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 or on 0113 37 86982.

‘O Come All Ye Faithful’: Leeds Catholics in the Central Library Collections

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

In his book Christmas Carols: From Village Green to Church Choir, Andrew Gant tells us that it was one John Francis Wade who is normally credited with composing the very familiar Carol ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’; in truth, as Gant makes clear, it appears Wade was primarily responsible for copying out the Latin hymn ‘Adeste Fideles’ into prayer and devotional books and that it was a later man, Frederick Oakley, who translated the Latin words into the English so familiar today.

But what’s intriguing about this story from our perspective is that Wade is almost always referred to in the literature as having some relationship to Leeds: that he was said to be the son of a merchant, also called John Wade, who is variously said to have had “connections” to Leeds, or to even be the John Wade named in Archbishop Blackburn’s Visitation Report for 1735 as having been “perverted” to Catholicism two years prior (as seen in the publications of the Catholic Record Society of which our copies were published in Leeds by John Whitehead and Son):


Record of Catholics living in Leeds, 1735

How this possible connection to the John Francis Wade whose signature is found on all the earliest manuscripts of the ‘Adeste Fideles’ manuscript is less clear: that Wade is most commonly said to have left England for Flanders in 1731, where he was educated at the Dominican College at Bornhem until 1734, at which time he is reported to have, as described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Wade, moved to London. And after that, he is said to have left England entirely after the failure of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745; an intriguing note when we think of the claims that ‘Adeste Fideles’, in the form Wade noted it down, offers a coded support for the deposed monarchical line of the Stuart succession.

In one of those little ironies that History likes to throw up, any possible Jacobite activity in Leeds was stopped in its tracks by the combined Dutch, Swiss and English forces encamped between Sheepscar and Woodhouse; a force commanded by one Field Marshal George Wade. While that Wade and John Francis were unrelated, what remains unclear is what – if any – relationship our Catholic Wades may have had to the much more prominent Wades of Leeds: from Benjamin Wade, merchant, Council member, Alderman and Mayor; through Anthony Wade, Benjamin’s cousin, himself a Council man and then Mayor, whose son, another Benjamin, and grandson, Walter, were themselves elected to that latter office.


Attributed to Johan van Diest – Field-Marshal George Wade, 1673 – 1748

Most likely there is no connection beyond the family name. Searches of (available free in all Leeds Libraries) and the Family Search archive throw up no ‘John Wade’ in Leeds during the early 18th-century. The closest possible match is a John Wade baptised in 1711 (the usual year given for John Francis Wade’s birth), to a father by the same name, in Stalmine of Lancashire.


Extract from Stalmine parish register, 1711, showing the baptism of a ‘John Wade’. Accessed via

In short, John Francis Wade and the nature of his connection to Leeds remain a blank mystery. All we can do, then, is try and fill in the gaps around his life, and his father’s life, based on what we know about their work and the times they lived in. Two books, both by Steven Burt and Kevin Grady, are the best starting points for such an investigation: War, Plague and Trade: Leeds in the Seventeenth Century and The Merchants’ Golden Age: Leeds 1700-1790. Volume LXIV of the Thoresby Society publications is also useful: Leeds in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries.

'The Prospect of Leeds, from the Knostrop Road'. Taken from Ralph Thoresby's Ducatus Leodiensis

‘The Prospect of Leeds, from the Knostrop Road’. Taken from Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis

But beyond those general explorations of the Wades’ milieu, we might also want to think about exploring the wider context and story of the Leeds Roman Catholic community, especially in what we might call the pre-19th century ‘recusant‘ phase. This is a story that, to quote Hugh Aveling in his The Catholic Recusants of the West Riding of Yorkshire: 1558 – 1790, is “the history of a West Yorkshire community whose very existence seems unknown to many.”

It is Burt and Grady who tell us, in their magisterial The Illustrated History of Leeds, that “We hear little of Roman Catholics in Leeds during the seventeenth-century.” But as Aveling so capably explores, there is another truth behind that broad statement. So much so that there is not the space, nor the expertise, to (re)tell that history in this blog. All that can be offered is a sense of how that history can be experienced and explored – what other stories can be told – through the collections held at the Central Library.

Any such attempt would start with the aforementioned Aveling article. Though Aveling does not mention it during his illuminating passages on the social customs of Catholics in the West Riding, an extraordinary incident occurred in Leeds during this period. This was in 1584 when a Catholic family from ‘Chappiltoune’ were refused permission to bury a family member in the Parish (St. Peter’s) Churchyard. You can see the note to this effect in the scanned version of the St. Peter’s Parish Register for 1584, as available on, together with a transcribed text from a Thoresby Society publication of 1889:



There can be no doubt that, while Aveling points out that “practically 25 per cent of the great of the Riding, the nobility and landed gentry” were part of the 2000-3000 Catholics in the region, the split between Protestant and Catholic was a deep and fierce one, in Leeds at any rate. That despite the comparably low numbers of Catholics reported as living in the town at the turn of the 17th-century; in A List of the Roman Catholics in the County of York in 1604 (ed., Edward Peacock) we find just 18 names (including a Margaret Lumby, presumably a relation – wife, even – of the Richard Lumby whose burial caused such conflict in 1584).


In the passage quoted above, Burt and Grady go on to say that “if there were any [Catholics in Leeds], they would be few in number and have worshipped in the greatest secrecy” because

not only was Catholicism regarded as a very superstitious religion, but Catholics were thought of as traitors and enemies of the nation.

We need only think of the events of 1605 to reflect on the way Catholics would have been perceived, even with as few living in the community as were seemingly present in Leeds. Writing nearly 100-years later, the antiquary Ralph Thoresby referred to great grief in the town at the death of Charles II; ‘grief’ for “the gloomy prospect of Popery” and Thoresby’s own fear of the “hectoring of some Romanists in the neighbourhood” (quotes from D.H. Atkinson, Ralph Thoresby, the Topographer: His Town and Times – Vol. 1).

Ralph Thoresby

Ralph Thoresby

And, looking slightly beyond Leeds, we can get a glimpse of the situation for Catholics across Yorkshire through a fascinating volume entitled Short Memoirs of the English Martyrs (1885; “by a religious of St. Mary’s Convent, Micklegate Bar, York): “this little record of those English martyrs, who either laid down their lives for their faith in Yorkshire, or were natives of the county.” There we find the tragic tale of one Edmund Sykes of Leeds. Sykes, like John Francis Wade a merchant’s son, was executed in 1587 for preaching the Catholic faith:



We should, then, keep in mind the history of anti-Catholic feeling in Leeds suggested by the second of Burt and Grady’s statements  – but what of the first? Was Leeds the site of any secret Catholic worship communities during the 17th and 18th-centuries?

The short answer is ‘yes’; the longer answer can be found in two complementary books: Catholicism in Leeds: A Community of Faith, 1794-1994 (ed., Robert E. Finnegan and George T. Bradley), which includes a superb opening chapter on ‘The Origins of the Catholic Revival in Leeds: From Ruin to Restoration, 1558-1794’; and Norman Waugh’s A Short History of St. Anne’s Cathedral and the Leeds Missions, whose first two sections tell the intriguing tale of Catholic worship at so-called ‘Mass Centres‘ in Middleton and Roundhay.

The history of both places is complicated but, in short, by the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries, Catholic worship was well established among the families owning both estates: the Saville-Howards in Roundhay and the Brandlings in Middleton (those same Brandlings whose agent, John Blenkinsop, would later work alongside Matthew Murray to bring engineering wonders to Middleton Colliery). Both sites became the centre for small groups of worshippers (Thoresby records visiting Middleton in his diary) before, in 1786-1787, a formal Leeds Mission was established in the town with the permission of the Vicar and Council.


Middleton Hall in 1946. From


Extract from Thoresby’s diary, where he records a visit to Middleton Hall in 1712

The founder of that Mission was one Albert Underhill Plunkett, a priest formerly resident at Roundhay, and who was eagerly desirous of moving worship from that “then quiet and sequestered village” to the “smoky, ugly, large town of Leeds.” Underhill, with financial aid from Joseph Holdforth – a prominent cotton spinner and later Mayor – moved into a room at the top of old Briggate, the area known as the “Back of the Shambles”. There Plunkett lived

in a miserable dwelling in a yard behind the public shambles, with often nothing better to eat than potatoes mashed with butter-milk, and with no food but the scraps of meat and bones which be bought.

Undated View shows Middle Row. This row of shops was part of The Shambles which ran along Briggate from what would now be the junction with King Edward Street upto the entrance the County Arcade. The word Shamble comes from Seamol which was a bench where meat was displayed and sold. The Moot Hall and Middle Row behind were considered an obstruction to the throughfare of one of the city's busiest streets therefore after hundreds of years of existence, Middle Row was removed in 1825 moving to the newly opened Bazaar and Shambles between Briggate and Vicar Lane. From (ID: 2003122_58930606)

Undated View shows Middle Row. This row of shops was part of The Shambles which ran along Briggate from what would now be the junction with King Edward Street upto the entrance the County Arcade. The word Shamble comes from Seamol which was a bench where meat was displayed and sold. The Moot Hall and Middle Row behind were considered an obstruction to the throughfare of one of the city’s busiest streets therefore after hundreds of years of existence, Middle Row was removed in 1825 moving to the newly opened Bazaar and Shambles between Briggate and Vicar Lane. From

But then, in 1792, just one year after the second Relief Act, a grant of around £600 enabled Plunkett to undertake the building of a brand new purpose-built Chapel in the nearby Lady Lane; later – from 1840 – the site of the United Methodist Chapel and, later still, the home of offices for the British Road Services transport company. The building is now owned by the developers of the new Victoria gate shopping complex; yet another reminder of the thread of heritage – the stories – lying behind each step in the ever-changing environment of our city.

Detail from Giles' 1815 Plan of Leeds. The Chapel can be seen about half way down Lady Lane

Detail from Giles’ 1815 Plan of Leeds. The Chapel can be seen about half way down Lady Lane. From

The site of the Chapel in 1999, now known as 'Templar House'

The site of the Chapel in 1999, now known as ‘Templar House’. From

It should not be supposed that this meant the complete absence of anti-Catholic feeling in Leeds at the time. The emerging campaign for Catholic Emancipation brought with it a competing narrative, encapsulated in the arrival of a so-called ‘Brunswick Club’ in the town. Active until the late 1820s, these were bitter opponents of any suggestion that the national law be amended in favour of Catholic rights.

Indeed, a quick scan of some titles held in the Central Library reveal a deeply-felt antagonism to the old religion: Remarks on a Speech in Favour of the Catholic Claims (1813), in which the author – ‘An Observer’ – boldly states “the principles of Popery” are not “friendly to liberty, or even to toleration”; Protestant Rights Contrasted with Catholic Claims (1813); Popery Unmaksed and Her Supporters Exposed (1828); Observations on the Members of the Church of Rome (1829) – “no apology is necessary to submitting to the consideration of Protestants, evidence…[t]o prove that Popery is not only unchanged in its arrogating pretensions to supremacy, infallibility, and the right of absolution, but that it is impossible for the Members of that Church to give any securities to a Protestant State” (italics in original). Most shockingly of all, perhaps, is Walter Farquhar Hook’s The Nonentity of Romish Saints and the Inanity of Romish Ordinances (1849): “We differ from the Church of Rome fundamentally and irreconcilably.”

Even so, the spread of Catholic worship in the town – largely due to the arrival of the Irish, but also, perhaps, a sign of increasing religious tolerance in the wider Leeds community – was such that, in 1838, the first St. Anne’s church could be built; then, in 1878, after the creation of the Diocese of Leeds (itself following on from the 1850 reestablishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England), that Church was granted Cathedral status. And, by 1910, Leeds became the site of the First National Catholic Congress, a reflection of the pride the local community felt in the progress made over the preceding century: “a sense of pride, derived from the revival of their Church in the city.”


So, then, the history of Catholicism in Leeds is, in part at least, the history of a struggle in the margins; the struggle of a minority community unwilling or unable to yield to what we may call the tyranny of the majority. It’s also the history of change rooted in place; and of that deep sense of past that connects ‘now’ to ‘then’. So, when you next hear the familiar lyrics and melody of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ this holiday season, think of John Francis Wade and Albert Underhill Plunkett and every one of those long-forgotten men and women, each striving to carve out a sense of dignity and comfort in a time and space hostile to their beliefs. Because, whatever our beliefs, we are all the inheritors and the beneficiaries of those struggles for tolerance: “sing, all ye citizens…joyful and triumphant.”

St Anne's Cathedral. Undated, Photograph taken prior to demolition in November 1904. This was done for improvements to be carried out on the Headrow which at that time was called Guildford Street. A new cathedral was constructed on Cookridge Street. From

St Anne’s Cathedral. Undated: photograph taken prior to demolition in November 1904. This was done for improvements to be carried out on the Headrow which at that time was called Guildford Street. A new cathedral was constructed on Cookridge Street. From


All the books named in the article are available at the Central Library. Any where a link has not been made to our online catalogue will be found in our Local and Family History department. Other books used include:

  • David Thornton. Leeds: A Historical Dictionary of People, Places and Events
  • Patricia Midgley. The Church and the Working Classes: Leeds, 1870-1920

On John Lucas, 18th-Century Leeds and Foot-ball

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

With the football European Championships now well underway, this seemed like a perfect time to draw attention to one of the lesser-known treasures of our collection: the handwritten manuscript of John Lucas’ Memoranda Book.


Born in 1684, Lucas was primarily known as a schoolmaster in his own time: in 1712 he was a master at the Leeds Grammar School but, by 1726, had taken over St. John’s Charity School, the so-called ‘Blue Coat School’ (after the jackets provided to pupils). But Lucas is best known to us today – if he is known at all – as a local historian and a diarist (of sorts). His major work was his History of Warton Parish (in Lancashire, where he was born), which he worked on for a period of more than thirty years. Lucas dedicated that book to Ralph Thoresby, whose coin collection he helped to catalogue. The elder antiquarian appears to have been something of a mentor to a man developing his own keen interest in the past.

It is Lucas’ diary, however, which is of most interest to historians of Leeds; although it is not a diary in the sense we would understand that term today – and we do not even know why he kept it. Lucas gives little of himself away in his work – no personal observations or remarks, nothing about his work (either scholastic or academic) and little of his domestic life. Rather, his diary is more properly understood as, literally, a ‘memoranda’: that is, a memory aid – a collection of jottings that could be referred to at some future date.

Many of those notes relate to happenings in Lucas’ immediate locality. One such event occurs on the 16th and 17th of December when Lucas records that “a frost began which continues very severe (with abundance of snow)” for over a month. It was during this long period of climactic extreme that Lucas records seeing “hundreds of men playing at football upon the river.” This is the first recorded mention of the sport being played in Leeds.


The section of the Memoranda featuring Lucas’ description of football being played on the river

The Memoranda is primarily of use because it provides that kind of everyday detail about a period still somewhat neglected in the historiography of Leeds: the early 18th-century. Specifically, the most detailed sections of Lucas’ writing covers the years 1712-1716; a period just prior to the first publication of the Leeds Mercury in 1718 and for which there is partially a gap in Ralph Thoresby’s own diary (from 1714-1719).

We are honoured to hold this important document of Leeds and its history here at the Central Library. It was presented to us in 1932 by Alderman Perceval T. Leigh, a dentist, after a long period when its whereabouts were unknown following its author’s death in 1750. You can view the manuscript by visiting our Local and Family History department (note that two forms of identification will be required, one of which must feature your current address). A transcription of the sections relevant to Leeds can be found in Publications of the Thoresby Society, Volume 16, Second Series (2006). Edited by Jonathan Oates, that version also includes a superb introduction to Lucas’ life and works (from which much of this article has been derived).

Lucas himself was buried in St John’s churchyard, along with his son, Richard, and Richard’s family. His memorial reads “Vita labore perfunctus huc accesssit” (‘A Life of Labour Performed, He Came Here’), but we much prefer Lucas’ own preferred wording: the poetically-biographic “Me genuit Carnford; docuit Warton, altuique/Leeds celebris pannis; hic lapis ossa tegit” –

Carnforth begat me, Warton Instructed Me,
Elevated in Leeds, Famous for its Cloth,
This Stone Covers His Remains

Ralph Thoresby and the Ducatus Leodiensis: A Curated Display

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


There are still five days to enjoy the fantastic series of events we’re holding for our 2016 Library Fest. Among that panoply is a display celebrating the life and works of Ralph Thoresby – in particular, the 300th-anniversary of his Ducatus Leodiensis. That book – often referred to as “the first written history of Leeds” was actually published in 1715, but we thought it appropriate to leave our celebrations until 2016 as, in a fitting alignment of the literary firmament, this year also marks the 200th-anniversary of the second edition of Thoresby’s masterpiece. That version, edited by the vicar, topographer and antiquarian, Thomas Dunham Whitaker, can be seen, alongside Thoresby’s 1715 original, in a display case outside our Information and Research department on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library. Also on show with those two editions of the Ducatus is Whitaker’s own Loidis and Elmete, a further history of Leeds and the surrounding area that picks up where Thoresby left off and which was also published in 1816.


Moving into our Local and Family History department, viewers can browse a further set of materials. Part way between a museum exhibition and a curated browsing collection, this selection is designed to contextualize Thoresby’s work within his life. The materials can be read in any order, but you are encouraged to start in the bottom right corner of the table and work from right to left.


Finally, visitors are invited to peruse the glass cabinet seen in the above photograph. This contains the jewel in our Thoresby collection – the annotated Ducatus Leodiensis. This is an edition of the 1715 version that was owned by the local antiquary and schoolmaster, Thomas Wilson. Wilson added many fascinating amendments, corrections and revisions to Thoresby’s text – most of which were incorporated into Whitaker’s 1816 second edition. This is a rare opportunity to see one of the rarest items in our collection.

Alongside the annotated Ducatus can be seen a book that was part of Thoresby’s own library – and which contains a note and signature by the “Father of Leeds History” himself. Further special collections items of relevance to Thoresby and the Ducatus can also be seen in that glass cabinet.

The display is available to view until Monday the 22nd of February. Contact us on 01132 476016 for details of our opening times, or click here. Readers can also browse a full guide to our Thoresby collection by clicking here.