Reading Around the Histories of Leeds

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

In a nutshell, historiography is the history of history” – and because everything has a history (both objectively and subjectively), everything also has a history of those histories: that is, a historiography.

Leeds is no different. In fact, in some ways, Leeds is more blessed than many other English urban locales by the breadth and depth of its historiography; equally, in other ways, it is less well-served (and those distinctions are themselves a kind of historiographical analysis). “More blessed” because, for example, in the work of Ralph Thoresby we have one of the earliest provincial histories; “less well-served” because, as is becoming increasingly clear, we lack a properly modern and comprehensive account of Leeds’ social diversity, especially across the key periods of the 19th and 20th-centuries.

Such thoughts sparked one of our most recent ventures in the Local and Family History library: a discussion group based around readings in some of the key writings on Leeds’ past. This book group with a difference – the difference being that attendees select a theme at the end of the session; the Librarian then finds suitable material from the selections available in the department to cover that subject, all to be read in time for the next meeting one month away – started during our recent programme of Library Fest events, and has continued into the first quarter of 2017.

The first session, back in February, saw us gaining a thorough grounding in the general histories of Leeds, from the aforementioned Thoresby through Edmund Bogg on pre-Norman Conquest Leeds, Edward Parsons on the Medieval period, Percy Robinson on Kirkstall Abbey and Adel Church, J.S. Fletcher on the 17th-century, Steven Burt & Kevin Grady on the Georgian period, W.R. Mitchell on the Industrial Revolution, David Thornton on Victorian Leeds and, finally, Michael Meadowcroft’s chapter on aspects of 20th-century local government in the post-World War I city, which can be found in A History of Modern Leeds (1980; ed., Derek Fraser).

For that first meeting, our intrepid readers were asked to contribute their thoughts on the extracts and authors they had encountered (many for the first time). Here is one such response to the material:

Of course, such reading only scratched the surface of the voluminous histories of Leeds – the many hundreds of articles in the Publications of the Thoresby Society, the monographs on specific aspects of the 18th and 19th-centuries – in particular, Maurice Beresford on urbanisation, R.G. Wilson on merchants in the 1700s and both E.P. Hennock and Derek Fraser on aspects of Victorian local politics – and several biographies of key figures, among them Thoresby himself.

So – we pressed on, boats against the current of the present, borne back ceaselessly into the rich seams of Leeds’ past: most recently, 19th-century architecture and, for May’s meeting, we’ll have become experts (of a kind) in the fascinating history of Leeds during the Middle-Ages.

After that – who knows? The group is, after all, restricted only by the interests of the people attending, and the quantity of material that has been written on any particular field. So – if you’re interested in taking part in these sessions, do please get in touch via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk or on 0113 37 86982.

“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.

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.

*****

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!

Gallery

 

Who Led Leeds? Case Study #1: Maud Dightam

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

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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.

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

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‘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:

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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.

Hands-On Urban History #1: Little Woodhouse

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

Last Saturday, as part of our 2017 Library Fest programme, we welcomed a group of budding urban historians and explorers to the Central Library, for a workshop where they would help staff from the Local and Family History department research and investigate a fascinating item that had been donated to us sometime in the last year.

The item in question was a folder containing a college project by one Peter Salmon, a student at the Leeds College of Art in the 1960s (and now an artist based in Canada). This folder had come to us after unrelated correspondence with a Library customer, Jane Bower, whose father had been Peter’s lecturer at the time (an interesting side note: Jane’s own family history is intriguing in itself, as she grew up in the famous Ashwood house of Headingley; she is due to give a talk for us on precisely that subject later this year. Jane can also be seen at the Leeds Grammar School in May, performing a play based on her father’s diaries).

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Peter’s focus in his project was a small group of old cottages on Little Woodhouse Street, situated just between Chorley Lane (still in existence) and Leighton Lane (no longer in existence); while Peter had been able to identify that the dwellings roughly dated from around 1670 (along with a detailed analysis of their architectural features; his main area of interest), we were keen to take his research a little further, primarily using the resources available in the Local and Family History department: books, maps, photographs, Census returns, Trade Directory entries, newspaper articles, and so forth.

c.1890 map showing Little Woodhouse area. The location of the cottages is indicated by the circle

c.1890 map showing Little Woodhouse area. The location of the cottages is indicated by the circle. Map sourced from the Tracks in Time website: www.tithemaps.leeds.gov.uk

We were lucky enough to have in attendance Dr Shane Ewen, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, and an urban historian, whose book What Is Urban History? informed and contextualised our approach to this event (and who also runs thought-provoking Urban History workshops of his own). Shane kindly offered some introductory remarks on the subject of Urban History.

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Undated, Postcard view of Little Woodhouse Street, looking from Clarendon Road towards Caledonian Road. To the left is the end of Hyde Terrace, the wall has a message chalked on it ‘Errand Boys Rest’. On the right, a row of Old Houses with irregular roof lines can be seen, the junction with Leighton Lane is in the middle of the houses on the right (a single tall chimney can be seen behind). On the right edge is Chorley Lane. From Leodis.net

Following that short presentation, and some words from our Librarians introducing Peter’s project and our intended-aims on the day, attendees got to work searching for information about the cottages and their inhabitants over the last two-hundred years. We used as our starting point two photographs: one Peter took himself, and a very similar shot from our Leodis archive, showing the cottages in “Old Leeds”.

After that research was completed – including some fascinating Census finds on Ancestry.com – everyone present made their way out into Little Woodhouse itself, in search of any surviving signs of the cottages and their neighbourhood.

1881 Census return showing some of the Little Woodhouse cottages

1881 Census return showing some of the Little Woodhouse cottages

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Present-day Chorley Lane

And, wonderfully, while the buildings themselves have long-since disappeared – swallowed up as part of the development of Leeds General Infirmary – a trace of their presence could still be seen in their absence, in the way that it seemed possible to trace the path of the older, narrow, road that ran down and round in front of the houses along the line of the present-day passage; and the way that seeing the boundaries of that road enabled one to spot the likely location of the cottages themselves, in an empty space just beside. A wall on the side opposite that location seemed also to be of likely significance.

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The space just behind the car on the right of this photograph is the likely site of the Little Woodhouse cottages

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The wall opposite

Following that eye-opening encounter with the past (how many other mundane locations around the city also contain such echoes of history?), the group set-off on a fascinating tour of the wider Little Woodhouse area: taking in Little Woodhouse Hall, a terraced house inhabited at one stage by Edward Baines Jnr. and his family, the Thoresby Society‘s old home at Claremont, Denison Hall, the squares of Little Woodhouse and Hanover, Joseph’s Well and, finally, Centaur House.

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Woodhouse Hall

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House owned by Edward Baines Jnr.

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Denison Hall

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Late 19th-century residential housing near to Hanover Square

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Blue plaque opposite Woodhouse Square

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Joseph’s Well, former John Barran clothing factory

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Centaur House

Centaur House

Street map, near Centaur House. The location of the cottages is shown.

Street map, near Centaur House. The location of the cottages is shown

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating afternoon and plans are already underway for the next installment of our new Hands-On Urban History series. Please get in touch with us to register your interest in attending.

Resources (all available in the Local and Family History department)

Postscript

We were also fortunate to have Janet Douglas, author of several superb local history books, in attendance at the workshop. Janet directed our attention to a Yorkshire Evening Post article on the history of Little Woodhouse by Edmund Bogg, featuring a drawing of very the cottages in question – most likely by Bogg himself. The image below shows that article – click on the picture to access a zoom-able version.

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