A Brief History of Leeds #1: The 15th-century

The first in a series of articles exploring the history of Leeds, using books and other stock resources held in the Leeds Libraries collections. For all the entries in this series, see our dedicated page.

We start our story some 500-years ago in the 15th-century, at Kirkstall Abbey, established by pioneering Cistercian monks in 1152 after a previous location in Craven proved unsuitable. Cistercian wealth was largely derived from the wool trade and Kirkstall Abbey was no different.

Though the Abbey’s involvement in Leeds itself was minimal during most of its existence, a limit on exports to Europe redirected some of the Abbey’s wool trade to the town, thus stimulating the local wool textile industry, a topic we will continue with soon.

This period is represented in the Central Library collections with the item you can see below, our oldest item: an original charter from the Abbey, dated 1460.

This Charter is pasted in the back of the Chartularium Kirkstallense, a volume of transcriptions made by 18th-century Leeds-based antiquarian Thomas Wilson, containing copies of around two-hundred Charters and deeds relating to Kirkstall Abbey. Wilson rescued many of these charters from an old chest he found in Chapel Allerton; the charters and deeds being in various stages of ruin, having laid undiscovered since the Dissolution in 1540.

But what of Leeds itself in the 15th-century? Well, around the same time our Charter was being written, in 1480, Leeds was described by one contemporary as “being near Rothwell”, a complete reversal of how we would describe those two places today. Leeds clearly had some developing to do.

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