A Snapshot of Leeds on June 3, 1917

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

Tomorrow will mark a century since a nationally significant, but oddly little-known, event in the history of Leeds: the 1917 Peace Convention at the Coliseum. This “saw 3,500 people from across Britain gather at the Leeds Coliseum (now the O2 Academy) in solidarity with the February Revolution which had overthrown the brutal Tsarist autocracy in Russia. The Convention voted to hail the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, defend civil liberties, call for an end to the First World War and vote to set up Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Britain in solidarity with the Soviets being formed in revolutionary Russia.” Present on the day, among others, were Bertrand Russell, Ramsay MacDonald, Sylvia Pankhurst, Tom Mann, Philip Snowden, Charlotte Despard, Ernest Bevin, Dora Montefiore and Willie Gallacher.

Different people, of course, took very different views of this gathering’s aims and intentions: a split which can be seen quite clearly in these contrasting reports from the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Leeds Mercury respectively. 

Of particular note, in the Post article, are the descriptions of the Convention attendees: “You looked around the sea of faces, and hardly one of them was normal…[a] collection of all the fads and frenzies and fanaticisms, all the disordered minds and discontented souls – the intellectual and spiritual wreckage of a strenuous age.” The reactions of some local Hotel owners are also worth highlighting:

But, rather than retelling any further the story of that gathering, this blog shall focus on the slightly wider – and yet also narrower – picture: a snapshot of Leeds on that same weekend, one-hundred years ago, derived from newspaper articles and advertisements. Readers interested in finding out more about the Convention itself are directed toward a recent book (copies of which are available to buy or loan in the Central Library) and a fascinating series of talks and workshops taking place tomorrow (the quote in the first paragraph of this article is taken from that event’s website).

So, Leeds on that weekend of June 3, 1917: in short, a mixture of the historically-memorable and the mundane. As well as the Peace Covfefe, Leeds – perhaps not coincidentally, in the tumult of War and its attendant social upheaval – saw a series of violent clashes between English and Jewish youths:

Not all were caught up in those twin dramas, however, with leisure –  especially consumer-goods and, in particular, tools to aid efficient home keeping – grabbing much of the focus on the Monday following June 3:

Shopping, principally for food, was another theme. Notable here was the apparent hope that the War would “teach the English housewife to cook” and also enable her to learn “the art of shopping”. Gender, and the socially-approved division of roles (into what we might call ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’) seems a clear concern of the time (we might also think of the earlier pejorative description of some Convention attendees as “men [who] wore their hair long…[o]r wore ties as big as sashes.”)

This is made even clearer in this advert, which frames the War in the context of “strength and manly power”: “Courage, Ambition, and Energy”; in the process making assumptions about what ‘masculinity’ should mean, just as the earlier pieces made assumptions about the preferred ways of living for women (shopping, keeping a good home):

That is to say: the advert suggests a deep anxiety about gender roles – and such ideas were also causing trouble for some newspaper readers:

Even if others spotted the longer-term changes to gender taking place in society as a direct result of the War (changes which were, no doubt, the catalyst for those anxieties):

These social changes  are also clearly indicated in this piece showing the shifts in employment patterns for one Leeds business:

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) those social changes, the mundane realities and fantasies of daily life continued:

While theatre listings testify to a continued need for diversion of a different kind:

Popular entertainment can sometimes be seen as a kind of willful ignorance of what’s truly important; and the letter at the bottom of this final extract sees our author excoriating the Peace Convention on the grounds that it was an unwarranted luxury in a time of death on an unimaginable scale – expressing, at the same time, the deep and complex links between war, class and gender. For some, however, the weekend brought a poignant finality, as the top piece in this extract shows; gone, too, another connection to the older Leeds fast disappearing in the face of an increasingly modern city:

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Of course, not much of this will be new to anyone familiar with the general thread of the nation and Leeds during those years – but there is a certain kind of thrill or interest in juxtaposing the seemingly-unrelated major and minor aspects of a society, gaining a sense of the (partial) totality at any given moment in time and space.

In doing so, such a approach reminds us – if we need reminding – that what normally counts as ‘historical’ and ‘important’, what gets written about and remembered, what gets commemorated, is only ever part of the whole story of any given History; and, for many people, even less than that.

That’s absolutely not to say that the 1917 Peace Convention is not worthy of assessment and analysis – clearly it is – only that the daily textures of everyday life are equally of value; and that the stories, the histories, we can piece together from the flotsam and jetsam of fleeting moments are as significant as any other. And that those fleeting moments remain something of an untapped resource for telling the vital histories of everyday people living everyday lives.

Such histories remain, for the most part, packed tightly, embedded in the collections held at libraries and archives; awaiting discovery. For any willing and intrepid explorer in the past, a whole world awaits: a legion of stories to be found, shared and heard.

Visit the Local and Family History department at Leeds Central Library

New Addition to our Collections: Samuel Marsden

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

The broad outline of Samuel Marsden‘s life and works are well-known: born Farsley, 1764, Samuel emigrated to the Australian colonies in 1793 after accepting an appointment as assistant to the Chaplain of New South Wales. There he took up residence at Parramatta, where he had charge of the religious instruction of convicts. Marsden was an influential figure in the early history of New South Wales, both for his clergy work but also his role as a judge and his employment of convicts for farming.

It was in that latter agricultural station that he is best known to us today: returning to Yorkshire in 1807, Marsden brought with him 165lb of wool, which was received enthusiastically by English manufacturers cut off from their usual supply of Merino wool by conflict on the European continent. Marsden visited King George III, wearing a suit made from the Australian wool; so impressed was the monarch by this display of sartorial elegance that he presented Marsden with five Spanish sheep from the Royal flock. These sheep, transported back to Parramatta, were the ancestors of an extensive flock of fine-woolled Australian sheep.

In 1814, Marsden visited New Zealand for the first time, along with six Maori chiefs who had been staying with him. There, he delivered the first Christian sermon on New Zealand soil (fittingly, on Christmas Day); an occasion that was commemorated in 1907 with the erection of a magnificent cross on that same spot. Marsden was to make six further missionary visits to New Zealand before dying in Sydney, aged  74. A full-length biography of this pioneering individual is available from our Information and Research department.

The Local and Family History department is delighted to say that, alongside an existing folder of materials related to Marsden’s life – copies of newspaper articles and original correspondence, mainly relating to the creation of a memorial to his life in Farsley – and an 1819 edition of his New Zealand diary – we have recently added another set of materials to our collection . These were very kindly donated to us by Bob and Lorraine Marsden, of Sydney. Bob is a direct descendant of Samuel Marsden (as well as Thomas Plantangent, Edward I and William the Conqueror!) and the material he has collected for us mainly concern Samuel’s time in Australia and New Zealand.

These do much to flesh out the story of the Farsley man after he left the West Riding and are an invaluable addition to our stock. Of particular note are copies of maps showing the exact locations Marsden settled in; a detailed Marsden genealogy; a transcript of his last will and testament; and full colour photographs of the Marsden Cross in New Zealand and Marsden’s farm ‘Mamre’ in New South Wales. We cannot thank Bob and Lorraine enough for this very thoughtful bequest.

Please visit us on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library to view these new additions to our Marsden collection, or contact us on 0113 37 86982 and via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk to find out more.

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.

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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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