A Brief History of Leeds #2: The 16th-century

The second 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 ended the last entry in this series by commenting that 15th-century Leeds “clearly had some developing to do,” given one contemporary’s description of the town as “being near Rothwell”.

That’s a claim further evidenced by looking at the Central Library’s priceless copy of Christopher Saxton’s famous Atlas of 1579, over a century after the Kirkstall Abbey Charter explored in the previous entry. The image below shows the page in Saxton’s Atlas for Yorkshire.

While this extract shows Leeds itself, in the centre of image, as a small-to-midsized town, not yet large enough to swallow up some of the separate villages and townships that we now consider part of the city itself.

A comparison with the way Saxton has drawn York is particularly useful for contextualising Leeds’ relative size and importance in this period

Around the time of Saxton’s Atlas, however, Leeds was beginning to emerge as a relatively significant town in the region, flourishing as a market centre on the back of a century of great expansion in the textile industry of the West Riding, which saw Leeds’ population double between 1576 and 1626. The journey towards a more recognisable Leeds had begun.

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