Crime and Punishment in Leeds, 1850

  • Volunteers’ Week takes place every year from 1-7 June. Leeds Libraries held a celebratory reception yesterday, recognizing the efforts of our volunteering team – including event supporters, At-Home Service deliverers, partners and, of course, heritage volunteers – several of whom have written for this very blog. Today, we hand over to another of these, Joan Ellis, who’s been researching the history of crime in Leeds, including the strange case of an ‘assault with a worsted sock’…

When I volunteered to research historic crimes for the Local and Family History Library, the brief seemed quite wide. At my induction, an 1850 edition of the Leeds Mercury on microfilm was chosen to show how the newspaper archive worked, but it wasn’t long before I decided this would be a good starting-point. As the aim was to create something that could help people find information on past family members, I decided to create a spreadsheet detailing crimes reported in the Leeds Mercury during the first six months of 1850 (an achievable sample to start with). I further decided the best way forward was to record details of hearings which appeared to have had an outcome – for example, committed for trial, fined, or dismissed. This would make it relatively easy for users to look up information in an easy-to-access format.

Postcard view of Armley Jail, opened in 1847 (leodis.net)

After reviewing the first few articles, it soon became apparent what fields I would need to record the information. The full spreadsheet has many columns but I’ve listed the main ones below:

  • The date of the newspaper edition (January-June 1850).
  • The page on which the article appears.
  • The headline under which the article appears. (Not only should this make it easier to find the original, but this can often be interesting in its own right. For example, the headline ‘An Elderly Orphan’ reports the tale of an elderly man of nearly 60 arrested in a state of ‘helpless intoxication’ who, when asked whether he had anyone to look after him replied that he had neither father and mother.)
  • Where the hearing was held.
  • The name of the person accused and any further information given in the article, for example where they are from and/or their occupation. (I soon discovered there were inconsistencies in the spelling of names, sometimes within articles, a notable example being the case of the ‘Horrible Murder and Mutilation at Otley’ report, where the original spelling of one of the accused was Towlarton, but appeared as Tollerton in the trial report. In the same example the name Jacques/Jaques was interchangeable within and across the articles.)
  • As with the accused, I have tried to include information such as where the victim resides, their occupation, etc.
  • Identifying the charge in a consistent way was not always easy. I have again tried to use the information contained in the article, but the results are somewhat arbitrary. As a result larceny, theft, stealing from shop door are pretty much the same but appear as separate entries.
  • The outcome – whether the charge was proved, dismissed or whether the outcome was to ‘commit for trial’.
  • The sentence. Fines, penalties and short prison terms were all imposed at the hearings, along with any prison terms identified from the sentencing reports, such as found in the ‘Trial reports and outcomes from Leeds Borough Sessions’.

Many of the reports involved public houses, and I have also compiled a list of pubs mentioned in the various articles, some of which are still in existence, or have only relatively recently closed down.

In all, I recorded some 869 cases, of which 385 cases (about 44%) were some form of theft or robbery. There is then a sharp drop to 83 cases (9.5%) involving assault. Licensing laws are the next highest taking up 79 cases (9%), with Bye Laws, etc, following closely behind at 60 cases (6.9%).

As mentioned above, the charges field was somewhat arbitrary so, in summarising the data, I have tried to combine relevant entries to give a general idea as to events in 1850. As can be seen, cases of fraud, intent to defraud, etc, have an entry – 40 cases. So too do cases involving counterfeit coin, embezzlement, etc – 38 cases. Combined, they have 78 cases or 8.9%.

Then, as now, clampdowns on various crimes can highlight certain types of crime. For example, there are 19 cases of gambling reported. Fourteen of these were at Huddersfield, where a ‘Superintendent Heaton’ seemed to have been determined to stamp out the practice of playing ‘unlawful games of chance’. The full stats are available in the spreadsheet, and I reproduce a copy below (you will notice that I have combined the charges which fall into broad areas):

I have also summarised below the number of charges by town. As some of the cases were taken straight from sentencing reports – for example, the Yorkshire Assizes trial and sentencing reports – the accused, victim and offence would be listed, but not where the offence occurred. Where full trial reports have been covered, which include where the offence took place, I have not included these if they do not fall in the Leeds or surrounding areas covered:

Armed with my spreadsheet, I soon became immersed in my research, and it was clear that I had fallen into a Dickens novel set in and around Leeds.  What stands out is that there was a lot of petty crime, for which some quite hefty sentencing could be given. For example, there was a case where stealing cheese resulted in a 16-year-old boy being transported for seven years. There was also a case where a 12-year-old was transported for stealing a book, as his father and a brother were under sentence of transportation.

The perception of the ‘accused’ could also affect the outcome. I refer to one particular case where a women of ‘dissolute habits’ had been dragged into a field by four men and left for dead. They were charged with manslaughter but they were discharged, the judge having referred to the victim as a ‘woman of abandoned habits’. Perhaps the most ‘sensational’ case was the one relating to the ‘Horrible murder and mutilation at Otley’, mentioned above. This involved several men working on excavating a reservoir at Romalds Moor. After a good afternoon and evening drinking in Otley, the men started breaking the windows of houses on their way back to their lodgings. Why they did this does not come to light, but when the men were challenged by residents, a sequence of events occurred, resulting was several stabbings, one of which was fatal. The initial report of this incident was very poor copy, so I have transcribed this article and, for consistency, the trial report relating to this case.

Despite being plunged into what could at times seem like a dark history of Leeds, there were some lighter moments. The ‘elderly orphan’ mentioned above was one example. Another was about a ‘man from the country’ who had visited Leeds in order to buy some pigs and, after visiting ‘several public houses’, he and a companion met with two females in Kirkgate and took them to a dram house. On leaving, the man went ‘up a yard’ with one of the females, who put her hand into his coat pocket and took out his purse. Whilst remonstrating with the woman, another woman came up to ask what was going on. The report suggested the purse was passed to the second woman. It went on to report that the complainant’s wife, ‘a great strapping woman’, attended the examination in court and ‘looked thunder and daggers at her other half as he detailed one foolish act after another’.

A yard off Kirkgate, 1901 (leodis.net)

There were other one-off cases which evoked other emotions. A washerwoman was charged by a surgeon with ‘injuring and spoiling his grass’ by spreading her clothes out to dry in his grass field. The article goes on to report that the surgeon noticed the clothes in the field and walked his horse about on them. He also complained she assaulted him with a worsted sock. Another example was a report of two ‘idle vagabonds’ who had spent the night at the Vagrant Office and were charged with tearing up their clothes in order to compel the Relieving Officer to provide them with new ones. They had done this thinking they would be sent to Wakefield and there be provided with clothes. One of the boys was in ‘a state of nudity’ and had been provided with a sheet. The report goes on to say that if they appeared again, they might be treated to ‘a sound thrashing’. The outcome was for them to be sent back to prison until some coarse wrapping could be stitched into a smock and trousers.

What was fascinating about this piece of research was the way it opened up the geography of Leeds. Many of the streets and lanes still exist, as do most of the areas of Leeds mentioned in the articles. Interesting also was the way certain areas of Leeds and its surroundings were regularly mentioned – the Bank being one area – whilst there were several mentions of the ‘Old Post Office Yard’ just off Kirkgate, one of which referred to a ‘house of ill-fame’.

In all, I found this a fascinating look at Leeds and the surrounding area in 1850, albeit on the darker side of life. I hope anyone using this piece of research will find it as interesting and as informative as I have.

  • A huge thanks to Joan for this fascinating and useful study. We’re still in the process of compiling her research and findings into an accessible resource but are happy to assist with any enquiries you may have about it. Email us at: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk. Also, keep following the Secret Library blog to find out about future heritage volunteering opportunities this summer.

Back-to-Back Houses and their Communities

  • University of York PhD researcher Joanne Harrison is working on an exciting project about the past, present and future of back-to-back houses and their communities in Harehills. Leeds Local and Family History Library is helping Joanne engage with the local communities, working with them to understand the neighbourhood, promote its value, and safeguard its future. Joanne writes…

We all know what a back-to-back house is – some of you may live in them now or have lived in them in the past, and I used to live in one too. I’m not from Yorkshire, so they came as a bit of a surprise to me when I first encountered them. I pondered the concept of a house with no back, and rooms stacked up on top of each other, and wondered who on earth would want to live in one of those. Well, a few years later, I did! That was in 2002, and I stayed for 5 years. Moving on brought mixed feelings – there were some obvious advantages, like not having to pay such careful attention to hanging my washing on the rotary line, and that got me thinking about privacy versus community. Yes, sometimes it might be nice to sit in your garden or on your doorstep and not feel like you’re on display, but then there’s a reassuring warmth that you get from smiling and saying hello to those people who you don’t know, but who pass your house regularly. And we can wonder whether this was the same for all the communities that have lived in back-to-back houses over the years. Harehills and the other back-to-back neighbourhoods may feel old to us, but back-to-backs started to be built in Leeds long before these houses were built.

The first back-to-backs were built accidentally. They were cropping up in many of the industrial towns in the Midlands and North in the late 18th century. Let’s go back to 1787 when they first appeared in Leeds. Now, if you can imagine a street, with a standard row of terraces on it, and to the back, they all have yards with walls between, which are accessed from ‘tunnels’ leading from the street. The population was growing, and you might think that the obvious solution is to expand the size of the town by making more streets with houses on. But no! What actually happened, was that one-sided houses were built to line the sides of the yards, backing on to the dividing walls. And when the neighbours all did it, you ended up back-to-back houses in little courtyards, accessed from tunnels leading from the main streets. And it must have seemed like a brilliant solution to the housing problem to some (and here I will add, the words developers and landlords and greedy), because before long, back-to-back houses were being deliberately planned and built in this way.

Let’s just imagine these courtyards for a moment. A narrow space with little light and ventilation, possibly a stand pipe for water in the middle, no sanitation, a mudbath for a floor, and in the worst case on record, more than 700 people in 34 houses. It doesn’t take much to realise that these would have been noisy, smelly and generally unpleasant places to live – in fact some people even kept pigs in their houses. The back-to-back courts provided perfect conditions for the spread of disease.

Figure 1 The first purpose built back-to-back houses were on Union Street and Ebenezer street, with Union Court giving access to the rear back-to-backs and cellar dwellings. (Image: Beresford, M., (1988). East End, West End: The Face of Leeds During Urbanisation 1684-1842. Leeds: The Thoresby Society, 203. Original in Lupton, F. (1906). Housing Improvement: A summary of ten years’ work in Leeds. Available in the Local and Family History Library).

And so, not surprisingly, the social and sanitary reformers of the time took it upon themselves to outlaw the building of back-to-backs. But there was opposition to this, and so for several years through the middle to later part of the 19th century, we had the introduction of by-laws which brought about improvements to the standard of accommodation. Dr Baker for example had put proposals forward to improve drainage, sewerage and paving, but seemed to be quite heavily influenced by recent Bills to ban the back-to-backs, and suggested that they needed regulation. The most significant change, was that back-to-backs started to be built on streets, just like we have in Harehills and the other back-to-back neighbourhoods, rather than the courtyard format.

Another reformer, James Hole, was considered to be a radical thinker but, even so, in his reports, articles and prizewinning essay, he still criticized the improved back-to-backs by kind of lumping them in with the court type, and failing to properly acknowledge the differences between. Back-to-backs had started to be banned in most of the other towns, but there was just no desire to do that in Leeds – the people loved them too much to give up their fight to keep building them.

By 1866, on one of Dr Baker’s recommendations, back-to-backs could only be built in blocks of eight with toilet yards between. Now clearly this was an improvement – although some of the streets were still quite narrow, there was more light, a better flow of air, more toilets per person, piped water to each house, and paved streets with drainage. But it wasn’t without its issues – and let’s talk toilets for a moment. You need to go, and everyone can see it. It’s not just your family who see you slip out of the house, but everyone in the street sees you walking a few doors down the street to the toilet yard, and then back again. To try and retain a modicum of privacy and avoid the morning rush, housewives would get up rather early to walk with the chamber pot to empty the night’s produce.

Figure 2 Stanley Terrace back-to-back houses built in blocks of eight with toilet yards between (Image: Available at Leodis.net).

So it still seemed primitive to the reformers, and characters such as Dr Barry and Mr Smith just couldn’t seem to make the distinction between those early overcrowded, disease-ridden courts, and the slowly improving back-to-backs on streets. But improvement continued, and by the 1890s the back-to-backs came to take on a standardised form. Streets were wider, many of the houses had front gardens, and an effort was made to include architectural features that might be found in middle class houses. Back-to-backs had a separate scullery; and an outside toilet shared with just one neighbour within the basement footprint of their houses, meant that there was no need for toilet yards, and houses could be built in longer rows again. Internally, many of the houses had a plumbed-in bath, and this was quite ahead of its time compared to other types of working class housing being built. Now let’s just make something clear, the houses had baths, most did not have a bathroom. The most common place for the bath was in the scullery under a lift-up worktop. But some houses had the bath in the bedroom – maybe they were even further ahead of their time than I have given them credit for, and they were in fact the first houses to have an ensuite area!

Figure 3 The three types of urban layout for back-to-back housing. Left – Street-lined houses in blocks of eight; Middle – Garden fronted houses in blocks of eight; Right – Garden fronted houses in continuous rows with integral, externally accessed toilets. (Image: Housing, Town planning etc Bill 1909. Statement of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Leeds. Available in the Local and Family History Library).

Figure 4 Superior back-to-backs in Darfield Place, Leeds. The presence of gardens allowed the ground floor level to be raised and accessed via steps, which had the benefit of positioning the basement at semi-subterranean level. The houses had an outside toilet positioned under the scullery, shared by each pair (Image: Available at Leodis.net).

Anyway, by the start of the 20th century, they were providing a popular and good quality standard of accommodation. But still they just couldn’t shake off the reputation for being unhealthy, disease-inducing houses, and much to the outrage of the Town Clerk and the people of Leeds, just as they made their final improvement, which was the incorporation of an indoor bathroom, they were banned. That was in 1909 but a loophole meant that those with permission to be built could still be built, and with the traditionally slow building industry in Leeds, and the first world war, the last houses were not complete until 1937. One thing you might all be asking is why did the people of Leeds love them so much? In the words of Maurice Beresford we only have a “rather desperate refuge in ‘cultural’ factors, of the sort that have produced local differentiation in the demand for fish and chips, Yorkshire pudding, Rugby League, and Lancashire hotpot.” So basically, we don’t know why – they just liked them because they did! And I like them a lot too.

As I said, I lived in one for 5 years, and I’d originally planned to make it into a slick minimalist home, like the sort you see on Grand Designs, but in the shell of a back-to-back house. That didn’t happen. The defining moment for me I think was when I was stripping out the first floor bedroom, and I pulled off some boxing, which I had assumed was covering a hole where the fireplace used to be. Well I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover the most beautiful, completely intact, original cast iron fireplace, complete with a discarded tram ticket in the grate! Wow, this house is amazing – I love it. And that was it. My house was going to be restored. I uncovered original doors, hidden behind tacked on panels, carefully removed layers of paint from the cornices so I could see the beauty of their design, took up all the carpets so I could see the floorboards, reinstated the little door at the side of the living room chimney, and took great care to look after this important piece of history.

And that is what we have all over Harehills. We can trace the development of the area from the 1890s, see which streets were built when, how designs, facilities and features improved and changed over time, and marvel at the amazing variety. Because yes, there is so much variety, it’s quite staggering. Have you looked at it? It’s not just monotonous rows of houses like Dr Baker had described. No! There are so many types of bay windows, original dormers, window lintels, stained glass patterns, brick friezes (those lovely fancy bits that criss-cross around the windows and sit under the gutters) – would you believe there are 90 variations just in the Harehills Triangle, and then there are the variations in house types, like the mid-terraces, larger end terraces, shop-houses and so on.

Figure 5 A small selection of the varied architectural styles found among the Harehills Triangle back-to-backs.

I got so excited by all of this, so much so, that my life has been changed by it. I wanted to know more, and my journey, fifteen years and counting, has shown me that the back-to-backs are locally and nationally important to the heritage of Leeds and the country. In Birmingham, there are only ten back-to-backs left and their rarity has led to them being turned into a National Trust museum. In Leeds we have 19,500, but we need to live in them and look after them – we don’t want a museum thank you very much! I want to share what I know, and work with the current custodians of that heritage, to work out how we can keep these National Treasures of Leeds, retaining and conserving them, while adapting them to our modern needs.

And so that brings me nicely to my PhD research in which I hope to:

  • find out what living or working in a Harehills back-to-back is like for current residents
  • identify what people value or dislike about the design and character, and the social and historical aspects of the houses and the neighbourhood
  • discover the memories of back-to-back living in times past, that have been passed on to the current communities
  • understand how people would like to live in their houses in the future
  • help the local communities find a long-term future for the houses that is compatible with their heritage and other values, and the way that their communities want to live in them.

Any adult (age 18+) who either currently lives in the Harehills Triangle area, or who has a link to the area dating to the late 19th/early 20th century can take part. There will be a variety of activities on offer including completing questionnaires, taking part in interviews/focus groups, having a historical survey of your house, creating video diaries and scrap books, and participating in historically-themed, and design-based workshops.

Figure 6 The Harehills Triangle area being studied in this research. ©Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. 2014 All rights reserved.

If you would like to find out more about back-to-back houses in Leeds:

Visit the back-to-back blog: https://backtobackhouses.wordpress.com/blog/

If you would like to find out more about the research and sign-up to take part:

Visit the website: https://backtobackhouses.wordpress.com/

Telephone: 0113 378 6982

Email: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk

Or see the sign-up and information sheets which are available in the Local and Family History Library (Central Library, 2nd floor).

Key references

All sources except the title marked * are held by Leeds Library and Information Service.

Beresford, M. (1971). The back-to-back house in Leeds, 1787-1937. In S. D. Chapman ed. The history of working-class housing: a symposium. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. 93-132.

Beresford, M. (1980). The face of Leeds, 1780-1914. In D. Fraser ed. A History of modern Leeds. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 72-112.

Beresford, M. (1988). East end, west end: the face of Leeds during urbanisation 1684-1842. Leeds: The Thoresby Society.

Caffyn, L. (1986). Workers’ housing in West Yorkshire, 1750-1920. London: H.M.S.O.

Daunton, M. (1983). House and home in the Victorian city: working class housing, 1850-1914. London; Baltimore, Md., USA: E. Arnold.

* Gaskell, S. (1983). Building control. National legislation and the introduction of local bye-laws in Victorian England. London: Bedford Square Press.

Gauldie, E. (1974). Cruel habitations: a history of working-class housing 1780-1918. London: Allen & Unwin.

Harper, R. (1985). Victorian building regulations. Summary tables of the principal English building Acts and Model By-laws 1840-1914. London: Mansell Publishing Limited.

Hole, J. (1866). Homes of the working classes with suggestions for their improvement. London.

Housing, Town planning etc Bill 1909. Statement of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and Citizens of Leeds.

Muthesius, S. (1982). The English terraced house. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rimmer, W. (1960). Working mens’ cottages in Leeds, 1770-1840. The Thoresby Miscellany. Leeds, The Thoresby Society. 165-199.

Rodger, R. (1989). Housing in urban Britain, 1780-1914: class, capitalism, and construction. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.

Rubinstein, D. (1974). Victorian homes. Newton Abbot, etc.: David & Charles.

Wood, S. (1991). Back-to-back: a look back at life in the old cobbled streets of Leeds. Leeds: Leeds Talking Magazine for the Blind Association.

Wood, S. (1993). More back-to-back memories: a further look back at life in the old cobbled streets of Leeds. Leeds: Leeds Talking Magazine for the Blind Association.

Wood, S. (1994). Even more back-to-back memories of life in the old cobbled streets of Leeds. Leeds: Leeds Talking Magazine for the Blind Association.

Yeadell, M. (1986). Building societies in the West Riding of Yorkshire and their contribution to housing provision in the nineteenth century. In M. Doughty ed. Building the industrial city. Leicester: Atlantic Highlands, N.J., Leicester University Press. 57-104.

May Day and Mrs Montagu

  • We couldn’t let today pass without a look at the holiday’s traditional association with chimney sweeps – the focus of our current ‘Sweepiana’ display at Central Library. Natascha Allen-Smith and Jonathan Wright investigate…

May Day is both a religious and secular occasion, celebrated as a devotion to the Virgin Mary but also a ceremony of dance and the crowning the Queen of May. It has been used as a fabled national day of aid for chimney sweeps – historically, their one day of holiday a year. Lots of stories from the books in Leeds Libraries’ Henry Collection relate to May Day.

‘The First of May’ poem and illustration (from London Town, 1883, by Ellen Houghton, part of the Henry Collection)

‘Jack in the Green’ was a character who would be recreated by people creating garlands of flowers and greenery to wear during the May Day celebrations. The rhyme above reads: Jack-in-the-Green from door to door, capers along with his followers four. As May Day mummers are seldom seen, let us all give a copper to Jack-in-the-Green.

Competition between different working guilds meant that, over the years, these wearable decorations became larger and more elaborate until they covered the entire man. Jack in the Green became associated with sweeps forever.

Portrait of Elizabeth Montagu (artist unknown)

In the eighteenth century, Mrs Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800) provided food, drink and support for chimney sweeps on May Day. She became a social reformer and represents a time of increasing interest in workers’ rights. With a focus on literature, she also led the push for female equality in education. For some years before her death, Montagu entertained sweeps every May Day in the courtyard of her house in London. ‘The Little Sons of the Brush’ would be bought sausages until they tired of eating. The Henry Collection frequently mentions her, as well as other reformers across more recent centuries.

To learn more about the history and traditions of chimney sweeps, as reflected in Leeds Libraries’ collections, visit Room 700 at Central Library, where the Sweepiana exhibition will be in place until Friday 5 May.

Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living

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

Today is Workers Memorial Day, marking the sacrifice of those who have died as a result of their job, and reminding all employers and employees of the importance of looking after their colleagues. In front of Leeds Central Library, a new plaque was unveiled bearing the inscription: Dedicated to workers throughout the world who have suffered illness, injury or death as a consequence of their work. Remember the Dead and Fight for the Living.

Workers Memorial, 2017

Inside the library, a new display tells the stories of some of the tragedies that have taken lives at workplaces around Leeds, from incidents in local mills in the less safety-conscious 19th century, to more recent accidents like the Lofthouse Colliery disaster of 1973. One such tragedy, the effects of which have continued to be felt throughout the city for many decades, is the many lives lost as a result of asbestos contamination in Armley during the first half of the last century. The story is told below and, if you follow the links to the Leodis photographic website in the picture captions, you’ll be able to read comments from those whose lives have been affected first-hand by the events described.

25th October 1943. Asbestos factory of J. W. Roberts on Canal Road, Armley. Visit Leodis to find out more.

Founded in Armley in 1874, J. W. Roberts Limited was a textile producer based at the Midland Works on Canal Road. In 1906, the factory had begun manufacturing asbestos insulation and, in 1920, merged to form Turner & Newall Limited, whose asbestos-based products were exported worldwide, generating large scale profits for the company.

The manufacturing process resulted in the exposure to blue asbestos of all workers based in the factory, while the ventilation system discharged asbestos dust out into the surrounding area. Streets, homes and a local school were described as being coated in a blue-white dust, as though they were covered by a fall of snow.

The factory closed in 1959 and, in 1978, Turner & Newall Limited paid £15,000 to Leeds City Council to assist with the decontamination of the factory site. However, no reference was made to homes in the surrounding area. In the late 1970s, investigations led to the discovery of asbestos in homes adjacent to the factory, while a Yorkshire Evening Post inquiry brought to the attention of the public the dramatically high number of mesothelioma-related deaths suffered by former workers and residents who lived close to the factory. This series of articles related to what became known as the ‘Armley Asbestos Tragedy’.

The case was further championed by local MP John Battle, with a case finally heard in court in 1995, in which Mr Justice Holland found the following: “There was knowledge, sufficient to found reasonable foresight on the part of the Defendants, that children were particularly vulnerable to personal injury arising from the inhalation of asbestos dust… Reasonably practicable steps were not taken to reduce or prevent inhalation of emitted asbestos dust.”

Many of those affected by the asbestos died long before the companies responsible could be compelled to make recompense.

25th October 1943. J. W. Roberts, asbestos factory, on Canal Road. More information can be found on the Leodis website. 

“We Smile”: A Curious Donation of Photographs

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

We recently received a new addition to our collections: a photograph album featuring images of holidays in the North of England during 1920 and 1921. The album was donated to us in the hope we could identify the people depicted in the photos and then – perhaps – trace their descendants. The connection to Leeds itself is small, but significant—a studio portrait taken by a photographer on Woodhouse Lane and holiday trips to Potternewton and Roundhay Parks – among other places further afield.

A few names of some of the people depicted in these images are given as captions: Gill, Syme, Bottom, Dunn, Strafford. A search of various family history resources yielded only one possible clue – the employment of two servants with the Gill surname by the Syme family in Headingley.

The 1911 Census return for the Syme family – showing the presence of two domestic staff surnamed Gill. Taken from Ancestry.com (free in all Leeds Libraries)

And that tenuous connection is really all we have. So, we’re calling on members of the public to take a look through some selected images from this mysterious photograph album: do get in touch – on 0113 37 86982 or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk – if you recognise any of the people or places shown there. You can see the album in full by visiting the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library, and you can view further images of historic Leeds by browsing our Leodis archive.