Hidden Nature, Hidden History: Park Square

This article forms part of our Heritage Open Day 2020 programme, specifically our Leeds City Centre Hidden Nature, Hidden History heritage trail. Click to see all the points on the trail and to read the accompanying articles…

This Georgian style square was built between 1788-1810, beginning as land owned by the Wilson family, whose plan to create a high class residential estate saw them lease plots to architects and builders to create homes for the upwardly mobile and wealthy, notably merchants, clergy, lawyers and surgeons.  As well as access to a private garden residents had private pews and internment rights at the church of St Paul’s on the south side of the square.

The private central garden allowed the residents close proximity to green space and the commercial centre while maintaining a distance from the industry and river which at that time was more a business thoroughfare than a picturesque riverside.

The iron fence encased garden was laid out with lawns, pathways and flower beds and at its centre stood a bronze statue of Circe (1894) by Alfred Drury. This beautiful but maligned goddess from the island of Aegea was known for tempting the sailors of Odysseus with drugged food and wine making them forget their pasts before turning them into hogs. The original statute held an upturned goblet in one hand and a wand pointing towards a swine grovelling at her feet.  The statue was later moved to the Leeds Art Gallery.

This residential utopia lasted until 1878 when John Barran built a large warehouse and cloth cutting works on the south side next to the church, however beautiful its Arabic-Saracenic style was (designed by Thomas Ambler) this new move towards mass produced clothing and the arrival of daily commuters and increase in smog led to the wealthy residents moving out of the city centre and business offices to move in.

Park Square has also been a home to conflict since it was first built, in 1865 during its residential time Eliza Stafford, cook to surgeon and Magistrate Henry Chorley was arrested and sentenced to serve time in Armley Gaol for the crime of stealing dripping from her employer’s kitchen.  On the day of her release a crowd gathered at the gaol before moving onto Henry Chorley’s residence in Park Square, windows were smashed, arrests made and a man died later of his injures from being trampled by the police.

Conflict occurred again in 1889, though this time it was of the business kind, 600 workers from Arthur & Co. went on strike to protest the series of fines and deductions placed upon them including 1 penny of every shilling they made taken to pay for the power to run the machines.  Supported by suffragist Isabella Ford and with public contributions they were able to stay on strike for 6 weeks before being forced back to work, despite the strike failing over time concessions were made to the machinists.

Park Square was at one point called the Harley Street of the North due to the large number of Doctors holding offices here.  No. 8 was home to Dr Edith Pechey, the first women to practice medicine in Leeds and the third woman to become a doctor in the UK.  A campaigner for women’s rights Pechey spent over 20 years in India as a senior doctor at a woman’s hospital and was involved with a range of social causes. In 1916 Pechey represented Leeds Suffragists at an International Women’s Suffrage Alliance Congress in Copenhagen.

Next: Leave the park along Park Square East heading towards The Headrow and the Leeds Central Library where you will find Victoria Gardens


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