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William Boyne’s History of Leeds

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Illustration of “The Old Shambles, Middle-Row, Leeds” by John Rhodes

William Boyne (1814 – 1893), Leeds antiquarian, used T.D. Whitaker’s 1816 edition of Ralph Thoresby’s Ducatus Leodiensis and Whitaker’s own Leodis and Elmete as the basis for his collection of original material on Leeds.

In addition to their value as contributions to local history and topography, the works of Thoresby and Whitaker afforded opportunity for amplification by later workers. This was realised by Boyne, whose collection of material relating to Leeds and the district was itself outstanding. Its accumulation occupied the greater part of Boyne’s life and was only effected by the patience and painstaking methods which were characteristic of all his work. It was from this collection that Boyne drew suitable material for expanding the work of the two historians, and the result is one which can only be described as unique. From the original two volumes the book became seven large folios.

Among the items added by Boyne are three hundred coats of arms emblazoned in colour by Madame Dowse. Also included are many original drawings of local subjects in water-colour by John and Joseph Rhodes, W.R. Robinson and William Bowman, with sepia drawings by J. Greig and others. An extract of the West Riding section from Christopher Saxton’s Atlas is also present.

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Section from the Saxton Atlas

The local press is represented by The Leeds Mercury for 8th December, 1767, and The Leeds Intelligencer of 7th September, 1768. Portraits of Leeds worthies, genealogies, and antiquities are also well represented, and there is a considerable section devoted to Kirkstall Abbey. Views of old Leeds and early maps are also included.

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Cossins’ 1726 map of Leeds

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Probably the most unique portion of the book consists of several letters written by Thoresby and Whitaker, six views of Yorkshire drawn by William Lodge, together with six drawings in pen and ink and two in chalk, also by Lodge. These fourteen drawings were formerly in the possession of Thoresby.

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Letters to and from Ralph Thoresby

“Boyne’s Thoresby”, as it is generally known, with several other of his important works, passed into the library of his friend John Stansfield of Leeds, and after his death was offered for sale with other of his books at Sotheby’s.

So unusual an item naturally attracted a crown and made competition keen, but the book ultimately fell to Mr. Reginald Wilson of Leeds, acting on behalf of his father, Mr Richard Wilson, of Lloyds’ Bank. Considerable disappointment was felt that the book had not been secured for the Leeds Central Library, and soon after, Mr. Wilson, with the public spirit which always actuated him, handed over the book to the library, at the figure at which he bought it.

A full index to the illustrations and other images featured in the History of Leeds is also available.

Index to the illustrations, alongside a book describing the contents of Ralph Thoresbys personal library

Index to the illustrations, pictured alongside a book describing the contents of Ralph Thoresby’s personal library

To view Boyne’s History of Leedsplease visit the Local and Family History department on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library. Two forms of ID (one with your name and another with your address) and at least 24-hours notice will be required to view items from the Treasures or Special Collections. Please call 0113 378 5005 for further details and to book an appointment.