A Brief History of Leeds #4: The 18th-century

Part four of a series 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 left our brief look at the 17th-century with a reference to Ralph Thoresby’s place in an impressive national and international network of learned antiquarians. One member of Thoresby’s network, however, was more local: John Lucas, the Master of Leeds Charity School until his death in 1750, and another diligent antiquary. In that latter field, Lucas’ primary interest was his home Parish of Warton in Lancashire, but his instincts for recording and preservation are amply demonstrated in his famous Memoranda Book, a record of daily life in Leeds between 1712 and 1750; the manuscript of which we hold at the Central Library.

Though often mainly a record of national events, the Memoranda Book also captures important occurrences in Leeds itself: celebrations for the Peace of Utrecht, horse racing at Temple Newsam, and in December 1715 the first record of ‘football’ being played in the town. Alongside those particularly eye-catching events are numerous accounts of everyday life: accidents, deaths, asides about the weather, business and political disputes, meals and celebrations, unusual occurrences of all kinds: visceral accounts of daily life, in short.

The manuscript of Lucas’s Memoranda Book


Similar are the annotations made by Lucas’ successor at the Charity School, Thomas Wilson in our copy of Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis – the same Thomas Wilson who collected the Kirkstall Abbey charters mentioned in the first part of this brief history. Of particular note are Wilson’s updates to Thoresby’s original text, which capture changes from the early 18th-century, when the book was published, down to the 1740s and 50s when Wilson himself was writing – as in this extract, which shows Wilson’s additions regarding the usage of the Chapel in the grounds of St. John’s Church.

Wilson’s annotations, combined with Thoresby’s original text and Lucas’ Memoranda Book provide us with nearly 50-years of detail of daily life in 18th-century Leeds, adding flesh and blood, as well as, crucially, a sense of change and dynamism, to the rather static, quiet impression we might get from maps, plans and prospects of the period, such as Samuel Buck’s 1745 South-east Prospect of Leeds.

Extract from Buck’s 1745 South-east Prospect of Leeds

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