Rediscovering the Lost Streets of Victorian Burmantofts and Sheepscar

Funded by a Jane Moody Scholarship, University of York PhD researcher Joanne Harrison is collaborating with Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History department and Leeds Museums and Galleries to deliver five online workshops. She reports here on this exciting project that will bring an improved experience to users of the Leodis archive, and a new exhibition for the Abbey House Museum.

Many of you will have read about my research on the back-to-back houses in Leeds, and  around a year ago, I was using the electoral registers to find out where the first occupants of the back-to-backs in Harehills had lived immediately prior to their move to what was described at the time as ‘one of the healthiest districts in Leeds.’ Also called ‘superior’ back-to-backs, it set me wondering whether those new houses really did provide a ‘step up’. What were residents’ previous houses like? Where in the city were they? Was there a story of social mobility here?

I trawled through the records for hours (weeks probably), recording the previous addresses and looking at old maps and directories to locate them, and as one might have expected, a significant number of the residents had moved from the neighbouring districts of Burmantofts and Sheepscar. All well and good, but what were these places like? Next step, Leodis, that amazing online photographic archive run by Leeds Libraries and Information Service. This again involved lots of searching to find a representative selection of the houses among the many photographs. At this point, I felt I’d got what I needed for my research on the early residents of Harehills, so I didn’t delve too much into the housing quality or the lives of the Burmantofts and Sheepscar residents. My interest had been ignited though, and more than that, having been on a lengthy journey to find this information, it occurred to me that the job would have been so much easier if there was an index of street names for the neighbourhoods, and maps accompanying the Leodis photographs so I could see instantly where the subjects of the photographs were located. When entire neighbourhoods have been demolished, locating streets and individual buildings is quite a task. I realised that as a university researcher I had good access to historic maps online, but for most people, it would involve a trip to the library. That’s fine, but if you’re researching photographs online, it makes sense for the maps to be online too… and that’s before we even consider Covid-19 lockdowns!

So, the project was born.

Back to back terraced housing, 1940s
Undated. View of Boston Street, with Green Road on the left. Some houses at the end of Boston Street have been demolished, the numbering begins with 33 and continues to the right through to 43. A woman is kneeling outside 41 scrubbing the steps, watched by a child in a push chair. Photo taken in the mid 1950s before clearance of the Newtown/Burmantofts area. (c) West Yorkshire Archive Service,
Derelict back to back terraced housing, 1940s
6th April 1945. Picture shows Stamford Street, which is situated between North Street and Regent Street and Sheepscar Street. The south west side is visible. View is of numbers 16 to 20. The houses are derelict. A group of four children can be seen playing on the pavement. (c) Leeds Libraries,

What is the project?

I’ll be working with Leeds residents (past and present), Leeds Libraries, and Leeds Museums and Galleries to locate the buildings / streets identified in Leodis photographs on historic maps.  A small digital historic map showing the location will be created for each photograph and uploaded to a new website featuring a current map of Leeds which will be accessed via the Leodis records. This will allow online users to position the Leodis photographs within Leeds where the streets no longer exist. In addition, we will produce case studies of some of the Victorian residents, and this will be available both online and in an exhibition at the Abbey House Museum.

What will the workshops involve?

There will be five workshops, and participants can also continue the research in their own time between sessions.

Workshops 1 and 2

Create an index of all streets in the two neighbourhoods using historic maps

  1. Introduction to the project
  2. Introduction to the collections (part 1) – Maps
  3. Agree neighbourhood boundaries
  4. Explanation of the task and method
  5. Participants to select the areas they wish to work on
  6. Record the street names and location
Ordnance Survey map of Burmantofts and Sheepscar, showing housing and land usage, early 20th-century
1908 map of Burmantofts and Sheepscar. ©Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd (2020)

Workshop 3

Create a record of all the streets for which there are photographs in Leodis

  1. Introduction to the collections (part 2) – Leodis and Leodis Collections
  • Match Leodis records to the streets

Workshop 4

Find out about the residents of the neighbourhood using documents

  1. Introduction to the collections (part 3) – Directories, Electoral Registers and Census
  2. Explanation of the task and method
  3. Each participant to select one or two addresses for which there are Leodis photographs
  4. Use the directories, electoral rolls and census to find out more about the residents
Photos of trade directories, showing street names and occupants
Directories and Electoral Registers from the Central Library’s collection. (c) Joanne Harrison

Workshop 5

Find out about the residents of the neighbourhood using oral history evidence

  1. Introduction to oral histories
  2. Explanation of the task and method
  3. Explore the History Pin website, biographies, blogs and artefacts, and discuss how the oral history evidence and participants’ memories / own local knowledge might help us understand more about the lives of the Victorian residents

The workshop tickets sold out within hours of release and we’ve had lots of requests already for the sessions to be repeated or made available online. We’re looking at options for making the talks and presentations available online to those of you who missed out, and we’ll update you on that as the project develops.

Back to back terraced housing, late 1920s, with corner shop at the end of the row
15th January 1929. View shows Edith Terrace, a short terrace off Bristol Street, seen in the foreground. A corner shop belonging to David Gleek advertises Lyons Tea, Lyons Table Jellies, Hudson’s soap, Lifebuoy soap, Cherry Blossom boot polish and Colman’s starch among others. Just visible on the right is the edge of Ethel Terrace. These houses would shortly be demolished to make way for Sheepscar Street South. (c) Leeds Libraries,
Back to back terraced housing, late 1930s, at junction with road
2nd June 1939. View of Burmantofts Street showing the junction with Great Garden Street in the foreground. A double fronted building (number 46 Burmantofts Street) was the property of Mrs Harriet Wilson, where a sign reads ‘Birds Burmantofts working men’s hostel, good clean single beds’. This building was formerly the Garricks Head public house numbered 3 Great Garden Street. Posters outside the building advertise Kodak films and the Star Super Cinema on York Road. Further along is the junction with Cross Burmantofts Street showing a three storey derelict building, while the next junction is Upper Burmantofts Street. A cobbled road with tramlines and overhead cables can be seen. (c) Leeds Libraries,

What happens after the workshops?

Local and Family History Library

The index of street names and corresponding map grid square locations will be available as an electronic and physical resource to assist anyone researching the area in future.

Leodis and Google Maps

I will work with Leeds Libraries and Leeds Museums and Galleries to create a map of the two neighbourhoods featuring all of the Leodis photograph locations we identified, in relation to present day Leeds. Each of these location markers will open a pop-up window to display a section of historic map marked (also with the photograph location) so it can be contextualised in its original setting. The map will be accessed via the photographic records in Leodis.

Secret Library blog

The social history research from Workshops 4 and 5 will be used to create case studies accessed via Leodis and the Secret Library Blog, and an exhibition (see below).

The project will also be reviewed on the Secret Library Blog, and participants will have the opportunity to share their experiences of taking part in the project.

Abbey House Museum

A small exhibition will showcase the findings of the workshops, complementing the permanent displays / exhibitions and providing new knowledge and insight into Victorian neighbourhoods, houses and residents. The opening of this will be announced later in the year.

Recreation of a Victorian street and shop, with
Victorian street scene at the Abbey House Museum © Leeds Museums and Galleries

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Bob Thomas says:

    I lived in Burns Street to the west of Beckett street prior to slum clearance in 1957. I was four but have vivid memories of the place and subsequent visits to Coleridge Street where my paternal grand parents lived. My grandfather was the kiln firer at Wilcox ( ” Fireclay”) after demob in 1920.
    All my father’s family were Burmantofts. He was born Haymount Place. My grandfather was born Pollard Street . My gg NewChurch Place. My ggg Kirkgate as was my gggg. All married at St Peter’s. All poor. My ggg was a lamplighter died 1916 in the workhouse. Dyers,operatives,domestic servants. My gg started off as a “boots”.
    They all worked. During the first war they served. All privates. My father was in the Merchant Marine in ww 2.
    As you can imagine I am interested in the project that you are involved in.
    We relocated ( were relocated!) to Seacroft in 1957. As a result I have always felt detached from my roots. The city fathers meant well. We had a living room and one bedroom plus a tiny box room and cellar in Burns Street. Outside toilet shared with others . The Seacroft house was a palace. I subsequently bought the house for my mother and she was there until she died in 2008.
    If I can be of any assistance let me know. I live in Kenya these days but e mail is wonderful. I sometimes realise I am a long way from “the old end” as my father called it

    1. Hi Bob,
      Thank you very much for this fascinating comment and for your interest in the Lost Streets project! I’ll pass on what you’ve said to the project team and we may well be in touch. We’ll hopefully be publishing the results of the research on this site in any case, so you’ll have a chance to see what we’ve been up-to. Attendee numbers were limited on this occasion, but we might be running it again in the future – watch this space!

      Leeds Central Library

  2. Rachael Unsworth says:

    Bob – great that you responded from far off. Do you have any more detail on the nature of work of your relatives at Burmantofts? Obviously not gleaned when you were a tiny child, but maybe information you picked up later? As a walking tour guide, now doing presentations about Leeds, I’m always keen to learn more.
    Also, when I do a presentation on large-scale housing in Leeds, may I quote your comment about the kind of house ‘in the old end’ and the contrast with your Seacroft palace? Very vivid and mirrors so many others’ thoughts about being rehoused, including the ‘being moved’ rather than choosing. Thank you.

    1. Bob Thomas says:

      I am pleased that you found my comments useful and feel free to use them in your work.
      Unless the small bits of social history are recorded we lose the true value of what makes our nation.
      We have plenty of statues of the movers and shakers of Leeds – the Kitsons and Gotts but it was folk like my family who made it happen.
      We have a fair number of dyers and cloth dressers amongst us. The brother of my ggg was a sack maker. He was 12! ( Newchurch Place). Bootmaking seemed a common occupation for former Thomas family members. Flax dressers for the females. . Plenty of flax mills in the area.Domestic service also featured. My great grandmother was in service at 14.
      One or two on my paternal grandmother’s side were employed as quarry men and possibly worked east of Leeds at Micklefield. The Leeds Selby railway was easily accessible from Burmantofts or more specifically ” Newtown” as my family referred to the area.
      My paternal grandfather Reginald started work as a lather boy when he was 11. He wasn’t allowed to actually shave customers! He later found work at Hope Foundry on Mabgate. He was demobbed from the Durham Light Infantry in 1920 and worked at Leeds fireclay until it closed. He was whaty father referred to as a ” bosses man” ( they didn’t get on…..) If there was a problem at the works on Torre Road he was straight there. Sunday lunchtime ,midnight,holidays .
      When he left there was no recognition of his years of service.
      He lived around the corner in Coleridge Street . The end house on the right ( looking northwards) the gable end backing on to Burns Street across from where my grandmother had been born.
      The Coleridge Street house had a tiny garden with a WC tucked in one corner. My grandfather grew stuff in there. A steep flight of stairs led to the front door. Underneath was the door to the scullery kitchen with a posser and wash tub. Entering the front door I think the cellar staircase was on the left . Understairs cupboard underneath the ascending staircase. Upstairs two bedrooms. The living room had a sideboard sofa and two chairs an upright piano (“Russell and Russell upright iron grand”) dining table under the window -only one window as it was a back to back. Plus a television unheard of in the late 50s. Most of these items were bought through a tally man called Thrippleton who probably charged th double but they were very keen on. ” Mr Thrippy”
      My grandmother was a good pianist Every Sunday when my father made a duty visit to see his mother ( he had no time for his father -‘and neither did I sadly) my grandfather would send her to the Roundhay Park Hotel on Burns Street for a kug of mild and a kug of bitter. I usually went with her and was left in the entrance. My grandmother was invited to” give them a tune”
      I could hear the piano going but not see my grandmother who had been provided with a half of mild. Several tunes later we wended our way back me with a bottle of lemonade and a packet of crisps with the little blue bag in.
      On the way home my father would somtimes buy me a bagel from the Jewish bakery. If we were there on Saturday instead of Sunday he would take me into a horrible cafe that was tacked onto the side of Mabgate Mills facing Green Road. He always got me a currant square which he always referred to as” a flies graveyard”……
      My mother never came with us. My grandfather was a strange man. Because my mother was RC he always referred to as a colleen or Irish girl. He wouldn’t allow green in the house. A bigot certainly but like so many men of his generation he ruled that house despite his ignorance. My father left asap to join the Merchant Navy in 1942.
      Like many in the area both my parents worked at one of the clothing factories. Henleys , Prices’ and of course Burtons.y mother started in the office at 15 after leaving Mount St Mary’s. A scholarship to Notre Dame forgotten about as her single mother couldn’t afford it. After a while her friends told her that work in the factory was better paid. Off she went. My father was a band knife cutter. A huge stack of cloth with a pattern on top was fed by hand into the band knife a continuous flexible blade that moved vertically through a hole in the table top . In this way several parts of the suit were cut at one go. It also took the top off my father’s index finger. The foreman was probably more concerned about the bloodied cloth. He hated the place. After many other jobs he finally became a postman in 1959. Everyone at Burton’s was known by the job they did. ” I saw Elsie last night. You know – the button holer”
      or waistcoat hand or presser or whatever. Burton’s was known as a good employer. Sports section ,a huge dining hall. ( big as a football pitch?). At ” loosening” ie the end of the working day the workers were released in stages to avoid pushing and shoving. Most of our neighbours were at some sort of clothing factory. My father’s aunt Florence worked at Coss and Morris during the war her husband worked for the GPO on telephone lines. Following a soaking he got pneumonia. Though he was hospitalized my great aunt had to go to work. When he died she was called from work to St James’s.
      There was a war on. Despite that she still thought Coss and Morris were good folks to work for. She took the Jewish Gazette for years. She lived in the Burns Street house until relocated to a dark and dank flat in Ebor Gardens. She was just pleased to be in the’old end ‘
      I remember that Burns Street house vividly. She lived in the back room as it overlooked the back yard where there was a wc . Through terrace -‘posh’. She had been born there along with her sister ( my grandmother) and her two brothers. George was an engineer. The loss of an arm at Serre on the Somme meant that career was over. Percy his brother was shell shocked but still tried to enlist overage in the Royal West Kents in 1939.
      Florence kept that house spotless. All cooking was done on the range. The front room being north facing was always cold and never used as she was on her own. It had a horsehair settee and chairs with cushions filled with newspapers
      Well. I haven’t typed this much for ages. Hope some of it is of use.

  3. Hi Bob,
    Thank you for providing such wonderfully detailed accounts – I would absolutely love to include them in the Lost Streets project. It’s great looking at maps, photos and documents, but the evidence that local people provide is truly invaluable and certainly at risk of being lost forever unless we record it now. As Antony said, we’ll be publishing our findings online so that it is available to as many people as possible, and hopefully it will inspire further research too!

  4. Bob Thomas says:

    Hi Joanne
    I think I have chuntered on enough.
    I have suddenly realized that I am getting to be like an old duffer!
    I think that I may have confused Henleys with Hepworths.
    In closing ,just a few more little tales. The first two prior to my appearance in May 1953. Our near neighbours in Burns Street were Ivy and Bill Petch. They were good friends and subsequently became my ” aunty and uncle”
    Following a fight one night the police were called. The pugilists had vanished but Bill helpfully pointed out a flat cap that had been dropped. A police officer retreived it. ” There’s a name inside. Bill Petch” – that took some explanation from a flustered Bill.
    A gas meter man emerged from a nearby cellar shaking convinced that he had seen a ghost. Bill went to investigate and soon came up the steps white as a sheet confirming that the gas man was correct. The
    female householder was unconcerned. ” Oh ,I see her all the time. It’s only my mother”!
    ( I am a total unbeliever in such things but the story was related many times in my youth – Ivy and Bill having been relocated near us in Seacroft. The friendship continuing).
    A later gas man was Mr Kaye who on been told that my mother had been allocated a house in Seacroft offered to take my mother to see it in his gas board van. Years later his grandson Chris became one of my best friends.
    In closing I must mention the Sunday afternoon/ evening habit of family and friends dropping in unannounced. They often expected at least a cup of tea and a sandwich. Chairs ,cups,saucers etc had to be borrowed from equally poor neighbours. Often the bread ,butter and invariably a tin of salmon. The practise of this opportunistic visiting (at least around us) was known as “‘salmon hunting” !
    Right that’s it. I am happy to burble on if requested but think I have had my go!
    I hope to return to the UK at some point this year. My daughter is in Leeds( just about to finish her Phd. ) My son near Skipton. I will no doubt find myself in the Central Library eventually!


  5. Jo says:

    Born in Leeds and living in Australia. Trying to write my family story with limited success.

    What a great project. Can’t wait to see the results.

    Desperately looking for any information on 30 studley terrace, Pudsey or 6 wild’s court sheepscar if you come across any information.

    Thanks and Good luck.

    1. Hi Jo,

      Thank you very much for this comment about the Lost Streets project – watch this space for further information on project outcomes!

      As for your own family history research – please contact the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library on with details of your queries and we can look in our records to see what information we can get for you.

      Leeds Central Library

  6. Sindee hastings says:

    Hi, I have been researching my family history in Leeds for many years now and remember the times before the internet, travelling to London and Leeds whenever possible, so this project is a terrific move forward. My family came from across Leeds, but the main line I am following is my paternal line, BURNS, coming from Ireland around 1850, settling around the Sheepscar area, Tiger street being one of the main places, along with others around there. Life was very hard and conditions pretty awful, looking at death registers many children died, adults not living much past 60. It’s a wonder anyone in those situations survived. Also looking at marriage records most were unable to read or write, mainly the females. My great grandfather Thomas, was sent to the Shadwell industrial school, which I believe was relatively new, in 1884, after being found destitute on the streets of Leeds. This was the help he needed which set him up for the future. I would love to help or get involved some way, I live on the south coast so too far to visit right now.


    Sindee Hastings

    1. Hi Sindee,

      Thank you very much for your comment, and for your interest in the Lost Streets project. Thanks as well for your offer of getting involved and helping with the project, but unfortunately it has now ended as it was only a short-term project during the early months of 2021. However, your comment on this article will still provide excellent historical background for any future researchers working on similar projects, so we can only thank you again for your time & your interest.

      Best wishes,
      Leeds Central Library

  7. I can’t remember the number, but we lived for a while on Roundhay Rd, I went to Roundhay Rd school, walked there, anyway we lived under a cobbler shop, so living in a cellar ugh!!, wondering was ther a number like 35, and coming outside went through a like tunnel type to the back, then not far from Manor Road, used to roller skate as it was a smooth road, also remember going to Sheeni park oh the days as kids, don’t think kids of today could handle it, anyway I also wasn’t far from the Library, so what does Roundhay Rd look like today

  8. Ian Sanderson says:

    I am interested to know about the Sandersons and Sugdens who lived in Green Street. I also have memories of visiting my 80 year old great Auntie somehwere in Hunslet whose home was demolished and all the residnets moved to the Holbeck Towers during the 1960’s. Does anyone still remember these families who were scattered aroound the streets which were knocked down. Many older people died within 2 years of being uprooted from their homes of many years.and could not cope with living in tower blocks.

    1. Hi Ian

      I recommend searching for Green Street, Holbeck Towers and their general areas on and asking your questions there. Leodis has a strong user group of people looking up childhood or family related streets on there.

  9. Jim Wood says:

    My ancestors lived at 15 Grimston Street. I’ve done a fair bit of family history research and have personal memories of visits there in the late 1940s. If I can add anything to your project I’d be glad to help.

    1. Hi Jim,
      Thanks for getting in touch. The Lost Streets project has finished now, but you can add your memories of life in the Burmantofts and Sheepscar areas either here on our Secret Library blog, or underneath relevant photographs on the Leodis website that Leeds Libraries run:
      Best wishes,
      Leeds Central Library

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