Traces of ‘Old Leeds’ on Leodis

This week, Librarian Antony Ramm takes us through some of the oldest images on our recently relaunched Leodis photograph archive…

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.

c1906. Burley Bar, the south-west corner of Albion Street and Guildford Street. A photograph by Alf Mattison. There are shops and advertising hoardings and a postman delivering letters. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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.

The old workhouse, Lady Lane, Leeds. Building appears derelict, some windows boarded up, some broken. Rubble at front of building. Demolished August-September 1936. Photograph by Alf Mattison June 1936. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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.

Undated. Timber frame buildings, Rockley Hall Yard, The Headrow. Photograph by Alf Mattison. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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:

1907. Lowerhead Row, south side, junction with Vicar Lane. Shops include Victoria Furnishing Co Ltd and the Malt Shovel Inn. A policeman in a cape stands on the corner. Photograph by Alf Mattison. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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:

The last bow windowed shop in Briggate (no 51). Premises of William Green and Sons, late Buck and Jackson. Demolished 1922. The passage on the right leads to the Turk’s Head Tavern (Whitelocks) established 1715. Photograph by Alf Mattison. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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.

c1906. Cock and Bottle Inn, 18th century inn on the junction of Upperhead Row and Guildford Street. (c) Leeds Libraries,


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.

c1866. View shows bridge from the east spanning the river with warehouse buildings at either side. The bridge was removed in 1870. Premises of R Walker, Wholesale Boot and Shoe Manufacturers on the left. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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.

c1863. Early view, looking north, showing the Corn Exchange which preceded the one designed by Brodrick. It was situated north of the junction with Briggate and built by Samuel Chapman at a cost of £12,500 in 1828. As well as facilities for the sale of corn, it boasted four shops, an inn, a hotel and warehouses for the corn merchants. The statue of Queen Anne can just be glimpsed in the round-arched niche beneath the clock. It had been transferred to this building from the old Moot Hall which was demolished in 1825 and had been situated further down Briggate by the junction with Kirkgate. This Corn Exchange building was demolished in 1869 so this is a very early photograph. Photography by Wormald of Leeds. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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.

Hunslet Feast. St Mary’s church in the background. Fair scene is thronged with people. Stalls, swingboats, Punch and Judy and a stage with two actors are also visible. (c) Leeds Libraries,

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…

(c) Leeds Libraries,

…together with this 1843 sketch of workers at Marshall’s Mill…

Photograph of a drawing of Marshall’s Mills, Holbeck showing operators at their machines. From the Penny Magazine Supplement. December 1843 “A Day at a Leeds Flax Mill”. (c) Leeds Libraries,

…and this 1841 engraving showing the then newly-rebuilt Leeds Parish Church.

Undated. Leeds Parish Church. The new church from the south east. From an engraving 1841 (J and F Harwood, London). (c) Leeds Libraries,

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 – or contact the Local and Family History department on or 0113 37 86982

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sue Child says:

    Absolutely thrilled at the pictures. My family are living in Leeds from the 1600s. They include Denisons Lonsdales and in 1837 my Grandad’s Gt. Grandfather Edward Cooke was one of the first Registrars in Leeds. He was also owner of a Music shop in Leeds and Chapel clerk for Mill Hill. I come from Pontefract Lane York Road.

  2. Robert Thomas says:

    Thanks for publishing these images. My family were from the rougher end of Leeds. Kirkgate ,where my ancestors were living in the 1770s. Later in Mabgate ” a place of low repute”!
    in Newchurch Place .
    The picture of the lady being led to the ducking stool amused me.
    Probably another ancestor of mine!

    1. Your ancestors did well to survive Mabgate in the early 1800s. Cholera took so many I imagine some family lines had an abrupt ending.

    2. Sue Child says:

      My Ancestors were from the Back Shambles and I have always been interested in the old photos of Leeds. My grandfather’ s grandad was Edward Cooke he was a musician, Chapel clerk for Mill Hill when Charles Wicksteed was Minister.Edward was also Registrar of Births,marriages,deaths for East Leeds. His Music shop (He also built organs) was in Albion Street where Clinton cards are now!

      1. Have you thought about adding these comments to images on Leodis? It would be great to have your family history recorded there.

  3. Carol Pritchard says:

    I lived in 2 Moor Place Hunslet until 1959 and we used to watch the train drivers fill up with water and coal eggs.We went to St Josehs School in Joseph Street.We used to walk through Varley Square to school and church as well as to the swimming baths.I remember there was a shop on Bezer Street Bridge and Moor Place had a corn chandler,S shop.We used to swing in the scales!

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