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

Temple Mill

Temple Mill was built between 1838 and 1843 as a further development of the John Marshall works complex, the mill itself is a single story building that covers two acres, the office block on Marshall Street has a façade based on an Egyptian temple design. This building was designed by Joseph Bonomi who was not an architect by trade but spent 1824 – 34 in Egypt making drawings of temples and pyramids. The façade of the mill offices are largely based on the Pronaos, the part leading to the sanctuary, of the Temple of Horus in Edfu, built between 257 and 237 BC.(Picture)
The mill is quite an unusual design too, the large flat roofed complex had a large open layout, once the largest single room in the world. Plenty of light was provided by the 65 conical glass domes on the roof, the roof was covered by plaster, tar, earth and grass. This may sound similar to some modern concepts for eco houses, the reason for this turfed roof being that it provides effective heat insulation. It is believed that sheep were allowed to graze on the roof of the building and it has often been said that a sheep once fell off the roof, though accounts from the time of this have not been found. Inside the roof is supported by cast iron columns, featuring the papyrus design to match those of the office façade. Temperature and humidity were controlled using a forced air heating system and a series of channels under the floor from which water was evaporated, the humid conditions were essential while handling flax.
Sadly one of the columns of the front of the building and a section of roof recently collapsed. Though with the importance of this fascinating Grade 1 listed building not forgotten work on its repair soon began. When completed the building should become an excellent art venue. The large open plan and well lit environment should mean the building is as well suited to this purpose as it was to its original use as a flax mill.
Continuing away from Leeds on Water Lane we soon come to another old mill building.

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.