Hidden Nature, Hidden History: Sovereign 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…

Sovereign Street is an old street named for Queen Victoria but it is the relatively new Sovereign Square with its lawns and pathways, planted beds, ornamental trees and moments’ walk to the banks of the Aire that have brought to the area a return to the green spaces not seen here since before the 1800s, it’s come a long way from its broken up Isle of Cinders origins.

The 1560 map of late-medieval Leeds shows Leeds Bridge at the bottom of Briggate crossing over the River Aire, to the left you can see the Isle of Cinders, four small isles created by waterways or goits from a medieval dam serving the Kings Mills, the Manorial Corn Mill of Leeds, the only place the people of the manor were legally allowed to get their corn milled or flour purchased from. 1996 excavations of the area found these goits with built up sandstone walls containing ceramic drainage pipes whose job it was to discharge into the Aire, however during the 1770s this area was still mostly bare fields.

During the 1800s this part of the waterfront began expanding with mills and warehouses built across the isles and upon the sandstone walls of the goits, taking advantage of the running water for power and cleaning wool, as the isles connected to the riverbank this new land mass along the river bend became known as School Close.  At this time the only way to cross the river was to take the long route round to Leeds Bridge or use the Holbeck Ferry, in 1829 a wooden footbridge was built linking the bottom of Neville Street with Water Lane however this was swept away in a flood eight years later. In 1839 at a cost of £8000 Victoria Bridge was built in its place, the 1894 OS Map still shows the routes of the goits however the isles have been absorbed into the north side of Leeds.

By the early 1900s the goits had been filled in and most of the buildings demolished as part of the Sovereign Street/Swinegate improvement works.  One building that survived was the Victoria Flour Mill, redeveloped for modern use with a restaurant on the ground floor.  Next to the park stands 3 Sovereign Square, built on land that once housed mills and warehouses, when these were torn down the Tramways Depot stood here from 1914 until 1959 when the demise of the tram meant the deport was no longer needed.  Next it became the Queens Hall exhibition space, a culturally icon venue which hosted numerous music performances including The Beatles in 1963, The Rolling Stone in 1964, The Clash, Roxy Music, Joy Division, Black Sabbath and many more.  By 1989 the hall needed extensive modernisation, instead the hall was demolished and for over 20-years the land was an open air car park awaiting redevelopment.

Next: Next, exit Sovereign Street at the far end onto Neville Street – and head north, joining Bishopgate Street at the top of Neville Street and turning left onto City Square. Keeping the Queens Hotel on your left walk along Wellington Street and go left at Northern Street, at the end of here take a right onto Whitehall Road and walk until you find Tower Square

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