Leeds Engine:Today: Holbeck

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

Marshall’s Mill

Alongside the Round Foundry complex on Water Lane stands a number of surviving examples of the group of mill buildings that once belonged to John Marshall. The works of Murray, Fenton and Wood had been built alongside the flax mills of John Marshall due to the close relationship of the two firms. John Marshall was the son of a draper from Briggate and set up his first water powered flax-spinning mill in Adel. Having seen improvements in the mechanisation of the cotton spinning industry he was keen to see similar improvements applied to flax spinning. He moved from Adel to Holbeck in 1790, the first mill used a waterwheel to power the machinery. The water supply to the wheel was pumped in using a Thomas Savery design steam engine, its basic design being nearly a century old. Just three years later this system was replaced by a Boulton & Watt steam engine of 28hp capable of working 900 spindles. Matthew Murray soon set to work improving on this engine and from 1790 onwards he took out a number of patents for machinery brought in to use at Marshall's Mill.
At one point the complex was one of the worlds largest factories with around 7000 steam powered spindles in use. The first mill was between Globe Road and Water Lane and was demolished some years ago, the complex of mills was gradually extended back further from the canal. The earliest surviving building is the 1806 built mill on the corner of Water Lane and Marshall Street (Picture). Behind this is a large courtyard and car park where an 1817 mill building previously stood, and behind this the largest surviving mill building is the 1826-1830 Marshall’s Mill complex, now converted to offices. The scale of this building is quite remarkable
Along the bottom of the brick building are a row of inverted arches, these are not for decoration but to even the load of the five story brick building on its foundations. Beyond the size of the building, it is a fairly plain structure, though typical of the mill buildings that were built across the north of England.
Beyond the brick mill buildings is Temple Mill, one of the most interesting mill buildings around and Grade 1 listed.

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.