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
One dominant landmark of the area is the towers of the former Tower Works. Situated on Globe Road this was originally the site of Globe Foundry from 1844 to 1864. One of the Globe Foundry buildings survives, fronting on to the canal (picture). From 1864 it became the Tower Works of T. R.Harding and produced pins and needles for the textile industry. The façade of the works has been covered with scaffolding for a number of years but the grade II listed structure should be refurbished as part of a modern development (sadly the development will mean the famous towers no longer dominate the skyline)
The oldest of the three towers is from 1864 and is based on the Torre del Commune, or Lamberti tower in Verona. Next to it is the Giotto Tower based on the Campanile of Florence Cathedral (picture). The Giotto tower is about half the height of that in Florence and rather than the marble cladding it has a finish of red brick work and local Burmantoft tiles. Inside this tower, which was in fact a chimney, was fitted with filters to remove harmful metal filings from the emissions.
The third tower looks plain by comparison but is believed to be based on one of the towers of St Gimignano in Tuscany.
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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