A brief life of William Boyne

William Boyne was born in Leeds in 1814/15, to Mary and Thomas Boyne, a prominent tobacco importer and manufacturer.

Williams baptism, at Leeds Parish Church, in 1815

At William’s birth, or soon after, the family lived in St. Peter’s Square, just opposite what is today the bus station.

c.1890, 25″ OS map showing the St. Peters Square area of Leeds
Undated. St Peter’s Square, the first house on the left is the birthplace of Adelaide Nielson, actress. From

Some time after that, the Boynes had achieved sufficient material prosperity that they were able to construct and move to a handsome and detached property in the burgeoning middle-class enclave that was 19th-century Little Woodhouse. That home was called ‘Virginia Cottage’, after the American state where the source of the Boyne family wealth was grown. This building was expanded by later owners and became part of the University of Leeds campus. It is now known as Lyddon Hall.

9th June 1947. Picture shows Lyddon Hall on the north side of Cromer Road. The hall is facing the Catholic Chaplaincy and the view is of the east side of the house. Lyddon Hall was formerly known as Virginia Cottage. Steps lead up to the main entrance and there are flowering borders on either side. Trees can be seen in the front garden. From
The Boyne family at Virginia Cottage on the 1841 census

In 1842, William married Ann Scott of Woodhouse, and the couple moved to Queen’s Square (which still exists, close to the University quarter of the city).

Parish register entry for William and Ann’s marriage
c.1890, 25″ OS map showing Queen’s Square in the north-east corner
9th September 1959 Queen Square was initially developed by John and George Biscoff, the brothers had lived at nearby Claypit House since 1787 and owned the adjacent land. The square was planned as three terraces round a central garden, with the fourth side left open to Claypit Lane. Numbers 1/2 Queen Square is on the left. This was one of the earliest houses to be built in the square, between 1806-22. It was constructed of red brick with stone details, three storeys and a basement with warehose facilities. In 1822 the residents of the square purchased the central area of land to provide a permanent garden. In this view it was the headquarters of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows (Friendly Society). The square is on the margin of the route of the Woodhouse West gate section of the Inner Ring Road, the majority of the streets around were demolished to provide the site for the road. The square was refurbished and is now used by Leeds Metropolitan University. Of the few squares which were built in georgian Leeds, this with Park Square has survived in virtually its original state. From
1965. Close up of the front door of the Thoresby Society at no 16. The front end of a Vauxhall Cresta which is parked in front can be seen. This was the house of William Boyne. From

Sadly, Ann died just two years later – leaving William to take solace in the family business and, increasingly, his antiquarian pursuits.

Notice from the London Gazette, February 1844

Five years after Ann’s death, Thomas – William’s father – also died, in Paris, and William inherited the company and a significent amount of wealth. He used this money to finance the purchase of land in Headingley from the Earl of Cardigan, on which he oversaw the construction of a spectacular house and gardens known as ‘The Woodlands,’ or the ‘Boyne House’. Nothing of this house – which was located roughly where the St. Anne’s Road parade of shops is – now remains. However, this photograph, from a collection of material (gathered by the Librarian and bibliographer J.A. Symington) on Boyne held at the Central Library, may show the house.

After just four years living at The Woodlands, Boyne grew unhappy with the encroaching suburbinisation of Headingley and opted to leave Leeds entirely, selling his home and moving – first to London, then to France and, finally, to Florence, where he died in 1893. It is said that he never returned to Leeds.

Antiquarian interests

William’s antiquarian passions began during his time at Queen’s Square, where he started an informal society of like-minded young men, which met at his house. One member of that society, William Bowman, launched a journal, the The Reliquiæ Antiquæ Eboracenses, which Boyne frequently contributed articles to:

Boyne’s main antiquarian interests were in numismatics, the study and collection of old coins. He wrote several monographs on the topic, as well as a definitive bibliography of books relating to the history of Yorkshire.

But his life work was his monumental History of Leeds – an expanded, grangerised edition of two earlier antiquarian studies of the town: Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis (1715) and Thomas Dunham Whitaker’s Loidis and Elmete (1816). It is in this book that Boyne’s posthumous reputation, and his importance to the City of Leeds, reside – as this quote from Symington shows:

Text reads: “Leeds will ever owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Boyne for, regardless of time or expense, he set himself to prepare a complete history of the town, and his effort, a masterpiece of antiquarian workmanship, is the most fitting monument the city can boast of to the memory of so illustrious a citizen.”

You can read more about each of Boyne’s books held at the Central Library by clicking the links below.
[Note: this is an ongoing piece of work – please contact the Local and Family History department, using the details below, for a full list of our Boyne holdings.]


Further material about William Boyne, his life and our collection of his works can be found in a folder in the Local and Family History department on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library. Please contact us for more information: 0113 37 86982 or