Who Led Leeds? Case Study #1: Maud Dightam

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

Maud Dightam

Many readers will be familiar with the name and the achievements of Alice Bacon, the first woman elected as an MP in Leeds. And some of our readers will doubtless be in attendance at this week’s talk by Rachel Reeves MP, author of a new biography of Alice. Alongside that talk, we’ll be offering a glimpse from our Collections into the life and work of other local individuals involved in the Labour movement during the first half of the 20th-century. That display will include extracts from one of the Central Library’s most significant Treasures: Alf Mattison’s Collection of news cuttings, journals and ephemera.

Alongside the Mattison material will be a smaller, but no less significant, section dedicated to the memory of Maud Dightam. That’s a name unlikely to be known to most readers, or even to those with an interest in local political history. Maud, however, deserves to be known by a far wider audience: as the joint-first woman elected as a Leeds City Councillor, an accolade Maud shares with the Conservative candidate, Gertrude Dennison – an achievement which, of course, makes Maud the very first woman elected as a Labour Councillor in Leeds.

That’s not the whole of Maud’s story, however. She first came to our attention after a simple, single-line, enquiry from a member of the public – Maud’s grandson, Peter, in fact – who was wanting a few news articles about her initial success for his family history album. Further correspondence with Peter led to us finding out much more about Maud, her life and her work.

Maud Rose was born in Leeds, in 1876. At some point between then and her first appearance on a Census Return, in 1881, her family had moved to Wales, where her father, George, worked as a Leather Dresser. However, by the time of the next Census, in 1891, Maud had returned to Leeds, where she was now living with her Uncle and Aunt. At some point, one of Maud’s brothers joined her in Leeds for work – and also for politics; it was this brother who first interested Maud in the theory and practice of Socialism, though those efforts only bore fruit after he left Leeds for Lancashire, leaving his collection of radical literature in the hands of his sister.



The 1881 and 1891 Census Returns, showing Maud with her mother, father and siblings in Wales (top), and then with her Uncle and Aunt in Leeds (bottom). Images taken from Ancestry.com

Maud moved quickly and eagerly into the circles of radical Leeds life, becoming a key figure in the local political movement through her role in forming the Leeds Women’s Labour League and the East Leeds Socialist Sunday School. She was active in Suffragette circles and present during a 1913 visit of Philip Snowden to Leeds, joining “members of the Women Social and Political Union and of the Women’s Labour League in heckling Philip Snowden when he visited Leeds ‘on the grounds that the Labour Party had fallen away from its ideals in refusing to support sex equality.'” Her contacts and colleagues can be glimpsed in an autograph book kept by her daughter, Mary, entries of which contain the signatures of some well-known figures, locally and nationally.

Article from the Leeds and District Weekly Citizen (13.04.1914), showing the ten precepts of the Socialist Sunday Schools in Leeds

Article from the Leeds and District Weekly Citizen (13.04.1914), showing the ten precepts of the Socialist Sunday Schools in Leeds. Clicking on the image will provide access to a zoomable version 

Autograph of Sylvia Pankhurst, written after she stayed at Maud Dightam's house in 1916

Autograph of Sylvia Pankhurst, written in Mary’s book after she stayed at the Dightam’s house in 1916

Maud’s husband, Ernest, a draper, was no less committed in his political beliefs, glimpses of which can be found in newspaper articles reporting his presence at suffragette demonstrations just prior to the First World War.

Maud, Mary and Ernest Dightam (no date)

Maud, Mary and Ernest Dightam (c.1913)

Ernest’s politics, in fact, led him to take a position akin to that of a conscientious objector during the First World War, believing that British workers and German workers had more in common than did those people and their respective leaders. It was a war of “three kings”, he thought – the British, the German and the Russian – and a distraction from the class-based political struggles that should unite the workers of those nations. Ernest was arrested and jailed for his beliefs; in his discharge paper, seen below, we see the final verdict of the State: “An insubordinate conscientious objector.”

Extract from Ernest Dightam's entry in the British Army WW1 Pension Records: 1914-1920. Taken from Ancestry.com

Extract from Ernest Dightam’s entry in the British Army WW1 Pension Records: 1914-1920. Taken from Ancestry.com

In the 1921 council elections, just three years after woman over thirty years of age and with property qualifications got the vote, Maud chose to stand as the Labour candidate for the East Leeds ward. There, she faced opposition from an Independent Labour candidate, Walt Wood, who was able to claim the support of two MPs, Jack Jones and Will Thorne. Maud, however, could count on the support of the MP for Leeds South East: James O’Grady.


‘Two Sound Men for the Leeds City Council,’ Yorkshire Evening Post, 25.10.1921, page 5


‘Women Councillors,’ Leeds Mercury, 03.11.1921, page 4

It is of little doubt, however, that what happened next owed far more to Maud’s own qualities and vast experience in local politics than the support of any one individual: elected as a Councillor with a majority of more than 1,000, Maud wasted no time in setting out her priorities – “I hope to be on those committees dealing with maternity and child welfare,” she told the Leeds Mercury, adding that “I do not wish to be regarded as a women’s candidate, but purely and simply as a Labour representative.”

In doing so, Maud was able to effectively navigate a path between being narrowly defined – thus, easily dismissed – as a “women’s candidate”, while still bringing a much-needed voice from the margins into a political centre otherwise dominated by what Dennison called “the old washer-women of men of the Council.”

You can read more about Maud’s election and subsequent political career in Sylvia Jane Dunkley’s Women Magistrates, Ministers and Municipal Councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire: 1918-1939 (1991). The context for that election is explored in Michael Meadowcroft’s excellent article ‘The Years of Political Transition, 1914-1939,’ available in A History of Modern Leeds (ed., Derek Fraser, 1980). Further Central Library material on women in Leeds can be seen in our research guide.

Maud was a tireless worker for the causes she so strongly believed in – opposing, for example, the introduction of charges for dental and medical treatment for children – and a popular public speaker, whose efforts sadly took their eventual toll. Ill for more than a year, Maud died in December, 1932. It is a measure of the high regard in which she was held that her sister-in-law, Ellen Hainsworth, wrote the following poem on Maud’s death:


An obituary of Maud can be found on page 4 of the Yorkshire Evening Post, on the 28th of December, 1932.

The Dightam story does not end there, however. In fact, Peter – Maud’s grandson, and the original enquirer that sparked this research – has very kindly donated copies and original documents that trace the family history from Maud’s parents through to his own life story in more recent times. That group of materials – which includes school reports, autograph collections, certificates, passports, photographs, mortgage books and more – has all been collected together and added to the stock in Local and Family History as a self-contained set of archival material. This collection will prove invaluable to social historians of the future, as well as providing a concrete example of how such a valuable family archive can be put together in practice.

Maud’s story is also a practical example of how anyone can use the resources available in the Local and Family History department – newspapers, Census returns, etc – to put together an initial biography of the often-forgotten public servants of Leeds. That, in fact, is the aim of an extremely valuable new project – “Who Led Leeds?” – which we reported on recently. If you’re interested in contributing to that project and helping us to uncover more stories like Maud’s, do please get in touch.

Who Led Leeds? Public Service between the Wars

University of Leeds PhD student Pushpa Kumbhat is working on a new project with the support of Leeds Central Library’s Local and Family History department. She writes…

We are creating a collection of short biographies commemorating the lives of public servants – local leaders of Leeds who served on the Council between the First and Second World War. Such a collection would be unique in Yorkshire.

These local leaders were ordinary people, elected as councillors and mayors to serve the city of Leeds. Their voluntary service on Leeds City Council helped build the city’s economy and democracy. Yet today, they, their backgrounds and their achievements are largely forgotten. Few, if any, collections exist about the lives of these public servants. We hope to commemorate their work in public service, charting their lives and achievements in a collection of personal biographies.

The Local and Family History Library holds a wealth of information about former citizens of Leeds, in card indexes, documents, regional newspapers on microfilm and in scrapbooks – as well as on websites such as Ancestry.com. With help from interested amateur historians, we aim to collect more biographical information about people of interest using these resources, and put together their biographies.

Here are a couple of examples of local figures we’ve identified and included so far:


Bertha Quinn

Bertha Quinn

  • Councillor: 1929-43.
  • Born in Middlesbrough, 1873.
  • A Trade Union representative – Tailors and Garment Workers: 1915-43.
  • Received the Bene Merenti Medal in 1946.
  • A militant suffragette, she chained herself to the House of Commons and was arrested five times, being imprisoned once.
  • Died in Leeds, 1951.



David Beevers

  • Councillor: 1927-57.
  • Born in Manchester, 1890.
  • One of six siblings.
  • Began work aged 11.
  • Mayor of Leeds: 1945
  • The David Beevers Day Unit at St James’s Hospital was named in honour of his work in health care.
  • Died in Leeds, 1957.

Would you like to help build this collection? Perhaps you have an ancestor from Leeds who you would like to know more about? Or maybe you’re just curious! If so, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m hoping to put together a small team of voluntary researchers to work on the project. You can do as little or as much as you’d like, from researching one past councillor to several. Once we have a few interested people, I’ll organise a little get-together to take the task forward. If you’d like to be a part of it, you can email me via: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk  

The Ghost Stories of Lord Halifax

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Last Monday, I accepted an invitation from Bob and Jacki Lawrence of the East Leeds History and Archaeology Society to speak at their monthly meeting, and decided to take along one of my favourite items from our Local History collection as my inspiration.


Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book was compiled by Charles Lindley Wood, the 2nd Viscount Halifax and an avid collector of ‘true’ ghost stories. Born in London in 1839, he had a long career in the English Church Union and held Yorkshire estates at Hickleton and Garrowby. His son Edward (who went on to become a notable Cabinet minister) inherited the reputedly haunted Temple Newsam House in 1904 – a situation that delighted the elderly ghost-hunter, who believed it might finally afford him the genuine brush with the supernatural he had always craved. (Accounts differ on whether it did or not… More on that later!)


Lord Halifax, ghost-bookster

The evening began with an atmospheric article from the Yorkshire Evening Post entitled “The Spectral Shades of Templenewsam: Investigation of Legends of the Old Mansion” from 1923. The author, named only as SJP, prowls the darkened halls of the house in search of apparitions, assessing each room’s ghostly potential:

“The blue damask bedroom is another haunted chamber. It was here, so the story goes, that Viscount Halifax had a visitation. Whether it was a vision between sleeping and waking his Lordship does not attempt to say, but he states that he saw, as clearly as ever he witnessed anything in his life, a woman with a blue shawl over her head pass silently behind the dressing table from one door of the room to another. And the rooms on either side of the blue room were empty… The room itself is vacant now, save for the old four-poster bed.”

Further tales of ‘somewhat gruesome’ goings-on at Temple Newsam were provided by extracts from the memoirs of Lady Mary Meynell. Her autobiography Sunshine and Shadows over a Long Life (available in our Leeds collection) devotes several pages to unexplained screams in the night, mysteriously ringing bells, and whispering sighs in the long gallery. But it’s also a wry account of life in a huge old house before modern-day heating:

“No words can say how cold that enormous old house was… The old fireplaces with their huge open chimneys swallowed all the heat of the big fires heaped in them, and roared up the chimneys which equally smoked down them, and many times have I seen the carpets rising in billows from the draughts, and the wind howling round the walls.”


The Long Gallery at Temple Newsam (from http://www.leodis.net)

Before leaving Temple Newsam and its various chills behind, however, I thought it time to open Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book itself. Drawn from his notebooks and letters, this was published in 1936, proving so popular that it was followed by a second volume the following year. All of Halifax’s favourite spooky tales are collected within, including such offbeat accounts as The Vampire Cat and The Corpse that Rose. The one I chose is called Here I Am Again! and, like his own encounter it takes place in a dimly-lit bedroom in the middle of the night. Unlike Lord Halifax’s, however, the visitor is anything but benign:

“Suddenly, there appeared at my bedside the phantom of either an old man or woman, of dreadful aspect, who was bending over me. That I was wide awake is beyond all question. I at once became cataleptic, unable to move hand or foot. I could only gaze at this monstrosity, vowing mentally that if I ever recovered from this horrible experience I would never dabble in table-turning, planchette, etc., again, for here was a real materialization and the reality was too terrifying for description.”

A Leeds theatre playbill from our collection provided the inspiration for the next segment, a gruesome tale of misfortune called The Mistletoe Bough. You can see the full details of the 1850 Princess’ Theatre production via our Leodis Playbills website; but Samuel Rogers’ poetic take on the story of a young bride who hides in an old oak chest during a game of hide and seek captures its grim conclusion perfectly:

 There then had she found a grave!
Within that chest had she concealed herself,
Fluttering with joy, the happiest of the happy;
When a spring-lock, that lay in ambush there,
Fastened her down forever!

(from Ginevra, 1822)


Detail from Princess’ Theatre playbill, Christmas Eve 1850

You can also watch a charming but bleak little 1904 silent film version of The Mistletoe Bough courtesy of the British Film Institute. Who knows… perhaps Lord Halifax caught it on its original release.

Our last ghost story of the night was The Man in the Iron Cage, which I picked because it seems to have had a special relevance to Lord Halifax. Not, I imagine, because of its unusual setting (a run-down garret in Lille, northern France) but because, at the age of 94, he asked for it to be read to him on his deathbed by his friend and biographer, JG Lockwood. It’s a surprisingly unpleasant tale of a house haunted by the sound of ‘slow, dragging footsteps’, and its unusual feature is that it’s told across two separate accounts from unrelated sources – something that makes it unique among the contents of the Ghost Book. Perhaps Lord Halifax viewed it as his most compelling piece of evidence of the existence of ghosts… and, as he reached the end of his life, a reassuring hint at the possibility of continued existence on some other plane.

And what, finally, of his own supernatural encounter back in the blue room at Temple Newsam? Lockwood (who also wrote the introduction for the second volume of the Ghost Book) states that Lord Halifax “was never quite sure that he had not dreamt the apparition”. But Temple Newsam’s housekeeper, Mrs Pawson, who was interviewed in the Evening Post in 1926, claims that he was convinced, and quotes him as saying: “I believe in the ghost, and I tell people about it myself”.

Whatever the truth, Lord Halifax certainly did enjoy sharing his ghost stories and, thanks to his son’s book and an enthusiastic crowd, he was able to go on sharing them on a dark January night in Leeds, eighty years after his death.

It’s Oliver Twist… with a Twist

  • by Rhian Isaac, Collections Manager, Leeds Central Library

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be welcoming two new bloggers to the Secret Library. Natascha and Jonathan are students from the University of Leeds, who joined us on a Faculty of Arts Research Placement a few months ago to experience working with our collections and bringing them to a wider audience. They’ve been exploring and researching items from our Ernestine Henry Collection, all of which relate in some way to the subject of chimney sweeps (yes, you read that right!). In the Spring, we’ll be hosting an exhibition at Central Library curated by the students but, until then, look out for articles here on the blog showcasing some of their most interesting finds.

The Henry Collection itself is extremely varied, including such materials as ballad books, children’s literature, fairy tales, prints and sketches. A couple of really interesting and rare items, dating back to the 1830s, are plagiarised versions of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers.


These were written by ‘Bos’ (a take-off of Dickens’ own pen name, Boz) who was believed to be Thomas Peckett Prest, a British hack writer, journalist and musician, and published by Edward Lloyd, who used these pirated editions to pioneer ‘penny issue’ fiction. Dickens’ early work fell victim to more plagiarism than any English literary work then or since. Cheap serialised editions based on his plots and characters were produced, and the language was adapted to suit the tastes of a rapidly expanding lower-class readership. This was an extremely lucrative venture, as the penny versions sold as many as 50,000 editions a week, probably outnumbering the sales of Dickens’ originals. The plagiarised versions came out at the height of The Pickwick Paper’s popularity, while Oliver Twist had not even finished running before the parody version, Oliver Twiss, began. They were sold weekly for a penny (as opposed to a shilling for a genuine Dickens) and came out on a Sunday, when working people weren’t at work, via small shops and tobacconists, meaning they could reach an untapped market of semi-literate readers not often accessed by middle-class booksellers.

The Pickwick Papers was a perfect target for plagiarists, as it was first conceived as an accompaniment to the comic sketchings of cockney life by Robert Seymour. There are lots of fantastic examples of Seymour’s work in this collection for anyone interested in illustration.


Pickwick’s plump figure, green glasses and gaiters – no matter how crudely drawn – were instantly recognisable. The episodic plot offered few restrictions to plagiarists and they could adapt or reinvent for as long as they had the public’s interest. The Posthumourous Notes of the Pickwick Club, also called the Penny Pickwick, was the most successful of the plagiarised Pickwicks, and can be found in the Henry Collection.


Oliver Twiss, the Workhouse Boy was the most celebrated piracy of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, exploiting the original’s links with popular traditions of Gothic melodrama, crime reporting and stage comedy, and running for 78 weeks.


As you might imagine, Dickens was not pleased and, in 1837, he attempted to have Edward Lloyd’s publications terminated by legal means. But he failed in his suit when Lloyd argued that the unauthorised imitations were so bad no one could mistake them for the real thing – reputedly leading Dickens to comment: “I was made to feel like the robber instead of the robbed”. However, the famous author would get his own back on the ‘dishonest dullards’ (as he referred to Prest and Lloyd) by caricaturing them in his next novel, Nicholas Nickleby, which was serialised from 1838 to 1839. It is this and his many other classics that continue to attract hoards of enthusiastic readers almost two centuries later.


‘Half a cup of cream which nobody else seemed to want’: The American Diary of a Leeds Librarian

  • Guest blogger Val Hewson is a researcher for Reading Sheffield, an oral history project about popular reading in the mid-20th century.  This has led her to research library services in Sheffield and elsewhere.  In the Leeds Local and Family History Library, she read a diary belonging to F.G.B. Hutchings, Chief Librarian of Leeds between 1946 and 1963. Val has kindly agreed to write an article based on what she read in the Hutchings diary. You can find out more about other books, documents, manuscripts and ephemera relating to the history of the Leeds Library Service by browsing our research guide.

‘I managed to drink half a cup of cream which nobody else seemed to want.’  So said Fred Hutchings – gleefully – in the diary he kept during a business trip to the USA in October 1951.  As well as impressions of American libraries, the diary includes trenchant observations on: noisy department stores; the ‘strange’ music at church services; and, to Hutchings’ dismay, the threat of war, with many Americans ‘held in the grip of the idea of Communist aggression’.  But the diary also reveals a particular concern for American hospitality and cuisine, which is unusual in a man of evident moderation.

There are in fact good explanations for his interest.  International travel was less common in 1951 than now and people were just less familiar with foreign food.  (When Ian Fleming wanted to signal James Bond’s sophistication in Casino Royale, he had him eat the then exotic, but now commonplace, avocado.)  More importantly, there was still rationing in the UK.  Confectionery, sugar, butter and meat were all restricted.  In the USA, with its almost unlimited resources, rationing stopped in 1946.  Hence Hutchings’ enjoyment of that cream.

As an important visitor, Hutchings went to various official functions.  In Philadelphia, he was a guest of honour at a lunch for 300 people. ‘…we had good talk and good food.  The soup was very good as American soup can be.  The chicken was done to fastidious succulence.  Not a lot to eat, but very good.’

hutchingsHutchings found that many Americans were personally kind and hospitable.  ‘Miss MacPherson threw a very good party tonight,’ he notes.  And there was lunch at the home of Luther Evans, the Librarian of Congress: ‘…quite excellent.  Mrs. Evans knows how to cook according to the best American standards, and they are very good.  Soup, liver done to a turn with rice, French fries.  Chocolate blancmange and whipped cream.  Does not sound much, but the quality of the food, its cooking and flavour made it one of the best meals I have had in years.’  And another home-cooked dinner was a feast: ‘Chicken, rice, French fries, peaches in rum, followed by custard pasty with whipped cream.  Before the meal we had Burgoynes (American whisky in water with ice – v.g.)  After the meal we had brandy and coffee.’

When on occasion he returned the hospitality, Hutchings was conscious that prices were ‘haywire’. ‘[He] had got a room for me at $2 a night without food.  This is very cheap and feeding should not exceed (with care) $3 a day.  It is as well.  I gave lunch yesterday to two people who had been specially good to me: cost $8 or £2 16s* – Can’t keep that up!’  He winced when he  bought food for a parcel to send home – a common transatlantic practice at the time.  It was ‘a lengthy and expensive process.’

Outside the professional sphere, the highlight of the visit for Hutchings was probably his weekend in Clifton, Virginia, at the home of an old-school Southerner, Colonel Willard Webb, who was Chief of the Stack and Reader Division at the Library of Congress.  ‘It was hospitality on the grand scale’ and a ‘kind of wonderland existence’.  Hutchings was charmed by the ‘wooden house [in] five acres of wooded, undulating country.’  (The property is now a nature reserve.)  A trip to Manassas reveals a town ‘rather like a more up to date version of Kirby Lonsdale [sic]’ and ‘so quiet and unexciting, yet warm and soothing.’


webb-2Willard Webbs’ house and grounds. By permission of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Hutchings finishes his diary travelling from London to Leeds, without much reflection on the trip. However, despite the diary’s last words – ‘How anxiety to get home presses me.’ – we can be pretty sure that he relished his experience.  He certainly enjoyed a greater range of food, although he patriotically said that, for all their resources, Americans didn’t ‘eat as well as we do as a rule’.  But the home cooking he encountered was simple and very good.  And, more importantly than any particular food, Hutchings appreciated the warmth and kindness shown to him by so many Americans.

You can read more about Hutchings’ visit, including his views on American libraries, in an article by Alistair Black, University of Illinois here.

Photo of Mr Hutchings from the Local and Family History newscuttings collection. The caption below this image reads: “Colonel Willard Webb, leader of the American delegation to the Film Festival, held a reception last night. Among those who attended were Mr Fred Hutchings, the Leeds City Librarian, and Mr Marcus Milne, Aberdeen’s City Librarian, who was accompanied by his ten-year-old son, David.”

*  $2 in 1951 = approx. $19 in 2016.  $3 in 1951 = approx. $29 in 2016. $8 in 1951 = approx. $74 in 2016. £2 16s in 1951 = approx. £87 in 2016.