Holbeck and its Fancy Factories
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Just outside Leeds city centre lies the area of Holbeck. Named after the stream that runs through it, Holbeck was once a very industrialised area. The area was once an important centre for the flax spinning industry. It was here that John Marshall with the help of engineer Matthew Murray mechanised the industry in much the same way as Richard Archwright had earlier done to the cotton spinning industry along the Derwent Valley of Derbyshire. The area also became an important centre for the manufacture of machinery. This began with the mill machinery such as had been used in flax spinning. Stationary steam engines were built, and later the first successful railway locomotives. One company specialised in producing something as simple as needles for the textile industry, yet with so many mills producing textiles this was a big business. It is no exhageration to say that the Holbeck area played an important part in the industrial revolution and the innovation that was happening amongst the firms here can still be appreciated by looking at the buildings that survive.
All | Dark Arches | Victoria | Canal | Tower | Round Foundry | Marshall | Temple | Midland | Viaduct | Low | Shed | Village
Seen in a painting of 1844 (this is part of a large veiw of Leeds displayed in the Abbey House Museum at Leeds) the Holbeck area looks nothing special, a typical 'dark satanic mills' sort of scene, close up however there were some very interesting buildings.
The first half of the 19th Century saw a massive increase in the population as well as the number of businesses opperating. To attract business it was essential to attract attention, there was much greater use of advertising and here we see the buildings themselves used as adverts. In the centre of the picture is a round brick building, this was part of a steam engine works and was said to be reminicent of an engine cylinder itself. Other interesting examples were a flax mill built to look like an Egyptian temple and a works with chymneys disquised as Italianate towers. Some of these buildings survive to this day
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
Office Lock and the Tower Works in the background before the beginning of redevelopment in the area.
The 127 mile long canal was proposed in 1767, received an act of parliament in 1770. Construction began at various locations and gradually the canal opened a section at a time, it wasn't until 1816 that the canal fully opened.
The earliest building in this area is the canal warehouse built to a design by canal engineer Robert Owen in 1776, in time for the canal opening as far as Gargrave. Unlike later buildings in the area this building is constructed of stone (picture) . Next to the building is a crane of 1845.
In the area between the canal and the railway viaduct are a couple of small docks, now used as a focal points of a modern redevelopment of the area. These docks were used for repairing boats between what could be quite long journeys along the canal.
Another original building from the construction of the canal is the office adjacent to the next lock along the canal, built in 1775. (Picture)
In the late 1840s a link was provided between the canal and the river above of the weir, this allowed boats on to the River Aire between Leeds City Station and Armley. The access to the river was used by Bean Ing Mill and for supplying coal to Whitehall Power Station. The site of the link can be seen from the south end of the station (picture). At the north end of the station it is overgrown by trees but still visible. Looking across the River Aire from the station car park the mooring rings can be seen in the canal bank where the Whitehall Power Station's coal wharf once was. Situated directly above the weir on what can be a fast flowing river during wet weather it must have been quite difficult manoeuvring boats on and off the coal wharfs
Only a mile along the Leeds and Liverpool canal is the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills. Housed in mill buildings sandwiched between the canal and the river the museum has displays and exhibits about all manner of industrial history in the area and is well worth a visit.
Armley Mills Website
A History of the Middleton Railway Leeds, ISBN 0-9516205-5-X, Available from the Middleton Railway Shop
John Blenkinsop of Middleton, John Bushell, Old Middleton Railway publication.
The Leeds & Liverpool Canal, ISBN 1-85936-013-0
Old Ordinance Survey Maps, Holbeck & New Wortley 1906, ISBN0-85054-111-5, Available in most local books shops.
Victorian Society Walks No6, Leeds – 3 suburban walks, from 1987, copies can be found in the Leeds Civic Society shop.
Further Reading on the Internet
History section of the Holbeck Urban Village Site.
This article was produced by Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.
Page last modified: 08 January 2022
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