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About Leeds

In about 730, Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiatical History gives the following quotation about events in A.D.627: “In the place of which the later kings built themselves a COUNTRY-SEAT in the Country called LOIDIS [LEEDS]. But the altar, being of stone, escaped the fire and is still preserved in the monastery of the most reverend abbot and priest, Thridwulf, which is in Elsiete wood.”

The name Loidis was applied to the district not to a single place or settlement, and this is confirmed by two names, Ledsham and Ledston, containing the same element. These two villages are about ten miles from the city of Leeds. This then became Leodis, then Ledes, then Leeds.

Natives of Leeds are known as “Loiners”, there are various theories as to the origin of the term, none of which are definitive. Loiner could derive from the name Loidis as above, another explanation is a Loiner is someone born within the sound of the church bells of Briggate. In the 19th century there were many yards and closes around Briggate whose back entrances were known as “Low Ins” or “Loins” hence “Loiner”. Another theory is that there were a number of lanes in the Briggate area pronounced “loins”. Men who gathered at the lane end to gossip etc. were “Loiners”.

Ledes was also mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. The centre of the town was initially a cluster of buildings near the parish church of St Peter. In 1207 a new town was founded by the Lord of the Manor, Maurice Paynel between the parish church and the corn mills, at the river crossing. Its spine was a new road, Briggate, the road leading to the bridge. The common spelling became Leedes, for example, the first map of Leeds by John Cossins in 1725 was titled, “A New and Exact Plan of the Town of Leedes”.

The movement of the cloth market from the bridge into Briggate itself in 1684 created the core of the modern city of Leeds. The population grew from 10,000 at the end of the seventeenth century to 30,000 at the end of the eighteenth. With its churches, chapels and meeting houses, Assembly Rooms, Infirmary and its new Cloth Halls, Leeds became one of the busiest and most prosperous urban centres in the north of England.

The Industrial Revolution set Leeds off at a gallop. The population grew to over 150,000 by 1840 and the place was transformed. Not only was it a centre of marketing and manufacture, it was also the centre of a network of communications, especially by water. In 1699 the Aire and the Calder rivers were made navigable, linking Leeds with the Ouse, Humber and the sea. In 1816 the great Leeds to Liverpool canal, a coast to coast link passing through Leeds, was completed.

In such a situation, Leeds was ideally situated for the development of an engineering industry, making machinery for spinning, machine tools, steam engines and gears as well as other industries based on textiles, chemicals and leather and pottery. Coal was extracted on a large scale and the still functioning Middleton Railway, the first commercial railway in the world, transported coal into the centre of Leeds.

The Leeds Rifles were raised in 1859 when the Volunteer Force was formed to meet an invasion threat from France. The Corps was titled 7th Yorkshire, West Riding, (Leeds) Rifle Volunteer Corps. Many prominent Leeds businesses raised complete companies from their workforces, including Joshua Tetley's brewery. The Tetley family played a central part in the Leeds Rifles for well over a century providing a number of officers, commanding officers and honorary colonels. The Leeds Rifles at first had their barracks next to the Town Hall where the Law Courts stand today. For a more detailed account see The Leeds Rifles.

Leeds became a city in 1893. With elaborate new public buildings like the Public Library and the General Post Office and with its famous arcades threading through the blocks on either side of the main streets, it was possibly the best at that time.

By the end of the Great War, the industrial and social structure of Leeds had already begun to change. Such a vital and thriving city had to become a centre of study and teaching. The Yorkshire College of Science and the Medical School were merged to form the University in 1904. The corporation established Colleges of Technology, Art, Commerce and Education, which were later to be fused into the Polytechnic, which in 1993 became Leeds Metropolitan University.

The hospitals, especially the Infirmary and St James Hospital, established international reputations as major medical centres. The town centre became a commercial centre for retailing and offices and now can claim to be the commercial capital of the North.

Since the Second World War and more particularly since the fifties, another transformation occurred, namely the rebuilding of the city. Tens of thousands of slum dwellings were replaced by modern housing estates which have now earned Leeds the accolade of Environment City of the UK and Leeds pioneered the Buchan principles of planning for the motor car and pedestrian.

Leeds stands today as a city of regional, national and international importance. With its rich history, diverse economy, enterprising people and cosmopolitan atmosphere, Leeds looks set to continue its success story well into the future.

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