“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.

The English Civil War in Yorkshire

  • by Josh Flint, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Did you know that the some of the defining events of the English Civil War occurred in Yorkshire? The Local and Family History department has researched and created a new information leaflet chronicling the role of Yorkshire during the Civil War.

The leaflet details a selection of unique and valuable material that the Leeds Central Library can offer from its extensive collection. A selection of the Wing Collection of Civil War Tracts has been included within this leaflet. The Civil War Tracts are a collection of primary sources ranging from 1640 to 1700; these document the social, economic, religious, military and political events during the Civil War. These tracts, alongside the excellent secondary sources found within Local and Family History collections, will assist anyone who is interested in researching the role Yorkshire played during this turbulent period of British history. Click the image below to download the guide.

To accompany the leaflet, the Local and Family History team have designed an information folder focusing solely on the role of Leeds during the Civil War. This folder has collated a large number of references to Leeds during the period. These include detailed accounts of the 1643 battles of Leeds, Adwalton Moor and Seacroft Moor, while also including the social implications the Civil War had on the population of Leeds. The folder is of great use to any Leeds local history enthusiast fascinated by the Civil War.

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.

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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.

A History of Jewish Theatre in Leeds

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

Milim 2017, the second Festival of Jewish Words for All in Leeds, is currently in full swing, and the diverse programme of events has so far included a Jewish History in Leeds workshop at Central Library last Tuesday.

Among the many materials we shared with our group were examples from the library’s huge collection of local theatre playbills. Within these, references to Jewish life and customs can be traced back to 1818, when a Mr. Mallinson performed a comic song called “Miss Levi, Miss Abrahams and Miss Moses, or: Jewish Courtship” at the Hunslet Lane theatre. Of course, performers on the city stage were often not local and would generally tour the country, so this and similar productions are unlikely to have reflected life in Leeds itself. Likewise, they almost certainly wouldn’t have been aimed at a Jewish audience. It’s not until the late 19th Century, when larger numbers of Jewish people had begun to live and work here, that the city saw the rise of a genuine Jewish theatrical movement.

This probably didn’t take the form you would expect. For years, I’ve come across references to a Jewish community theatre active around the late 1800s/early 1900s, centred on a place called Alexandra Hall – the location of which I’ve never been able to establish. Its purpose seemed to be to act as a ‘safe place’ (to use current lingo) where Jewish immigrants, facing poverty in their living conditions and hostility from other residents, could share and address their problems. If you think about it, this chosen medium – built as it is around coming together, collaboration, creativity and emotional release – was probably an apt and powerful one, and as familiar and traditional as communal worship.

In collecting resources for the workshop, I came across Edward Burgess’s 1925 series of articles for the Yorkshire Evening News, entitled The Soul of the Leeds Ghetto (shelfmark: LQ 296 B912). Here, finally, was a written description of the Alexandra Hall, including its location – Cookridge Street – and a picture:

Taken from “Part IX: The Drama”, 31 January 1925

Professional productions of Jewish theatre in Leeds go back to at least 1911, with the mounting of what would become known as Yiddish Repertoire Week. Its main star Fanny Waxman (1878-1958) was a well-known Jewish actress, who was active on the London stage for forty years until her retirement in 1930. The demanding programme involved a different play every night at 8pm, and our playbills collection includes examples from 1911 and 1916, some of which are written entirely in Yiddish.

The first Leeds Jewish Amateur Stage Group, the Proscenium Players, was founded in 1948. Its original remit was to mount four productions a year at the Albert Hall, which later became the Civic Theatre. After decades of diverse and successful shows – in the hands of several generations of ‘Pross’ players – the company took their final bow in the 1990s, and their venue was later transformed into the current City Museum on Millennium Square. For a complete history, read John Fisher’s book, An Audience of Curious People, available in the Local and Family History Library (L 792 FIS).

One of the Players’ most iconic pieces was the 1950 original play They Came to Leeds, co-written by well-known local historian Louis Saipe. The story, set in the Leylands area in the 1880s, deals with the early years of Jewish immigration to Leeds. In 1955, the group tackled a play called Two on an Island. Although the premise is a light romantic comedy, in which the central couple meet only at the end, the production required no less than eleven elaborate sets representing famous New York landmarks – including Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern art and, finally, the top of the Statue of Liberty. Thankfully, critics agreed that the society had pulled it off spectacularly.

The Players’ Jean Tordoff took the demanding lead in 1961’s Roots, made famous by Joan Plowright on the London stage. The story deals with the growing maturity of a young woman living in Norfolk and requires its cast to deliver lots of local dialect in an authentic accent.

The Proscenium Players’ 1962 production of Crime and Punishment cast a young Ronald Pickup (then a student at Leeds University) in the central role of Raskolnikoff, the murderer. The young actor was universally acclaimed by the local press and went on to a very successful career on stage and screen. He recently appeared with Judi Dench and Bill Nighy as one of the main characters in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel.

These and other playbills are currently on display in the Local and Family History Library throughout the rest of March. You can uncover more about our books and other materials on Jewish history in Leeds through our Research Guide. For more information about upcoming Milim 2017 events, see the online programme. And, finally, you can read more about very early Leeds theatre here at the Secret Library in Famous Last Words.

Speed-dating our Library Treasures II: Small Books and Big Ideas

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

You may recall that, during our 2016 Library Fest programme, we trialled a new event: Speed-date our Library Treasures. Put simply, this was an opportunity for the public to engage with a wide range of some of our most interesting and unique stock items, all curated by passionate Librarians, and in a decidedly non-traditional library environment (i.e. a pub).

We’re delighted to report that – such was the success of #speeddatetreasures – we took little hesitation in opting to run the whole thing again this year, as part of our recent 2017 Library Fest series. So, for those of you who were unable to make it, here is a brief run-through of the items we had out on show during the two sessions:

Oliver Twiss

Rhian, our Collections Manager, spoke about this fascinating 1830s edition of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, an edition with, as it were, “a twist”: this copy is, in fact, a pirated, plagiarised and parodic version of that well-known text, adapted by one Thomas Peckett Prest for a working-class audience hungry for cultural forms suited to their tastes. You can read more about Oliver Twiss on a previous blog post.

The Political Sway Pole

This political cartoon from the 1880 Parliamentary Election was introduced by Antony from our Local and Family History department. Depicting the five candidates for the Leeds seat, the cartoon forms part of a wider collection of over 200-similar images. Antony has previously given a talk on this collection, and you can see an edited version of his lecture notes and slides elsewhere on this blog.

Windyridge Manuscript

Phil, who works across the Local and Family History and Information and Research departments, led our ‘dates’ through the history and significance of a book that is – by any measure – one of the Treasures we are most honoured to hold in the Central Library: Willie Riley’s manuscript edition of his 1912 bestselling-novel Windyridge. Riley, from Bradford, based his story of the young artist and photographer, Grace Holden, on the area around Guiseley.

Phil is a familiar figure in the local history community, where he gives regular talks on the Central Library’s Treasures collections; in particular, a Cistercian Missal that most likely belonged to the library at Kirkstall Abbey.

The Book of Nouns

This tiny book bears more cultural, historical and intellectual weight than you might expect from its compact appearance. Ross, Librarian-Manager for the Local and Family History department, introduced the  The Book of Nouns and has this to say:

The Book of Nouns, or Things which may be seen is a miniature children’s book dating back to the very early 19th Century.

It measures only 6cm by 4.5cm and is about 1cm thick. Our copy was printed in 1802 by Darton and Harvey of 55 Gracechurch Street, London, but a note inside suggests the book was first published the year before. Its tiny pages alternate between short lists of things (‘a Mace, a Nest, Oaks, a Pink, a Quill, a Rake’) and beautiful engravings – not always of the same items.

So, for instance, you’ll find a turkey, a jackal, a well, a rook and an archer among the 64 images inside. Very occasionally, there’s also a brief fact, such as ‘The otter lives on fish, roots & plants’ but, for the most part, it’s up to you to guess why each item was included.

It’s not a dictionary (although from page 56 onwards it does suddenly decide to start following the order of the alphabet) and not everything inside is named. In fact, it took another old book to explain for us the way in which it’s intended to be used. ‘The use of this little trifle is to connect reading with intelligence,’ explains A Catalogue of Books, for the Amusement and Instruction of Youth (1801): ‘When each name is read, the thing it signifies should be shewn’.

Leeds Printed Broadsides

Karen, also from our Local and Family History department, brought along this fascinating collection of stories, songs and proclamations, gathered as it was by the eminent Leeds-folklorist Frank Kidson. Karen has this to say about this selection:

I chose for my Speed Dating item ‘Leeds Printed Broadsides’ which were collected by Frank Kidson, Leeds author, artist and folk song collector. Broadsides were a form of street literature, printed on one side only, and produced in large numbers on the early printing presses, and sold for as little as one old penny. They contained accounts of events, news, proclamations and songs or rhymes, and were sold in the streets and at fairs and other gatherings.

The special aspect of this collection is that they are all original prints from Leeds printing firms, such as Barr, Andrews, and Buchan, and some also have notes in Kidson’s own hand. He was about as much of a Leeds man as it possible to be, having been born in Centenary Street, just prior to the building of Leeds Municipal Buildings and Library, and on the site of what is now Victoria Gardens.

Circus Playbill

Just one from our large collection of Leeds theatre playbills and programmes, this particular selection, selected by Helen from our Local and Family History department, advertises the appearance in Leeds of a man made (even more) famous by The Beatles: Pablo Fanque. The story of Pablo’s time in Leeds is told in several previous blog posts.

Spare Rib

Finally, Sally, the Historypin Outreach Librarian for Leeds Libraries, brought along copies of the feminist journal Spare Rib. Here’s Sally on these inspiring pieces of political history:

Spare Rib is a second wave feminist magazine running from 1972 to 1993, of which in Central Library we have bound copies from 1976 to 1993.

The magazine was a reaction to – and rebellion against – traditional women’s magazines, which covered topics such as beauty, domesticity and romance. Spare Rib highlighted and protested issues previously un-touched by women’s magazines including sex, racism, eating disorders and women’s rights in foreign countries; along with passionate reader’s letters, culture reviews and listings.

Spare Rib is a treasure as it is an important piece of recent social and cultural history, inspiring a new generation of modern feminism, while also highlighting darker issues in modern society; issues mirrored in these magazines from thirty-years ago.

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Please get in touch to find out more about any of these items, or browse the Treasures, Special Collections and Research Guide sections of this blog to find out more about our holdings. And keep an eye out for Speed-dating III…coming soon!

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