A Brief History of Leeds #7: The Later 19th-century

The seventh part 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.

Our last part in this series concluded with the arrival of Irish migrants to Leeds in the 1840s and 1850s. many of whom gained often low-paid employment in the textile mills of the town. The same broad pattern repeated itself through the 1880s and 1890s, when thousands of Jewish people from Eastern Europe arrived and settled in Leeds, most taking very low-paid employment in the newly-flourishing sector of the ready-made clothing industry.

Tailoring and the ready-made clothing industry, in fact, became increasingly important to Leeds through the 2nd half of the 19th-century and the first half of the 20th-century. Several famous names dominated the sector – John Barran, Montague Burton, Joseph Hepworth, and others, including Harris Sumrie, a Polish Jewish immigrant, who started in the trade in the 1890s, initially with a small tailoring workshop.

Sumrie was increasingly successful through the early part of the 20th-century, especially during the inter-war years, when the company employed over a thousand people and opened a huge factory in 1934, on York Road, known as Sumrie House; you can see that in the photo below this paragraph: a trajectory that can stand for the journey of the whole clothing and tailoring sector in Leeds.

Sumrie House in 1937, York Road, Leeds. (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

Leeds Central Library has a number of items related to the Sumrie company including clothing catalogues, pattern books, correspondence and ephemera – several of which contain original pieces of sample textiles – including the one you can see below, dating from the 1940’s, which offer a wonderfully tactile way of experiencing history, the material culture of everyday life.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Robert Thomas says:

    One of the new factories on York Road ( and possibly Sumries) had some wonderful, colourful mosaics on the building wall facing York Road. I wonder what happened to them ?
    Perhaps still there or used on another building. Each was about a metre square.
    My maternal grandmother worked in the kitchens here late 50s. I couldn’t understand this. She was the world’s worst cook.

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