Martin Hamilton, Director of Leeds Civic Trust, introduces the new AboutLeeds blog.
The most obvious question is why have we decided to create this blog? But first of all, I had better explain who “we” are.
We are Leeds Civic Trust – a volunteer-led, membership-based charity whose aim since its creation in 1965 has been to speak up for our city, with an interest in its past, present and future. You may be familiar with our Blue Plaques scheme (over 180 of them across the city), celebrating famous Leeds people, events and places. But we also co-ordinated the Rainbow Plaques Trail, celebrating LGBT+ people, events and places and supported Leeds City Council in celebrating the contribution the Windrush generation and communities have made to the Leeds through plaques decorated with flags from the Caribbean. The city’s history is important to us – we write about it, put on lectures about it and generally celebrate it. We also co-ordinate Heritage Open Days in Leeds – a national celebration of heritage and culture.
People often associate us with historic and listed buildings – and we have certainly campaigned to preserve some of our most important listed buildings – including the First White Cloth Hall and the amazing Temple Works, but we are equally concerned with the present day – we comment on many planning applications, lobbying for the best in design and placemaking. Whether this is the proliferation of tall buildings in the city centre, development of the South Bank or the design merits of volume-built housing estates, we are interested and have a view.
More recently, we have taken on other “quality of life” issues – the quality of our air, our creaking transport systems, making the most of the city’s waterfront. We have always been keen to champion the best facilities for people in Leeds. We campaigned for many years for an arena for the city, for example, and have long called for a proper city centre park (now to be provided as part of the development on the site of the former Tetley Brewery). We are in the middle of a competition we launched called Liveable City which invites people to re-imagine a currently road-dominated part of our city.
So in a nutshell our interests are around design and the built environment, the city’s heritage and culture, and quality of life issues. And this is what we hope this forum will focus on.
Why a blog and why now?
We have decided to launch this blog because we do not believe that anything similar exists that covers these broad issues. We want to create a space where anyone with something to say about the development of the city, from its earliest days to the 2030s and beyond, can put forward their views for discussion and debate. Written blogs are welcome (up to 1000 words in length) as are images, clips and sketches or a combination. The usual legal and ethical requirements naturally apply, and whilst the blog should be a place for opinions and the opinionated, it is not a forum for party political platforms.
We have decided to launch this now because as our city is under siege with Coronavirus changing our way of life, at least in the short term, what better time to discuss how our city should evolve in the future, mindful of the big leaps it has made over the centuries.
What is Leeds Civic Trust’s role?
Our role in all of this is simply to administer and moderate the blog. This is a blog for Leeds, not for Leeds Civic Trust. We will post articles from time to time, but we hope that this blog will become the home for views from anyone with an interest in our city who has something they want to say. If you want to write an entry, please get in touch.
Duncan McCargo shares his archive research following Charles Barker Howdill’s journey to Jutland in 1911. Charles B. Howdill (1863–1941) was a Leeds architect and photographer, who travelled extensively on the European continent before the First World War. One of the first to exhibit colour images at the Royal Photographic Society, he gave hundreds of ‘magic lantern’ shows all over England about the places he had photographed, including Jutland.
The well-worn small green leather folder contains around a hundredlooseleaf items, most of them handwritten jottings for his slide lectures about Jutland. We know that Howdill visited Jutland in 1911 – but since none of the notes contains a date, we can’t be sure which of them were taken down on his Danish trip, and which were written up afterwards. That same year, the prominent English man of letters Edmund Gosse published his travel memoir Two Visits to Denmark, 1872 and 1874 (London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1911). Howdill copied out a short passage of description from the Gosse book, which may well have inspired him to head to Denmark himself (by an odd coincidence, the original manuscript of Two Visits to Denmark now forms part of the extensive Gosse archives held by the Brotherton Library’s Special Collections at the University of Leeds – see the picture below).
However, while Gosse was fascinated by Denmark’s literary intelligentsia and beat a path straight to Copenhagen, Howdill, with his provincial preferences, never reached the Danish capital at all, spending virtually his entire time on the westerly peninsula of Jutland. He believed there was a special affinity between Jutland and Yorkshire, which the Jutes had invaded in the fifth century AD:
A Yorkshireman is thus entitled to expect, in this country of his forefathers, to come across some of the traits and characteristic energy found in his own broad shire.
The most disappointing feature of Howdill’s notebook is that many of the regional legends and histories he copied down were based not on stories he had picked up from loquacious locals during sojourns at Danish roadside inns, but from Horace Marryat’s A Residence in Jutland, The Danish Isles and Copenhagen, Volume II (London: John Murray, 1860), which is crammed full of historical anecdotes, and intriguing if rather far-fetched stories about places with evocative-sounding names like Veigle, Jellinge, Silkeborg and Viborg. Here and there, Howdill even records which pages he consulted when summarising Marryat’s tall tales to illustrate his own Jutland slides.
Howdill comes into his own, however, in his wonderful descriptions of the remote artists’ colony of Skagen, which he compares to a Danish Land’s End. Intending to stay only a couple of hours, he finds himself beguiled by this place of ‘gales, sand-drifts and shipwrecks’, lingering over gloomy monuments to the shipwrecked and to the great poet Holger Drachmann. Howdill notes: ‘Photographed the men who/appeared diffident’, a line that seems to sum up his Jutland experiences. Of the famed Lloyds’ Signal Station, he writes: ‘Many in this audience/Have passed it on their way into the Baltic to Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia.’
Compared with the Balkans and Corsica – which inspired dozens of his slide-show lectures – Jutland seemed to hold limited interest for Howdill. His Denmark slides contain none of the feasts, fairs and funerals he photographed on his other travels. Perhaps that is why he resorted to rifling through Horace Marryat to spice up his notes. But on reaching Skagen, the furthermost point in his Jutland journey, Charles Barker Howdill does appear to have experienced some sort of epiphany in the windswept sands of this ‘outlandish spot’. Howdill’s Skagen notes end with a dour prediction that Drachmann’s sand-dune grave might be torn asunder by the elements. Happily, more than a century later the poet’s romantically-located tomb remains intact.
You can read more about Charles Howdill’s travels in Jutland here, Jutland Jottings (1911)
Working in collaboration with local historian Janet Douglas, Duncan McCargo has created a an eBook introducing Howdill’s Photography.
About the blogger
Duncan McCargo is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, and also Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds where he worked from 1993-2020. This project results from a small grant he received in 2018 from the Cross Disciplinary Innovation Fund, jointly funded by the University’s Cultural Institute and Leeds Museums and Galleries, to support Leeds academics to work with museum collections in new ways. This article was first published on the project blog, https://blazingbalkans.leeds.ac.uk/
Paul Chatterton,University of Leeds‘ Professor of Urban Futures, reflects on how the experience of lockdown has shown what a more sustainable future might look like for Leeds and shares his ideas on how the citymight get there.
A pause has been forced on life in Leeds. Quiet roads, empty skies, deserted high streets and parks, closed cinemas, cafés and museums. The lockdown is slowly lifting and Leeds will begin to hum again to the familiar rhythms of work, leisure and shopping. This will be a huge relief for us all. Yet this lockdown has given us time and space to take stock and think about how we can #buildbackbetter to create a fairer, greener and healthier city to live in.
Our global world, and all the positives it has brought Leeds in terms of culture, trade and travel, also has a flip side. It created the perfect conditions for creating a crisis like coronavirus, and it’s also proved pretty bad at dealing with it. Something else is required to guide us into the future. COVID-19 raises a big question: what in essence is Leeds for? Is it to pursue economic growth at all costs, attract inward investment and compete against global rivals? Or is it to maximise quality of life for all, build local wellbeing and resilience, strong community economies and sustainability?
It’s not a simple question of either/or, but a better balance is needed. The old story – in which cities compete against one another to improve their place in the global pecking order – was never great at meeting needs in Leeds. However, now it’s looking very risky, given the need for increased cooperation and local resilience. Most people simply want to be safe and healthy, especially faced by future threats, be they climate, weather or virus related.
After the worst of coronavirus is over our attention will also return to longer-term problems that haven’t gone away for Leeds: congested transport, dependence on fossil fuels, rising carbon emissions, poor air quality, dysfunctional housing markets, loss of biodiversity, divisions between the rich and the poor, low paid work, under resourced public services.
The last few weeks of lockdown in Leeds has thrown us all into a real-time laboratory full of living examples of what a more sustainable future might look like. We have a perfect opportunity to study and explore which of these could be used to build a recovery plan for a sustainable, fairer and safer, Leeds. Below I discuss three key areas for action:
Before lockdown, Leeds’s transport was creaking at the seams. Lockdown created the conditions for a radical rethink: more physical space for social distancing, cycling and walking on quieter roads, better air quality, speed reductions to reduce accidents and strain on emergency services. There’s only a small window of opportunity until pre-lockdown vehicle levels return. In this pause, cities are experimenting with locking in gains through trial street closures, wider pavements, lower speed limits and pop up cycle lanes. This is super-charging the city’s ambitions to tame the car, rising carbon emissions and poor air quality and create more balanced and sustainable options for getting around. It’s one silver lining of this terrible crisis.
The UK Government has announced £2b for active travel and within weeks cities like Leeds will use their share to roll out activity on the ground. Councillors and officers already committed to moving away from ‘Leeds motorway city’ are using this opportunity to accelerate plans for a cycling and walking revolution – through low traffic neighbourhoods, active travel networks and reduced speed limits. Communities across Leeds are being asked to make suggestions for more changes via an online platform.
A COVID transport recovery plan will sensibly focus on issues of wellbeing and local resilience. This presents us with an opportunity to ask important and uncomfortable questions about the future of Leeds’ transport: do we really need an expanding airport, more road investments, car-based housing developments, more suburban retail, and investment in HS2? Home working patterns normalised in lockdown, may change how and where we travel, as well as future development trends for the city centre.
Building on what we saw in lockdown, there’s an opportunity to create a renaissance of local life, especially through the idea of the 15 minute neighbourhood – where most things that we need in our daily lives can be easily reached by a short journey by bike or foot. This locks in a whole range of potential benefits around local employment and business, physical activity, better air quality and safer roads. And many people still face transport poverty, affordable keyworker transport needs to play a prominent future role. There also needs to be a new approach to road safety through ‘Vision Zero’ policies where no road deaths are acceptable.
But the task ahead of breaking Leeds’ dependency on the car remains daunting. Traffic levels have to be reduced, some say by up to 60%, between now and 2030, to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. And much more will need to be done to tackle the city’s long standing air quality crisis. In the coming months the Leeds city-region still needs a multi-billion government investment in a future mass transit system, as well as a congestion charge and workplace parking levy to really reduce car flows. We will need city planners, highways officers and elected members to do much more than their best. They will need to do the impossible.
A ‘socially useful’ Leeds economy
We familiar with some of the shortcomings of Leeds’ economy – low paid and precarious jobs, independent businesses squeezed out by large corporations, land and resources shifting from private to public hands, growing divisions between rich and poor neighbourhoods. Coronavirus has thrown many of these into stark relief. But what has been most staggering about the response to the crisis is the rapid uptake of measures that only weeks ago would have been unthinkable: mortgage and rent holidays, statutory sick pay, shifts to nationalise services especially health and transport, wage guarantees, suspending evictions, and debt cancellations. The current crisis has ripped up ideas led by the free market.
We now seem to be revaluing what matters: key workers who support our wellbeing; local shops that offer commitment to their community; access to local greenspaces, goods and services. This crisis has also highlighted who has enough money to live on. Beyond government job retention and self-employed income schemes, more radical propositions are emerging that are changing people’s relationship to work. A universal basic income is an idea that has come of age during this crisis – an unconditional, automatic non-means tested payment to every individual as a right of citizenship. The Spanish government has agreed to roll out such a scheme nationally as soon as possible, and there is sustained interest in many other places. The idea of a minimum income guarantee is also gaining momentum; a renewed interest in the idea of a universal and unconditional safety net that can offer dignity and safety and offer options for more sustainable living. As we look towards a West Yorkshire mayor in 2021, creating a West Yorkshire Citizens Income is an idea that could lift people out of dependency on benefits and low paid, insecure jobs and debt.
Focusing on Leeds’ social economy should be central to the city’s recovery plan. Made up of community businesses, co-operatives and voluntary organisations, this social economy creates goods, services and employment that are more locally based, and community grounded in a range of areas: renewable energy, sustainable housing, food and micro-finance. They build in benefits including local employment and procurement, fairer pay, better conditions, sustainable resource use, democratic accountability, and a commitment to social justice. Refocusing the city’s economy around its social economy would sharpen our focus of what our economy is for and who it should benefit.
As part of this, derelict buildings and land banked by large scale developers across Leeds could be redeployed by community organisations to build local resilience through community farms, renewables and housing, as well as leisure, local biodiversity and carbon storage. Creating a new public-community land trust to acquire and develop these assets could play a key role in our COVID recovery. There are signs of how the economy can change in positive directions. Many firms are temporarily shifting to more socially useful production, making, for example, hand sanitiser, ventilators and medical wear. These glimpses of a more socially useful economy should provide inspiration for Leeds’ regional economic base. We could create a Leeds Lucas Plan – through shifts in subsidies and investment in reskilling, factories could transition to manufacturing wind turbines, e-bikes, insulation panels and heat pumps. And excess downtown corporate office space or high end apartments in Leeds, much of which could be less full in a post-lockdown world, could be retrofitted to support socially useful activities – key worker accommodation, libraries, creches, day centres, colleges for transition skills, and socially distanced co-working.
Mass city greening
During lockdown, people are more aware how little green space they have access to on their doorsteps in Leeds, and how disconnected our city is by road networks. Quality public and green places need to be radically expanded so people can safely gather after the trauma of this experience. Now is a good time to supercharge such plans. Diverse green spaces directly underpin our emotional and psychological wellbeing and offer a range of positive effects on storing carbon, cleaning air and preserving wildlife.
Neighbourhood design inspired by nature can support this. As we did at Lilac in west Leeds, interweaving the places we live with extensive natural spaces linked to active travel opportunities can improve air quality, wellbeing, increase biodiversity and create options for meaningful leisure on our doorsteps. They can also incorporate local food production and features to cope with flooding, such as sustainable urban drainage and water gardens, further increasing future crisis resilience. These should be at the centre of planning and design decisions for our city through a new climate-safe, COVID recovery planning guidance.
We also need to prioritise street-by-street retrofit and convert our city colleges and apprenticeships to this task. In the event of future lockdowns during cold months, war, low energy and well insulated homes can help reduce other problems around fuel poverty and excess winter deaths. Finally, this moment offers a real opportunity to lay the foundations for a new deal for nature and animals. This is more important now than ever. Animals and wildlife, normally in rapid decline, found ways to regain a foothold during the respite of human activity – but they may be further threatened when lockdown comes to an end. Leeds can expand habitats for wildlife, connect greenspaces and restore damaged natural areas.
What next for Leeds?
COVID-19 clearly presents a significant juncture for Leeds. This could mean more of the negatives of city life – insecurity, privatisation and division. And as lockdown ends, there may be a rebound effect, as people understandably rush to embrace travel, work and consumerism, creating a significant emissions and pollution surge.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The positives that are glimpsed during this crisis could feasibly be locked in and scaled up to create a fairer, greener, safer urban future. We can live well, and even flourish, in Leeds even if we have and do a little bit less of the things we have become used to. Revaluing what’s important – community, friendship, family life – allows us to see how much we already have in this city that can improve our wellbeing.
We need a big new idea for Leeds. One such idea is the Green New Deal – a proposed set of policies to tackle climate change and inequality, create good jobs and protect nature. It’s an approach which has a lot to offer cities after this coronavirus crisis. It points to an economy based on key foundations of public services, operating within the ecological limits of our precious world, with a social safety net for all. These ideas are now being seriously considered by some cities, such as Amsterdam, as they think about how to rebuild their economies. Changing the way we govern Leeds can help with these changes. Giving citizens more decision-making powers can lead to more trust, understanding and ideas that work. This can be done through citizen’s assemblies, participatory budgets and more transparency over data and decision making.
It’s difficult to predict how things will actually turn out in such a fast moving environment. What I have presented here are some glimpses of doable, common sense actions that could be used to build a more sustainable and fairer Leeds out of the coronavirus crisis.
Ten ideas to improve Leeds
Changing our roads – putting people first through wider pavements, more crossings, secure cycle parking, no parking on pavements, and a city-wide network for cycle and walking.
15 minute neighbourhoods – within a short cycle or walk from your home being able to reach local independent shops, job opportunities, green spaces, parks and leisure options.
A network of Hubs for community resilience, climate action and Covid recovery – focusing on action, learning and skills.
Greenspacesin every neighbourhood – for leisure, wildlife, biodiversity, storing carbon, flood management, food growing and renewables.
Warm affordable homes for all – street by street homes retrofit undertaken by community businesses.
Neighbourhood assemblies, to work with the City Council to review policies and agree city budgets
Security for Leeds workers through an income guarantee and living wage for all
Leeds COVID Recovery fund – interest free loans and grants to fund community projects and sustainable community businesses.
A socially useful economy – converting Leeds factories and businesses to socially useful making for all.
Measuring what matters – wellbeing, health, safety, air and environmental quality not just economic growth and output; and using these to shape the future of Leeds’ development.
About the blogger
Paul Chatterton is a writer, researcher and campaigner. He is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography. He is currently Director of the University of Leeds’ Sustainable Cities Group which has launched the ground breaking MSc Sustainable Cities. Paul is also co-founder and resident of the award winning low impact housing co-operative Lilacand Leeds Community Homes to help promote community-led housing. His recent books include Low Impact Living (Routledge) and Unlocking Sustainable Cities (Pluto Press) (www.unlockingsustainablecities.org)
Martin Hamilton, Director of Leeds Civic Trust, introduces a new approach to assessing planning applications for housing developments – using the housing audit criteria defined by the Place Alliance.
If you have read the Place Alliance report into the state of 142 new housing developments in England over the last five years, I am sure you will agree that it makes sobering reading. The following bullet points give a flavour of some of the findings to come out of this audit:
Although there had been a small improvement on the previous survey, new housing design is mediocre or poor, based on the assessment criteria used in the audit.
One in five of the 142 schemes considered should have been refused outright. Even when some of these schemes were refused, they were won on appeal.
Lower density developments tended to be of poorer quality (it is suggested that this is because there is less incentive to be creative).
Those who buy the properties like them. Those who live nearby often do not. But both parties agree that these estates are often too car and road dominated.
Less affluent communities get poorer designs even though the cost differential between a poor and good design is marginal.
Pretty damning stuff. And yet for many of us in the business of looking at planning applications and development proposals, the prospect of commenting on new-build housing developments is not one that fills us with joy. These are often dwellings that are designed by numbers – without the influence of an architect. It seems strange that we spend hours poring over the design details of a “statement building” in a city or town centre, but all too often developments such as these receive little attention, even though in volume terms they have a much bigger impact. Leeds has one of the highest targets for new housing in the country – around 50,000 to be built between 2017-2033. If most of these sites are developed, their impact (for good or for ill) will be huge.
So at Leeds Civic Trust, we have decided to pay more attention to these schemes by adopting the 17 criteria used by the Place Alliance in its housing audit assessment. The difference is that we are using them to consider planning applications rather than completed schemes. With that in mind, we have made some adjustments:
We have tweaked the criteria to add a few additional areas for consideration. For example, we have added consideration of climate emergency (under criteria 4: Environmental Impact), how the edges of developments are treated and screening implemented (under criteria 6: Existing and New Landscapes) and quality of fencing and walls (under Safety and Security).
We are also considering adding an 18th criterion, which will consider broader public health issues.
Although the criteria will guide our analysis of all housing applications, we are unlikely to use it in full for the smallest schemes (the Place Alliance audit was focused on volume housebuilding and so excluded developments with less than 50 units).
The first scheme we looked at was a development of 66 dwellings on Swithins Lane in Rothwell on the outskirts of Leeds. Our overall assessment of the scheme was that it was poor to mediocre – it only scored “good” on three criteria (Community Facilities, Housing Types and Safety and Security). In our assessment we said that:
“the proposal is considered to have low standards and aspirations, particularly with regard to landscaping, sustainability (flood retention strategy, wind alleviation strategy, biodiversity), transport & waste management and context.”
We were also critical of the architectural response (the scheme uses standard housing types) and the way in which highways dominate.
I think it is fair to say that using this criteria-based approach forced us to make a more through assessment than would ordinarily have been the case, and as a result we have produced a much more rounded critique of the scheme in front of us.
Insisting on high quality design
Professor Matthew Carmona, Chair of the Place Alliance, made an interesting remark in a recent blog post in which he critiques the government’s latest planning document, Planning for the Future. He says:
“On the one hand the document espouses a ‘world-class planning service’ and the need to ‘create beautiful and sustainable places’ for everyone. On the other it talks a language of deregulation wrapped up in extending permitted development rights, expanding the use of zoning tools, and giving automatic rebates of planning fees when local authorities lose appeals.”
Professor Matthew Carmona
This was written before the COVID-19 emergency had really taken hold. It seems likely that the volume housebuilders will press for a further relaxation of planning rules to get the construction industry moving again and to address the housing crisis after months during which housebuilding plans have been put on hold. And yesterday the Government issued new guidance, Coronavirus (COVID-19): Community Infrastructure Levy guidance, which advises councils to suspend Section 106 (affordable housing) and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) obligations for small and medium sized developers to help ensure these companies remain viable during the pandemic.
So, in the face of an economic downturn, there is a danger that good design and placemaking considerations will be further downgraded. The role for civic societies in insisting on these values will be more important than ever. The rigour offered by the audit criteria provides us with a framework through which we can demand higher standards in the Post COVID-19 world where there may be pressure to allow standards to slip further.
James Rhodes, Leeds historian and writer, introduces an early public health campaigner, Catherine Buckton.
The speech ended with a simple but effective message: “wash your hands regularly with soap and water”. But this was not the British Prime Minister at a Government coronavirus briefing in 2020; it was public health campaigner Catherine Buckton addressing an audience of one hundred working-class housewives and children in Leeds in 1871.
As the daughter of an infectious-disease doctor, Catherine had witnessed first-hand the devastation and misery caused by an outbreak of cholera in her childhood home town of Bridgend during a nationwide epidemic in the 1830s. A combination of ignorance, poverty and unsanitary housing had caused thousands of preventable deaths and Catherine would make it her life’s work to tackle this deadly trio.
In 1848, Catherine moved to Leeds having married cloth merchant, Joseph Buckton. Catherine devoted herself to the cause of education as a member of the Leeds Ladies’ Education Committee and an advocate for the Yorkshire School of Cookery and Leeds Girls’ High School.
One of the many campaigns to which Catherine lent her considerable support was for the establishment of free, compulsory, and non-religious education for all children which the National Education League was advocating in the 1860s.
This campaign led to the passing of the Education Act 1870 which in turn resulted in the establishment of local school boards, presided over by officers elected by public vote. The first Leeds School Board election was held in November 1870 and was the first public election in Leeds in which women were entitled to stand as candidates. It was natural that Catherine – and fellow Leeds Ladies Education Committee member Lucy Wilson – would stand in that election.
Predictably, the idea of female candidates provoked strong opposition from some quarters. A Leeds Mercury columnist wrote that women were ill-suited to the “hard work and business habits required” and that they would prove to be “inefficient members”. This prompted a searing response from one anonymous correspondent to the Mercuryknown only as ‘M’ whose letter concluded:
“Hard work and business habits are required. In our town, there are thousands of women who carry on business for themselves. Many of these are widows, who, perfectly untrained, are suddenly placed at the head of a business, and have, in addition, the responsibilities of a family to weigh them down, and yet the number of female bankrupts is curiously small. If we measure efficiency by the results obtained, what estimate should we form of the efficiency of men? They have had the education of the nation in their hands for centuries, and, at this moment, we are driven by the barbarism – the increasing barbarism – of our masses to pass our first Education Bill. If possible inefficiency is a reason for withholding power from one class, proved inefficiency in another class should surely not be allowed to command a monopoly of that power.”
Nevertheless, the opposition to female candidates proved too strong and an all-male board was elected. In fact, Catherine had reluctantly withdrawn her candidacy on the eve of the election following allegations that her proposer had unlawfully nominated two candidates.
Undeterred, Catherine continued with her public health campaigning and held a series of lectures aimed at working-class women and children in Leeds and Saltaire in which she taught basic physiology and the importance of good food hygiene and personal and domestic cleanliness. She dispelled myths and exposed bad practice in the treatment of those with infectious diseases. Among the many areas of ignorance that she encountered was a general lack of knowledge of the importance of washing with soap and this was the focus of much of her teaching.
Catherine’s reputation soon spread beyond Leeds and attracted the attention of Prime Minister William Gladstone and Princess Louise who was a supporter of the early pioneers of women’s medicine and a friend of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (the first woman in Britain to qualify as a doctor).
In 1873, Catherine was duly elected to the Leeds School Board becoming the first woman to hold public office in Leeds. She was a highly effective and diligent Board member and clashed repeatedly with the vested interests of religious and private school institutions.
Catherine’s lessons on cookery were incorporated into the curriculum and she enthusiastically promoted the health benefits of fresh air and the natural world to those living in inner-city slums. Among her many innovations was a window-box planting competition in which children were provided with pots, compost and seeds and taught to appreciate the joy of nurturing plants to grow and to flower. This formed the subject of another of her popular books, Town and Window Gardening.
Catherine moved with her husband to London in 1882 but continued to commit her ideas to paper, publishing several more books including Our Dwellings: Healthy and Unhealthy and Comfort and Cleanliness.
Catherine died in 1904, aged 75. An obituary in the Hull Daily Mail described her as “a pioneer of much that is now esteemed as most useful and practical in the education of girls.” The Sheffield Daily Telegraph described her as “a lecturer of considerable power”.
At this time of infectious disease and household confinement, her promotion of personal hygiene and the benefits of enjoying nature close to home still resonate.
About the blogger
James Rhodes is a self-confessed Leeds obsessive. He regularly writes, blogs and tweets about the city’s history, people and sports teams and is the author of ‘On This Day In Leeds’. For more of James’ writing, you can follow him on Twitter @Rh0desy or on his blog,https://rhodestothepast.com/
Gem Turner – a local disabled blogger and consultant – shares her experiences of being a young disabled woman and the life-changing effect of taking control of her own Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle.
I would say that I’m a city gal. Even though I live in a town about 30 minutes away – Leeds is where my heart is. It’s where I went to University to study New Media, where I started my first job and where I base a lot of my consultancy work when I’m not blogging and creating content. I find the city mostly accessible and flat to get around, and have my favourite spots I like to visit. But, after I left University it was so difficult to travel to Leeds as a disabled wheelchair user.
A lot of people assume that things are *great* for disabled people now, but we still have a long way to go. Let me give you some insight:
My local area doesn’t have wheelchair accessible taxis, so if I wanted to get to Leeds – I would pay extra for a Leeds taxi to come and pick me up.
My local train station wasn’t accessible (although it is now – phew!) but of course, I’m not able to order a local taxi to get to the station and it’s about 20 minutes away via foot.
To access a ramp on a train you have to book this with 24 hours notice.
If I wanted to book a taxi, most taxi companies tell wheelchair users that we should give at least 24 hours notice.
So, as you can see – when you’re disabled, you have (and are expected) to plan, be organised and being spontaneous is quite difficult. Whenever a friend invited me to an event, these barriers would always be at the back of my mind. I’d never say 100% yes to invitations because it was so uncertain. I’m a very sociable person, who thrives from social interaction and learning about others. I’m that kind of person who asks what you had for dinner and your star sign because I’m genuinely interested… I know, I’m sorry. So not being able to join in with my friends and colleagues sometimes was becoming more and more frustrating.
As well as attending events and work commitments, even the concept of popping to the shop for some bread was mind-blowing to me as it’s just something I’ve never been able to do (my local corner shop has a step, unfortunately). I would always have to rely on family if I wanted to do this and ask for lifts everywhere.
So, at the age of 25, I decided it was time to look into getting a car. Two years later, I now own my own Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) – a Ford Torneo Connect through the motability scheme. Wow, what a life-changing move! Just to be able to press a button and stroll into my own car and be automatically clamped into the driving spot in my wheelchair is so empowering for me. Even sitting in the front of a car is novel! My adaptations include a mini steering wheel on my left side and a hand accelerate/brake pedal on my right. Everything is powered and has a button for me to control, from the boot and ramp to get in, to the ignition and operation of windows. It’s all very new and exciting!
So how am I finding driving so far?
Apparently the adaptations accurately replicate the “standard” way of driving quite well, so essentially, I’m driving pretty much the same as anyone else but just with my hands. I’m noticing that I prefer detailed and complex moves than faster and wider moves at the moment – but I think that’s because I’m used to navigating smaller spaces as a wheelchair user. I can’t wait to go on the famous Leeds “Loop” everyone’s telling me about (arrh!)! Anyway, I’m finding it a bit like rubbing your belly and patting your head, but apparently it will all become natural soon.
I’m really looking forward to driving into Leeds at the drop of a hat, visiting John Lewis, parking near the docks and taking a stroll – oh and of course, popping to Morrisons for that loaf of bread…
About the blogger
Gem Turner graduated at University of Leeds in 2014 and has worked in education as well as training on equality and diversity matters. She now has her own business creating content around disability and has worked with a number companies such as NHS, Sky and ITV. To read more about her work, head to www.gemturner.com
Rob Kilner reflects on the essence of the city, through Leeds’ geography, history and built environment, which form a unique sense of place in the present day.
Leeds is a place of connections, full of energy. It’s in the people, the industry, the creativity and the natural assets. The energy’s been flowing through Leeds for millennia, and it’s woven throughout the story of the city.
The Venerable Bede, an eighth-century historian, was the first person to refer to the area he called Loidis. The origin of that word is thought to come from an even older Celtic term; Lādenses, meaning ‘people living by the strongly flowing river’.
The strongly flowing river starts in the Yorkshire Dales at the ancient, glacial lake, Malham Tarn. It runs through Airedale and meets a couple of its tributaries; Hol Beck, from the south, and Sheepscar Beck from the north, at Leeds. These streams carried silt into the river over many years, creating a shallow place where travellers would cross. A meeting and stopping place grew around the ford.
The bedrocks, beneath the river and the streets, are largely sandstone and coal. Some of the most striking buildings in Leeds bring those sandstones to the surface. Kirkstall Abbey, the Corn Exchange and the Town Hall, are made with that strong rock, called millstone grit, cut from local quarries. Coal beds on the south and eastern side of Leeds fuelled the forges of Kirkstall Abbey’s monks. The coal, along with the river, and people, helped to turn the wheels of the industrial revolution in Leeds.
The city’s population has been strengthened by years of migration over thousands of years. Some of the earliest evidence of human habitation are pottery remains from the Beaker people. They moved from central Europe, around 4500 years ago, and left evidence of their living conditions and their trade with Ireland, and the Baltic. And some beakers. Subsequent waves of immigration include the Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, the Normans, Irish, Jews and Caribbean adding to the rich cultural DNA of the city.
The village, then town, and eventually, city, of Leeds grew from a settlement near the river, on a street called Kirkgate. The village was centred around a church, on the site of today’s Minster. The current structure was consecrated in 1841. A trip inside reveals stone crosses from the eighth to tenth centuries suggesting there may have been a church here for over 1000 years. As well as Christian iconography one of the crosses includes a pagan image of Weland the Smith. Weland was a proto-superhero blacksmith, who eventually overthrew his kidnappers. His appearance on the cross indicates early Scandinavian influence. As well as featuring in Leeds, Weland pops up in Icelandic sagas and the epic poem Beowulf.
The city has changed hands many times. By 1207 the owner was Maurice de Paynel. He started a huge project to grow the town. By laying out a long, wide street, Briggate, rising northwards, from the river, he attracted tradespeople to his new co-working creative hub. Briggate included plots on both sides for living, working and trading. Over 800 years later it is still one of the main thoroughfares in the town and retains much of that medieval footprint.
Leeds’ wealth came largely from wool and woollen cloth. And it was sold across the world. The Cistercian monks of Kirkstall Abbey were selling wool to Italian merchants as far back as the thirteenth century, however, they kept the wealth to themselves. Regulations on exports in the fourteenth century meant the monks began to sell locally, providing a boost to the town’s economy. When Henry VIII decided he’d had enough of Rome’s influence, and shut down Kirkstall Abbey, around 1540, the axis of trade moved into Leeds.
Wool markets in the town were originally held on the Leeds Bridge. As the market expanded, it moved to Lower Briggate. By the early eighteenth century, there were demands to build a covered hall for cloth trading, to compete with local towns like Wakefield, Halifax and Huddersfield. The First White Cloth Hall opened on Kirkgate in 1711.
The trade continued to grow and more cloth halls were built to replace previous ones. The Mixed Cloth Hall was built in 1756-7 and stood where City Square and the old Post Office is now. Its construction expanded the town westwards into the parkland beyond Park Row. Other market places developed around Briggate taking produce, livestock and trade-off the streets. The majestic Kirkgate Market, still going strong, originated in 1822, when it was held in the garden of the vicarage. It is now Europes largest covered market.
The growth in trade saw a similar boom in industry and population. Huge factories and chimneys appeared on the skyline. The master of atmosphere, JMW Turner caught the emerging, smoking landscape in his painting, ‘Leeds from Beeston Hill’ in 1816. Textile and engineering works grew around the river and its becks. By the 1830s there were serious concerns over child labour, long working days, and living conditions. The poorer inhabitants of the city were hit hardest by epidemics like the cholera outbreaks of 1832, and 1848. Although there were various improvements in the city, they struggled to keep up with the growing numbers of inhabitants.
Leeds has always occupied a sweet spot in the middle of the country. The transport improvements of the Aire-Calder Navigation Act of 1699, then the building of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, completed in 1816, created a significant inland port, which provided a shortcut from the continent, to the west coast and beyond. The railways provided even greater connectivity and made Leeds one of the rail hubs of the Victorian era.
As Leeds moved from the nineteenth, into the twentieth century, manufacturing, and other industries were gradually replaced with retail, service and education sectors. Marks & Spencer had its origins in the city, when Michael Marks, from Belarus, set up his stall on a barrow in Kirkgate Market. Another retail giant, Asda, has its headquarters on the riverside. The city also grew into a leading centre for financial and legal business. The Yorkshire College of Science, with funding from the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, became the University of Leeds. As a centre for innovation, it has nurtured Nobel Prize winners and played a key role in the discovery of DNA. Leeds Art College, now University, bred the imaginations and craft of local creatives Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Damien Hirst.
The streets, ginnels, yards and arcades tell their own stories of the people, the places, the connections and energy that made the city.
The 1970s saw vast swathes of Leeds turn to tarmac, the ‘Motorway City’. The M62 cut a route from Hull, through Leeds and Manchester to Liverpool, while the M1 provided a direct road connection to London. As Leeds continues to grow into the 21st century and makes new histories with major developments planned on the South Bank, and a new high-speed rail links the signs of the past can still be easily found. The streets, ginnels, yards and arcades tell their own stories of the people, the places, the connections and energy that made the city.
About the blogger
Rob Kilner is a Leeds native, currently on the School for Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up program to develop place-based health and wellbeing project ‘workerslunchtime‘. You can find more of Rob’s writing and photography on Instagram: @workerslunchtime and Twitter: @wkrslunchtime