Hidden Nature, Hidden History: Navigation Walk

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…

The Leeds waterfront was hugely important to the development of Leeds as a trading town, during the 17th century the river was used as a source of water for the corn mill, the fulling mills, and the dye houses on the river bank, in 1699 Merchants obtained an Act of Parliament and built the Aire and Calder Navigation and by 1700 boats could travel inland as far as Leeds. Leeds was now an inland port, with links to London and Europe through the posts of Hull.

The start of the 1800s sees Leeds as an inland port with the river and canal the principal route for the import and export of goods, by the end of the century the waterway is lined with warehouses and wharfs including this one, the Aire & Calder dock on Navigation walk appears on the 1831 Fowler map of Leeds and is surrounded by warehouses.

Along with great wealth and growth the mill and transport industries brought an increase in pollution, an 1867 River Pollution Commission estimated fifty dead animals a day were being pulled from the river, and sewage and industry effluence was still being dumped into the river as late as the 1970s.  As the railways grew and roads and turnpikes expanded it became easier to transport goods via road than river, and as mills relied less on water the industry shrank and the waterways fell into dereliction.

In 1973, Leeds Civic Trust published a report entitled ‘Leeds-upon-Aire’, proposals for a complete renewal of the waterfront area with new living accommodation and leisure and entertainment facilities.  Twelve years go by before any real development begins but slowly old warehouses and wharfs are converted into dwellings and businesses and life returns to the riverside.

The Aire & Calder Navigation Dock becomes Victoria Quays a £3.8million redevelopment built in the 1980s by Barratts, one of the first residential developments built from a mix of new and converted buildings.  120 apartments are created on the site that includes the old Flax House (adjacent to the water) a grade II listed building that once acted as a flax, hemp, grain and flour warehouse, and Flyboat House the building that despite its conversion to accommodation retains the arch at the base with water access underneath.   The dock is planted with waterlilies and has a fountain to aerate the water, the grasses and reeds becoming home to breeding waterfowl including Coots and Moorhens.

To find out more about the growth and development of this area check out our site Discovering Leeds.

Next: Follow Navigation walk out onto Dock Street, turn right and head towards Bridge End, cross the Leeds Bridge and take a left onto Swinegate, and then your second left onto Sovereign Street


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