A Garden Through Time: Headingley Zoological and Botanical Gardens

This week on the Secret Library we hear from local artist Matthew Bellwood, who talks us through a fascinating interactive local history walk, which we were very honoured to contribute resources to, primarily from Leodis, our archive of historical Leeds images…

Plan of the Zoological and Botanical Gardens by W. Billington & E. Davids.

A lost landmark of Leeds has been brought back to life in A Garden Through Time – a project which has created a new map and interactive audio walk of the Headingley Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

Few traces remain of the public gardens, which were open between 1840 and 1858 and located adjacent to the historic Headingley Cricket Ground. However, the site was once the location of an ambitious, but ill-fated, publicly funded project to build a botanical garden to rival those of Edinburgh and Kew, including zoological specimens from around the world.

A Garden Through Time brings together artists, historians and local residents to explore the social history of this fascinating venture in a way that can be enjoyed online or on foot.

It features original contributions exploring hidden historical narratives of the local area from a variety of perspectives, including an appearance from legendary circus owner Pablo Fanque and musings from the bear, whose pit still stands on what is now Cardigan Road.

The project was led by writer and storyteller Mathew Bellwood, with audio producer Rosie Parsons and was generously funded by Leeds Inspired, a part of Leeds City Council, which collaborates with local arts and community groups.

Mathew Bellwood said:

“This is a really fascinating and unreal part of our local history which, even though it’s largely forgotten about today, can still be seen around Headingley if you know where to look. It’s also a great way into exploring the legacy of our ancestors and the ways our attitudes and ideas have changed in the intervening years.”

Contributors include artist and botanical researcher Carol Sorhaindo, multidisciplinary theatre-maker Pauline Mayers, Oscar Stafford and Alison Andrews from performing arts company A Quiet Word, and actor and historian Joe Williams. Local residents also contribute readings from press and correspondence of the time.

‘A Garden Through Time’ was developed during the Covid-19 outbreak, recognising an increased interest in walking and local history while acknowledging current barriers to pursuing these activities. Subsequently it can be explored online, downloaded or accessed via a phone ap which uses geographical locations to trigger audio clips when walking the former route of the gardens.

For more information please visit: https://www.365leedsstories.org/maps/map-19

Artist biographies

·         Matthew Bellwood is a writer and storyteller with a wealth of experience of theatre, live art, site-specific performance and meaningful projects that engage communities as co‐authors and creators of high-quality work.

·         Rosie Parsons is an audio producer and artist based in Leeds producing audio and video work, music, radio and audio-visual artworks: https://rosieparsons.co.uk

·         Carol Sorhaindo is an artist / designer who produces bespoke art and textiles. Her textile work is infused with natural plant dyes and printed with botanical artwork. Her focus is on our connection to the natural world, especially plants found in the ‘Nature Island’ of Dominica in the Caribbean: https://www.carolsorhaindoartist.com

·         Pauline Mayers is a multidisciplinary theatremaker based in the North focusing reframing spaces and histories through experential art and culture. Her work includes dance, theatre and writing and Pauline has collaborated with over 200 arts organisations, schools and universities across the U.K. as a facilitator of workshops and masterclasses: https://www.paulinemayers.com

·         A Quiet Word is an association of artists who work together on projects which explore space and place: http://www.aquietword.co.uk

·         Joe Williams is a writer, historian and actor whose work includes Heritage Corner, presenting creative collaborations and public services on the historic African presence in Yorkshire: https://www.facebook.com/heritagewalker

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