The Places We Live: Local History Collections Around Leeds

As part of Local and Community History Month, Librarian Antony Ramm briefly explores our local history collections stretching all around Leeds, and introduces a new guide to stock relating to Rothwell…

As readers of this blog may already know, the Local and Family History department at the Central Library in Leeds houses a huge collection – many thousands of items – relating to the history of Leeds. Those collections form the basis for all the local history articles we have published on this blog over the years – as well as being used by researchers, students and interested members of the public alike.

But what do we mean when we say ‘the history of Leeds’? Specifically – what do we mean by Leeds? Do we mean just the city centre – the area that concerns the majority of local history articles we’ve written for this website? If we mean the area beyond the city centre, which historical boundaries are we using? That zone defined as ‘Leeds’ has shifted and expanded over the years, decades and centuries – making an easy definition more complicated than it might first seem.

By Harkey (talk) – I (Harkey (talk)) created this work entirely by myself., CC BY-SA 3.0,

But, then again, it is not so complicated at all: at least in the context of the collections we hold, ‘Leeds’ means everywhere contained within the current boundaries of the Leeds Metropolitan District: from Ardsley in the south to Wetherby in the distant north-east of the centre.

So that, then, is what our local history collections include – for the most part: materials covering the history and heritage of all-points north, south, east and west of the current Leeds district. These, of course, are – largely speaking – the places that people live; the places outside the city centre, including villages, suburbs and towns. many with their own long and proud histories distinct (though inevitably connected) to the large urban behemoth that sometimes overshadows everything else. When people talks about ‘local history’ what they often mean is not Leeds itself at all; it’s their own immediate area – their town, their neighbourhood.

24th November 1937. View of Headingley Lane at Hyde Park Corner with Hyde Park Road on the left and Woodhouse Street on the right. (c) Leeds Libraries,

Some of those areas are better represented in our collections than others – usually the old ‘townships’ of the Parish of Leeds that were amalgamated into the borough of Leeds following the 1626 of Leeds. But not exclusively so: some of the larger towns in what is now the Leeds area didn’t enter the metropolitan district until local government reorganisation in 1974 (e.g. Morley) and yet are still among the areas we have the strongest collections for.

From Steven Burt and Kevin Grady, The Illustrated History of Leeds (2002). The thick black line shows the boundary of the Leeds Parish.

Often those latter are also the areas that retain significant local history collections at the main library in that area. The collections at those local branch libraries (or community hubs as they are known today) replicate the materials we also have at the Central Library. But sometimes those collections also contain significant numbers of important books and other local history materials that is not also mirrored by the Central Library holdings. (Morley is another good example here, having probably the largest collection of any Leeds town or suburb).

What we have, then, are collections that are often split across more than one site – a situation that can sometimes make it difficult for the interested public to know where to start their own research; a difficulty only doubled when we realise not all of the material held at the Central Library is accessible through the digital, online Library catalogue. (Though large amounts is, even so: try the links for Beeston, Pudsey, Horsforth or Garforth to get a sense of just how much is accessible through that catalogue).

So, we’ve been trying to help over the last few years by creating guides to the stock we hold on specific areas – leaflets that can be found in the Libraries in those areas, or through this blog, and which are designed to help interested readers and researchers discover some of the most interesting items we hold at the Central Library; a starting point for further investigation. Previous examples include Harehills and Armley – the full list can be seen in our list of research guides elsewhere on this blog.

Published today, however, is the very latest in that series (click the image below to read the full guide): a guide to the stock we hold on Rothwell (including nearby areas such as Woodlesford, Oulton, Lofthouse and Methley). Rothwell is – like Morley – another one of those historically-important towns that has retained its own strong identity separate to Leeds proper, and whose own local history collection, at Rothwell Library (Community Hub), contains some significant materials not available at the Central Library.

As such, the guide includes materials held at both sites (Central and Rothwell) and, it should be said, barely scratches the surface of the total material available at both locations. The guide really is only a starting point – local people interested in the histories of Rothwell and its surrounding district should visit or contact us to find out more:

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