A Quick Guide to Leeds Burial Records

Harehills Cemetery, 1920. From Leodis.net

  • This Saturday 25 March, our Local and Family History department will have a stall at the Be Curious festival at the University of Leeds. We were kindly invited by the Brotherton Library’s Special Collections, who have recently made the records of Leeds General Cemetery available online…

British churches have been keeping registers of their baptisms, marriages and burials since 1538. At the Leeds Local and Family History Library, we hold copies for most of the city and a fair bit of Yorkshire. (You can see a full list on our website.) It used to be the case that, to trace a family’s history, you’d need to choose a likely parish register and go through each entry, looking for names and dates that fitted the family tree. Nowadays, thanks to various family history websites, it can be much easier to hone in on a particular record, so most people prefer to start by searching Ancestry (which is free to access in all Leeds libraries) and Family Search.

Burial registers themselves usually give the deceased’s name, age, address, and the name of a relation. Quite often, the earlier registers are little more than a barely-decipherable list of names and dates – meaning that you may never truly know if they refer to the ‘right’ person or simply someone else with the same name – but, by and large, they remain the only source of information on the deaths of ordinary folk centuries back.

By the start of the Victorian era, churchyards in Leeds were mostly full, and finding a place to bury someone was becoming a major problem. The city’s first municipal cemetery (i.e. one not operated by a church) was opened in 1835 at St. George’s Field, Woodhouse, by the Leeds General Cemetery Company. This was followed ten years later by Beckett Street Cemetery in Burmantofts, which was provided by the Leeds Corporation to help ease the growing issue of what to do with the dead.

  • Woodhouse Cemetery has been largely cleared of headstones but still exists within the grounds of the University of Leeds. In this case, the entire original burial records can be searched online.
  • For Beckett Street Cemetery records, the best place to start is our printed list of burials, indexed by surname and split into consecrated and unconsecrated sections. The index provides burial and grave numbers that can be used to find further details from our microfiche records and a map of grave locations. We also have a detailed map of the whole cemetery. If you plan on visiting, you may also find it useful to contact the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery.

Leeds Local and Family History Library holds microfilmed copies of most of the records for the rest of the municipal cemeteries in Leeds. These list burials by date and usually give the name, address and age of the deceased, along with plot details. We also have printed name indexes for Woodhouse, Beckett Street and Hunslet Cemeteries. The Council’s Bereavement Services department keeps the original cemetery records at Farnley Hall, and can also be contacted to arrange a cemetery visit or request a search.


Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery (undated). From Leodis.net

In the case of burials outside the Church of England, a large portion of these records have unfortunately not survived. However, we have a limited selection of ‘non-conformist’ burial records available at the Local and Family History Library on microform, including some Quaker, Methodist, and even older Catholic records.

Catholic Burial Records

For enquiries regarding all aspects of Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, contact the Leeds Diocesan Archives. Killingbeck Cemetery in East Leeds is the main Catholic burial ground. Its register is not publically available but is party indexed by the Yorkshire Indexers, a group of local transcribers. (Full access to their website is by subscription only but you can access it for free in Leeds libraries.)

Jewish Burial Records

Information about Jewish cemeteries in Leeds can be found online, in the Leeds section of the International Jewish Cemetery Project website. A further database of Leeds burial records can be found at JCR-UK, the Jewish Communities & Records website.

Newspaper Notices

Another very useful source of information about deaths and burials is local newspapers. If you have a date of death it’s worth checking these for obituaries or death notices in the days afterwards. A death announcement will usually give details of funeral services and interments and often other family member names. Here at Local and Family History we hold a large archive of local papers and can help you get started in your search.

Good luck with your research and email us at localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk if you need any further advice.

Ballet Memories at The Grand Theatre

By Karen Downham, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

One of the best things about working in Local and Family History is the wide variety of topics that we can deal with, and not knowing what you will be asked on a day to day basis. It is always rewarding to help people find what they are looking for, and solve a few mysteries, and the story below is definitely one of those occasions! It’s a particularly nice enquiry that links together a personal story, Leeds history, and development of dance.

We were contacted by a gentleman who, whilst moving his mother-in-law, Margaret, age 91, to a care home, came across a charcoal sketch drawn by her whilst a 19 year old art student at Wakefield Art College. The students were on a trip to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to make sketches of rehearsals by the Ballet Jooss.   Margaret gave us a short account of her visit, and asked us if it was possible to find out more information. Margaret’s sketch and account are shown below:


I was a student studying painting at Wakefield College of Art and in 1944, aged 19, we were fortunate that our tutor Mr Bland, was an ardent follower of ballet. He arranged a visit to the Grand Theatre, Leeds, with permission for a small party of students to sketch backstage during rehearsal.  A party of 12 were taken to the Grand on the bus and we were given a small area backstage in the wings. We didn’t communicate with anyone. Kurt Jooss was seated in the stall directing. Hans Zullig is the main figure in the sketch. I have no idea which ballet it was but we had 2 hours there and there and it was a wonderful experience. The water colour was added later at college.

As a result of this visit, Mr Bland and a close friend of mine, Roland Strange, left the college to try their luck in London. Roland was a dancer and Mr Bland did stage design. Roland had a successful career and appeared in the 1948 film “The Red Shoes”. There is a shot of him coming out with the other dancers as Moira Shearer is going in for her first interview.

Margaret Downhill (now Oakes) 7th November 2016.

We were of course delighted to let them know that we do indeed hold programmes for the Grand Theatre for that period, and were able to send scans of these to Margaret. The programme of 15th May 1944 gives details of next weeks’ performances on the front and back of the programme, and showing a very full schedule for the dance company, including Jooss’ popular work The Green Table, and his other works The Big City and Company at the Manor on contemporary themes.

Programme for The Grand Theatre, advertising Ballets Jooss.

Programme for The Grand Theatre, advertising Ballets Jooss.


The above list shows what a full performance schedule the company were set to perform.

It is interesting to note the section on the front about Air Raid Precautions – especially the Red and Green “Alert” and “Raiders Passed” signs at the side of the stage, and if the request was made for people to leave the theatre this would have been accompanied by the warning “Don’t leave your gas mask behind on leaving the theatre”!

The Grand continued to open with business as usual throughout the War, and indeed benefitted from wartime theatre restrictions in London, when a number of productions were forced to transfer from the West End to Leeds.

The extracts below, from the inside and back of the programme, show the cast lists for each production. In The Green Table, Hans Züllig, the dancer in the centre of Margaret’s drawing, is dancing the part of The Profiteer.



At this point we thought it might be interesting to find out more about the ballet company and the productions they were rehearsing during Margaret’s visit.

Ballet Jooss

Ballet Jooss was one of the dance companies set up by Kurt Jooss, famous ballet dancer and choreographer, and widely regarded as the founder of dance theatre, or German Tanztheater, expressive dance dramas combining modern dance movements with fundamental ballet techniques.

Jooss was born in Germany in 1901, and in 1920 studied under Rudolf von Laban, developer of dance theory. Jooss further developed the work of Laban, forming the dance company DieNeue Tanzbühne. At this time he also met Fritz Cohen, the Jewish composer, who worked with him on much of his famous pieces.

In 1925 he joined with Sigurd Leeder, the German dancer and choreographer to produce the ballet Dance of Death, criticised at the time for being too avant-garde. He became Director of the Essen Folkwang School of Music in 1927, and Ballet Master at Essen Opera House in 1930.

Kurt Jooss liked to work with themes addressing moral issues, using naturalistic movement and characterisations, and this can be seen in his most well-known work, The Green Table. The ballet won first prize in an international competition held by the Archives Internationales de la Danse in Paris in 1932, with a strong anti-war statement, just one year before Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933. The group became known as Ballet Jooss at this point, and embarked on a world tour during 1933/34.

In 1933 Jooss was forced to flee Germany, along with Leeder, Cohen and others, after refusing to dismiss Jews from his company. They fled to the Netherlands before resettling in England, and opening a dance school at Dartington in Devon. During this time new works were added to the repertoire, including Pandora in 1944, with disturbing images of human tragedy and disaster.

Jooss returned in 1949 to Essen, where he taught and choreographed for 19 years until his retirement in 1968. He died in 1979 aged 78. His works are still performed by many companies today, including the Joffrey Ballet, with his daughter Anna Markard supervising performances until her death in 2010.

The Green Table

This ballet is Jooss’ enduring masterpiece on the futility of war, especially the peace negotiations of the 1930s. It comprises eight scenes of stark images, opening with The Gentlemen in Black, a group of politicians debating heatedly around a table covered with a green cloth, and at the end of the scene, war is declared.


The ballet then progresses with six scenes – The Farewells, The Battle, The Partisan, The Refugees, The Brothel, & The Aftermath, featuring soldiers, women, profiteers and patriots. All fall prey to the Death character, who enters each scene, quickly claiming a life, and not caring which life is taken.


The final scene returns to the politicians around the table again, continuing in their arguments and negotiations, signifying the futility of war.

We can only imaging the impact this must have had on audiences, being performed in Leeds whilst the Second World War was in its’ final stages.

Hans Züllig

Hans Züllig was born in Switzerland, and was an actor-dancer of distinction, taking on many leading roles in Ballets Jooss. He studied with Kurt Jooss and Sigurd Leeder, and became Jooss’ favourite dancer, with an ability to interpret him easily. He danced the part of The Young Soldier in the 1929 production of The Green Table. Züllig was said to be small and with a compact build, and able to transform himself into any character.

In 1943 he began rehearsals with Jooss in Cambridge, and in 1944 toured the provinces with a repertoire including Prodigal Son, The Big City, Spring Tale, and Company at the Manor – the ballets they would have been rehearing when Margaret made her visit to The Grand Theatre. After the war he returned to Germany, teaching and performing at Essen, Zurich. and Dusseldorf. After a short period during 1956-61 at the Chilean University in Santiago, Züllig returned to Essen, where he continued to teach right up to his death in 1992.

Sigurd Leeder

Sigurd Leeder was a German dancer, choreographer and educationalist, born in Hamburg in 1902, He worked with visual artist Rudolph Laban in 1923, and with Kurt Jooss in 1924, developing a close collaboration with Jooss that was to last 23 years. Whilst teaching in Paris in 1935, he was invited with others to England,  where the Leeder-Jooss School of Dance was formed in Dartington, Devon. Leeder was interned in the early part of the war, but in 1940 was involved in the re-forming of the Jooss-Leeder Dance Studio in Cambridge. In 1947 he moved to London to set up his own company.

From 1959 to 1965 he directed the dance department at the University of Santiago, Chile, then taught at the Grete Muller school in Herisau, Switzerland,  from 1965 until his death in 1981.

The Grand Theatre


The Grand in 1936, http://www.leodis.net

The Grand Theatre is situated on New Briggate, and was designed by George Corson, the architect who also designed the Municipal Buildings, now Leeds Central Library. It opened on 18th November  1878, having cost £21,102, with facilities including an assembly room seating  1,200 people, in addition to 2,600 in the auditorium.

The Theatre underwent extensive refurbishment in two phases between 2005 and 2008. It now boasts two large rehearsal rooms in addition to an improve interior, and connects to the Opera North building next door. The Assembly Rooms, closed since 1985, are now reopened and in use by Opera North. The venue is now capable of holding large shows and West end musicals. You can find out more about the history of Leeds Theatres on our Discovering Leeds pages.


Recent photograph of the Grand Theatre lit up at night, http://www.leodis.net


  • The Grand Theatre – The first 100 years – Wilkinson. LQ 792 WIL
  • Grand Memories – The Life & Times of the Grand Theatre & Opera House, Leeds – Patricia Lennon & David Joy. L725.8
  • Ballet Guide – Walter Terry, Music Library, W 792.8 TER
  • International Dictionary of Ballet, Vol 1, Music Library, WQ 792.8 INT
  • Modern Ballet – John Percival, Information & Research, 792.8 PER
  • History of Ballet & Modern Dance – Judith Steeh, Music Library, 792.8

A Hidden Victorian Treasure in Headingley

  • by Nick Tasker, PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Leeds

During pleasant afternoons in Leeds Central Library I have been discovering a story of upward social mobility in Victorian Leeds. It’s also the story of my front room.

I recently moved into a new place in Headingley. It’s in a large Victorian house carved up into flats which are let annually to students. Our front door leads off from the central hallway and opens onto a plain corridor with white painted walls, cheap carpets and fire doors behind which a kitchen and bathroom have been awkwardly squeezed in – all perfectly ordinary for a student flat, except for one thing. At one end of the corridor is the entrance to a spacious, splendid and overwhelmingly ornate Victorian living room.


It takes a bit of a push to get the door open. It is, after all, nearly ten centimetres thick, sitting on huge brass hinges. On its interior side, the door is covered in wooden carvings. When you push it closed it completes a series of decorative panels which extend all the way around three sides of the room, with the fourth side being made up mostly of windows. The wall on the left is dominated by an ornamental fireplace and there are hundreds of individually carved figures and motifs on the walls: Greek gods, Roman soldiers, medieval and Renaissance types, green men, mythological beasts and cornucopia overflowing with fruits and hops.


Who lived here? When was this eccentric decoration installed? Where did it come from? After a few afternoons in Leeds Central Library I am able to give fairly confident answers to the first two of these questions. The third remains open for the time being. A final question may be the most pressing of all: who is looking after this Victorian treasure?

*          *          *

The first clue was to be found over the fireplace, in the form of the initials, ‘JCH’. I soon found out that JCH was not one person but two, a husband and wife named Joseph and Charlotte Hudson.


Charlotte Bowron was born in 1836 in Wortley, Leeds. Her baptism record lists her father’s occupation as ‘servant’, and at age fourteen Charlotte was in service along with her parents and a brother to the Nunneley family in Park Place. Joseph Hudson was born in Rawdon in 1834. His father was a woolsorter. In 1841 and 1851 the Hudson family were living in Chapeltown.

The pair got married in 1857 according to Methodist tradition in the Oxford Place Chapel. Their marriage certificate records that he was living at the time in St Mark’s St., Woodhouse, and she in Alma Cottages (opposite what is now Sainsbury’s in Headingley high street).

By 1861 Joseph and Charlotte had moved to one of the cottages in Prince’s Grove off Shaw Lane, Headingley, behind what is now the Bowery Café, and had two young daughters. These cottages are modest, but the fact that they were here shows that Charlotte and Joseph were already on an upward trajectory: the occupants of the other houses in their terrace are listed in the census as ‘independent’, ‘landed proprietor’, ‘lead dealer’ and ‘civil engineer’.

Throughout his life Joseph is variously listed as a ‘traveller’, ‘drysalter traveller’ or ‘drysalter and oil merchant’. Perhaps his early days were spent traveling the streets, a kind of pedlar, selling salt, glue, olive oil and other goods. He must have been hardworking, ambitious and with a good head for figures because by 1866 he had become a partner in E.G. Jepson and Co., a well-established firm of drysalters and oil merchants. A year later the company purchased William Baxter & Co. of London and Leeds, and other buy-ups would follow in later years. Was this business strategy a reflection of Joseph’s personal ambition?

In any case, Joseph’s situation served the family well. By 1871 Joseph, Charlotte and their growing family were living in a large house on Cardigan Road, one of the new villas constructed after the demise of the Botanical and Zoological Gardens. No more terraced houses for this family: their new abode had fourteen rooms. The house became known as ‘Rawdon Lodge’, after Joseph’s birthplace.

In 1901 Rawdon Lodge is entirely missing from the census. This is because Joseph and Charlotte were on holiday in Cornwall with their daughter Mary Selina. I know this because the enumerator found them that year in the Falmouth Hotel. Joseph died later that year at Rawdon Lodge from ‘pernicious anaemia and cardiac failure’.

In 1911 Charlotte was still there, living in splendour with some of her grown up but unmarried children. She may well have remained there until her death in 1919. At that time she had one servant (in 1891 they had two) and enjoyed ‘private means’: she had come a long way in sixty years since she and her family were themselves in service. The family are buried in Lawnswood Cemetery.

*          *          *

What of the eccentric wooden panelling in my front room? It was installed at some point between 1889 and 1906. I can say this because installing it required extending the room by a metre or so at the front. The extension is not visible in ordnance survey maps from 1889 but it is clearly present on those from 1906.

Was it made specifically for Rawdon Lodge? I think not: some of the panelled units don’t quite fit the space, and have had to be modified, and there are carved panels around the side of the fireplace which are hidden from view by other units. All of this suggests that the panelling may have come from some other house which was being demolished. The panel which features Joseph’s and Charlotte’s initials may have been added later.


For now the carved panels remain something of a mystery. I’m hoping that this blog may pique the interest of someone who has the expertise to tell us more about their provenance.


I’d also be extremely interested in seeing photos of the house or any maps of the area made between 1889 and 1906 as this would enable the possible time period during which the panelling was installed to be narrowed down further.

Finally, I worry about the future of this place. I heard vague rumours when I moved in about it being listed, but friends of mine who tried to find a record of this listing have failed. In less than a year I will have moved on, and other students will take my place. Who is ensuring that this antique living room is being cared for and preserved?


Almhouses, Annotations and Murder: Spending Time with Parish Registers

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

The parish register – the list made in a church of the people who have been baptised, married or buried there – is one of the most useful tools for family history, especially for the period prior to the arrival of the civil registration process in 1837.

They’re usually used to identify specific individuals in a person’s ancestry and, with the advent of digital search, that process only requires the searcher to key in the required name and wait for the computer to scan millions of pages from a thousand different registers, before throwing up the (hoped-for) details. Such a search takes, at most, seconds. Sometimes you don’t even need to view images of the original registers, so accurate are the transcriptions on the major genealogical sites.

Searching Parish Registers - digital style

Searching Parish Registers – digital style

That wasn’t always the case, however. Prior to the ‘computer age’, family historians would spend hours, days, even weeks, laboriously searching through microfilms or printed copies of the registers for the places an ancestor might have been born, married, or buried in.

Sometimes, such searches wouldn’t yield the expected results – but that process of looking through page after page could, on occasions, reveal some surprising details – detail that the user of the modern digital searches can miss when going straight to their desired individual. That the Parish Registers were completed by the clergy themselves only doubles that affect: though largely a compendium of names, certain traces of individuality and personality, of unexpected detail, could be found by those willing to look hard enough. Some people cannot resist making their own mark of character on the blank page of history.

Two examples should illustrate this point. Between 1730 and 1748, Thomas Wilson, the noted antiquary and Master of the Leeds Charity School, made copious annotations to entries in the Parish Registers for St. Peter’s Church (Wilson, incidentally, was also responsible for the fascinating annotations made to a copy of Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis). One particularly noteworthy case was Wilson’s comments on the shocking murder of one Thomas Grave by Josiah Fearn, owner of Nether Mills and part-owner of the Manor of Leeds.

josiah fearn

Wilson writes of Fearn that his “Temper was extremely rigid to the poor and his dependents, that he was dreaded by all and beloved by none.” That’s about as close as you can get to a contemporaneous account of Fearn and his dastardly deeds; and it’s only a snippet of the Wilson annotations – someone really ought to make a record (an annotation!) of them all.

The second example of those interesting nuggets of detail that can be found through a close examination of Parish Registers comes to us from a recent customer enquiry about the baptism of one Reuben Raper in 1674. The image below shows the relevant Parish register entry for this event:

Baptism of Reuben Raper in 1674 (third entry in the December section)

Baptism of Reuben Raper in 1674 (third entry in the December section)

The interesting thing here (other than the fact that, according to our enquirer, Reuben Raper appears to have been an ancestor of Boris Johnson!) is that the Register gives Reuben’s father as ‘John Raper’, while also stating that John was “of the new Church almhouses”. This was the reason our customer got in touch with us – to see if we could find any information to explain where and what these almhouses were, as he could find no mention of them in any other source. After some thought, we reasoned that “new Church almhouses” must surely refer to what we now know as John Harrison’s almhouses, situated next to the then-new St. John’s Church.

However, no amount of searching through relevant books and other sources revealed any other occasion when Harrison’s almhouses were known by that specific name. So, what we have here, is a little bit of very local detail straight from the pages of History: the everyday name for a particular place. While that detail doesn’t necessarily tell us anything insightful, it does bring us that little bit closer to the past, in a way that might evade us if we hadn’t taken a look at the Parish Register image.

Who knows what else you might find during a detailed search of those Registers? Remember, by visiting the Local and Family History department in the Central Library you can view printed, microfilm and – via free access to Ancestry.com – digital copies of most Parish Registers throughout West Yorkshire, as well as a growing number for other parts of the county: click here to see a full list of the available collection.

And do let us know what you find…