built up his tailoring firm so that in the 1930s he was employing 1,300 people. Sumrie House on York Road, opened in 1934, was hailed as a truly modern factory and showroom. Designers worked with 70 different sizes of models so that they could produce garments in 70 different sizes. Sumrie specialised in producing high-quality garments with aesthetic appeal for the mass market. Their advertising slogan used from the 1930s onwards was ‘Sumries clothes are good’. The company existed until the 1980s when it was taken over and Sumrie House was demolished.
In future, I’m hoping to work on other people included in the exhibition such as Lynette Willoghby, an electronic engineer and Florence Taylor, a member of Leeds Astronomical Society.
“The Memoirs of Elizabeth Beecroft” in Butler, Thomas (1906). The Diary of Thomas Butler of Kirkstall Forge Yorkshire 1796-1799. Chiswick Press, London. pp. 361–368
Butler, Rodney Fawcett. (1975). The history of Kirkstall Forge through seven centuries, 1200-1954, AD : the story of England’s oldest ironworks (2nd ed. rev. and enl ed.). York (The Ebor Press, York Y03 9HS): William Sessions Ltd.
“Remarkable Growth”. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 10 May 1934. p. 3
Honeyman, Katrina (2000). Well Suited: A History of the Leeds Clothing Industry, 1850-1990. Oxford University Press. pp. 299–300
Elizabeth “Betty” Beecroft by an unknown artist painted around 1790
Unknown Artist, Harris Sumrie, c. 1930, Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, LEEDM.S.1985.25.2
Sumrie House in 1937, York Road, Leeds, Leodis 2002812 81409854