This short article will explore the oldest photographs and other images on Leodis; more accurately, in fact, it will offer a brief look at what I’ve called ‘traces of Old Leeds on Leodis’. By this I mean not only the oldest images themselves, but also some of those photos that show continuing evidence for buildings and places predating the modern era; roughly since the industrial revolution, the early to mid 19th-century. We’ll go through some of those images, starting in the late 19th-century and quickly barrelling backwards through the centuries to arrive at the earliest dated image you can find on Leodis.
Our starting point is the man you can see above: Alf Mattison, a local historian active in the late 19th and early 20th-centuries and who was said to have so much knowledge about the history of Leeds that his colleagues in the City tramways department referred to him, fittingly so, as ‘Old Leeds’.
As well as a local historian, Mattison was, crucially, a photographer (in fact, his photographs formed part of the 1908 ‘Old Leeds’ exhibition discussed elsewhere on the Secret Library Leeds). Leodis has a number of Mattison’s images, almost all dating from the early 20th-century and almost all capturing significant heritage spaces with their roots in the pre-industrial era.
Mattison was also the author of the short book you can see above: published in 1908, the book’s title perfectly captures what I think Mattison was aiming to preserve through his photography: the romance of ‘Old Leeds’, with ‘Old Leeds’ meaning prior to the 19th-century; those traces of a Leeds that the apparent progress of the industrial machine had left behind, but which still lingered if you knew where to find them.
Many of the buildings and spaces Mattison captured in that book and in his photography have long-since changed beyond all-recognition and we owe him a huge debt for the vital work he performed recording ‘Old Leeds’ before it vanished completely.
There are many examples of such images on Leodis, starting with the photo above, which probably sums up Mattison’s intentions as well as any. This image was taken in about 1906 and shows the corner of Albion Street and Guildford Street. As the Yorkshire Evening Post reported in 1922, the five ‘one decker’ shops we can see here were probably around 200 years old when the image was taken – meaning they dated to the early 18th-century.
Similar images include Mattison’s photograph above of the old workhouse on Lady Lane, taken just before its demolition in 1936. This building – or, at least, parts of it – was at least 200-years old when this photo was taken.
Also similar is below: a Mattison image of Rockley Hall Yard on the Lower Headrow, which shows a timber-framed building, most likely part of the late 15th-century Rockley Hall itself.
Mattison was especially keen, as we saw in our first image, on capturing the texture of everyday life for so-called ‘ordinary people’, through his photography of leisure and social spaces: specifically, shops and pubs – many already very old when Mattison photographed them and most of which have long-since disappeared.
Here, for example, we see a photo taken in 1907 showing shops on the south side of Lower Headrow:
While here we see the Cloth Hall Hotel, on the north-east side of Infirmary Street; and the old Crown Inn on Kirkgate:
Then the Golden Cock Inn, also on Kirkgate; and Ye Old Dusty Miller Inn on Swinegate:
Finally, this wonderful bow-windowed shop on Briggate, the last surviving example of its kind, which was demolished in 1922:
I also think the image below of the Cock and Bottle Inn, at the junction of the Upperhead Row and Guildford Street, was most likely taken by Mattison, though our Leodis entry doesn’t attribute it to him (nor anyone else for that matter): the photo is dated to about 1906, around the same time as many of the other Mattison images were taken, and both the style and content fit our other Mattison images.
So that is a brief overview of one way that Leodis captures traces of ancient Leeds through the magic of photography. But all the images we’ve seen are just over 100-years old. These are clearly not the actual, oldest images of Leeds on Leodis. So: what is?
Let’s start with this 1866 photograph of Leeds Bridge, just prior to its removal and rebuild in 1873.
Until starting the research for this article, I genuinely thought the image above of Leeds Bridge was the oldest actual photograph on Leodis. However, I have since re-discovered the image below, which possibly pre-dates it, being attributed to around 1863 – it shows the top end of Briggate, with the old Corn Exchange building at the junction of Lower Headrow, Upper Headrow and Briggate itself in the upper centre of the image. Whether this photo is older than the Leeds Bridge one or not, it certainly predates 1869, when the old Corn Exchange was demolished.
Other images of ‘Old Leeds’ from around the same time include those in the gallery below, which shows: an 1869 south-east view of no.30 Bridge End, showing a barber’s shop and pole; this 1867 photograph of the toll house at the junction of North Street and Roundhay Road; also from 1867 – a very famous photo showing shops on Lower Briggate with the spire of the Holy Trinity Church in the distance; and, finally, a photo from 1869 showing young boys and men outside St. Margaret’s Church in Horsforth. That last is particularly interesting as it seems to be the oldest image specifically of people on Leodis. While there are people in some of the images we have just seen, they have been captured incidentally – this group shot is the oldest deliberate photo of a social gathering found to date.
Of course, none of the images we’ve just been discussing are anywhere near to being the actual oldest image on Leodis – which is a way of saying that Leodis does not only include photographs: there is also a significant collection of prints and engravings, many of which predate these photos.
One example – returning to portrayals of people – is above: an 1850 sketch of Hunslet Feast, with St. Mary’s Church in the background. From around the same date is this wonderful 1845 drawing of Thomas Green’s Coffee House on Boar Lane…
…together with this 1843 sketch of workers at Marshall’s Mill…
…and this 1841 engraving showing the then newly-rebuilt Leeds Parish Church.
Speaking of the Parish Church – some of the most important non-photographic images of ‘Old Leeds’ that you can find on Leodis are a series of watercolour sketches by John Rhodes, showing the old parish church prior to and actually during its demolition – such as the two you can see below.
Other now long-gone, largely-changed or simply very old buildings captured on other engravings include such important sites as those in the following gallery, which shows: the early 19th-century courthouse on Park Row; that building’s predecessor as the home of law and justice in the town, the early 18th-century Moot Hall on Briggate; a really nice, evocative 1816 sketch of Adel Church; the legendary Headingley oak tree, seen here in 1829; the Holy Trinity Church on Boar Lane, seen here in 1828, before the 1839 hurricane which fatally damaged the Church spire; and, finally, a 1787 print in colour of Harewood Castle.
Many of the very oldest images on Leodis, however, capture views of Kirkstall Abbey – perhaps not surprisingly. These include, as can be seen in the gallery below: an 1814 hand-coloured glass slide of an engraving showing intact vaulting in the east range of the Abbey; a romantic – and indeed, perhaps, romanticised – 1808 engraving of a vaulted chamber; a 1774 engraving from what was the monk’s cemetery across the grounds of the Abbey; and, finally, a 1723 image, showing a perspective of the ruins of the Abbey site in its entirety.
That 1723 image brings us within 30-years of our final image, the earliest available visual record of ‘Old Leeds’ on Leodis. And that is the extraordinary image below, a 1694 sketch from the Corporation Court Books, showing a woman – Anne Saule – being led to a ducking stool on Lady Beck in Mabgate, after complaints that she was “a person of lewd behaviour, a common scold” who “daily maketh strife and discord among her neighbours.” This is, to my mind, not only the oldest image on the site – it’s also one of the most important. I say that not only because of its age – though that is clearly part of its importance – but as much because of its content.
Specifically I mean that this image so clearly shows drama – people arguing and doing, people engaged in actual action; very unlike the often static, quiet impression we get from some of the other images we’ve seen, certainly the prospects and engravings from around the same time.
This 1694 sketch, then, not only reveals a specific moment in time – one particular day in the late 17th-century – it also opens up to us a whole world of empathetic imagination, allowing us to more clearly conceive of our distant ancestors as flesh and blood people; social beings who interacted with their surroundings, moved through space and time, and engaged in dynamic relations across fault lines of class and gender. It is a startling and, I think, very precious image in the historiography of the city; as well as final proof – if we needed it – for the vital importance of an image archive like Leodis.
To discover more images of ‘Old Leeds,’ visit http://www.leodis.net – or contact the Local and Family History department on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0113 37 86982